In February, Cazzy of Dream Big, Travel Far shared her experiences of travelling with type 1. Today, we have another guest, Luke from @t1traveller on Instagram. Like me, Luke was diagnosed in adulthood, after a significant amount of travel. His diagnosis has not stopped his travels!
Can you give us a little background about where you are from and how you got interested in travelling?
I'm from the UK England and currently in my 4th of what will be 18 months travel across Asia and Australasia with my girlfriend. So far on this trip we've been to India, Kuala Lumpar, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Heading to: Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
When were you diagnosed with type 1? Was this before or after you started travelling?
Unfortunately I didn't travel much until my mid 20's. Around the time I turned 27 I started travelling every other month - mainly city breaks to different European cities.
I then ventured to Vietnam for a 2 week holiday and experienced Asia for the first time which was a real eye opener for me; The new foods & smells, the crazy motorbike traffic, the pace of life and above all the people who whilst poor were incredibly hospitable.
The 40 degree Celcius (104 degree Fahrenheit) heat and crazy humidity did take some adjustment.
After this I really had the bug to travel further again.
Once I had enough holiday allowance and money I made my way to Sri Lanka and travelled the country solo by motorbike for 18 days which was hard work at times, but amazing! I say hard because I got so badly sunburnt I had to wear a jumper for a week and I got soaking wet several days and had to ride through heavy rains for hours.
Riding through tea plantations, mountain villages and along the coast the views were absolutely stunning. I didn't see any other tourists for days, at times I was in the middle of nowhere.
I vividly remember stopping at a village shop for a drink. When I finished my drink and walked back to my bike I found 5 young men standing around it. They just stared at me completely speechless - I don't think they'd seen a Westerner before. That sort of thing happened often on that trip.
5 months later (September 2015) I became quite unwell. After checking a few symptons online I was pretty certain I was diabetic so I went to my GP. My fasting Blood glucose was 16.8mmol and my GP diagnosed me with Type 2, which seemed odd as I'd just turned 30, had a healthy BMI, an active job and zero family history.
I started taking metformin and going back to the doctors every other week with a cold/infection/virus, eye ache and everything else associated with sky high BS. I waited 2 months and lost 10kg/22 pounds (and my patience) before deciding to go private to see an Endocrinologist. Within 5 minutes of my appointment he was arranging insulin therapy for me and I haven't looked back. I think its safe to say I must have had some pancreatic function left otherwise I think I'd have gone into DKA within those 2 months.
Having got off to a bad start with my GP I was fortunate enough to meet a superb team of Dr's and Nurses at Barnet Hospital, North London who got me on track. Regular appointments with my Endo, Nurse and dietician and then a FEFI course which taught me how to carb count properly and how not to bolus for Pizza (which I still have problems with).
Once I mastered the art & science of Insulin therapy I booked to go back to Vietnam with my new found appetite.
How did your blood sugar cooperate on your first type 1 travels?
I found the heat and humidity really increased my insulin sensitivity. I'd eat a large meal with lots of carbs, test 1 hour after eating and be around 12, then 2 hours later be at 3.5 and sweating like crazy - but hard to tell I'm having a hypo because of the warm weather. Also Vietnamese food can be high GI so you do feel hungry before your next meal meaning I was ignoring hunger pains initially.
Fortunately in south east Asia, pressed sugar cane drinks are sold everywhere and are a perfect hypo remedy.
However, I always now carry glucose tablets or sweets with me everywhere I go. Though during my current travels I haven't experienced the same increased insulin sensitivity from the heat as before. Perhaps my honeymoon period has now finished.
What preparations do you make for your diabetes before a trip?
Before I travel I make sure I order double the supplies I'll need - I won't be able to take them all with me (especially on this trip) but its good practice to take extra and leave some at home for when you return. I've got enough to last until I get to Australia where i hope to be able to see a Doctor and get more.
Frio bags are a lifesaver for storing insulin, currently got 6 with me.
Have you met any other type 1s on your travels? Do you tend to tell people you meet that you are diabetic?
I haven't met any other Type 1s on my travels. I don't tend to advertise my diabetes either. I don't hide it, ill inject novorapid at the table or in the street if we're eating out. If I was travelling solo I guess I'd be eating with/around new people all the time so I'm sure questions would be asked. I got caught injecting Lantus in my Glute by a Tuk Tuk driver outside a train station in India (we had a 14 hour train to catch) who asked if it was drugs. When I explained he started telling me his fasting BG - as did any man who spotted me injecting in India. Type 2 is endemic there and testing is cheap and readily available. Trying to explain that Type 1 and Type 2 are different - impossible as everyone's a doctor...
Thanks for sharing your travels, Luke!
Do you or someone you know travel with type 1 diabetes? I am looking to expand this in to a monthly feature so please contact me if you'd be interested in sharing your story!
