Rome for me is kind of like Santa Clause- a shiny, exciting, creature, that isn’t fully real, but that is so adhered to, a culture surrounds it. Rome is a great city to be in for seeing beauty—the Trevi Fountain, the Vatician, the Coliseum. Due to the luxury, there isn’t much evidence that a harsher life exists within and around the city. Taking the train from the airport to Termini Station, there are multiple areas where I saw mattresses rolled up in cardboard, extra clothing in bags, some cooking pots, and sometimes even small shacks made from plastic sheeting. In 2005, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights estimated 7,000 of the 17,000 homeless in Italy to reside in Rome (what was said to be an inadequate number, due to difficulty obtaining realistic estimates). About half live in the historic area of the city, pan handling, while the other half live in areas around the city, one of which, Ostiense, you can see from the train ride. I found myself questioning a bit why I was taking this travel trip while in Rome, why I was spending the money to see the luxury, when I am so aware of poverty after living for 5 months in rural Kenya. Many people say re-integration is difficult—but it’s an odd idea in itself, that you have to have experience emotional, mental and social movement, when all along you were living with other human beings, who exhibit similar needs of food, water, shelter and care, regardless of where in the world you are. So here I sit, questioning being in the café I am in, which has beautiful tiled floors, shiny glass cases, extraneous overpriced candies at the register. In a way, it is more comfortable to be in the shiny, pretty, Rome… and in a way, it causes me to feel uncomfortable, knowing another version of life lives synonymously alongside the Trevi Fountain, a life that is much harder, colder, and less comfortable.
Backpacking around Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Latin America, Australia, or the US is an amazing adventure, rocked with incredible experiences, questionable moments, and of course, the excitement of seeing new things, meeting new and different people, and the ability to grow and learn from these experiences. I have read a lot of blogs that talk about what and how to pack into your pack, in order to have enough stuff (i.e. underwear), the right items (like the REI fast dry towel), and not too many items weighing you down (do you really need to pack a second pair of tennis shoes?)! These girls (and a few boys) have the perfect-pack down; their bag is beautifully packed, perfectly minimizing clothing, shoes, toiletries, cameras, journals, and a yoga pad into a 40-liter backpack.
I would love to tell you that I too carry a 40-liter pack only weighing 15kg… but I don’t. I carry a 60-liter pack, weighing closer to 22kg. Why? Because months worth of pump and testing supplies takes up a lot of room, and weight. When having to carry them on your back for miles through airports, train stations, and twisting streets in search of a hostel, I’ve learned that things like test strips are surprisingly heavy! But, of course, a little extra struggling is worth the opportunity, and even gives me a bit of extra cardio exercise each day (there is always a silver lining). But here is how I pack my T1 supplies, in order to minimize the space it takes up, so I too can pack minimize my clothing, shoes, toiletries, cameras, journals, and my diabetes supplies into my 60-liter pack.
1. Take all pump sets, reservoirs, test strips out of boxes, and tightly repackage into 1-liter Ziploc bags. I get about 16 sets per bag, and can get up to 50 reservoirs into a bag. (The edges of pump site packages can rip through thin plastic, so try to find thicker plastic re-sealable bags).
2. When initially flying out of the US to Kenya in fall 2013, I left the insulin vials in the prepackaged box, with a sticker of the prescription on each box. Once I had arrived, I unpacked the insulin vials into my Frio-packs to keep them cool (as I have not had a fridge to store the insulin in). I have since traveled with all my insulin/diabetes supplies, and have not had a problem with the vials in the frio-pack. I simply carry a letter from my doctor in case any TSA official stops me and asks me about this.
3. In my big pack, at the very top, I stick the same letter from my doctor, saying I’m allowed to be traveling with needles, insulin, test strips etc. I put it in face up, so the very first thing a TSA official searching the pack will see is this letter, explaining why I am carrying 200 needles and other drug paraphernalia.
4. I prefer to carry all insulin and test strips in my carry on while traveling… in case my pack gets lost in transit, I can usually find a way to get needles in the country I am in, either in a pharmacy, or a hospital. Insulin and test strips are different, as some countries only have some brands, and usually, they are very expensive to buy in the places I’ve been and asked (Kenya, Italy, France). I feel more comfortable knowing I have the insulin and strips on me, as I have more ability to keep track of a carry on.
5. If you are nervous about supplies getting stolen while staying in a hostel, book hostels that specifically have lockers, and carry your own padlock. This way, you can lock up your supplies, and feel comfortable while you are traveling around a city, enjoying the traveling more. And bringing your own padlock means you don’t have to rent one, saving yourself 2 euro!
6. Buy local, cheaper, snacks for lows. I keep a small baggie of glucose tabs in my day pack in case I ever get into a jam (which is also my carry on), but I save these for emergencies, such as having a low while trying to go through a very long airport security line, and not having any juice or ability to buy anything without getting out of line and starting the 2 hour wait all over again.
Happy T1 Travels!
The beauty of having T1 and living in 2013 is the possibility of finding information via the internet- beyond checking the spelling of certain words that my autocorrect does not understand, I have found a ton of good tips and advice on general travel, backpacking, Type 1, backpacking with Type 1, traveling with Type 1, etc. And I want to share a few gems I have found!
Kenya is HOT. It is on the equator. But insulin needs to stay cool… problem? NOPE! Thanks to a blog called The Active Diabetic, I found out about a company called FRIO, that specializes in designing cases to cool insulin…. And the best part? You don’t need to freeze them ahead of time. Check out the website to learn a bit more, but the gist is that these green-reusable packs (I LOVE when something both works AND is environmentally conscious) are able to keep insulin cool for a minimum of 3 days when activated for 5-15 minutes in cold water. And you can reuse them again, and again, and again. FRIO offers a lot of different sizes, from single to multiple packs for insulin vials or pens, and different colors (perfect for those who like to color code or have multiple diabetics in the fam who tend to disagree about what supplies is whose…). I will most likely order several red cases, in different sizes for Kenya- red being easily seen and based on the western system, the color of medical signs.
FRIO also offers medical packs for a variety of other situations, from Earthquake/Emergency Kits, to First Aid, to Assistive Living Products, to Sport products- definitely check them out if you are in need of any supplies!
And check out the reviews, they are at the bottom of the page listed above, on the right hand side, on a dark navy panel (called Here’s what others say about FRIO).
Also, check out the blog The Active Diabetic for ideas on backpacking and hiking with T1! She’s great!