This year, Western Australian’s are packing the car, hitting the road, and getting out to see this great State of ours in unprecedented numbers. “Wander out yonder” the advertising is telling us. And, so we are.
When it comes to travelling with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, road trips can offer greater flexibility and control over your trip than travelling by other modes of transport and holiday type, such as a cruise or package tour. However, road trips can also present challenges to managing your diabetes.
Planning is the key to spending less time being stressed about your blood glucose level, and more time relaxing, enjoying yourself and watching the scenery pass by.
Here are our top tips for preparing for and hitting the road with diabetes.
As already mentioned, there is no harm in being over-prepared or too-organised to ensure that you can properly look after yourself while on the road. Always keep back up medicine on you in case the supply in your bags get lost, damaged or stolen.
Keep your insulin cool
There are many ways to keep your insulin cool while you are driving, including mini-fridges, insulated bags, coolers, and eskies with ice or ice packs. Remember not to leave your insulin in direct sunlight or a hot spot in the car. By the same token make sure your insulin doesn’t come in direct contact with an ice pack as you risk it freezing – insulins happy temperature is between 2°C to 8°C. Check-in advance if your accommodation has access to a fridge, and if so, always check the temperature before storing your insulin, adjusting as necessary.
Stop and stretch regularly
Every person living with diabetes is different and driving might effect people’s blood glucose levels differently. Driving is a complex skill and paying attention to your body and your blood glucose monitoring can ensure you are safe to drive. The recommendation is that your blood glucose levels should be above 5mmol/L to drive. If you take insulin or some types of diabetes tablets, the main risk to your safety is if your blood glucose level is too low, which is below 4mmol/L.
In Western Australian, there can be very long stretches of road without access to places to stop, so take advantage of rest stops or roadhouses when you come across them. Get out of the car, stretch your legs and back, move around, breathe and enjoy your surroundings. Squeezing in any amount of activity at your stops can be a gamechanger not only for your blood glucose levels but for your focus levels and attentiveness on the road. REMEMBER: High blood glucose levels can make you tired and low blood glucose levels can be worse than driving drunk.
Listen to your body AND your blood glucose monitor
Make sure you listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard when travelling. Monitor your BGLs more frequently than usual, and make sure to schedule in plenty of time to rest, relax and sleep throughout your trip. Eat healthily and limit junk food and alcohol as much as possible.
If you do have a noticeable hypo while driving (or just feel tired), pull over immediately, check your levels, if below 4mmol/L then treat the hypo with 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate. Wait 10-15 minutes and re-check your levels. Once your blood glucose level is above 5mmol/L have a longer-acting form of carbohydrate. You can start driving again once you are no longer feeling symptoms and your blood glucose level has been above 5mmol/L for 30 minutes.
If you’re doing more or different types of physical activity (e.g. hiking or cycling) than usual take this into consideration when calculating your basal and bolus dosages. If you’re consuming more carbohydrates or eating differently, again adjust your insulin dosages accordingly. Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or flash glucose reader while you’re on holiday may be a valuable short-term investment to make tracking your levels easier.
Double up on supplies
It’s important to stock your car with more supplies than you think you will need, as you can never anticipate unforeseen circumstances that may extend your trip. Ensure to pack a variety of healthy snacks that help to keep your BGLs stable, as well as your usual hypo treatment, extra insulin or other diabetes medication (and replacement scripts), other medications, batteries, test strips and other items you may need. Make sure that all your snacks and supplies are always easily accessible to you – and that your travelling companions know where they are too in case of an emergency.
If you use an insulin pump consider keeping syringes and/or long-acting insulin in your back up kit in case your pump breaks so you can still manually administer your insulin.
While it can be tempting to avoid consuming liquids during a long drive to minimise the need for stopping, staying hydrated is essential, and you can make the most of bathroom stops to move your body.
Speak with your diabetes team
Contact your doctor and anyone else in your diabetes team before you leave for your trip to ensure you have adequate medication, supplies, prescriptions, and contact details. It can also be useful to take a sick day management plan with you, in case you do become unwell when travelling. Alternatively, call the Diabetes WA Helpline on 1300 001 880 for diabetes advice.