I met Oren Liebermann in 2014, 5 months after he had been diagnosed with diabetes. Though his journey to diagnosis was anything but conventional.
In the middle of a yearlong backpacking trip around the world with his wife, Oren was teaching English to young Buddhist monks in Pokhara, Nepal, when his body began to fail him. He had picked up a virus in Kenya weeks earlier, and had been traveling for two months as a medical time bomb.
He had been brushing off signs of poor health for months; dismissing constant thirst as a consequence of the Bangkok heat; exhaustion in the Himalayas to the altitude, and weakness / extreme weight loss to malnutrition.
But after visiting a local clinic in Nepal, a doctor gives him a diagnosis that will change his life forever: “I’m sorry to tell you, my friend, that you are a diabetic.”
Oren’s reaction? “Holy shit”.
Book Review: The Insulin Express
The True Story
Being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease when you’re 7,500 miles away from home is no-one’s idea of a holiday. And it certainly wasn’t what Oren and Cassie had in mind when they quit their jobs, sold their belongings, and traded in the American dream for a one way flight.
What followed his diagnosis in Nepal were the hardest days of their trip, and the darkest hours of his life. And The Insulin Express is a gripping travel memoir that recounts that journey.
Devastated, Oren is trapped in a freezing hospital room, trying to recover enough to fly home. His friends and family urge him to call off the rest of his trip. He had quit his job as a TV news reporter for this dream-come-true journey, but the nightmare diagnosis has thrown his world into disarray.
The hospital stay in Nepal is horrendous, and his health is only getting worse. So they fly home to the US to recover. But weeks later he’s back in Southeast Asia with his wife, and his diabetes, determined to finish the trip.
From the Photo Insert
“Bold, Raw, and Poignantly Candid”
“I often say, ‘I live my life and diabetes just comes along for the ride.’ In Liebermann’s yearlong journey around the world, that’s never been more true.
The Insulin Express is one of those stories you’re completely drawn into, and unable to put down. It takes you through thirty countries, a thousand insulin injections, and one man’s journey from despair to confidence.
Bold, raw, and poignantly candid, it tells the story of what happens when the best-made travel plans are subject to the ever-present chaos of life, and how a major setback can turn into the opportunity of a lifetime.
Despite struggling with a chronic disease that almost kills him in the Himalayas, Oren recovers, and resumes his journey, to later hike along the Great Wall of China, conquer the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, and sip cobra whiskey in Laos. It is an incredibly inspiring story about a man who refuses to be defined by his disease.
A Message to His Disease
A Captivating Travelogue
As a journey of resilience and self discovery, this book is an inspirational read. But with his candid writing style and rich, detailed descriptions of places most of us have never been, the chapters up until the point of his diagnosis could stand as a captivating travel-logue alone.
As a travel chronicle, Libermann is funny and relatable, and you instantly forge a connection with him as he recounts his remarkable journey – by the end of the book you feel as though you’ve traveled with him, and know him intimately as a friend.
With a flair for storytelling and a sharp wit, Oren tells tales about camping illegally along the Great Wall of China, finding himself bewilderingly lost in Bangkok, and why you should never trust Mexican restaurants when not in or at least near Mexico.
His determination to continue on traveling after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes is inspirational in the truest sense of the word, but what truly engrossed me was his comedic humor, his spirited storytelling, and an infectious wide-eyed wonder for the world.
If you’re looking for a book which is both comedic and uplifting, while inspiring a deep sense of wanderlust, The Insulin Express should be your next read.
➡ Start reading (buy on Amazon)
➡ Oren’s interview with Diabetes Self-Management
➡ 42nd Class (Oren & Cassie’s blog)
➡ The American Diabetes Association
Thanks Megan for an awesome review!! It’s a privilege to have so many friends who love travel as I do, and who want to encourage others to travel!!
You’re most welcome! Your story is quite incredible, I really loved reading the book :)
I can’t even imagine having to go through that – it sounds like a crazy trip. Will add to my Goodreads.
I’m right there with you! Though Oren’s writing really makes you feel as though you’re experiencing the whole ordeal with him – it’s an incredible intimate read. Highly recommend it!
Hi Oren and Megan. My brother has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, and it’s really nice to hear from someone that it doesn’t have to completely change your life.
I’m looking forward to reading your story, and will pass it on to Troy as well (my brother).
Hi Kathryn, thanks for reaching out. I’m sorry to hear about your brother’s diagnosis, but from everything I’ve read from Oren’s experience, it’s absolutely manageable and once you get a handle on injections, and your diet, you should be able to go about your day the same way.
I can highly recommend Oren’s book – it also comes with tips and advice from the American Diabetes Association at the end :)
Thanks for finally writing about >Your Next Travel Read Should be The Insulin Express: One Backpack, Five Continents, and the Diabetes Diagnosis That Changed Everything <Loved it!
You’re welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed the review. You’ll love the book – it’s gripping!
Sounds like a great read.
I couldn’t put it down – can highly recommend it :)
Will be buying this book soon!
Fortunately I was diagnosed before I started traveling, but still something I can relate to anyway. Looking forward to reading it!
Enjoy the book Daniel … It’s a really inspiring read :)
Oh wow, I’ll certainly buy this book. It sounds like Oren went through quite the ordeal. To resume his journey after having gone through that experience is incredible. Good on him.
Absolutely – his determination to live life on his own terms is truly inspiring.
This is my worst nightmare. Will read the book. And Nepal of all places, I can’t think that the care would have been overly fabulous. How soul crushing to have this happen in the middle of something you’ve worked so hard for.
From having read his experience it doesn’t sound like the healthcare was the best over there, so they did everything they could to get home as soon as possible. I think the biggest takeaway if you’re worried about something like this happening is to make sure you listen to your body – there were warning signs for months before it got to the stage of hospitalization, but I think we like to think the best, or brush health warnings like that off because we often think we’re invincible.
I hope you enjoy the book – it’s a really funny, and inspiring read with a lot of great lessons.
I think my reaction would have been much worse than “Holy shit”. I probably would have crawled into the fetal position and cried! It sound like he has a good sense of humor though, I’m looking forward to reading about their travels.
Mine too. Yes, he’s managed to keep a very positive outlook, and his sense of humor even throughout the actual experience of being hospitalized and diagnosed, still shines through!
I found out that I had Celiac Disease while we were traveling a couple of years ago, so this story has struck a cord. Different diseases, but I can definitely relate to having your body progressively break down because of what you’re eating, and have absolutely no idea as to what’s going on. Similarly, we travel on, and adapt. I won’t let it beat me either. Thankyou for writing about it.
Sounds like a very stressful situation Joey – I’m sorry to hear that you went through something similar. Mike travels with celiac disease as well, so I completely understand how difficult it makes being overseas and trying to find food that you can actually eat.
Glad to hear that you’re not letting it stop you though! Happy travels – hope you enjoy the book :)