Q: We had been saving up for a European family vacation for years and thought that we could finally take the trip this summer. And then our son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. We have his condition under fairly tight control, but is leaving the country — and his hospital and care team — thousands of miles behind a completely insane idea?
A: People of all ages with type 1 diabetes travel the globe every day. But it’s normal to be nervous about a big trip. Is it a good idea for your family right now? Making this kind of decision starts with your confidence and comfort level in caring for your child’s type 1 diabetes needs. How skilled are you when it comes to calculating and administering insulin, counting carbs, checking blood sugar levels and responding when your child’s blood sugar numbers go too high or too low? Can you see yourself being able to handle these duties and situations even when you’re living out of a suitcase? How skilled are other adult caregivers who might be coming along?
If you feel confident about your abilities, your next step is to talk with your doctor and diabetes care team to go over your travel plans. Your doctor can provide you with a note to accompany your medical supplies as you pass through airport security screening — insulin and related equipment are allowed on flights. (Before you go, check the most current TSA rules about liquids and medications.) Some doctors may also write out prescriptions for extra insulin to keep with you in case of emergency.
Speaking of, discuss with your doctor what you should do if there is an emergency. This may involve writing down all your child’s symptoms for easier communication, letting the hospital know right away if you need a translator, and calling your doctor or diabetes educator to let him or her know that you have hit a snag. Your care team back home can offer help and guidance over the phone or via email, or depending on the situation, may be able to communicate directly with hospital staff. To that end, make a list of phone numbers and email addresses at which you can reach your doctor and care team and in return, give them a list of medical facilities at your destination.
Look into restaurants and food markets near your hotel and check websites for menus and food offerings. Make a list of all these places and plan to keep it handy. Finally, start gathering supplies to pack. Give yourself a little extra insurance by taking at least twice the amount of supplies you think you will need. Pack these items in your carry-on luggage. (Find more tips on all forms of travel with type 1 diabetes here.)
All this may sound like a lot to think about before you’ve even made a list of sightseeing destinations. But if you’re prepared for situations that may come your way, it can be much easier to keep your vacation what you intended it to be: a fun and relaxing time for everyone. Bon voyage!
–Patty Beckwith, MPH, RD, CDE, is an outpatient pediatric dietitian at Mattel Children’s Hospital, UCLA.
Disclaimer: The information in these articles is not intended as medical advice. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding individual care.