How to Travel with Diabetes
Having diabetes adds complexity to planning a well-deserved holiday. Changing your schedule, time zones, increased activity, eating on-the-go or new foods can affect your health. You’ll want to be ready for anything. But don’t stress! We’re here to make it easy, with a review of everything you’ll need for hitting the roads, skies, seas, or rails.
Make a doctor’s appointment
If your trip is going to last longer than a day or two, make an appointment with your doctor or pharmacist a few weeks before you leave. Let them know your travel plans, and ask if they have any concerns or recommendations.
Get any immunizations or extra prescriptions.
Ask for a letter explaining that you have diabetes and what your treatment includes. It could come in handy at security checkpoints, pharmacies, or with other healthcare providers you may need while you’re away.
Ask for what you need
Call your airline, railroad, or cruise ship ahead of time and ask them if they have special meals for people with diabetes or can refrigerate insulin. They probably can meet your needs.
Traveling internationally? It’s a good idea to learn (or at least write down) helpful phrases such as “I have diabetes” or “Where is the clinic or hospital?” in the local language. Do some research, and find the address of at least one clinic or hospital where you will be traveling that speaks your language.
If you’re flying, know your airport’s guidelines for passengers with diabetes before you even start to pack. Most airports let you bring the things you need -- like your medications, insulin, syringes, insulin pumps and all supplies, lancing devices, blood glucose meters and all supplies, and even food for treating low blood sugar -- but it still has to go through security. Your airport may not require you to bring a prescription, but if you have one it may help clear up any questions at screening. Contact your airport to see if there are any other specific, local restrictions you need to follow.1
Don’t cut corners when packing
Bring extra equipment and medication. How long will you be away? Now, add another 2 week’s worth of supplies to the pile, and you’ll be comfortably prepared for anything.
If you’re flying or taking a train, you will need a carry-on. All (and we mean all) of your medicine, syringes, meters, test strips, pump supplies—anything you need—should stay with you. Not only is it convenient, it’s safer since cargo holds are usually not climate-controlled.
Lists are important: your doctor’s contact information, all the medications you take, and instructions for what you need in case there is an emergency.
You’re probably already used to carrying around snacks, juice, or glucose tablets. Just remember to pack extra.
To make life easier at security checkpoints, as much as it’s possible, leave your diabetes testing supplies, equipment, and medicine in its original container with prescription labels clearly visible.
You’ll probably be walking a lot more than usual, so pack extra shoes and socks for your tired feet.
Changing time zones
When traveling west, your travel day gets longer. When traveling east, your travel day gets shorter. If you’re on insulin or oral medications, you will most likely need to adjust your treatment schedule – including snacks and meals – while you’re en route to your destination. Generally, a longer day could mean that you need more food and more medication, and a shorter day could mean that you need less of both.2 For this reason, you might want to check your blood sugar level more often to help you stay close to your target range. Before you travel, work with your healthcare provider to create a plan for treating your diabetes while traveling.
While you’re on the go
While en route, don’t sit for long periods of time. If you can, stand up and stretch or walk around for a few minutes every hour.
Check your glucose levels more often than you normally would. You’re probably walking more and trying new foods but these changes to your routine could affect your blood sugar.
Speaking of getting more exercise, pay special attention to your feet. Change your shoes often to avoid blisters, and check for blisters often. And if you have issues with your feet related to diabetes, you might want to wear protective shoes at the beach or pool.
If you’re not sure what’s on your plate or in your glass, just ask. It’s important to know how many carbohydrates you’re eating.
Don’t forget: always wear a medical ID that lets others know what type of diabetes you have.
Most importantly, have a great vacation!
Before You Travel with Diabetes
- See your doctor for any immunizations or prescriptions
- Call ahead to ask if special meals are available, and request them
- Pack an extra 2 week’s worth of equipment and medication
- Create a list of contacts: your doctor, insurance, and at least 1 clinic where you are visiting
1 Clinical Diabetes. Flying with Diabetes. Available at: http://clinical.diabetesjournals.org/content/21/2/86.full Accessed June 30, 2015.
2 Diabetes UK. Travel. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/FAQ/Travel-questions/#anchor_4961 Accessed August 24, 2015.