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Conference Travel: Packing, The Food and The Big 'D'

You are diabetic. You manage pretty good at home. Now you have to travel for work. Definitely not the same as being at home. There can be some challenges. Some you can prepare for, some are dealt with when you get there. Here's how I have dealt with some of those challenges. Some time ago, my boss approved a four day, three nights away conference working trip to the big city. From where I live that’s about a 2-hour drive. Not far really but still a trip away from home, away from my routines. This was not the first time I have traveled. I have been on many business trips over the years but this one was a bit different because it was taking me away from home longer than I had been in quite a while. This should be simple, right? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of simple. There are definitely some things I needed to consider being diabetic. I had to plan and think ahead.


First off, I don’t pack light. I don’t know how. I wasn’t born with that gene. I needed my clothes, shoes, makeup, technology (computer, iPad, phone, e-reader—did I mention I don’t pack light?), a few anti-inflammatory meds since I wrecked my foot two weeks before, my regular meds and my diabetic supplies. Now, I don’t need a lot of diabetic supplies but there are some things I take for granted at home that I won’t have access to while away. Things that support my diabetes.

I took stock of what I needed, or liked, to have to support my diabetes while traveling. I needed the obvious things: my glucometer to test, my test strips, my lancets. At home, I have a sharps container…pretty sure the hotel won’t supply one of those. So, what would I do with the used lancets? Hmmm…I have a couple of empty test strip containers that I can take to store the used ones in until I get home to my sharps container. A second one will also work well to store the used test strips in too. Easy, problem solved.

Next up, my meds. Taking the anti-inflammatory meds with me is easy. They come in their own small quantity container. My diabetic and other Rx meds do not. I have a couple of pill boxes available. I can take my 4-day supply in those to make sure my meds travel with me. Since conferences can be very busy, I put an app on my phone that sends me a text reminder to ensure I remember to swallow them on time. I don’t have to worry about my weekly injectable diabetic med because I’ll be home before the next dose is due. Looks like these problems are solved too.


Then there is the food issue. I should mention, most conferences do offer special diet choices that can be ordered. First off, they don't look that appetizing. Secondly, they are usually wrong when they arrive. Thirdly, although I've never hidden my diabetes, I don't choose to be that public about it since they usually announce where the food is located for those with special needs. Ugh. Since it's my choice to avoid being 'special' there can be challenges. Here is where I am aware I do not have as much control. Oh, I’m not referring to MY choice of food. I’m referring to the menus served. In my normal day, before I head out the door to work, I make myself a smoothie. My smoothie is measured and pretty precise; the number of carbs is calculated so my blood sugar barely moves pre- and 2 hr post- smoothie. So, here’s my breakfast dilemma: I’m staying in a hotel; I have no fridge in my room, I have no food supplies to make the smoothie, I have no mini blender, and although I appreciate breakfast included at the conference, ‘Continental Breakfast’ does not serve diabetics very well. I am the most insulin resistant in the morning. You give me fresh fruit, Danish, muffins, croissants and other similar foods and my sugars will be through the roof all day. There will likely be yogurt at the breakfast I’m sure but the usual low-fat yogurt will not help with satiety; I need Greek with higher fat and protein. Not likely to find that, it’s too expensive.

I’m hoping I’ll have more choice when it comes to the lunch meals and snacks. However, I may not. If I’m starving by lunch from the fast sugars of the continental breakfast, I’m more likely to say ‘sc**w it’ and eat anything put in front of me. I have lived with diabetes long enough to know that one day without food control is not a problem, that’s just part of life but now we are talking 4 days. That’s too long for me. Others may be different but this is my lived experience and it causes me some worry. Dinners shouldn’t be a problem since I can choose which restaurant I will eat at and what I will eat. I have yet to see a restaurant menu I couldn’t eat off of and maintain good blood sugar control. The cumulative effect of eating so differently from my norm is not a path I choose to be on for very long.

Work-related conferences generally involve a lot of sitting. This could present some challenge as well. Normally, I am physically moving about most of the day as part of my job. Hopefully I will find some time to walk between sessions, or at the very least, in the evening. That should be do-able.

I managed to problem-solve some of my concerns. I got to hotel and asked if a mini fridge could be put in my room. It was worth the $20 deposit I had to pay out of pocket. I walked around in the neighborhood near the hotel and found a market, bought some Greek yogurt, milk and a small quantity of fresh fruit. This will be my breakfast for the next couple of days. I’ll skip the continental breakfast and sleep a bit longer instead. I did get the opportunity to walk with some colleagues in the evening, to the tune of 16,500 steps. Not too shabby.

Although I couldn’t eliminate all the challenges, I was pretty happy with those I could minimize. Sometimes, that’s the best you can do.

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