Traveling ‘betes: Be prepared.

I gotta say, I love me a good device-free weekend every once in a while. Taking off the pump and the CGM, although bit of a logistics hassle at times, is so freeing for a few days. But that feeling changes a little bit when I’m in a foreign environment. Or a foreign country, like I was this past weekend.

Mexico is a short, 40 minute drive from my front door. On a clear day, you can see Tijuana from the hills in La Jolla. Crossing the border by car or by foot is a breeze, and thousands of people do it every day for work or family. So for our anniversary this year, Jacob and I booked two nights at a luxe hotel in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. It literally took us one hour to get there, and we were enjoying the gorgeous view from our hotel balcony, cocktail in hand before we knew it. Given that our plans were to hit the beach, pool, jacuzzi, and get massages, it was was the perfect time to take a device break.

I took Lantus the morning we left for Mexico, and packed up a pouch of orange-capped syringes for the two days we’d be there. Mexico is now a safer place than it was a few years ago. About seven years ago, when the drug wars began to peak, everyone was advised to stay away. But now the tables are tipping back into a safer zone. Jacob and I both speak Spanish, and if you follow general common sense (don’t walk alone at night, keep you car in secure parking, don’t be a drunken frat boy in the middle of the street – the usual) it’s a safe place. Overall, my comfort level with traveling in Mexico is pretty high.

But then there’s the diabetes thing. A friend of mine with Type 1 diabetes was once detained in Mexico in the middle of the day, framed for carrying drugs, and thrown in jail. Seriously. That happened.

By the grace of god, he asked a stranger to call the phone number of a friend of his (the number was on a business card in his front shirt pocket, the stranger had to pull it out of his shirt as he was already cuffed and being put in the police car), and the local was able get him out of jail. But not before my friend, who went without insulin for over 24 hours, was convinced that this was the end and that he was going to die in a Mexican jail cell from lack of insulin. Yikes.

It’s horror stories like this that remind me that us folks with diabetes don’t just have money to lose if we’re robbed or in trouble. Insulin is life for us, and we can’t go long without it. What made me nervous about being on injections is that nothing was attached to my body while I was traveling that could keep me going for a few days. All of my life-saving paraphernalia – my insulin and syringes, are objects that could be stolen right off my shoulder. I never thought about the safety a pump could give me until this trip.

Before I get completely Debbie Downer on this topic though, I have to remember that there are people with diabetes in just about every country, which means there’s insulin somewhere. In an emergency, I would go straight to a hospital for help. You can also travel smart – I treat insulin like I treat money when I travel: split it up into different pieces of luggage, have your partner carry your back-ups so everything isn’t on one person, keep it in a safe place like a hotel room rather than on you all the time. Be smart and be prepared. Have back-ups of your prescriptions, have a letter in the language of the country you’re visiting explaining that you have diabetes, and find out where the nearest hospital or clinic is if you can.

As usual, the mantra with diabetes is “be prepared.” Do any of you have foreign-country travel advice that you live by? Leave a comment and share if you do!


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I’ve traveled to Mexico many times for a month at a time and went to Costa Rica this past summer for 5 weeks and did what you did–split up the insulin and supplies so I carried a set and my husband carried a set. I carried my prescriptions with me, too. I knew that in Mexico and Costa Rica it is possible to buy insulin without a prescription, but not my specific kind: Lantus or Levemir or Novolog. But knowing insulin was available helped me be not so worried. However, one time in Mexico we were spending three weeks in an isolated town called Yelapa that didn’t have a pharmacy and you could only get to Yelapa by speedboat. For that trip, I bought a large plastic bottle. I put in several insulin pens inside the bottle and hooked it to my belt. That way, if we capsized on our way there and I lost all my luggage, I would still have a couple of insulin pens to get me through for a few days at least. We didn’t capsize…For my trip to Costa Rica this past summer, I also brought two meters, but one stopped working mid-trip…and it made me realize that maybe I should bring three meters next time because with the changes in climate, food, the amount of exercise and walking I did, I was constantly having to adjust the amount of insulin I took and had to test A LOT. I normally wear a CGMS but because of shipping snafus, I wasn’t able to bring sensors with me for the month I was going to be gone, so I left the CGMS at home.

What a scary story about the insulin syringes…Fortunately I was never hassled on my six trips I took to Mexico.

hmbalison thanks for your comment on this! I’m glad someone else has had similar experiences as me. And that trick about the bottle with the insulin pens is GREAT – genius and simple idea!

That story is terrifying. I’m glad that everything turned out okay for your friend!

hmbalison – i am heading to mexico in a few months for vacation and worried about going through the airport and customs with insulin pens (i’m on a pump but planning to take a pump vacay for that week). did you have any issues with the airport officials, etc? do you advise to pack pens in the suitcase, on my husband, and on myself?

Kehler – yes, I’d split up your supplies in the event that you have anything lost or stolen. If you get in to trouble in Mexico though, the hospitals are actually very good and safe and will have insulin. I’d reccomend taking a doctors note translated into Spanish (you can do this on Google translator online if needed). It helps so much for customs/airports to have your info in the language of the country you’re visiting.


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