Your first music festival with type 1 diabetes is bound to be a big step, and even more so if you’re young enough not to have been away from home a lot before. Reading Festival is often the first that teenagers go to, and for some it’s a rite of passage after GCSE exams (my own type 1 diabetic daughter went at 16).
Parents of type 1 teens find the prospect really stressful – I know, because I’m in Facebook groups where the question gets asked multiple times every year “Does anyone have any tips for Reading Festival with type 1 diabetes?” But no one wants to stop their diabetic child doing what their friends are doing, and plenty have been before, so the tips and support are always there. This year, after my daughter did her first trip to Reading last summer, I decided to round up all the advice we were given, plus some of her own tips.
Tips for Reading Festival with type 1 diabetes
Apply for disabled access
I know this might seem like something you don’t want to do, but trust me – it’s worth it. First of all, disabled access gets you into the queue ahead of the usual crowds, which is worth doing. Queues go round the block several hours before the gates open, so this will save you a lot of time and effort.
Disabled access also gives you access to disabled toilets – which are often cleaner – if you want them, and there’s an option to have a free ‘carer’ ticket if you need one. You can also opt to camp in the disabled camping area; most teens don’t take this option, but it’s there if you need extra peace of mind and closer access to the medical tent.
Check your data before you pitch your tent
Data coverage can be patchy at festival sites, and Reading is no exception. Whilst you might be okay losing signal for your CGM during the day when you’re with friends in the crowd, you’ll probably want the security of knowing that you have data overnight so your CGM alarms will keep you safe, or so that you can phone for help if needed.
Get an early bird ticket
If it’s practical, you can pay for early access. This allows you entry the night before everyone else, and gives you the best choice of where you pitch your tent. It means you can be as close to the stage as you want to be, without sacrificing network coverage for your mobile phone data.
Carb up before going in
It might sound silly, but often there’s a lot of walking – usually carrying a lot of kit – before you get to the spot you’ll pitch your tent. If you know that walking drops your blood sugar, it’s a good idea to eat something before you get started. Type 1 teens never want to hold their friends up, so a reminder to eat before exercise is worth it.
Wear medical ID
It’s one of those things teenagers love to hate but if you’re going to put your foot down about something, it should be this. Wearing a wristband or necklace with T1D alert and a phone number is essential for emergencies, and while you might think you’ll be with friends who get it, it’s easy to get separated in the crowds, so think of this as an insurance policy.
Share phone numbers
Make sure you have at least one friend with your parents’ phone number saved into their phone. It probably won’t be needed, but in the event that you’re awol, or in the medical tent and busy with other things, it’s sensible to know that someone in your group could get hold of your parents if they needed to. And if your friends are willing, share their numbers with a parent – in the event they can see the urgent low on your CGM, but can’t get you to answer your phone, it could save you the embarrassment of emergency services scouring the campsite for your tent!
Use the medical tent
If nothing else, Reading festival medical tent is useful for storing your insulin in fridges, and for keeping hold of extra hypo kit so you don’t need to carry it everywhere with you, you don’t have to worry about it being stolen from your tent, and you can just stock up nightly before you go to sleep. Hopefully you won’t have need of the medical staff at Reading festival, but if you do, they’re really good, and worth trusting. They’re very used to supporting teens in DKA, or with missing kit, so make sure you know where it is in relation to your campsite.
Hire a locker
You can hire a locker in advance (and it’s worth doing, because they usually get booked up fairly quickly). It’s useful for so many reasons, but as a type 1 diabetic it’s ideal for storing spare kit and water. You can also charge your phone in a locker. We recommend keeping battery packs on charge during the day, so you can keep your phone on charge in your tent overnight, which is especially important if you use your phone to scan a Libre, or to follow your blood glucose levels via a CGM like Dexcom.
Take extra supplies
Whatever you do, take more diabetes supplies than you need. Take everything. If you’re on a pump, take long acting as well as fast acting insulin, and injection pens, just in case. Of course, you’d hope not to have a pump failure at Reading festival, but if you do, you need to know that you have a back up way of keeping diabetes in its place so you don’t have to interrupt the fun for too long.
And do take ketone strips. You may not plan to be sick, but if you are – or if you accidentally drink too much alcohol and get difficult blood levels – you’ll need to know how bad it is. Do not hesitate to act on ketones. They can be incredibly dangerous, and no amount of fun is worth that risk. Reading hospital say they get several people in DKA every festival, so they know what they’re doing, but it’s not worth taking any chances.
Take lots of hypo treatments
The most important thing, with all that dancing, walking, and energy – not to mention the alcohol – is keeping on top of hypos, so take plenty of your usual treatments for low blood sugar. It’s a good idea to contact Reading festival beforehand to let them know what you’ll have with you. That way, if they do bag searches, they’ll know your liquids are glucose, not alcohol to be confiscated!
Use frio bags
In hot weather, frio bags will keep any insulin that’s not in the medical tent cool enough not to get damaged. Just refresh them every two days by soaking them in water. (Affiliate link).
Take a GP or hospital letter
In case of challenge for liquids or needles on entry, it’s worth having a letter from your GP confirming that you have type 1 diabetes. This should ensure you are able to get all your glucose supplies in without problems.
Pack a copy of your repeat prescription
Again, this could come in handy if you’re challenged by security staff, and in the event of an emergency like lost or damaged insulin, it will make it much easier to get replacement prescriptions quickly, should you need to.
Wear a bumbag
These are invaluable for keeping essential diabetes kit and supplies in during the day. Better than a bag or backpack, you can forget you have them on until you need them.
Plan to run high
There’s a lot of walking at a festival, not to mention dancing, alcohol and excitement, all of which can cause blood sugar to drop. Snack frequently with no, or less, insulin. For your first time, I’d advise avoiding alcohol, to minimise the risk of hypos in the night, but if you do drink, remember that alcohol causes blood sugar to crash in the night, so eat some carbs before you go to sleep. Planning to run a bit high is much safer than risking a serious hypo in your sleep. Don’t omit regular insulin though.*
If your child is going to Reading Festival for the first time this summer, I hope they have the best time, and that these practical tips will help put your mind at rest. It’s also worth taking a look at my other post about practical tips for camping at Reading Festival.
*Nothing in this post is intended as medical advice. Always consult your doctor for advice on your insulin management at a festival.