Musings Abroad-my life in Spain: Traveling with Medication


I could only assume that meant ‘pinch?’ as the two security guards tapped their arms and repeated the question.

I anticipated having problems with airport security, as anyone who travels with medical supplies would. I knew how to say the very basic phrases such as “I need help. Do you have sugar?” and “I have Type 1 Diabetes”.  Yet, the one Spanish word that was essential to know in this situation was “needle” (which is la aguja, as I later learned).

So I tapped my arm and nodded, hoping it showed that I understood what they were trying to communicate. One of the guards was still evaluating my supplies, picking up the cases and turning them carefully.

This brings me to my first suggestion about traveling with medication: make sure you have a doctor’s note. My Type 1 Diabetes supplies aren’t commonly seen in Spain, since the country has a different health care system and insulin pumps aren’t as accessible. This then resulted in airport security and me standing around with very confused looks and them wondering what exactly was in my suitcase.

A four-month supply of medical supplies for studying abroad (Photo by: Anna Groeling).
A four-month supply of medical supplies for studying abroad (Photo by: Anna Groeling).

To them, it probably didn’t look so great that I had an entire suitcase filled with an assortment of sharp pointy objects. The amount of contained needles that I had packed, which was over four months of supplies, was enough for anyone to raise their eyebrows. It was only after I gave them my doctor’s note that they were able to clear me for my next flight.

That next plane, which happened to about as small as a sardine can. It also happened to be the first time I had to take a bus to get to my plane. The panic set in when I realized the workers were collecting everyone’s carry-on bag, which would then include my medicine. Given these circumstances, it wouldn’t take much for me to arrive in Granada with broken medical supplies. Any Spanish I had previously learned from my university years went blank when the first worker reached for my suitcase.

As a lone traveler, I’ve often found that there are people nearby who are willing to help. When communication failed between the airport attendants and I, a woman who spoke both Spanish and English stepped in to help explain the situation. She made sure that my medicine would be safe for the flight. That same woman later helped me find my luggage after we landed. I’ll always be grateful for her help that day.

Fast forward about a couple hours and I’ve arrived in my new home: Granada, Spain. My host mom welcomed me with open arms and in the traditional Spanish greeting: giving a kiss on each cheek. While getting to Spain with my insulin supplies had its small bumps, my biggest challenge would be adapting to the life here.

Traveling with Medication
For those with Type 1 Diabetes, take care not to get sand mixed in with you medical supplies (Photo by: Anna Groeling).

In the days to come, I would:

  • Pack the night before to make sure I never forgot any important supplies.
  • Make sure I always had a Medical I.D.
  • Have the necessary emergency numbers saved in my phone.
  • Never leave my medical supplies or purse unattended, even when going to the beach.
  • Tell my host mom, friends and traveling companions about my condition.
  • Understand that my blood sugars would fluctuate more than usual for the first week or so.
  • Have to adjust my insulin levels, which correspond with different times of the day, as my schedule has changed drastically.
  • Practice patience when I’m unable to read nutrition information.
  • Take all the same precautions as I did in the States.
  • Still try new foods.
  • Still travel both in and outside of the city.
  • Still love living abroad.





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