Traveling with Diabetes: My Trip to Miami & How I Managed My Health

Bailey Stokes traveled to Miami managing her diabetes


Traveling involves a few more considerations when you’re diabetic. There’s getting your insulin supplies together, making sure your diabetes information card is front and center amongst all the other paperwork a trip entails, and ensuring you’ve got enough batteries that the glucose monitor can be revived should it die at an inopportune moment.

We’re also advised that insulin shouldn’t be kept in hot temperatures, so the trusty cooling case (one that’s activated by 10 minutes in water and doesn’t need to be refrigerated) shall be accompanying me to Miami. Diabetics also shouldn’t walk barefoot in the heat, even on the beach, so the trusty Merrell sandals get thrown into the bag. So, let’s take a trip to the 305.

Getting your steps in

City breaks can be a little daunting for diabetics, as we’re advised not to overdo physical activity, particularly in the heat. It’s easy to be initially disappointed and then pleased with Miami. The initial disappointment will come at the airport – MIA is a big old beast, handling as much cargo as it does tourists, and it’s a schlep from the gate to the exit. I’ve booked to stay in South Beach, which is a walkable neighborhood – however, outside of SoBe, Downtown and Brickell, much of Miami is a new American city, built for the automobile.

Rental bikes are plentiful and useful but do be careful to stick to less busy streets – while Miami is pretty flat and easy to cycle, the standard of driving is somewhat akin to Wacky Races. That said, one of the greatest pleasures in the Magic City is picking up a Citibike on the Beach, riding over the Venetian Causeway to Wynwood, and taking time over the street art early in the morning before the hipsters and Instagrammers wake up. The ventanita at Enriqueta’s on 29th serves cafecito – strong, sweet Cuban coffee – for less than $3 a cup for a quick energy boost. This takes my mind off the fact my glucose tablets seem to have melted in my pocket.

Eats and treats

On that note, diet in Miami as a diabetic can vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. On one hand, the quality and abundance of locally-grown tropical fruit is off the charts. On the other, while my diabetes weight management program (that I need to consider at all times to maintain my health) tells me there are ‘no bad foods’, the local fondness for fried carbs like tostones and yuca can test that to the limit. The Cuban hamburger, or ‘frita’ makes skipping the bun elementary, as it comes with potato sticks on the patty. While there’s some debate over who has the best on Calle Ocho between El Mago and El Rey, I decide once is enough, although El Mago’s was delicious. I have found myself in the local fast(ish) food chain Pollo Tropical more than once. Their offerings are built around a core of grilled chicken, so pairing that up with salads rather than fries offers a healthier option that’s cheap, good, and all over the city.

Miami is also a mecca for seafood lovers, with locally caught mahi-mahi (some of the older-school Cuban places call it ‘dolphin’ – please don’t be alarmed, it’s not Flipper), snapper, and hogfish as highlights. Fish restaurants range from the highish-end Shore to Door in Coconut Grove to the blue-collar La Camaronera in Little Havana. The ceviche craze has bitten Miami hard and there are offerings all over the city – it’s a great way of getting in the two portions of oily fish diabetics are advised to eat per week.

Out and about

traveling with diabetes

If there’s something surprising – but not a criticism per se – about Miami, it’s that it’s very much not a traditional tourist city. Outside of the beaches, the biggest draws to the city tend to be timed, like Art Basel, Miami Music Week and Miami Beach Pride. Getting out into the neighborhoods is a good idea – the art installations in the pedestrianized Giralda Street in Coral Gables make for a nice stroll, and music lovers should hit up Little Haiti. Sweat Records acts as a community hub for the very much DIY Miami scene (it’s such a trek down that many touring bands don’t bother coming) and the third Friday of each month sees free live Haitian music at the neighborhood’s Cultural Complex. It should be said that speaking a little Spanish will be highly useful almost everywhere in Miami-Dade County.

Key West is a little too far for a day trip. The Overseas Highway is one of the most stunning road trips in America, but it’s the only road in and out – any sort of traffic problem can easily double the three and a half hours down from Miami. If one’s only here for a short time, snorkeling at John Pennekamp State Park on Key Largo is unmissable. Boats take you out six miles onto the reef, where fish gather around a sunken scale model of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue. The guide advises me that barracudas like to get close as they’ll use snorkelers as cover to ambush their prey, but they’re evil-looking customers that I’d probably still rather encounter from the sanctity of the glass-bottomed boat tour. The sea turtles, however, are elegant and a genuine thrill. A stop off at sprawling fruit market Robert Is Here in Homestead is highly recommended to pick up the aforementioned local fruit for snacks – there’s not a whole lot on Key Largo itself.

Does Miami make a trip for a diabetic more difficult? A little. The heat can affect blood sugar, so I found myself testing that more often. Air conditioning is ubiquitous, so going to a bathroom to do so also provides a handy break from the sun. The lack of public transport can oddly be a boost to diabetics – rideshares are plentiful, so going between locations means a breather in relative comfort.

Did I have to exercise self-control when confronted with the croquetas and pastelitos of the seemingly myriad Cuban bakeries? Yes, yes I did. But I had fun nonetheless.

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Travel Begins at 40

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