Traveling with My T1D Girlfriend
Oh my god, what if she takes a hypo in the middle of the rainforest?
If there’s an emergency, who’s going to help me?
I don’t even know Spanish for “Help me, my girlfriend has type 1 diabetes!”
Okay, so let’s take a step back.
It is April of 2016, and my girlfriend, Cazzy, and I have just booked our flights to South America. After three years at university, we both knew we needed to get away and explore the world before we started real jobs and put our degrees to use. A few months earlier we’d decided South America would be the best place to start. The plan was to begin in Rio de Janeiro, work our way up the coast, explore the Amazon rainforest, then fly to Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, before flying back home.
We were both so excited. In addition to being the trip of a lifetime, it meant four months completely to ourselves. We would be our own masters. See what we wanted to see. Go where we wanted to go. Mess up when we wanted to mess up. It was perfect.
Our twist: Cazzy has type 1 diabetes.
A few days after booking our flights, it finally dawned on me that Cazzy’s diabetes might come into play at some stage. Maybe I was being very irresponsible about the whole thing. At this point, Cazzy and I had lived together for the best part of two years, giving me plenty of insight into type 1 diabetes (T1D). But being 6,000 miles away and on a different continent with a different climate and different food—well that would undoubtedly make things more tricky. Worse yet, I’d fallen behind on my Portuguese lessons (actually, I’d never even started them), so how could I ask people to help us in an emergency?
I’m not one to worry about things too much, but I knew Cazzy’s health was a serious issue. It was time to bring myself up to speed on traveling with a T1D companion.
After digging around, we realized there was a severe lack of support out there for helping type 1 diabetics travel. That’s not to say it’s non-existent. In fact, as a whole, the type 1 community is incredibly supportive. But there was no go-to site for specific guidance when travelling with T1D or with a T1D friend. We’d wanted to document our travels, but we didn’t want to start the typical travel blog that millions of other people had already started. We knew then that we had our idea: everything you need to know while traveling with T1D.
About a week later, our baby was born: Dream Big, Travel Far. We wanted to combine a mixture of travel-related blog posts with targeted articles on very specific elements of travelling with type 1—such as how to keep insulin cold, what to know when traveling at high altitudes, and how to get through airports. My job on the blog was to help demonstrate what it’s like and what to be aware of while traveling with someone who has T1D.
As for South America, it was a massive success! In four months we managed to travel the entire length and breadth of the continent, experience things we had never dreamed of and meet some of the most incredible people. Better yet, we had no major issues with Cazzy’s diabetes. Of course, minor problems arose, but we were quick to act.
The blog itself is doing well, and every month we are greeted by more and more people who send personal messages both asking for advice and also offering their kind words of support. The ride doesn’t stop there, though. In July we’re flying to Southeast Asia for four months, traveling to Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and possibly even Laos.
I know we’ve already helped inspire prospective travelers. But there are others out there with T1D who fear long-distance travel due to their condition. Don’t.
I’ve stood with Cazzy every step of our journey, and I can honestly say she has never once let her illness stand in her way. Together we have summited Torres del Paine before sunrise, travelled to the southernmost city in the world, paraglided 4,000 feet above sea level in Bolivia and spent a week sailing down the Amazon River on an isolated boat with limited supplies. As for those of you worried about travelling with someone who has T1D, here are a few bits of advice:
- Make sure you know what to do in an emergency—the basics regarding highs and lows.
- Always carry half the supplies, just in case one bag goes missing.
- Learn the local phrases for “Please, I need sugar,” “She has type 1 diabetes,” and “Call an ambulance.” (Hope you’ll never need this last one.)
- Be ready to step up in an emergency if it comes.
- Above all else, be patient and understanding.
I think that last tip is the most important. It’s impossible for you to properly understand what your type1 1 traveling partner is going through, so never get angry or jump to assumptions. Some days their blood sugar levels are just, well, out of control and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Take that day to chill out and push your plans back. Be supportive, be brave and be adaptable!
Next stop: Bali!