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Jeanie Seashore Hiked 500 Miles Across Spain with Type 1 Diabetes: Here’s How She Did It

By Alexander Wolf 

A 500-mile hike across Spain’s Camino de Santiago is a challenge many people would shy away from. But not Jeanie Seashore. At 59 years old, a grandmother, and a person living with type 1 diabetes, this challenge is just one of the many ongoing adventures she’s taken on throughout her life. After hiking Machu Picchu and completing the 562-mile AIDS bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles, Jeanie had decided hiking the Camino would be her next adventure.

A longtime participant in research trials through William Sansum Diabetes Center (WSDC), Jeanie approached the WSDC team about her Camino journey. Serendipitously, WSDC was in the middle of developing a brand new research project: the Diabetes and Travel Program. This project aims to provide people with type 1 diabetes the tools to travel safely anywhere in the world. The center crowd-funded over $10,000 to fund Jeanie’s trip and decided to send Jenny Martinez – a Project Coordinator at WSDC and Spanish speaker – to accompany her on the journey.

We had the chance to speak with Jeanie and Jenny about their journey, their advice for people traveling with diabetes, and to learn more about the WSDC Diabetes and Traveling initiative.

What inspired Jeanie to hike the Camino?

Since Jeanie was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes over 20 years ago, she’s committed herself to not letting it hold her back.

“Diabetes didn’t happen to me, it happened for me… Diabetes gave me a motivating force to live bigger.”

Jeanie also loves being in nature, saying that one of the biggest higlights of the trip was simply getting to “really dive into the Camino atmosphere and be immersed in it for so long, day and night, where there’s nothing else you have to do except just be.” As Jeanie wrote in her blog about the trip, "I have felt the need to live a life of purpose. Having had this opportunity to walk the Camino I realized its about living a purposeful life. Be on purpose in life, have intention, live with integrity. It’s all about the choices we make."

In addition to incredible advances in medicine and technology (Jeanie cites her OmniPod pump and Dexcom CGM as personal gamechangers), this outlook has pushed Jeanie to continuously find challenges that make her feel purposeful and “fully immersed in the now.” And as anyone with diabetes knows, staying in the moment is hard with all the worries about medication, food, and exercise.

How did Jeanie prepare for the Camino?

Jeanie’s primary piece of advice for traveling with diabetes was just three words long:

Bring extra supplies!

On the Camino trail, Jeanie was reminded firsthand why good preparation is critical. Unfortunately, one of her spare OmniPod boxes contained faulty pods, which led her to run out of insulin at the very end of the trip (despite packing plenty of extra insulin). While ultimately she was able to make it through after navigating between local pharmacies and clinics, it’s always good to travel prepared – especially when going to countries with different healthcare systems and languages. 

For Jeanie, in addition to plenty of her standard diabetes supplies (double the supply of OmniPod pods, backup needles, syringes, and insulin pens, and her Dexcom CGM), her checklist of diabetes travel supplies includes:

  • TONS of rescue carbs (including skittles/ jellybeans, GU energy gels/chews, and Kind bars). 

  • A temperature control bag (Jeanie used a FRIO pack) to keep insulin and other supplies in the appropriate temperature range.

  • Extra prescriptions for all necessary medications.

  • A doctor’s note describing her diabetes, which can be particularly useful for airport security (a common concern for people traveling with diabetes). See this link for a template doctor’s letter from the WSDC, and learn more tips about traveling through airport security here.

See this link for other packing suggestions from WSDC​.

[diaTribe’s Senior Editor Adam Brown finds it helpful to store this kind of list in Evernote, which he pulls up before going on any trip.]

Advice on traveling with diabetes

Jeanie’s primary message is one of motivation. Diabetes is a condition that changed Jeanie’s life entirely, but as Jeanie put it, “I’m here for a reason. I am not diabetes. I have this condition… Don’t let it stop you, let it motivate you and help motivate others.”

Jeanie also emphasized that when traveling with someone with diabetes, it’s critical to maintain an open conversation about diabetes. Relatedly, Jenny mentioned it's helpful to ask questions. For instance, rather than saying something like, “I think you’re low,” Jenny would ask things such as – “Do you have enough snacks?” “Do you maybe want to check your blood sugar?” “How are you feeling?”

Jenny added that some people with diabetes prefer to stick to one travel location to revisit over and over because it’s predictable and safe. Their trek across the Camino “screamed unpredictability,” and involved figuring a lot of new things out before and during the trek. As Jenny advised, “Be smart and prepare, but tell yourself that nowhere is out of reach.”

Learn more about their trip by visiting Jeanie's blog, "Trekking T1D" or WSDC's real-time blog of the trip here.

More Information: William Sansum Diabetes Center Diabetes and Travel Program

According to WSDC, 1 out of 10 travelers with diabetes experiences some sort of medical problem, often due to hypoglycemia and insulin dosing confusion when crossing time zones. The WSDC Diabetes and Travel Program aims to allow more people with type 1 diabetes to travel safely all around the world.

Visit diabetestravel.org to learn more, including their Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Diabetes, and a Diabetes Travel Calculator to help lay out a step-by-step guide for monitoring diabetes for a specific travel itinerary.