This summer I went on my biggest adventure yet – and one of my biggest challenges since being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes 6 years ago! Planning the trip for my Type 1 Diabetes was slightly daunting as it would be my first time abroad with my omnipod! This summer with my two best friends, Alice and Sophie, we went interrailing around Europe! After months of ‘planning’ meetings which consisted of watching cheesy girly movies such as the Bratz movie, drinking cider and laughing at the names of some dodgy hostels.. *ahem* ‘my sweet home forever’ to name one… we finally set off!
Warsaw – Poland
Auschwitz – Poland
Salzburg – Austria
Innsbruck – Austria
Lake Bled – Slovenia
Venice – Italy
Pisa – Italy
Rome – Italy
Tirano – Italy/Switzerland
Chur – Switzerland
Luzern – Switzerland
Montreux – Switzerland
Paris – France
Amsterdam – Netherlands
Top tips for travelling with Type 1 – Backpacking style!
Medicine, medicine everywhere… But what if I run out?
We have two rules in my house which I took into account when packing. Write down all your carb rations, background insulin, hours basal rates and emergency numbers; and times by two, divide and spare. Sounds like a maths equation…
- TIMES BY TWO – Take twice as much medicine than you would normally need! Its always better to have it with you. In this case however I took a cannula for each day – purely because I knew from prior experience that suncream is brilliant at unsticking cannulas and I’m very clumsy at walking into door frames and ripping my cannula from my arm! Zero spatial awareness haha.
- DIVIDE – Split the medicine into different bags (and always in hand luggage!) This stops it getting lost when the holdall bag goes missing and has less chance of getting broken! I was extremely lucky that my two friends were so lovely about carrying my medicine around Europe for me. I therefore was able to have eight cannulas in each of their hand luggage along with a spare ordinary blood sugar handset and Frio pack with 2 bottles of insulin.
- SPARE – Along with my 10 cannulas and my Frio pack with my insulin vials for my pump and everything else that goes with my Omnipod; (strips, batteries, glucose tablets, lancets (even though who changes lancets!) I brought spare handsets; a ordinary handset, a ketone machine and a spare handset which Omnipod kindly loaned me through their holiday PDM service – LIFESAVER if something was to go wrong! Insulin pens and needles were also packed incase the Omnipod got thrown off a cliff or sunk to the bottom of a lake! Thankfully I didn’t have to use any of these but if they weren’t packed… they would have been needed!
4. BUT WHAT IF I RUN OUT?! – Along with my passport, diabetes letters for the airport and details of my route I wrote down the supply numbers for each country I was going too.To ring them if I needed any emergency supplies, however if its just test strips, batteries or your general bg monitor has broke you can get these from the nearest pharmacy.
Bumbags are the best thing to carry your day medicine in. Handy and less likely to get pick pocketed than your rucksack! I only took out the spares I may have needed for that day. Just make sure than you lock the rest in a locker in the hostel.
Always be prepared for airport security!
Along with the holiday PDM I also got a sheet of paper with the main languages in Europe on it which explained that it I go through an airport style scanner my handset and pod would brake. SO USEFUL! After years of asking my language teachers to write me letters I finally had them all in one place. I took this with me for any attractions I went to which scan you (Auschwitz does this!) and made my life so much easier than trying to play charades or say ‘like pacemaker’ which actually usually does the trick! However for the airports I had a letter from my GP and a letter from my DSN. This time the airport in the Uk was nice about my medicine and after a long check through all our bags we got through, however on the way back through the Amsterdam airport I have never had a nicer and more helpful set of airport security! They were so lovely about my pump and were asking me lots of questions as they had never seen an omnipod, only pumps like the medtronic. Phew! However the patting down can get quite awkward… haha.
Insure your pump! My Omnipod was insured through our household insurance but it wasn’t cheap! Not only did we have to insure my handset but also each pod which I took away! EEEK. On top of equipment insurance I needed insurance for me! We insured through ‘Essential travel’ for backpackers and only cost £50 which was really good and ill be using them again for future adventures!
