T1 tips for road trips, hikes and fun stuff

Going on road trips can be fun, you can turn the music up loud and sing along to your favourite songs, chat to loved ones and play car games. But if you have diabetes there are other things to consider too. Kate Bristow expands on this.

First of all, you should have a checklist. Yes, it’s a good idea to have a checklist to make sure nothing is left out or forgotten.  Planning is essential. If you are a parent of a young Type 1, you will more than likely have this covered already.

Checklist for road trips

  • Insulin and needles (have a small cool bag to carry this in).
  • Blood glucose test meter and strips (make sure you have enough stock and a bit extra for the time you will be away).
  • If you are wearing a continual glucose monitor (CGM), always have enough sensors for the holiday and one or two extra as well. The same goes for pump stock.
  • A phone, in case of emergency and for CGM to do your scanning if you wear a pump or CGM.
  • If you are sitting in a car for long periods your energy needs will drop, so your blood glucose levels may run higher, especially if you are normally active. Be mindful of your numbers and adjust your insulin doses accordingly. This will mean testing or scanning more often.
  • Super C sweets or Jelly Babies/Wine gums, Farbars, a small can of Coke/Energade or Powerade.
  • Future Life Granola Crunch Bars or protein bars as the long-acting carbohydrate in case of emergency. But you could also use your padkos snacks here.
  • Glucagon Hypokit, keep this with your insulin and tell others with you where it is and how to use it.

Snacks and padkos

  • Pack snacks that fill you up without hitting those blood glucose levels; things like raw vegetables: carrots, sugar snap peas, raw broccoli, cucumber and tomatoes. Biltong and popcorn (two cups) are good choices too. Try to limit portion sizes at meals where possible too.
  • If you tend to get bored in a car, it’s easy to want to munch. Don’t have too many carbohydrate-rich choices available. Keep your snacks in a cooler in the boot and make conscious decisions to stop regularly, eat and have a good 15-minute walk around and leg stretch.
  • It’s a good idea to make your padkos at home before the trip. Sandwiches on health bread or wraps, nuts, pretzels, hard boiled eggs, biltong and fruit are good options.
  • Portion out your snacks so you know what your carb content is for anything you eat. The FatSecret calorie counter app is useful to help with knowing the calorie content and portion size for different foods. It’s always useful to carb count with Type 1 diabetes as this gives you much better control of your insulin to food ratios.
  • Be mindful if you intend buying food to go; there are now more choices available on our roads. Pick your stops and restaurants carefully and choose your meal wisely. Wraps or sandwiches on health bread are going to have less effect on those blood glucose than burgers or pizza.
  • Carry lots of water in the car and sugar-free cold drinks. Sugar-free chewing gum and sweets are also nice to have available inside the car.

Hiking and school camps

If you are going on an adventure outing with your school or going on an extended hiking trip, consider the following:

  • On travelling days, it may not be necessary to change insulin doses. Avoid excess snacking as discussed above and choose snacks wisely. Drink plenty of water.
  • On hiking days, it may be necessary to reduce your long-acting insulin doses by 2-4u (use your sensor or blood glucose meter to assess your individual needs).
  • Eat regularly and have something to eat before starting your hike.
  • If having porridge, such as oats, or cereal for breakfast, have some protein as well: egg, sausage, cheese or biltong.
  • Start the hike with a blood glucose level of 7-10 mmol/L.
  • Test and scan often; this is intrusive but knowing your numbers will make your hike easier and more enjoyable because you’ll feel in control.
  • On longer more strenuous hikes, it may be necessary to have about 100ml of an energy drink every hour or two. Some people may prefer a couple of sweets to give the blood glucose levels a bit of a boost.
  • Do not skip lunch on a hike and test your blood glucose levels before eating. Consider a reduction of insulin by 1-2u depending on your numbers.
  • Always carry your blood glucose meter with you and have your insulin and Hypokit available. Scan/test every time you have a break.
  • Have a hiking buddy who knows how to help you and to find your kit and help test if your blood glucose levels drop.
  • Remember that sustained exercise can influence your blood glucose levels for 24 hours so be mindful not to overcorrect slightly higher levels with too much insulin.
  • Frio cold packs are useful to carry and insulate insulin in backpacks for the day hikes.

And remember whatever you are doing and however you are getting there, go out there and have fun and live your best life.

Sister Kate Bristow is a qualified nursing sister and certified diabetes educator.


Kate Bristow is a qualified nursing sister and certified diabetes educator. She currently runs a Centre for Diabetes from rooms in Pietermaritzburg, providing the network support required for the patients who are members on the diabetes management programme. She also helps patients who are not affiliated to a diabetes management programme on a private individual consultation basis, providing on-going assistance and education to assist them with their self-management of their diabetes.

Header image by Adobe Stock