People said some pretty irritating things upon my diagnosis with type 1. Like, the ever-annoying, "You're lucky you didn't go into a diabetic coma!" While I am grateful it was caught without any major incidents, I can't consider myself "lucky" for having type 1 diabetes! There is also the constant, "Can you eat that? You can't eat that, right?" I was driving past an ice cream shop with a former co-worker who said, "I'm glad we went and got ice cream when we did, because now we can't do that anymore HAHAHAHA." This was literally five minutes after explaining to her that I can eat carbs and sugar as long as I take the right amount of insulin. That same co-worker started greeting me with, "How's your blood sugar today?" For a diabetic, that's the same as asking, "What's your weight today?" It's not something that one should ask their co-workers! Perhaps, the most annoying thing of all were the comments, "Well, now you can't travel." Wrong! Today, I have an interview with Cazzy of dreambigtravelfarblog.com, who has a lot more type 1 diabetes travel experience than me!
Hi Cazzy, thanks for joining Stranger in a Strange Land. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up? When/how did you become interested in travelling?
Hey! Thanks so much for featuring me Crystal! My name is Cazzy Magennis and I am 23 years old, from the North of Ireland in a little town called Castwellan, its a beautiful place filled with green mountains and I love it! I lived in the city, Belfast for a while too! So I have experienced both quiet and manic life! I became interested in travelling when I was a little girl, I always had this need and want to explore, I would see all these amazing places on TV and in magazines and knew I needed to visit them. There isn't anywhere I don't want to visit, I embrace all cultures, countries and lifestyles! I plan to visit all ends of the world. I started saving to travel since I was 10, so I have definitely give myself a great start.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after I had already traveled to 24 countries. When were you diagnosed with T1D? Was this before or after you started travelling?
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 16, so before I had done any real adventures away. The furthest I had been before then was Spain, but when I turned 18, I went on my first trip to Paris, and have traveled since then to Bangladesh, Dubai, Thailand, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Brazil and more! My travelling life started with type 1 diabetes, so I never really knew what it felt like to travel without, so I have embraced carrying a million supplies with me wherever I go!
The first time I traveled with insulin and needles, I was sure I would get stopped by airport security. I've flown several times since then and have never had a problem. Have you ever had trouble going through airport security with your diabetes supplies?
That's great! I have never had any real issues with airport security, I always carry a doctors letter and translated to language of the country I am travelling too, in case I do get asked. The odd time, someone will look at my letter, but I have never been refused travel, or had issues with my supplies, or going through scanners. The only time I did have an issue was flying from Gatwick London back to Ireland, and the lady at security was extremely rude about me and my insulin pump, insisting it could go through X-ray which it couldn't, and I had a letter stating it couldn't, but I stood up for myself and reported her, its important you don't let people intimidate you when it comes to your health, if a security person is being awkward, just request someone else.
One of my biggest concerns so far is what I would do if something happens to my insulin supply when travelling. Has anything ever happened to you? If so, what did you do to replace it?
This is always a concern of my mine, but I put things in place to make sure I am covered in an emergency. Firstly, I always split my supplies with someone else (providing you are travelling with someone else), and if not I always split my supplies in two different bags, so if one is stolen, I know I have a backup. I also make sure I have located the nearest place I could receive emergency insulin supplies in the country I am visiting, or emergency contact numbers! I was once in Thailand at the Full Moon Party and Ko Phagan, and I was standing at the bar to order a drink, I had taken my monitor out to test my bloods, and my sister called my name, I turned around for split second to ask what she wanted and when I looked back, my monitor was gone! Thankfully I had managed to test my bloods before that, and after slight panic, I knew I had a spare monitor back at my hostel! I then felt sorry for the guy who thought he stole a mobile phone and ended up with a blood glucose monitor! But, I have never had any issues with keeping my insulin cool, and on my 4 month trip in South America, not a single drop of insulin died because of my Frio bags! I don't know how I would travel without them.
What was the worst diabetes related issue you've experienced while travelling? Has anything major ever happened?
When I was travelling throughout South America, as the altitude got higher, my blood control started to struggle. At first I kept thinking it was something else, but I knew that the symptoms of altitude sickness were heightened because of my bloods. I ended up becoming very ill near the end of my trip and just couldn't get the control anymore, it began to ruin the experience for me because I simply couldn't do anything, so I flew back 2 weeks earlier, which I knew I had to do, because my health is the most important thing, but two weeks is not a big loss of time and I am glad I did get my health back on track, that means I am ready for Indonesia in June! I was disappointed in myself for a while, but then I realized I didn't have anything to prove to anyone, I just needed some time to rebuild myself then I was eager and ready to head off again!
On a more positive note, what about the best diabetes experience? For example, I always get really excited when I run into another T1D by chance!
