As I packed my suitcase, I looked into my carry-on bag and wondered what people without type one diabetes take on the plane with them. I had practically filled a tiny bag with a mini-hospital; I had my mini cooler full of extra insulin, my pump supplies, insulin pen supplies, and snacks galore. It was definitely going to be a struggle, but I was headed to Israel for 10 days with a group of teenagers for hiking, kayaking, and sight seeing in every terrain possible from mountains, to cities, rivers, and deserts, and type one was not going to hold me back!
During the trip, I never knew how intense a hike, tour, or day would be, and I was never sure how anything we did or saw would affect me. Add in a change in time zone, excessive heat, and new types of food, and this was a challenge I was ready to accept! I have wanted to go to Israel my entire life, and I was not going to let diabetes stop me. Because of the heat, my group was constantly taking breaks during any hikes or walking tours to refill water bottles and sit in the shade, so I would make sure to stay hydrated, grab a quick snack, and check my blood sugar. I was also lucky enough to have my continuous glucose monitoring system (CGMS) in for the 10 days, so most of the time I was alerted when my sugar was going low or high.
Still, within the first few days in Israel we had hiked Mount Arbel (pictured below), gone kayaking, and stayed on a kibbutz. I had my itinerary before the trip and although I thought I planned for everything, I learned soon enough that I would have to take each day in stride. On the kibbutz, there was no freezer for the ice pack I kept my insulin in, so I kept the entire container in the refrigerator and tried my best to keep it cool. Before our first hike, I gave myself less insulin than called for in preparation for the exercise, then during the hike, my blood sugar rose to almost 300, so I had to correct. When we went kayaking, I knew I had to leave my insulin pump off the kayak so it did not get wet. This left me with the question of letting my blood sugar go high due to me not receiving my insulin for 2-3 hours, or passing up a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the breathtaking Jordan River. In the end, I decided to go kayaking…I made sure that my blood sugar was on the lower side when I started, brought a glucometer and snacks on the kayak just in case, and corrected for the high blood sugar when I got off. In this instance, I could not keep my blood sugars in perfect control, but that is just a part of traveling and trying new things that we sometimes have to accept after weighing our decisions. On any hike, no matter how long or intense, I always had my backpack with me. I was with a tour group so I could never go back to the hotel or to a pharmacy if I needed something, so I had to be prepared 24/7, which meant carrying my bag at all times.
On the 6th day, my group was going rappelling off a cliff in the Golan Heights. I had planned to keep my blood sugars in check before I actually repelled, and was prepared for that when I got off the bus. I did not realize that I would be hiking up to the cliff, which was a very intense, steep, and hot hike! Before I knew it, my blood sugar was 60 and I was out of juice and snacks, I had to stop and tell the staff on our trip, who knew about my diabetes, and ask them to try to find snacks from some of the staff and people on our trip. Finally, when my blood sugar was back up I was able to hike up to the rappelling (pictured), but it was a scary moment for me…and I'm not very keen on thinking about what could have happened had nobody had a snack. Of course, I had my glucagon shot with me in case of emergency, but I have never used it and would hope to never have to.This truly convinced me that I always have to be over prepared for anything that can come my way, and that even if you are ready for every other day, diabetes does not take a break. It proved to me that if you're not prepared, diabetes has the possibility to damper a vacation, especially one with such intense activity. Thankfully, I was able to snap back into it, and I can still confidently say that T1D has never stopped me because I was able to make it to the top and go rappelling!
Despite these and a few challenges I faced along the way, traveling to Israel and traveling with diabetes were both life-changing expiriences. I rode a camel, hiked Masada at sunrise for the most breathtaking view I have ever seen, swam in the Dead Sea, and did everything I have wanted to do for so many years and more! Seeing the country and learning about new cultures and lives was so interesting, and learning to control my diabetes on the go was a test I can proudly say I aced. At home I always had my mom there to rely on, knew I could run to the pharmacy for supplies if I needed to, and was used to my daily life…so traveling without my family halfway across the world for a jam packed 10 days was extremely daunting and frightening, but I was confident in myself and knew I could take care of my health. In the end, I had the most amazing 10 days of my life, and after traveling and doing so much activity with diabetes I feel like I can accomplish anything…so what’s next?!
Hello everyone! My name is Isabella, and I am a senior at the University of Georgia with type one diabetes. I was diagnosed at the age of 19, but don't let diabetes define me. Currently, I volunteer with the Guide Dog Foundation to train puppies to be working guide dogs. I am so excited to be a mentor with Penpals United!