Traveling abroad with diabetes: Part 1

How to plan for a trip abroad when your teen has diabetes.

For an adolescent or anyone with type 1 diabetes, every day there is a plan. A plan for meals, a plan for insulin and a plan for emergencies. What if your teenager had the opportunity to travel with a school group out of the country? How would you begin planning for this opportunity?

Tyler is a 17-year-old senior in high school. He has had type 1 diabetes since he was two years old. He approached his parents with an opportunity to travel with the school science club to Dominica for two weeks. Tyler’s parents have always been very open about his diabetes and have always felt that there is nothing that Tyler could not do. He is an active athlete on the golf and soccer teams. This trip was an opportunity for Tyler to be more responsible for his health and take ownership of his diabetes.

Beginning steps for traveling abroad

First steps – Tyler and his parents began researching more about what to expect from the trip to Dominica, a country located in the Caribbean. They attended meetings and watched videos to learn more about the location, the environment, weather, and what activities the group would engage in during the visit. The family carefully reviewed the travel itinerary and noticed that the activities while doable, could be more physically strenuous than Tyler’s current activity level. An increase in Tyler’s physical activity along with the heat could trigger low glucose levels. 

Seek input from your provider – Tyler and his family met with his endocrinologist many times. They discussed how to handle every possible scenario and have a backup plan. They went over what would be included in Tyler’s diabetes kit and even added some new items. A diabetes kit is personalized to accommodate an individual’s needs and not all kits contain the same items. Having more than one diabetes kit may be necessary for a long, extensive trip. Delegating a diabetes chaperone for Tyler, someone on the trip that can assist him in monitoring his diabetes was important and reassuring.  

Cultural considerationsWhen traveling, the availability of certain foods is not always known. Planning to have enough snacks and emergency glucose can partly be a guessing game. Tyler took into consideration the many things that would make his blood glucose drop. On this trip, he had to work around the physical activity involved, the type of foods (which were unknown) and the weather.

Prevention stepsPrior to the trip, teachers and trip organizers were made aware of what to do in case of a diabetic emergency and Tyler needed their assistance. To aid in prevention, Tyler wore a weatherproof T1D identification bracelet. Tyler and his family made sure to identify the location of all area hospitals.

Reinforce your child’s management planPlanning for the right amount of insulin for Tyler’s trip proved to be challenging. Tyler and his healthcare provider confirmed that two weeks plus an additional 1 ½ weeks’ worth of insulin would be sufficient. This can differ for others so good communication with all of the healthcare professionals involved is important. The responsibility of proper insulin management fell to Tyler during this trip. Prior to this trip, Tyler’s mother had always taken the lead in making sure that his glucose levels were staying even. She did this through use of a sensor monitor worn by Tyler that connected to her phone. Making sure that Tyler could effectively manage his diabetes on this trip was a concern for his endocrinologist and his parents.

Part 2 of this journey talks about how the family prepared for this trip.

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