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Surviving the Festival with Type 1 Diabetes

Published on March 29, 2022

Hello Dear Reader,

Many people I have encountered are wary of camping with me at a festival after knowing I have Type 1 Diabetes. This is mainly due to the misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding my chronic disease. I’d like to clear that up and (perhaps) help other diabetics who are told they cannot attend (or should not attend) a week-long festival in the desert because of their diabetes. (and no, you don’t need to camp right next to medical services)

The Black Rock Desert in July 2021

So the biggest challenge of being in insulin-dependent diabetic camping for a week in places where temperatures can reach 100+ degrees is keeping your insulin cool so it does not go bad. This also goes for your blood sugar meter as if it gets too hot it will not read. There are several ways to handle this. Ice in a cooler (which you will need to replace every 3 days), a plug-in portable cooler, if you have access to power; or an RV refrigerator. You can also pack ice packs and bury your supplies in your suitcase kept in a cool place. (Just check to make sure it does not get too hot and you will need to find a way to refreeze those ice packs) As for my outings, I had a little purse that I put my insulin wrapped up in a cool cloth that I carried around with me, always trying to keep the purse out of the sun.

As for me, I have a CGM, so I did not carry my meter with me but left it in my ice cooler in a ziplock bag. (Pro-tip: Tattoo Tape is excellent at both holding on the cgm and keeping the dust out)

In your purse (or carry bag), you should also always carry low-sugar treats. As we know, lots of heat and sun and exercise can make blood sugars drop, so always carry some glucose tabs, dried fruit, or juice boxes with you. The main fact is that sugar is too easily found in our society’s food and drink, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding access to it. At festivals, there are many people who share food and drink and will gladly share something if you tell them you are diabetic and having an emergency low blood sugar and need something sugary with no question. I try to carry thank you gifts to these people, but mostly they ask me about my diabetes, how it works, how I manage it, and are fascinated by my CGM and receiver showing my number low than rising. (Knowledge is always the best gift).

For us diabetics going to a weeklong festival is no different than spending an entire day hanging out with our friends, going on a hike or bike ride, or to the beach. Most of us have this down, we just need to remember to carry all our diabetic accessories with us as we might not be really close to our campsite to retrieve something we need.

Also, try your best to stick to your mealtimes. I would also recommend going back to keeping that food and drink log just to analyze those numbers during and after the event.

I would also suggest only carrying the insulin you need when exploring (for example if you use long-acting keep it in your cooler and trek back to your campsite at your normal dosing time) Also, use the alarms on your phone or watch to remind you to take your scheduled insulin doses or eat. Trust me it helps.

So diabetics what to pack?

Here is a list:

  • Spare batteries for your meter

  • Extra test strips

  • Extra insulin (in case what you are carrying with you overheats or breaks)

  • Extra syringes or pencaps

  • Extra-low sugar treatment treats

  • Mini notebook

  • Ziplock bags to protect your stuff if putting in ice

  • Small to medium carry bag to cart your stuff around with you while exploring.

  • Ice packs

  • baby wipes to wash before injecting/testing

  • Diabetic alert jewelry

  • Prescription labels or cards & list of medications (in case of a pharmacy run or medical emergency)

  • Pack clothes with pockets or things to put wear to hold your supplies (Like this bag I macramed that I wore around my neck or over my shoulder)

  • Tattoo Tape

Mornings in the Mojave Desert at The Everywhen Project’s Electric Universe event 2021

Lastly, I usually tell my friends about my diabetes. (They usually know) I ask them to call me out if I am acting strange just to make sure it is not blood sugar-related. Just like the Boy Scouts, it is always advisable to use the buddy system when going away from your campsite. If exploring alone, I let someone know where I am going and when I expect to be back. I also wear Diabetic Alert jewelry (In addition to my diabetic tattoo) just in case. I notify event holders of my diabetes just as a kindness so that they can be prepared.

And speaking specifically of the Everywhen Project’s events.

They always offer free in and outs which gives me a little peace of mind just in case I have to make a run to a local pharmacy for test strips, more insulin, more sugar, another battery, a spare meter, etc. There is no hassle at the gate and explaining that you will die without the proper supplies and something unforeseen happened that shortened the prepared extra supplies that you brought. Or once you leave you cannot return regardless of your medical safety, therefore shortening your planned vacation and abandoning your friends.

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