Travel Safety and Diabetes

Cassandra Brosonski has traveled solo to 12 European countries—despite having diabetes. Read her tips for traveling with diabetes supplies, managing blood sugar and more.

Cassandra Brosonski
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Travel Safety, Diabetes, Europe, Vacation

I never thought I’d travel alone. At 18 years old, I took my first European trip to Spain with my class. Nearly 10 years later, I made the first of many solo trips to Europe, where I stay three to five weeks at a time. My family thinks I’m crazy for traveling by myself, as a woman with diabetes. My motto: “Those who fear regret never doing.” Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

If security asks, it’s okay to politely decline. While boarding the plane from Athens to JFK, a security guard pulled something from my purse. “That’s an insulin needle. I have diabetes.” I flashed the prescription, but it was “Greek” to her. Holding up the syringe, she asked, “Can you open this?” “No,” I said firmly, knowing that if she exposed it, it would be unusable and she could accidentally stab herself. The guard behind her let me go.

Take extra supplies. Pack half in your carry-on, in case your luggage gets lost. And make sure they have their prescriptions on them; it may be possible to get supplies filled at a nearby pharmacy, in the event of an emergency. This is more difficult to do in another country—so having extra supplies (insulin, test strips, syringes) helps prevent worrying about refills. Carry an insulin cooling case, so your insulin won’t spoil in the heat.

Create a foot care package. Include bandages with healing blister cushions and antibiotic ointment. Be sure to check your feet for scrapes or blisters, so they can be taken care of immediately.

Get necessary vaccines. Ask your doctor if you need any before your trip. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people with diabetes get the hepatitis B vaccine.

Carry fast-acting glucose. Keep glucose tablets or a juice box in a sealable bag—in your daypack with your supplies—so you can quickly fix low blood sugar. After 10 hours of walking (physical activity lowers your blood sugar), my blood sugar plummeted. I was so confused from the low that it would have taken too long to head to the nearest kiosk, so it was a good thing I had supplies in my purse.

Wait for the plate. Before injecting insulin, wait until your food arrives. When I ordered frog legs in Paris, it didn’t come with carbohydrates. I could have avoided low blood sugar if I’d waited and adjusted my insulin accordingly.

Keep your well-being front of mind. You may want to be discreet, but giving yourself insulin in public shouldn’t cause shame. I was in a seedy part of Athens when street food beckoned me. As I injected insulin in an alleyway, a couple walking by gave me a dirty look. I didn’t care because I knew I’d never see them again. At that moment, my health was most important.

November 2013