Last year I was fortunate enough to take a family vacation to Ireland. This summer, after an exhausting school year, my wife, daughters, and I took a trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, for a fifteen-year wedding anniversary present. We booked the trip with the ever-awesome Lisa LaForest of Plaza Travel Center, and as I did with our trip to Ireland last year, I documented much of the process of taking two people with type 1 diabetes to a foreign country–this one with 90% humidity and endless hours in the sun, sand, and ocean. For those of you here for book-related posts, this isn’t one of them, but I will provide a writing update at the end. For those of you who appreciate my insight into living with type 1, this is a great post if you’re considering some fun in the sun in the tropics.
Packing for Ireland taught me so much, especially about the necessity of having a separate bag for all medical products. Foreign countries get a bit concerned when you bring in a lot of medical stuff, for obvious reasons, and so along with the medical bag, I strongly suggest a letter from your doctor detailing what you are using and why. Honesty, this information helps for our own TSA, who have seen a lot, but not all know about or even understand something like the Dexcom sensor or OmniPod. And in this day, just one look at the stuff screams, “bomb search,” which I agree with and completely appreciate.
So as you can see from the pictures, I have everything double packed, so that the TSA has an easy time swabbing the products and then returning them to the plastic bag when done. Making their lives easier makes your life easier. I simply hand off the bag and the rest goes through the X-Ray.
*Side note: At Albany International, because I had a juice box over the allotted liquid amount, I was subjected to a pat down. This has never happened before. I don’t know if there is a change in protocol, but I didn’t fight the search, and was happy the juice was in my bag, and not my daughter’s. She did not need to be subjected to that.
Fortunately, on all flights, neither my daughter nor I experienced the pressure-induced insulin bolus like we did on the return flight from Ireland. We knew we were good because we kept our eyes on our Dexcom app, incessantly, for the first hour. I think because our longest flight was from Baltimore to Cancun, the planes never had to spike into the necessary cruising altitude, as Aer Lingus did. However, that’s just my assumption. If you’re concerned, just suspend for a half hour prior to take off (if using a Pod or pump) and check your number frequently.
Customs and bag check in Mexico
Cancun Airport has a very straightforward method for incoming international flights: they screen all bags. Once your bags are screened, you must then press a button beyond the screening point, and if the light turns red, your bags are then searched by hand. It should come as no surprise that our bags were checked. The security, though, was very nice about the entire process. They took one look at all the medical products and did not ask for any explanation. I don’t know if this is because they understood what was in front of them, or simply didn’t want to know, but either way, we thanked them and were on our way.
It’s all about the Skin Tac and armbands
Once out of the airport and into the sultry air of Cancun, I knew that the bottle of Skin Tac we brought, as well as the arm bands we use for our sensors, were absolute necessities. Ireland has no humidity. Well, maybe not none, but not 80-90%, which we experienced the entire time while in Mexico. If you are wearing a CGM or Pod or infusion set, you are going to need to take great pains to keep your products from falling off. We applied copious amounts of Skin Tac prior to leaving, and reapplied as needed throughout the trip. The added compression of the arm bands kept the sensors on beautifully through our swimming, snorkeling, and dolphin swimming adventure. We wore no additional belly bands or other products to keep our Pods on, but they kept extremely well, with only the need for additional Skin Tac.
Fun in the Sun
We stayed at the Iberostar resort in Playa del Carmen, and I could write an entire post about how much I adore the resort and staff. If you are considering Mexico, just check out the pictures of the resort. Top Notch.
And not only was the resort top notch, but so was the ocean and beach we came for: crystal blue, 86-degree water and powdery soft white sand (as noted in the header picture). Every day was in the high 90s, with non-stop sun. This is the perfect recipe for a beautiful beach day, but for us with type 1, it is also the perfect recipe for wreaking havoc on our blood sugar. Therefore, we spent as much time in the shade as we did the sun, wore rash guard UV blocking shirts in the afternoon, reapplied sunblock every hour, and drank as much water or diet soda as possible.
Hydration and staying cool are key, and not only while at the beach. As soon as we stepped away form the water, the humidity kicked in and it became as necessary to keep drinking. A word of caution: all-inclusive resorts and their beachfront bars are great, but cervazas and mojitos do not hydrate as well as water 😉 Take advantage of water whenever you can, so you aren’t struggling with the hypoglycemic reactions to overheating that can be so common for us.
The ocean in Mexico is beautiful, but the same can’t be said of the h2o. A general rule we followed was that if it’s bottled, or if it’s from the resort, drink it. Other than that, don’t. However, we still brought strong antibiotics. Talk to your endocrinologist about doing the same. Because one bought of gastroenteritis for a non-type 1, could ruin a vacation, but for one of us, it could result in hospitalization. We were fortunate and did not need to use the antibiotics, but I felt much safer knowing that we had them, just in case.
