Ah music festival season is upon us once again! When the weather warms up, the stages and tents go up and all the weirdos emerge to dance the Summer away. This year marks my 7th as a self proclaimed “festie” and my 3rd as a type 1 diabetic.
I have never let my diagnosis keep me from doing anything especially not from enjoying the magical, transformational experience of camping music festivals. There’s something about living every second of a weekend immersed in the love and energy of so many smiling faces and awesome music that changes one’s perspective on life. I have learned a few tricks and tips for managing T1D while camping at a festival and as I gear up for Euphoria Music and Camping Festival in Austin, TX I want to share them with you.
Packing and prepping for 4 nights of primitive camping is demanding for anyone. Add the extra weight and concern of diabetes supplies and it can be down right stressful. Not to fear, Travelbetic is here to walk you through camping fest preparations and some tips on managing blood sugars at the fest.
Before the Fest
First, you’ll want to get all your traditional camping gear and essentials together. Here is a great, thorough packing checklist from Festival Survival Guide. My advice is to keep it simple when it comes to your camp site set up. You may be inclined to construct a camping castle but sticking to the basics will make load in, set up and tear down much easier which means more time for fun! If the fest doesn’t allow you to camp by your car consider a wagon of some sort to help lug your gear. Also, do a practice camp setup to be sure you have everything you need.
Now that your camp gear is packed it’s time to gear up against the betes. Consider your normal treatment regimen and decide if you want to make any changes for the fest. On a pump? Many T1Ds decide to take a pump break during music festivals due to the risk of sweating off the inset, ripping off the pump while dancing or bumping into people in a crowd. While many others prefer to stay on their pump as it makes dosing much easier and more discreet. If you do decide to lose the pump for the fest, switch to multiple daily injections (MDI) a few days prior in order to feel comfortable with dosing the old fashioned way once you arrive. If staying on your pump, pack MDI supplies in case of pump failure. CGMs are great for festivals to keep an eye on trends in adverse environments but also pose the risk of being ripped off.
Whatever treatment method you decide on be sure to pack plenty of extra supplies including back ups of essential gear such us your glucomoter. Also consider splitting up your supplies, giving some to a friend or stashing some in another tent in defense against a worse case scenario.
Diabetes Supplies Checklist
- Glucometer & Back Up (Don’t forget extra batteries!)
- Test Strips – pack twice your normal amount as you should be checking more often
- Insulin Pens – short and long acting
- Pen needles
- Insulin Vials – if on a pump consider a vial of long acting in case of pump failure
- Syringes – in case of pump failure
- Frio Cooling Wallets – to keep insulin cool and potent in hot weather
- CGM Sensors
- Pump Insets
- Glucagon – keep on your person and let friends know where it is and how to use it!
- Alcohol Wipes – bring tons, your hands will be extra grimy especially if you’re an active member of the no shower club like myself
- Letter from doctor stating you are diabetic and need all meds, supplies and food. Security can be strict at these things
- Hypo Treatment – I prefer to carry small packets of powdered Gatorade to combat lows as they are easy to carry. Sweetarts or glucose tabs work well too
- Carby Snacks – Clif Bars are great and don’t melt in the heat
- Diabetic Alert Jewelry – Can save your life in an emergency
- Fanny Pack – Keep your meter and insulin on you, its a pain to have to go back to the tent to check and inject
- Camelbak – Hydration is key!
- Portable Battery Charger – Not necessarily diabetes supplies but keeping your phone charged can save you in an emergency situation. Check out this Anker charger, its tiny and will charge the average phone 5 times on 1 charge!
When You Arrive
Upon arrival to the festival one of the first things I like to do is locate the medical tent and introduce myself to the medical staff. I take this opportunity to let them know I am type 1 diabetic so that if I come to them in a hypoglycemic stupor they won’t think I am drunk off my ass or tripping in la la land. This is a great reason to wear a medical alert ID! I also show them where I keep my glucagon kit in case I come to them unable to administer it myself. Some festival medical teams will have access to refrigerators on site and may let you store your back up insulin there. But don’t count on this, have a plan to keep your insulin cool yourself. Be sure to make a strong mental note of where the med tent is so you can find it in an emergency. Some type 1s like to go to the medical tent to test and inject in a clean, private place. I just carry plenty of alcohol wipes and don’t mind injecting or testing in front of people. It can be a conversation starter and a great way to raise type 1 awareness!
Once you have set up your campsite locate some landmarks to help you find it easily. A camp flag is a great way to mark your site. It’s a good idea to get the lay of the land before the sun goes down so you know your way around in the dark and can find home when you need to. Identify a meeting place for you and your friends in case you are split up or someone can’t find camp.
It’s also a good idea to inform your friends and camp neighbors that you are type 1 so if they see you acting strangely they won’t write it off as drug or alcohol induced and can offer help.