I love running into other T1D's- I was on a bus to Amsterdam, and I heard this girl sitting behind me ask the guy beside her was in hypo, I couldn't be subtle and popped my head round and asked if he was type 1 diabetic, and we hit it off! We spent the rest of the 12 hour journey talking all things diabetes! I hope to meet more as I travel. The best thing though, is the platform I have to help other less fortunate type 1 diabetics. I raised money for a type 1 diabetic children charity in Bolivia, and I got to spend the day with the kids and really feel the struggle they go through, and that give me even more motivation to do further work to help them, and we now have two campaigns running in Bolivia. I want to be able to help as many diabetics around the world, and I am glad I have started in such a wonderful country with the most wonderful people.
Wow, that's wonderful that you raised money for a charity in Bolivia! What is it like to be type 1 diabetic there? Also, some countries have never heard of diabetes? Which countries are those? What happens to the people who do have diabetes in these countries? Are they constantly misdiagnosed or do they not have access to doctor's?
Bolivia is actually one of the countries that has never really heard of diabetes, I met many Bolivians who had no idea it existed or what it was. Being a diabetic in Bolivia is hard- they receive no funding whatsoever from the government because the government doesn't recognize it as an illness and they have no health insurance. So most children in Bolivia who get type 1 diabetes, don't realise that's what they have, and just die from it. This happens a lot in the countryside too where they have no access to any health care. Bolivia have one diabetic charity, the one in whom we are working with, and they operate in La Paz. They can afford to test their blood sugars once a day, and rely on an import of insulin and strips monthly, so if this is late or doesn't get through customs, they don't have insulin or test strips. They have little to no information on diabetes, and they currently support around 60 children, so there are plenty more who don't know they have diabetes. It's a really upsetting situation, and I wont give up on them.
I often travel solo and then make friends with other solo travellers. At what point upon meeting someone do you tell them that you are diabetic? Do you prefer to tell them right away for safety reasons or do you prefer to wait until they know you better?
It usually comes up in conversation once people see my sensor on my arm and ask what that is! Which is a great way to get the conversation going, people are intrigued and I love spreading awareness. People tend to think the sensor on my arm is a nicotine patch until I tell them otherwise! I usually find someones friend or family member has it which is cool! I always have diabetic ID on me, but honestly in some countries it isn't much use since they have never heard of diabetes, so I do make sure anyone I am doing activities with knows I have diabetes, but most of my travelling is done with my travel partner Bradley, so I always have someone who knows!
That is great that you have a travel partner! It is always fun to travel with a travel buddy! Is it ever hard to travel with one of you as a diabetic and one not or do you have your travel dynamics figured out by now?
Thanks! We definitely have our dynamics figured out by now. I couldn't imagine not travelling without my non diabetic buddy, its nice to be around someone more "normal" (if anyone is normal!) so that I don't feel like my whole life is diabetes. My travel partner knows how it affects me, and some days I may not feel up to climbing a mountain, and we completely respect each other. Having that support as well is crucial when I am having bad blood sugar days and blaming the world for everything! It is also great for spreading awareness when you hear what type 1 diabetes is from someone who doesn't have it, it can be explained in perhaps a more relateable way.
Do you buy health or traveller's insurance when you go abroad? Do you have any recommendations for type 1s interested in travelling internationally but worried about health insurance?
I buy health insurance. I actually search price comparison sites for the best deal, because that works out cheaper for me that getting insurance through a diabetic company-- this is because I don't have any complications, so therefore my insurance doesn't work out much more expensive than a non-diabetics. However, if you are worried about health insurance, I would get in touch with as many organisations and insurance groups as possible and find out what is best for you, but you can always find someone with reasonable insurance, but make sure you read the fine print to ensure you are covered for all you need!
Do you have any advice for a new T1D before their first trip?
Research, plan and more planning! I made my blog to help make the planning process easier for me, and as a bonus hopefully easier for anyone else going away! I always suggest making a list of everything possible that could go wrong, even stuff that has a tiny percentage, and although this can get a little frustrating because you think everything is against you, it is completely worth it when you are on an adventure and know you have prepared for accidents and emergencies, it will give you peace of mind! Also, just have fun, and make sure you realise how strong you are for being able to go away- its takes effort if you want to have good control and travel, but it 100% can be done, and lastly get advice, everyone body and diabetes is different, so if you get lots of different advice you will hopefully find something that helps you- but do remember just because something didn't work for someone else, or did work for some else, doesn't meant it will be the same for you. Plan to suit your diabetes!
Hi, I’m Crystal! Just like you, I love to travel. You’ll get all the best tips and insights from my experiences as a former ice-skating coach in Iceland and former study abroad student. Of the 24 countries I have visited, a type 1 diabetes diagnosis has been the strangest land yet. Type 1 has not slowed down my travels and you'll learn how to take type 1 with you on the road! You can connect with me further on Instagram @CrystalChilcott, or send me ideas of where I should travel next via email: firstname.lastname@example.orgHappy Travels, Crystal
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