Alarms and testing
Alarms were my lifesaver during Interrailing. Shoutout to Sarah from my team for suggesting it to me! Although after arriving in Poland I didn’t have to change the time zones on my pump as all the countries we visited were all one hour ahead,(phew) when your busy you still forget to test. Everyday my alarms on my phone would chime at 7:30 am when we woke up,10am, 12pm lunchtime, 2pm, 5pm dinnertime and 9pm (close to bedtime some nights!). Would have been so much easier with a dexcom *cries*. Although sometimes it wasn’t convenient to test e.g. on the metro in France! It helped me keep a closer eye on my bloods which was needed in such varying environments!
Always take spare food! I took a few boxes of cereal bars for emergencies. Arriving at Auschwitz late with no food and nowhere open is always not going to end well with three hungry teenagers! Thankfully we found a Tesco (of all places!) in the quite town just about to shut so we ran in to grab some food! (FYI thats a pretzel!)
Diet coke discrimination and coke zero?!?
Be prepared to spend more than your friend drinking full sugar drinks because nearly everywhere charged more for diet coke. WHYYYYY. Also, most European countries, excluding Italy, seem to have something against diet coke. They only have coke zero, which by the way, does not taste the same. Oh to the right is a reunited picture of me and bae ahaha!
Oh my goodness! Don’t get me started on the feet! By the time we got to Lucern (17 days into our trip) I thought I was coming home with one less foot! Although, much to the despair of my parents, I did not take jesus walking shoes (sorry for the offence I may just have caused!) I took my running trainers which I wear at home around 5 times a week. However because we were averaging 10 miles a day and it was hot I got blisters. Mwap Mwap Mwap. Blisters on both little toes (which was expected!) and a gigantic blister on my right ball of my foot. The blister popped and my raw foot was agony. *TOP TIP* Always listen to your mum and dad ahaha. After using some Mepore dressing and taking some antibiotics it started to heal. Until it turns out I’m allergic to Penicillin! Apparently I have now found out that if you smother your feet in Vaseline before putting your socks and shoes on you don’t get the friction so you don’t get the blisters! Too little too late!
People abroad use your diabetes as a chat up line!
Oh my gosh! Never in my life have so many people asked me about my insulin pump and adding to that known the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 without having to be told. I was gobsmacked! Especially when people go out of the way to talk to you about it, like the time we were sitting having a pizza in Innsbruck and a man on the table next to us turned around and asked me what the thing was on my arm (my pump), he already knew about type 1 and 2 and was lovely to talk too. Never in England would anyone be that bold to ask. Normally people stare and mutter to their friend that its a nicotine patch and its terrible that I smoked. Which I never have or never plan too by the way. The second occasion was in Lake Bled at our Hostel ‘Ace of Spades’. Whilst booking in the man asked me what is was on my arm, and again I explained, and it turned out one of his family members had type 1, and this conversation led to the lady who worked there telling me she was a dietician! By the way – definitely recommend the hostel and Lake Bled. THE most beautiful place on our trip!
However in Salzburg, at the youth hostel, the barman, instead of the generic questions about my pump, used my diabetes as a chat up line! He already knew about Type 1 diabetes and the insulin pumps as he asked me about it and went out of his way to find me the last diet coke – legend! He then came and sat with us over dinner and asked if he could prick my finger. Such a funny and nice guy who I have to say, is the first person to chat me up with my diabetes! haha!
AND FINALLY HAVE FUN!
Don’t let diabetes get in the way of you doing anything! Yes testing more is inconvenient and so is hypoing in the middle of the metro carrying a 65 litre rucksack and a daypack but you can do it! I did it! Yes its a challenge but at the end of the day you only live life at the end of your comfort zone and we can do anything anyone else can do – just with Type 1 Diabetes! I would definitely recommend getting a medical alert bracelet for travelling as it put my mind so much more at ease that if I had a problem someone would have a better idea why. It was such an amazing experience and I hope that what I’ve learnt will help you too!