I Pump, Not iPod: Traveling Safely with Diabetes

Traveling safely with diabetes.

Kerri SparlingBy

February 2006 — I had never been on a cruise before.

Hell, I hadn't been on an airplane in almost ten years. My travel experiences left much to be desired. Anxiety levels as high as those of my excitement, I prepared for my cruise like I was writing a term paper. I scoured my sources: the internet, my medical team at Joslin, and consulted the more well-traveled of the diabetes bloggers I know. Their advice ran the proverbial gamut:

"Don't worry about traveling with the pump. As long as it's visible and they can inspect it, you won't have a problem. They hardly ever make you take it off."

"Make sure you have backup supplies of everything for your vacation."

"Keep the prescription labels on the supplies so they know you're legitimate. A letter from Joslin stating your medicinal needs wouldn't hurt, either."

"Bring plastic Ziploc baggies so you can order room service and take it off the ship with you." (Okay, so that had nothing to do with diabetes, but it was quite a handy tip.)

"Bring all your diabetes supplies in your carry on, in case your luggage gets lost."

"Be wary of pickpockets and for crying out loud, don't drink the water in Mexico."

All this preparation for a vacation? Wasn't I supposed to be having fun? Maybe even cutting loose a little bit?

When we arrived at Logan Airport in Boston, my diabetes supplies were tucked into my carry-on and my insulin pump was neatly settled against my hip. The security team asked me to take off my shoes and pass them and my luggage through the security scanner. They asked me to lift my sweatshirt so they could see the waistband of my jeans.

A security guard gestured absently at my pump. "Lady, lose that iPod."

Ah ha. Here was my chance. I was prepared. I had done all the research.

"It's not an iPod. It's an insulin pump. I'm a diabetic."

She paused, cocking her head to one side and nodding.

"I thought it was a fancy lookin' iPod. Go ahead."

No mention of the carry-on bag, housing a full bag of syringes, two insulin pens filled with Humalog, seven bottles of test strips, my meter, back-up pump supplies, and the ubiquitous Glucagon kit. I guess they really have seen all this stuff before. I had a letter from Joslin stating
that "Kerri is a diabetic and will be carrying supplies necessary for traveling, namely ..." and so forth, but it remained crisply folded in my handbag.

Boarding the cruise ship mirrored my experience at the airport. Security checkpoints wanted my birth certificate and license more than an explanation as to why I had 30 syringes tucked inside my carry-on bag. One man eyed my pump for less than five seconds before murmuring, "My nephew has a blue one."

I know people with diabetes don't always have it this easy with traveling. I've heard the tales of being asked to take off the pump for inspection, the pat downs, the extra attentive "wandings", and the startling moment when a woman forgets to remove the pump from her bra and is taken into a private room for inspection. From what I've been told, my virtually trouble-free travels with diabetes supplies are something to be grateful for.

However, there were some dodgier moments. Like when my boyfriend and I signed up for an excursion in Cozumel, Mexico that involved extensive bike riding and snorkeling in the caverns. The liability waiver specifically stated that people "who are pregnant, have a heart condition, have asthma, or diabetes cannot participate." I signed the notice stating that I did not have these conditions. Lying boldface in order to experience life? I admit to doing just that. Like when the woman next to me on the top deck was staring at my infusion set while I was laying out, I did not cover up. It's just a bandaid looking thing, a skinny tube, and what appears to be a garage door opener. Instead of explaining, I flashed her a smile.

She smiled back.

And I leaned back in my chair, arched toward the sun, and ordered a drink that was sure to arrive with a little paper umbrella. After all, I was on vacation. 

Visit Kerri's website.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: June 14, 2013

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

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