Aside from swimming at our resort, we took two excursions: snorkeling on the Great Barrier reef in Cozumel and swimming with dolphins in the Ecological Park of Xcaret. Regardless of whether you use CGMs and receivers or your phone, and a Pod or pump, as a type 1, you will, at minimum, have a blood glucose kit. The kit and any other products have to stay dry, period. So how do you do that while snorkeling for three hours and swimming with dolphins for one hour?
We picked up a dry bag prior to leaving. We knew it would be good for keeping the water and sand out of our products while at the beach, and figured it would come in handy when even closer to the water. Additionally, I picked up a Pelican case for my daughter’s kit, phone, and receiver. I already use one and adore it, so with these cases and the dry bag, I knew we would be safe on land. On the boat and directly in the water were different concerns.
Many of the snorkeling outfits, including those we could have gone through via our resort, are fantastic, but they pack as many as twenty customers onto the boat, with as few personal belongings as possible. That wasn’t going to work for my family, as we had to bring all our products and juice and snacks and back up insulin pens, etcetera, because we chose to take the ferry to an island almost an hour away. Therefore, I got on Trip Advisor to see which companies were best for small parties. One name came up, Mystic Snorkeling. Review after review praised the company for the attention to detail with small parties and what a wonderful experience was had. I sent an email to them describing our situation of needing safe, dry storage for all the things we need to stay alive. I received a call hours later, assuring me that all would be taken care of, and it was. The captain tucked my bag of tricks beneath his wheel and personally watched over it. This may have been possible with a crew that took a larger party, but I doubt it. Therefore, if you are planning a day on the water, consider using Trip Advisor or the concierge to find a crew that only deals with small parties. Aside from my family, one other couple joined the outing, and the six of us had an exceptional time peering at rainbow parrot fish, and barracuda, and the vast coral life below, all while knowing if I needed anything aboard, it would be safe and dry.
The dolphin excursion posed a similar concern. What do you do with the essentials, after you’ve been asked to tuck away your personal belongings into lockers? The dry bag came in so handy. I simply told the guide that I had medical products that I needed to be near us, and he created a spot on the dock for me, no issues (most dolphin swim experiences do not allow you to bring any phones or cameras near the swim area because they try to get you to buy their photo and video packages at the end, so it is important to be upfront about needing to have your bag with you). Because the products were in the aforementioned cases and bag, I felt at ease while swimming with dolphins. I’m not sure I would have felt the same, had our products been in jut a back pack or something similar.
Food and Glucose levels
I don’t know how you generally approach tight control when it comes to vacation, but for us I go with a shifted goal point. My range is 90-170, normally; for vacation, that bumps up 50 -75 mg/dl (Note the Share image above). Same for my daughter. It’s just safer. And considering all of the factors that I’ve already mentioned, now throw in carb counting with mostly foreign food (like bananas fried in honey) and you are potentially facing a heap of trouble if you keep things too tight. So, if my daughter and I ran in the 200s all day, great. If higher, I might bolus, but only a half correction. Same for meals. I never gave the fully suggested bolus until we were back home. Better to have to correct a couple of times, than to have to sit out from time in the ocean because of a low. Again, not necessarily what your Endo is going to tell you, but the adage of “better being safe than sorry” has always been sound advice.
If my daughters had it their way, we would visit a new country every year. I love that idea, not because I can actually afford to do such, but because it tells me that our traveling has lit a spark of wanderlust. And for my youngest, who is type 1, not being afraid to leave the comfort of the bubble-life we often create around having type 1, and wanting to see the world, lets me know that all the packing and prepping were worth it. It’s not always smooth sailing, but if you prepare for the worst and hope for the best, chances are you’re going to be all right. She sees that, and I look forward to wherever we travel next, because each trip brings us closer to the destination that is truly the goal: independence. There are ways type 1 binds us, and we cannot break those trappings, not yet, but we certainly can pack them up and take them wherever we want to go.
If you’re still here and wondering what I’ve got going on, here it is. I’m finishing what I believe is the last draft of a novel before it goes from my agent to be shopped. Fingers crossed. After that, I’m picking up on a novel that I’m halfway through, but needed a break from, because it took a strange and awesome turn. It’s like nothing I’ve ever written, so I need my agent’s feedback. After that, I already have an idea fleshed out for what’s next. Therefore, if I can generate these stories into sales, you’ll have some steady work from me for the next few years.
I hope you are enjoying your summer and are getting as much pleasure reading in as possible. If my work happens to be part of that, please send me a pic to let me know. I’ll share widely. Gracias.