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Travelling With An Insulin Pump: Your One-Stop Guide

Why it could be the best route for you

Written on
February 20, 2017
Diabetes

Everything You Need To Know About Travelling With An Insulin Pump

With limited experience, travelling with an insulin pump can seem like a worrying and potentially risky task, but I'm here to tell you why it's not.
glucose monitor in mountains

So you've decided you may want to make the switch to a pump, or you already have a pump and are now deciding you want to go on holiday somewhere. So maybe you have some of the following questions ...

"Do you have trouble at the airports when travelling with an insulin pump?" 

"Do you ever just switch back to insulin pens?" 

"Is it annoying carrying insulin pump supplies?" 

The answer is...yes, no and maybe! Keep reading...

When I travel I always bring an insulin pump and insulin pens with me, and if I am on a long term trip, I will bring a spare insulin pump too. This is for many reasons, one being that I need backup insulin if my pump fails me, and another being there are actually situations in which the insulin pump just won’t cooperate with. This ranges from hot springs, to water parks to scuba diving (I am sure there is more that I am yet to discover!).

insulin pump in hot springs

I hope to one day visit Iceland and embrace the lagoons there, but when in Chile, Bradley and I ventured off into our car and came across a deserted area in the location of a volcano which not only produced breathtaking scenery, but some amazing (albeit ridiculously hot)  hot springs! 

With my particular insulin pump, I am able to take it off for up to half an hour (so when I shower), but if you are chilling in a hot spring for longer than that, you don’t want be jumping in and out to re attach your pump etc, some people will, but I prefer a simple life! It is the same with water parks, my insulin pump isn't waterproof so it is a definite no no in the water, so I always pop my pump in a locker and switch back to insulin pens for a day!

Switching back to insulin pens from an insulin pump

There is always a little relief of freedom when you have a day without travelling with an insulin pump, I never do feel restricted by it because of the amazing benefits it gives me, but it is nice to run around a water park without wires hanging out of you! 

Many people ask me how do I make the switch over? 

I think this is personal to every diabetic, but my diabetic specialist nurse recommended a 20% increase in the pen of what I would usually have in my bolus….I don’t use a background insulin when I am off a pump for a day, simply because my Lantus lasts 24 hours, and that means after I finish my event at a water park or lagoon, I have to wait until the next day to re attach my pump, which I would rather not. 

Fast acting insulin lasts around 4 hours (Humalog for me) and as long as I monitor, I never have any issues. However, if you decide to switch back to insulin pens for the duration of a holiday, this becomes a “pump holiday”, and you should discuss with your DSN the appropriate amount of background insulin you need!

diabetic insulin pump supplies

Problems with travelling with an insulin pump

I am going to list some problems that I anticipated from travelling with an insulin pump, and others I have read online….then I will back them up with my solution (providing I have one).

Time Zones

If you are travelling to somewhere with a different time zone, this is actually going to change your basal rates of which your body is used to a certain amount of insulin at a certain time at your “home” time, but actually this is a lot easier to rectify on insulin pump, than pens, I feel. With an insulin pump, all you need to do it reset the times to the time of your country you are in, and you will still get insulin at the right amounts!

Supplies

Yes insulin pumps, I will admit have more packaging, and products and just items you would rather have clothes and souvenirs in! I am a clothes fanatic, so this does actually bother me. However, you have to weigh up the pros and cons.

Do you sacrifice great control for a few extra dresses? Of course not! You're dealing with your life, but there are plenty of ways to save space with pump supplies. I usually remove all packaging, and test strips I stuff in socks, sensors go into small plastic sealed bags and stuff in shoes, and infusion sets also get stacked in socks, oh and insulin goes in Frio bags.  

Did you know most airlines will let you carry an extra bag, (small handbag) to carry medical supplies, contact them in advance, but this proves super useful for me wherever I travel! Shout out to Ryanair, British Airways and Easyjet for making life easier!