During the Fest
The adverse lifestyle of a camping fest can send blood sugars on a whirlwind. Crazy hours, no routine, little sleep, miles of walking, loads of dancing, “party favors” and alcohol can put you at risk of hypoglycemia. Consider lowering your long acting insulin dose to prevent lows. (Consult your doctor before adjusting doses or taking a break from your pump). Remain diligent through out the festival, check more often than usual, especially if you won’t be on a CGM. Remember that slightly higher numbers aren’t so bad for a few days if it prevents hypoglycemia and keeps you out there having a blast.
Drugs & Alcohol
Let’s face it, you’re going to a music festival. Chances are you will participate in some less than advisable activities. Don’t let diabetes deter you from having fun and trying new things just be properly informed and prepared to enjoy yourself safely.
Drinking alcohol slows the production of liver glucose, lowering blood sugar. The effects may not happen right away and can sometimes take 8 hours to show up. Be sure to eat a solid meal before drinking. Something with substantial carbs and lots of fat and protein such as pizza to prolong insulin absorption and hold up your blood sugar. Check often while drinking and never go to bed drunk without checking your blood first. Be sure to eat a snack before going to sleep as well to prevent night time hypos.
Be very cautious if considering taking drugs at a festival. The rule of thumb is to never take something from someone you don’t know and trust. Consider buying a drug test kit to know exactly what you are taking and stay away from “RCs” or research chemicals.
The 3 most common types of drugs at festivals are marijuana, uppers (cocaine, ecstasy & molly) and psychedelics (acid & mushrooms). Marijuana shouldn’t have much affect on your diabetes except for increased appetite, which could prove beneficial if sugars are running low due to increased activity.
Uppers cause the body to work at hyper speed, increasing the rate of biological functions and giving the user untapped amounts of energy but putting them at risk for hypoglycemia. Uppers also cause dehydration. The 3 rules of “rolling” are WATER, WATER, WATER!
Psychedelics or hallucinogens put the user in a tranced, euphoric state, often disconnecting them with reality. This can be dangerous for a diabetic as it could cause them to forget to check and inject. Consider setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to keep up with your diabetes care. Unlike marijuana, uppers and psychedelics cause a decrease in appetite. Keep snacks on you that are easy to ingest such as glucose gels or powdered, sugary drink mixes in case of a low while “high.”
Being high or drunk can mask the usually obvious feelings of a high or low blood sugar. Diligence is key! Check your blood often and be open with your friends about how you are feeling or if you need help.
As diabetics we can enjoy drinking and the occasional psychedelic adventure as long as precautions are taken and safety stays top of mind.
Aside from staying hydrated, keeping up with your meals is the best way to ensure a good time. Try your best to stick with your normal meal times so your body knows what to expect and never go to sleep without dinner or a pre-bed snack. All the dancing and drinking can catch up to you in the middle of the night and cause hypos.
Festivals usually have food options but are not always the healthiest. Pack your own grub to ensure you are getting the right nutrients. Keep it simple and easy to prepare. I like to pack a loaf of whole wheat bread, whole wheat tortillas a big jar of organic peanut butter, pre-scrambled eggs and bacon and some fresh fruit. This will get me through a weekend and save me some loot on expensive festival food. For snacks I’ll take jerky, trail mix and a big can of peanuts.
Keeping Insulin Cool
One of the most common questions I receive is how I keep my insulin cool while camping or traveling. I can’t praise Frio Cooling Wallets enough! These guys are water activated and keep insulin cool for 2-3 days before needing to be dried out. For a 5 day camp out like Euphoria I’ll bring 2 Frios and activate the second while the first is drying. Frios require adequate ventilation to work properly so be sure you keep it somewhere with a little air flow. As for back up insulin, I toss a couple pens in a plastic bag and stick it in my cooler and stay diligent with refilling ice. If you don’t have access to ice in the campgrounds, put your insulin in a plastic bag with a little water and stash it under your tent. This will keep it cool but just be sure not to step on and crush your insulin.
Things to Avoid while Festing
- Avoid energy drinks. Try coffee and eating good solid meals
- Don’t push yourself. Don’t worry about missing out, if you are tired, go take a nap. Your body will thank you for it later. I used to push myself to the edge of my threshold in order to not miss a show or keep up with my friends and I always regretted it the next day. If you are going to rest or take a nap alone be sure you tell a friend so they know to check on you later
- Don’t skip meals! Make the time to eat at least 3 solid meals even if you don’t feel like it
- While you may feel inclined to embrace you’re inner hippie and connect with mother Earth, keep your shoes on. You probably already know the issues us PWDs face with our feet and a night of stomping around barefoot will leave you with regrets the next day as your feet will be mighty sore.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, even from a stranger. You’re health always takes priority!
- Don’t succumb to peer pressure. If you are apprehensive about trying something, don’t!
There is no reason diabetes should keep us from enjoying the magic of a camping music festival. With a little extra preparation and diligent monitoring and treatment we can have just as much fun (and probably more) as 5.5ers.
I hope you found some of this info valuable. Below is a confined list of top tips to keep in mind. Ill see you at the next fest!
Featured image credit: James Klassen
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