The Temptations of Travel

Traveling with diabetes, and a little help from a friend

kalimah traveling with diabetes

By Kalimah Johnson

February 2014 — In January 2014 I attended training in Washington, D.C. Now, if you are on the same side of the planet as I am, then you already know that this winter weather has been a beast!  Needless to say, I found myself at the airport in Detroit for 12 hours before a flight could get us up in the air!  We landed safely in The District around two-something in the morning!  I was tired, hungry, irritated, and sleepy. As I reflect back on this trip, I wondered how on earth I managed my food intake and my type 2 diabetes.  

My diagnosis never leaves my side — I have to think about it with every decision I make as well as with every morsel that I put into my mouth.  I was caught up.  It was exceptionally difficult because at every turn there was a fast food restaurant, a carbohydrate heaven, and/or coffee joints with baked goods galore! Eating when you are traveling with diabetes can be tough!

I needed an intervention.  Luckily I was traveling with my program manager who happens to be my role model for eating healthy and making healthier choices.  I thought I would just follow her lead and then I would be okay.  Well, she does eat healthy for someone who is not diabetic, but that day I noticed that she was choosing foods that were high on the glycemic index, which could wreak havoc on my blood sugar.

Therefore, I found myself on my own, having to make the best choices I could under the circumstances of traveling with diabetes.  My first choice for breakfast was a sausage, egg, and muffin sandwich from McDonalds. I removed the bread.  For lunch I had a bowl of chili from Wendy's with one cracker packet and for dinner I drank coffee.  By the time the caffeine wore off I found myself in flight, hungry and irritated.  I was not in first class so I couldn't order just anything. They only had short bread cookies, pretzels, and peanuts for passengers anyway. I decided on the peanuts as they are a good source of protein when compared to the other options, and lower in carbs/sugar than the other options.  When we landed I was famished!!!!  I sucked it up, drank water, and tucked myself into the hotel bed that was to be my home for the next few days.

The hotel had a nice restaurant, so for the rest of our stay I ordered meat and vegetables, had fruit for breakfast and sometimes an egg, sausage and/or bacon…boring but doable none the less.  I was also traveling with one other person and finally she asked me about my eating habits and wanted to know if I was on some special diet.  That's when I told her that I have type 2 diabetes and that's why it may appear that I am eating differently.  We had this discussion at dinnertime and it was just the two of us. That is when she shared with me that she also has type 2 diabetes and was recently diagnosed.  I really felt honored that she shared this with me because as I have written in the past, communities of color (especially black folks) rarely share their diabetes status for fear of being ridiculed or treated unkindly, or having others become the food police or even worse, having to hear ignorant and old wive's tales about curing the disease with prayer or some ghetto potion of some sort.  I made certain not to engage in any of this nonsense.  Instead, I thanked her for sharing her status and asked lots of questions about how she found out, what were her precipitating symptoms, family history, as well as her attitudes and beliefs about the disease.  

Then I told her all about dLife and my journey, including my bariatric surgery almost two years ago.  She listened and shared more about her thoughts related to the disease.  We laughed and exhaled, we rejoiced and cracked jokes, we admitted our shortcomings and expressed our struggles with testing, follow up appointments, exercise, and myths related to managing type 2 diabetes.  We had a great time talking and chopping it up!  I felt so much more connected to her and I hope she felt the same.  I all of sudden did not feel like I had to navigate this space alone, we were in it together now… meaning I had someone I could check in with while we were there.  On every morning after that evening, I shared with her what my numbers were and she did the same, we discussed what we were going to eat, and we decided to take walks around the hotel after dinner at night after our meetings and training.  I felt a sense of support and relief.

On the way back home to Detroit I found traveling with diabetes and making good food choices to be easier.  Our flights were on time so we only had to make one meal choice at the airport.  We faced the same issue of having to choose airport fast food but this time we did it together.  I watched her order a grilled chicken wrap loaded with veggies and I did the same.  I admitted to her that I would have preferred a hamburger with cheese and fries, some nuggets or something and we both started cracking up laughing!   She promised that I would enjoy our choice much better and she was right!  I think it was our companionship and open discussion about our type 2 diabetes that made this experience easier for me and for that I am thankful. Her friendship and support became two of my diabetic travel supplies. I have also found a new friend in coping with the struggles of my disease, especially the idea of traveling with diabetes.

Got it sugar?


Read more of Kalimah Johnson's columns, Get it Together, Sugar, here.

dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: March 26, 2014

All content on is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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