Changes in altitude

Varying altitude can have an affect on both your insulin and insulin pump, however it really isn't anything major or to worry about, it won’t completely overturn your life, especially if you are away for a short break. I have written more detail about how altitude can affect both insulin pumps and diabetes in general so you can find out more!

torres del paine altitude summit

Why is an insulin pump good for travelling?

  1. Spontaneity - Usually the reason you travel is because you are an adventurous, spontaneous person who wants to explore new places….why else would you be travelling! The great thing about my insulin pump is it enables me to indulge in my spontaneous lifestyle. I can hike mountains, swim in the beautiful oceans, camp in the amazon or para-glide off a mountain and my trusty artificial pancreas will stand by my side like a supportive man. I can just adapt my insulin depending on my adrenaline...or stress levels!
  2. Food - Being able to eat food means a great deal to me, I love it and travelling the world means I get to embrace new food and drinks with every new destination. We all know food and diabetes can be complicated with complex carbs etc, but with my carbohydrate counting skills and my trusty insulin pump there is no food I won’t try (unless it’s fish- because just no.)-
  3. Feeling free - A little cheesy maybe, but I remember when I first went travelling with my pump, i thought I’d like wired up, tied down, and just generally upset that I constantly had this reminder on me, but it has been the complete opposite, it actually makes me feel less diabetic,I can discreetly hide my insulin pump, bolus via a handset that looks like a crap phone, and scan my blood sugar on my phone. Technology has enabled me to subtly disguise my diabetes whilst giving me better control and it feels great and secure!
food in South America

Flying with an insulin pump

I have spoke in the past about flying with diabetes, but the specifics on insulin pump, I have experience on. I have actually only ever flew with an insulin pump, so I know no different!

Here are my three tips to smooth sailing in the airport and in the air

  1. Before you go through an X-ray, inform someone of your insulin pump. Please remember that insulin pumps cannot go through x-ray- ie airport body scanner. Archways are fine as they are metal detectors, but a scanner can break your pump and you will not be liable for cover. This is true of Medtronic and Accu Check, but check with your own supplier. Have a statement from them, and your doctor stating what you can and cannot do with your insulin pump, and remind the security officers you are happy to do a pat down and have your insulin pump swabbed. This is what I do.

The only time I had an issue was with a “young” lady in Gatwick London when I was flying back from London to Belfast. I have done this route in both directions frequently, and she decided to tell me I could put my pump through a scanner, insisting I could because she had seen another person with an insulin pump doing it. I explained to her everyone is different and I have a doctor's letter, which she ignored and decided to push me towards the x ray machine- granted I was mad and refused to cooperate so she called two others over, whom were lovely and apologetic once I explained the situation. If I ever bump into said lady again on my next journey from London to Belfast, I will be reporting her straight away. I should have at the time, but I was a little overwhelmed. Travelled all over the world, but it was England I had the problem- typical. Be firm with people, it’s your health and noone can make you do anything you don't want to.

  1. In the air- Due to the altitude when flying, it may stimulate the release of extra insulin and cause a hypo- however, the amount of insulin delivered is very small and it depends on your own body- how insulin sensitive you are etc. For example, research has shown that as the planes ascend, pumps can deliver an extra 1-1.4 units of insulin- so this amount will affect everyone differently. You can disconnect when you are heading ascending and when you are descending...I did this the first flight I did, but after that, I just haven’t bothered and I have never had any issues. Trial and error- you will find what works for you!
  2. Always carry insulin pump supplies between you and your travel partner (if you have one) on the plane. I always find it useful to have Bradley carry some supplies in case my pump rips out twice...(this is happened due to me sleeping awkwardly) & if you leave a bag behind….not that this will happen...but it could happen- so stay prepared! Get yourself a cute diabetic travel bag. Myabetic does some great ones!
Cazzy and insulin pump in Santiago

I know a lot of my american readers have some trouble with the TSA and insulin pumps (I thankfully haven't) but check out their guidelines to help prepare yourself beforehand!

Let me know if you have any other tips for travelling with an insulin pump, or if you have taken a pump holiday before!

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