You want to visit Lithuania – but you have diabetes, and you’re nervous about being in a strange land with such a difficult and unpredictable condition.
No problem! Anyone with Type 1 diabetes can visit Lithuania, go anywhere in this hidden gem of a country, and eat the food in any restaurant.
Just follow some basic tips, and be prepared for your trip to Lithuania with diabetes.
This is your personal guide for traveling to Lithuania as a diabetic, or with a travel partner or kid who is diabetic. In this guide you will find:
- How to speak Lithuanian (for diabetics)
- What to eat in Lithuania
- Where to go in Lithuania
- My experiences as a Type 1 diabetic in Lithuania, including blood sugars and insulin
- Links to my detailed diabetes travelogue for Lithuania
How to speak Lithuanian – for T1Ds
How to say “diabetes” in Lithuanian? To be honest, it’s extremely unlikely to come up in your trip there. You should be wearing something (bracelet, necklace, etc) that identifies you as a T1D while traveling; the English should be understood by any medical personnel.
But if you want to learn it, or just want to drop it into conversation with a Lithuanian for your own amusement (hey, I’m not here to judge you!) try these phrases:
- diabetes – diabetas (“dee a BEH toss”)
- diabetes mellitus – cukrinis diabetas (“tsu KREE niss dee a BEH toss”)
Realistically, medical professionals will most likely know the English word “diabetes”. If you are in a situation (unikely!) that you need to communicate it, just say it in English, and/or show an insulin pen or CGM or some other diabetes supplies. They’ll instantly understand and know what to do.
Traveling in Lithuana as a Type 1 diabetic
Lithuania is situated between Latvia and Poland, and also borders Belarus and the Kaliningrad part of Russia. The food in Lithuania often features meat and potatoes, but international/ethnic restaurants and shops with snack foods abound like anywhere else.
To get low blood sugar snacks, go to a convenience store, supermarket, or kiosk; you will find juices, colas, chocolate bars, cookies, and things like that. Always make sure you have enough low BG stuff with you; it’s best to keep some on you and also some in reserve in a bigger bag, maybe in your room, if you’re going out. You might end up in a place or a situation (on a long bus) where nothing is available. Stock up when you can.
Unlike, say, Latvia, trains are a viable way to get around Lithuania, though you may also find buses convenient in many parts. Both are reliable and not too expensive, although there may be no services on board either. If you know you’re going to be on a long trip one day, buy sandwiches or something for lunch beforehand. Trains probably won’t stop anywhere long enough for you to jump out and buy something. Buses will, but you won’t know when so don’t rely on it.
My route in Lithuania
I spent nine days in Lithuania, mostly in three cities. Every day was packed with activity; I was with my travel partner Masayo and we saw so much it’s hard to believe it was only nine days. What I’m saying is you can see a lot of great stuff here.
We first went to the capital Vilnius by bus from Latvia, then went to Šiauliai by train, and then to Kaunas by bus. From Kaunas we went to Poland.
My diabetes experiences in Lithuania
In all honesty, my blood sugar was pretty bad in Lithuania. It wasn’t the country’s fault, nor its food; it was my poor Humalog dosing choices. The food I was eating had more carbs in it than I thought.
My diabetes stats from Lithuania:
- Total number of BG checks: 43
- Average BG: 200
- Lowest BG: 70
- Highest BG: 386
- Average morning BGs (~12:00): 204
- Average afternoon BGs (12:00~6:00): 173
- Average evening BGs (6:00~): 204
When your BG is bad, all you can do is learn from it and try to improve in the future. For example, for the first half of my time in Lithuania, the average BG was 240; during the second half it was 158. That’s a huge improvement, so although your own diabetes stats in Lithuania might not be good overall, try to hone them as much as you can.
