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Traveling Abroad with Diabetes: Tips from Leighton Rockafellow, Jr.

A world traveler on living with type 1 diabetes

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

Earlier this month we featured blogger Stacey Divone, who shared air travel tips. Now I’d like to introduce you to another travel aficionado, Leighton Rockafellow, Jr. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 14, Leighton is well-versed in traveling to exotic destinations while living with diabetes.

As the husband of a professional photographer, Leighton frequently joins his wife on trips. Their longest trip was a seven month tour of more than 10 countries in South America, Asia and the Mediterranean. They traveled abroad for three-and-a-half months, returned to Los Angeles for a day to refill supplies, then traveled for another three-and-a-half months.

Leighton and Amanda Rockafellow of HaBLOG Ingles
Leighton and his wife, Amanda, in Tikal, Guatemala

“My biggest concern was getting my insulin into a refrigerator in the hotels,” he said. “I was always scared to death that the hotel staff was going to take my lunchbox filled with insulin and stick it in the freezer in their kitchen,” he remembered.

In China, he turned to their tour guide for help. “I got him to write on a piece of paper in Chinese: ‘I am diabetic. These are my supplies. Please put them in a refrigerator not a freezer.’ That was really helpful. I would just hand that note to hotel staff, and then give them the lunchbox. It worked out really well.”

Another challenge when traveling abroad is eating foreign cuisines. “Living in the United States I take for granted that I can just check the food nutrition label and know how many carbs are in the food. I can’t do that in other parts of the world,” he explained. “When I guess wrong on how many carbs I eat, my blood sugar will be through the roof in an hour. Thankfully, when we travel we usually get a lot of exercise. We like to walk everywhere. If we spend five hours walking or hiking, it really helps me control my sugar level.”

Tips for traveling abroad

No matter his destination, Leighton believes preparation and anticipating the unexpected is key. “Anticipate that you’re going to lose your bag at the airport,” he advised. “The one time I traveled without my supplies in my carry-on is the time I had no bags for a week,” he remembered. “I had to go to a pharmacy in Cairo and re-purchase all my supplies.” For that reason, he suggests bringing not only medical supplies in carry-on luggage, but the prescriptions for medical supplies as well.

“Now I have a better idea of what to expect,” he said. “I know that in an emergency I can get just about anything I need from a pharmacy anywhere in the world. It’s a good idea to check ahead of time if the medical supplies you use are available in your destination country; if not, find out what alternatives might be available and how to use them. I might have to go from using an insulin pump back to injections. It helps to be able to know how to do that.”

Another tip Leighton suggests is learning diabetes-related terms in the language of your destination country. “Right after I graduated law school, we went to Indonesia for five weeks. Their non-scientific word for diabetes is ‘kencing manis.’ It literally means ‘sweet urine.’”

Leighton hopes that living with diabetes doesn’t discourage anyone from traveling. “While it might add some challenges to your planning, in my mind, it’s not a hindrance whatsoever to traveling,” he said. “Traveling is such a wonderful thing. Once you get out and spend some time in a small town in some lost country that you hadn’t even heard of before, you get a world perspective that’s just incredible.”

To get a taste of some of Leighton’s world adventures, be sure to visit his travel blog, ¿HaBLOG Ingles?. I can almost guarantee that the lush photography and vivid descriptions of their travels will give you the travel bug, too. My thanks to Leighton for sharing his valuable experiences and tips.

All the best,

Laura K.

Disclosure: Leighton Rockafellow, Jr. received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.

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