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The challenges of Type 1 diabetes and travel

Living with Type 1 diabetes is a juggle at the best of times… But Type 1 diabetes and travel is even more challenging. We asked diabetes advocate Kirsten de Klerk to tell us about her adventures with travel – and what she’s learnt…

When was your first trip travelling with diabetes?

In 2016 (six years after I was diagnosed) I was flying to Thailand for two weeks. It would be my first time going overseas and my mind was buzzing with so many questions. Would they question my insulin and needles? How different are the time zones? What if something goes wrong? I remember learning how to say I had diabetes in Thai, just in case I got stopped or questioned. It translated to ‘C̄hạn pĕn beāh̄wān’ and I spent a whole morning perfecting the pronunciation on Google translate. I also Googled the time zone differences and set alarms to wake up at 2am to take my usual 9pm night time injection. 

What about food – how did you manage that?

In Thailand there was very little access to Western cuisine. Most of the meals were rice based, or had very little description on the menu about what was in the food. No one spoke English so I decided to play it safe and eat chicken fried rice for two weeks straight! I knew I could roughly carb count for this.

Despite the challenges, I had the time of my life and survived with semi-decent blood glucose levels while finger pricking as often as I could. I was pretty relieved to come home and get back into my normal routine. I had been bitten by the travel bug, I daydreamed about all the places I wanted to go next, but at the same time I remember thinking that I wish life with diabetes could be easier.

So what happened next? Did Type 1 diabetes and travel become easier?

Yes! In 2019, I was introduced to the FreeStyle Libre. It’s a Flash Glucose Monitoring system that allows me to check my blood glucose levels at any time of the day. I insert a device into my arm for two weeks at a time, and use an app on my phone to scan the sensor to see my blood glucose levels whenever I want.

This device has been a game changer. 

Since having more access to data on my blood glucose levels I feel more capable of going after the life that I have always dreamt about. This device has also enabled me to push myself physically because I can check on my sugar levels continuously. 

In 2019, I climbed 3166m in the Drakensberg. In April the following year, I did my first overnight hike to Wolfberg Arch in Cederberg, carrying 12kg of necessities on my back in 36 degree heat. I was in my element sleeping under the stars with no cellphone reception. I have also traveled to Namibia, London, Greece and Mauritius since.

Not only have I felt safer knowing what my sugar levels are throughout the day and night, it has also allowed my friends and family to check in on my sugar levels by simply scanning my arm while we are hiking, driving long distances or flying. 

Follow Kirsten’s adventures on Instagram @cape_town_adventurer and @everydayisdiabetesday.

The FreeStyle Libre is a Flash Glucose Monitor. Ask your doctor/diabetes specialist for more information or take a look at www.freestyle.abbott/za to find out more about this life changing device.

Disclaimer:
The FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System is indicated for measuring interstitial fluid glucose levels in people (age 4 and older) with diabetes mellitus. The indication for children (age 4 – 17) is limited to those who are supervised by a caregiver who is at least 18 years of age.

The caregiver is responsible for managing or assisting the child to manage the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System and also for interpreting or assisting the child to interpret FreeStyle Libre readings. It is designed to replace blood glucose testing in the self-management of diabetes with the exceptions listed below.

Under the following circumstances, use a blood glucose meter to check the current glucose readings from the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System Sensor:

• During times of rapidly changing glucose levels, interstitial glucose levels as measured by the Sensor and reported as current may not accurately reflect blood glucose levels. When glucose levels are falling rapidly, glucose readings from the Sensor may be higher than blood glucose levels. Conversely when glucose levels are rising rapidly, glucose readings from the Sensor may be lower than blood glucose levels.

• In order to confirm hypoglycaemia or impending hypoglycaemia as reported by the Sensor.

• If symptoms do not match the FreeStyle Libre Flash Glucose Monitoring System reading. Do not ignore symptoms that may be due to low blood glucose or high blood glucose.

What to read next?

Everything you need to know about the FreeStyle Libre: FreeStyle Libre is a flash glucose monitoring system.

Update on the FreeStyle Libre petition: For the first time people with diabetes in SA all united for a single cause: to empower diabetics to control their blood sugar by covering the FreeStyle Libre on SA medical aids.

How To: FreeStyle Libre System videos

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.