As a traveler, your food choices in Lithuania may include a wide range of foods, from nice restaurant meals to quick kiosk snacks. Overall you’ll probably get to know the same types of foods that I did, including:
- Lithuanian food – Try soup in a bread bowl, with potato halves and meat as a main course. I had this in a proudly Lithuanian restaurant (a chain, actually) called Bernelių Užeiga on a side street in Kaunas, and it was excellent. Local food is usually best! But Lithuania is not famous for its cuisine; you will probably venture beyond its borders in your food choices.
- Cafés – Modern, Starbucks-like coffee shops are commonly found and all serve the same types of pastries you can get anywhere. These are often particularly high in carbs; don’t shy away from them, but try to dose accordingly. Not sure? Check your BG afterwards!
Many such places also serve lunch food, like soups and quiche.
- Pakistani dinner – You’ll be in Lithuania but there are all kinds of food. On my first day in the country I had Pakistani food for dinner, including naan, rice, and lassi. Unsurprisingly, I was over 300 afterwards; I should probably have taken more insulin but split into two, once before and once during the meal. Lesson learned. Again, don’t shy away from what you want but be realistic about the carbs that may be included, and check BG often.
- Supermarket food – If you stay in a room with its own kitchen, or a hostel with cooking facilities, you can cook your own food. We heated lasagna in our toaster oven one night, augmenting it with crackers and beer. Inexpensive and filling. (Be careful about the alcohol though!) One night we had fresh fish and pasta salad with cheese and crackers and packaged soup. Good enough for most travelers!
- Pizza – When in doubt, have some pizza. There are lots of “pica” places, though as with all pizza they tend to be high in carbs. Inject, eat, and check later once or twice.
- Bus and train food – Sandwiches and pastries, bought from a kiosk in a train or bus station. Sometimes these will have nutrition info on them so you can gauge your insulin accordingly. Note that sitting all day may raise your BG more so take that into account.
Overall, the important things for a diabetic traveling to Lithuania to remember are:
- Don’t shy away from foods.
- Check your blood sugar often, even if you think you know what it is.
There’s lots of good food in Lithuania; try new things and eat what you want!
Taking insulin in public in Lithuania
I usually took my insulin shots at the table at restaurants. Just be discreet, since some people might not want to see it. I use my legs, so could usually twist in a way that nobody noticed. This also meant injecting through my Bluff Works travel pants, but it was never a problem. Anyway, you can always find a restroom to duck into for your shot if that makes you more comfortable.
Rooms and accommodation in Lithuania
You can book accommodation before your arrival into a new town in Lithuania; I used booking.com for all my rooms. There is a large array of places all over the country, from cheap dorm beds in hostels to affordable guesthouses with private kitchens to top of the line luxury hotels.
When you go to Lithuania your experience is likely to be very similar to mine, if you like to save money but not live too rough:
- Opera Inn, Vilnius – Basic and functional room with a microwave/toaster oven, hot plate, and plates and cutlery that opened up a lot of meal possibilities. We kept milk in the small refrigerator for breakfast cereal, and even made coffee in the hot water pot.
- Pigi Nakvyne, Šiauliai – Actually a residential apartment you can book for short stays, this was the nicest place yet on our trip. Full kitchen, spacious living room, and a big bedroom on a quiet tree-lined street near the main road in town. Ultra-fast internet, too. I still think about this place, and there are places like it all over Lithuania if you’re lucky!
- Kauno Arkivyskupijos, Kaunas – A religious-themed guesthouse on a perfect courtyard in a stunning cobblestone alcove off the main Old Town square, this place has small rooms with a shower and bathroom shared between two. The location is spectacular, and everything is new and super-clean, if basic inside. The staff are nice, and you won’t want to leave.
One thing we didn’t have in Lithuania was buffet breakfasts included with our rooms, as we had in Estonia and Latvia. This was because the places we found were so nice, at such good prices, that the lack of an included breakfast was worth it. Cereal and fruit bought the day before, or a café with coffee, was fine for us.
