What challenges does Sri Lanka pose to type 1 diabetes?
Below I discuss some things that may cause some issues with your type 1 diabetes and travelling. Don’t worry, it’s nothing you can’t handle.
Sri Lanka is ahead of the UK. This can cause some issues when it comes to insulin doses.
If you are on set doses at specific times of the day with specific foods, then I wouldn’t think about going to Sri Lanka just yet. That is a very regimented regime and you may find you run into problems.
Talk to your doctor about learning how to carbohydrate count so that you can go on more exciting adventures.
If you are on an insulin pump, you will need to change the time on your pump (and cgms) to the time of the destination. I often do this when I land, but some people do it whilst they are flying.
It might take a few days of close monitoring to work out if you need to adjust your basal rate in certain areas, but once you’ve gathered the data, things will fall back into place.
If you are on insulin injections, then there is a little bit of maths and calculations required when it comes to giving insulin, but thankfully, I’ve done a full guide on switching time zones with type 1 diabetes.
Food in Sri Lanka is amazing, and having type 1 diabetes should not stop you. It’s always quite useful if you know how to carbohydrate count before you go, and you can even google some popular dishes before you leave, and try and work out the carbs, by either looking in supermarkets or even making them yourself.
Apps such as Calorie King or My fitness pal can help when on the go. Also, you can use a physical book such as Carbs and Cals can also be useful.
Popular foods in Sri Lanka
- Sri Lankan curry
- Kottu Rotti (the best)
- Dhal curry
- Egg hoppers
- Wood apple
Kottu Rotti was my favourite food, but it's definitely a higher carbohydrate food, and it is slow release, so I would treat it in the same way you would treat pasta or rice. You may find the use of an extended bolus helpful in this situation.
If you want to low carb it in Sri Lanka, it is definitely possible.
Just stick to eggs for breakfast, and opt for a salad with your curries. For dinner, there are meat options and non-carb options, but you may find they are a little more expensive.
If you need hypo treatments then Sri Lanka has no short supply of fresh fruit and smoothies are often given on arrival at hotels. (Actually, every hotel we stayed in gave us a welcome drink of a juice or smoothie)
The climate in Sri Lanka is generally warm and can reach highs of 35 degrees Celsius. If you are coming from the UK, Ireland or parts of Europe, then you may find that your body and your diabetes is not used to the heat.
The heat can lower our blood sugars, which in turn reduces the amount of insulin we require. It can also increase the risk of our insulin dying in the heat, which is why I always use a Frio bag when travelling to keep my insulin cool.
We often find that in the heat we need to reduce our insulin by around 20% in terms of basal rate (background insulin), and we typically need less fast-acting insulin too.
This will be further reduced if you are doing activities such as walking, swimming, or dancing etc
I’ve done a whole guide on tips for managing your diabetes in the heat, but it’s also important to discuss with your diabetes team on what to do so you are prepared.
Always have hypo treatment on hand.
Generally, most of Sri Lanka is warm, i.e the North, the south and the east and west, but right in the middle is “Little England” and you’ll find it’s colder. You probably won’t need to reduce your insulin here.
What injections do I need for Sri Lanka?
As type 1 diabetics, we tend to have a lower immune system than others. It’s therefore very important that we obtain the correct injections for travel.
Lots of people don’t bother because they think the risk is low. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. These countries carry disease and catching the illness you are vaccinated against isn’t uncommon.
If you are in the UK, some travel vaccinations are included under the NHS.
- Flu vaccine
- Up-to-date baby vaccinations (MMR)
- Hepatitis A/ B
- Japanese Encephalitis.
Sri Lanka is almost a malaria-free country, so you don’t need to worry about taking malaria medication here, but you can still contract other mosquito-borne illnesses, so it’s good to take measures to avoid getting bit.
The healthcare system in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is an up and coming country, but that doesn’t mean their health service is top notch.
Type 2 diabetes is quite common in the country, so you can reach access to insulin.
If you do need insulin, you will most likely find it in Colombo, the capital. You will typically need an appointment with a doctor who will issue you with a prescription for your insulin.
Insulin pumps aren’t popular, so it’s unlikely you will find emergency supplies.
It’s therefore important to know how to switch back to insulin pens in an emergency.
You can claim back your insulin costs on your travel insurance (should you have it).
Arriving into Sri Lanka with diabetes supplies
I had no issues upon entering the country or leaving the country. No one asked about the insulin I was carrying, nor did anyone ask about my insulin pump.
There wasn’t an ounce of fuss.
Saying that it’s still always important to have a doctor's letter explaining your condition, what supplies you will have on you and why.
Then translate it into the main language of the country you are visiting.
(the Sri Lankan war was actually initiated due to a fight over the language)
They don’t have 360 body scanners in Sri Lanka international airport. You will walk through a normal x-ray and a private body search will be conducted if you beep.
Read more: What To Pack For Sri Lanka
Things you should do In Sri Lanka
1.Drive your own tuk-tuk around the country
It’s freedom like no other, and you get the chance to create your very own adventure. If you are driving, you won’t need to declare your type 1 diabetes on your Sri Lankan driving licence (which you will need to apply for).
Follow normal procedures, i.e don’t drive on a hypo, test bloods before driving, during and after, etc
2. Climb Sigiriya Rock
One of my favourite spots in all of Sri Lanka. The climb is uphill via steps. It can be taken slow, but if you are climbing in the peak of the heat (i.e after 8 am), then I would suggest reducing your insulin by around 15-20%.
4. Go on safari
Sri Lanka has some amazing safaris that offer you the chance to see leopards, elephants and much more. Bring hypo supplies with you as you will be in the heat, and if you have insulin with you, use a frio bag to keep it cool.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little guide on travelling Sri Lanka with type 1 diabetes. A little preparation is all that’s needed to travel safely with type 1 diabetes.
If I can do it, so can you!