This blog post is a report about a recent trip I took to Mexico. I had a lot of fears about traveling internationally with insulin and my diabetic supplies. Fears about going through airport security (TSA), concerns about customs, fears about what if I get stuck in that country longer than expected… Travel anxiety is normal, but now being someone that needs insulin to survive, it’s a whole new dimension.
First let me express my relief that EVERYTHING WAS OK!!! My worries were high, but the reality was fine. I took extra insulin with me and didn’t need it. I had no problem with airport security.
Best TSA Conversation Ever
On the way back to the United States, I had a connecting flight, and to my surprise, I had to go through airport security before getting on the connecting flight. In retrospect, this makes sense, but I didn’t expect it. Everyone who arrives in the U.S. from an international flight has to go through airport security before getting on their domestic flights.
This TSA checkpoint was particularly empty of people, so the TSA agent was interacting directly with me.
TSA Agent: Take everything out of your pocket and put it in this bin.
[I take out my freestyle libre reader, along with my wallet, and put it in the bin.]
Me: I have insulin, do I need to take that out?
TSA Agent: I figured you did when I saw the reader. No, you don’t have to take it out.
The Freestyle Libre and the Full Body Scanner
On the freestyle libre website, it says that the sensor shouldn’t go through the full body scanner. But, I did some research online, and found discussions from people who said that they went through the full body scanner and didn’t have any issues. I also read that if you opt out of the fully body scanner, that you have to wait for someone to give you a pat down.
After reading the anecdotes, I decided that I would chance it. I had another unopened sensor in my carry-on luggage, so I figured that if the sensor stopped working from the full body scanner, that I would switch to this backup one.
I went though the airport scanner and afterwards checked my blood glucose with pricking my finger and using a regular meter. The Libre sensor reading was very similar to my blood glucose reading. I checked several times later that day, and the Libre continued to be accurate.
Summary: I took a chance going through the full body scanner and my Freestyle Libre worked fine! I don’t recommend chancing this if you don’t have a backup. I was wearing short sleeves, so the libre sensor was completely visible, and it didn’t raise any questions or trigger any alarms.
Insulin and Customs
Arriving in Mexico, I had to fill out a customs form. On this form, it asked if I had any food or pharmaceuticals. I had snacks, so of course I had food. The insulin is a pharmaceutical, as is the ibuprofen and other medication I was carrying. I checked “YES” on this box. I noticed that most passengers were checking “NO” even though I’d guess that like 99% of passengers had medication and/or snacks with them. I recommend being honest. It’s a crime to not tell the truth on these forms.
At customs, all they asked me about was if I was carrying cigarettes. That’s all they cared about! (This was customs in Cancun, Mexico.) So even though I checked yes on that form, I didn’t have to have my bags searched or fill out any additional paperwork.
Coming back into the United States, there was a similar question. I said yes. The custom agent asked me if I had pork products, fresh fruit, and some other things. I said no, and that was all there was to it.
In general, it seems that there isn’t much of a concern about carrying insulin and snacks through customs, but don’t bring fresh fruit! Be honest and there shouldn’t be a problem.
Staying in a Resort in Mexico
I stayed at a resort and it was terrific. I later found out that they had an on-site doctor. So, if you are concerned about needing medical attention while there, you may want to ask about that.
Everyone is different as to what challenges travel causes. For me, one thing that helped is that I ate breakfast via room service, and so I was able to do my morning insulin dose in private for that meal.
For other meals, I mostly did the insulin injections in the bathroom (I was at a conference and didn’t feel comfortable doing it out in the open). However, I actually was able to eat low carb and didn’t need as much insulin as I had expected. I erred on the side of letting my blood sugar go a little higher than usual, because I didn’t want to have to deal with a low blood glucose event. One day I did take too much insulin for the food I ate, and I ended up drinking an entire soda to counter that. Which was quite a treat.
Insulin on the Plane
The day that I had the worse control of my glucose was actually on my flight home. I ate Chinese food at the airport during the layover. It was absolutely delicious food. I ordered just orange chicken and vegetables. No rice. No noodles. I thought that I was being wise about it. Well, surprise!! The orange sauce on the chicken must have had a lot of sugar in it, because my glucose went very high. I made the mistake of not doing the insulin until after the meal (big mistake — always do the insulin before the meal) and I didn’t do enough of it. My glucose was high for several hours. I saw that my glucose was high on the plane, but I didn’t inject on the plane because of the turbulence and the difficulty of getting to the bathroom and because of the strangers sitting next to me. It was a short flight, fortunately, and I injected insulin in the bathroom after landing.
In general, I’d recommend doing what you can to avoid having to inject insulin on the plane.
Curiosity and Friendships
I feel that it’s important to be open about having diabetes, as it’s critical to my personal health, and my friends should care about that. So, I wore my libre visibly and a few people did ask me questions about it. I’m happy to talk about it. This is an important part of my life.
Sometimes you will learn that other people have experience with diabetes too.