The places you can find to stay in Lithuania, if you so choose, can be varied, beautiful, and very comfortable without impacting your travel budget.
Keeping insulin cool in Lithuania
Some rooms have their own refrigerators, and that’s a good place to store your insulin while you’re staying. Smaller places, or hostels with dorms, will probably also have a refrigerator. Write your name and/or room number (the staff will have a marker) and put it in there. Don’t forget your insulin when you check out!
Things to see in Lithuania
There are comprehensive Lithuanian travel sites on the internet as well as great guidebooks, but some of the highlights you may or may not find in those sources are what I found in Lithuania:
- Old Town Vilnius – The capital of Lithuania contains a large area of grand old medieval buildings still in use for apartments, businesses, and restaurants. Winding streets in this UNESCO World Heritage Site area are excellent fun to get lost in, and there are no bad views, boring alleyways, or lack of things to explore anywhere.
- Gediminas Tower, Vilnius – Climb to the top of the hill (check that blood sugar after exercise!) and look out over Old Town Vilnius and beyond. Gediminas Tower is a large, round brick structure that you can see from everywhere in Old Town. Don’t miss it.
- Frank Zappa bust, Vilnius – On a little courtyard near Old Town Vilnius is a bust of Frank Zappa on a pole. His iconoclastic nature was an inspiration to Lithuanians looking to break from Soviet rule in the 1980s. Music fans and lovers of independence can now go gawk at Frank. Just don’t eat the yellow snow.
- Trakai Island Castle, Vilnius – Actually 28 km from Vilnius, this is a really cool 14th century castle occupying its own island in a tranquil lake. Even if you’re not into castles or history, this is worth going to see just for the beauty and serenity. Nearby shops sell kibinas dumplings (plural kibinai), a local Karaite-minority specialty.
- The Hill of Crosses, Šiauliai – A few kilometers outside of town is a collection of thousands upon thousands of crosses on a hillside. Anyone can add one, and some are super simple while others are ornate and finely crafted. Devotees and even non-religious gawkers stroll the narrow paths among them, getting overwhelmed by the expression of devotion everywhere. I swear I heard an echoing voice coming from under the largest pile of them.
- Iron Fox, Šiauliai – On the edge of a lake stands a great, striking-looking iron fox statue. In an area of town full of curious graveyards, healing rock circles, and monuments.
- Devil Museum, Kaunas – The world’s only museum dedicated to Satan and devils, this place is full of devil figurines, masks, and wall hangings from all over the world. Alternately wicked and cartoonish, there’s nothing like visiting this on the same trip you also visited The Hill of Crosses!
There is much else to be seen and discovered in Lithuania; I hope you make it to some of the places I mention here but also find your own. Let me know what you find; I want to go back to Lithuania and I’m looking for ideas ;)
Have you been to Lithuania?
If you’re going to Lithuania and have any questions about diabetes control there, let me know. If you’ve been to Lithuania, diabetic or not, tell me about your time there. Did I miss anything important? Did you go to the same or different places? Let me know.
You can go anywhere with diabetes!
Read more about my travels in Lithuania
Come along on the adventure! Follow detailed travelogues about the wondrous sights, fascinating people, and varied diabetes experiences I encountered as a traveling T1D in Lithuania:
Day 16: Latvia To Lithuania: An Improvement In Blood Sugar?
Day 17: Classic Rock-themed Day In Vilnius
Day 18: Trakai, A Castle With Its Very Own Island
Day 19: The First Train Of The Trip: Vilnius To Šiauliai
Day 20: Sacred Hill Of Crosses And A Grinning Iron Fox
Day 21: Kaunas, Part City And Part Open-air Church
Day 22: Someday We'll Leave Kaunas... But Not Today
Day 23: Devils Appear To Haunt Our Lithuanian Travels
Day 24: Goodbye Baltics, Hello Warsaw
Share your travel stories, give advice, or ask a question in the comments section.
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