Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes
By: Haeley DiRisio
I first started travelling when I took a gap year in between high school and college. It was 2015 and I had moved to Whistler, B.C., to work selling ski passes for the mountain. From there, I was hooked. In the years since, I have visited nine different countries and countless cities.
However, a change came in March 2019, when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I spent three days in the intensive care unit (ICU) to bring down my blood sugar after my body had entered Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), which is a complication of diabetes that happens when your body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones. This happened because my pancreas was no longer producing insulin.
During my time in the hospital, I had countless doctors, nurses, and diabetes educators explaining how my life was going to change — how I was going to have to administer my own insulin with every meal; how I had to monitor my blood sugar throughout the day; how exercise, food, my period, and stress could all affect my blood sugar. A concerning thought that soon crossed my mind was, “Would I be able to still travel on my own?” My heart sank at the thought of not being able to.
Usually, when I travelled alone, I didn’t have much to worry about. As a young woman, I was always cautious and aware of my surroundings, but other than that, I was pretty care-free. I had also never been seriously ill or spent any extended period of time in the hospital, which I was thankful for. Now, I would have to account for this new factor; I felt this illness was going to hold me back from doing something I loved to do.
I worried about keeping my insulin safe because it can be damaged if it gets too hot or cold. I worried about traveling to countries with health care that isn’t as up to date as Canada, especially if there was an emergency. I also thought about how I wanted to visit places off the beaten path, but I wondered if it would be safe for me to be far from hospitals. I’ll admit, before being diagnosed, I rarely bought travel insurance. Now, that could no longer even be a question.
In June 2019, I took my first trip away since being diagnosed just two months prior. A friend and I decided to go to Miami Beach as a graduation gift to ourselves. Thankfully, everything went all right; even with the hot temperatures, I was able to keep my insulin safe. But it was a new experience — making sure all my supplies were packed, keeping my blood sugars stable while at the beach and at night, when we went out for drinks. It was all new to me.
Before I left I did have anxieties about being away from home, which I never usually got. I packed more than double the amount of needles and insulin pens that I would need for four days. Once we arrived I was checking my blood sugar more than usual. One evening we decided to eat at a local taco restaurant, when we arrived back at the hotel I began feeling fairly sick and worried that if I did get sick it would affect my blood sugars. Luckily, I was able to sleep it off but now when I have any sickness, even a flu I have to be extra aware of how it could affect my diabetes.
Many people think because Type 1 diabetes is a manageable illness that it's not serious, but complications can happen. When I was first diagnosed, it caused me a lot of anxiety and depression. I feared it would hold me back from living the life that I wanted to live. I’ve always been a very independent person and worried I would now have to depend more on others. But I realized I can still be independent, I let friends know about my illness so that if there were ever an emergency they would understand what to do.
Since that first trip to Miami Beach, I have taken several others; I even moved to Italy for a few months on my own. I’ve decided not to let my illness hold me back. As long as I am prepared and take care of myself while I am away, then there shouldn’t be any reason to hold myself back from one day going skydiving in New Zealand or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.