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Traveling with Diabetes

Diabetes and Travel: Tips on How To See The World And Still Be Diabetes Safe

There’s no reason your passion for travel should be grounded just because you’re living with diabetes. The fact is you can enjoy going places just like anyone else, you’ll just need to pack a few extra precautions along with your luggage.

In other words, it’s important not to let your diabetes management plan take a vacation while you’re enjoying some well-deserved time away. This isn’t always easy because breaking from daily routines is part of the excitement of travel. However, breaking away from your diabetes management plan can mean missing meals, veering from your blood sugar testing and medication schedules, and causing other important aspects of your diabetes care plan to fall out of sync.

In this post, we offer up some helpful tips on managing your diabetes while on the road. Planes, trains, RVs, or automobiles, there’s no reason you can’t have the time of your life and still be diabetes smart. For the record, these tips all work for business travel too, but that’s just not as much fun to post about.

 

The Diabetes Pre-Travel Checklist

Traveling in general requires a lot of planning - airline reservations, hotels, rental cars, attraction tickets, etc. As someone with diabetes, you’re going to need to add a few additional items to that list. Here are a few tips to getting your vacation off to a safe and healthy start.

  1. See your diabetes physician before you go

It’s always a good idea to see your doctor before you travel to gauge your overall diabetes health, blood sugar trends, and identify any current or potential diabetes-related issues you might need to address. This is also an ideal time to refill any prescriptions for necessary medications, such as insulin, to ensure you have adequate supply on down the road. You might also want to get a good old-fashioned doctor’s note that outlines your condition should you require any medical attention during your travels.

  1. Get a medical ID bracelet or necklace

If you don’t already have one, getting a medical ID bracelet or necklace is a great idea, whether you are traveling or not. It gives those around you the ability to better understand your condition should you fall unconscious or find yourself unable to explain it yourself. It also provides the name and contact info for your diabetes physician in case of an emergency.

  1. If flying, contact your airline prior to boarding

Ask the airline if they can prepare a special diabetes-friendly meal. You might also inquire about their medication policies, including any special procedures for bringing medication on board. If you are traveling with insulin and syringes, you might even ask if flight attendants are authorized to refrigerate it for you.

  1. Know your options going through airport security

You might want to consider getting a TSA notification card, which can make going through security a lot easier. You should also know that people with diabetes are exempt from the 3.4-ounce liquid rule, so you can take a juice box or other fast-acting carb through security. You are also allowed to transport gel packs to keep any diabetes medication you are traveling with stored at proper temperatures. Also, if you use a continuous glucose monitor, do not go through the X-ray scanner, it can damage your CGM device. Instead, request a hand screening.

  1. Consider purchasing travel insurance
    Travel insurance not only protects you in case you miss or need to cancel a flight, but it can also provide supplemental medical coverage should you face a diabetes-related emergency. This can be particularly beneficial when traveling overseas. 
  1. Learn key phrases in foreign languages

If traveling abroad, learn key phrases for diabetes in the language of the country you’re visiting. You might learn to say, “I have diabetes.” Or “I need some orange juice please.” Or “I think my blood sugar is dropping.”

 

Diabetes Care While Traveling

  1. Err on the side of too much with medication and supplies

The last thing you want to do on vacation is run out of test strips or medication due to travel delays, damage, or misplacing items. A good rule of thumb is to pack double the amount of diabetic supplies and medication you think you’ll need. For example, if you’re taking off for three days, pack enough medication and supplies to last six days.

  1. Carry proper snacks and/or glucose pills

Travel can be unpredictable. Sometimes it can be difficult finding those healthy diabetic snacks when you need them. At the same time, diverting from your regular diabetes meal plan can cause hypoglycemia, a sudden drop in your blood sugar level. To avoid hypoglycemia, carry snacks like peanut butter crackers, granola bars or trail mix. It’s also a good idea to travel with glucose pills. After all, better safe than sorry.

  1. 3. Test your blood sugar more often

Travel is full of the exciting new experiences - new foods, new activities, new time zones, new climates, new sleep patterns. As fun as they might be, these new experiences can also make managing you blood sugar a tad more difficult. If you’re traveling, particularly to a new time zone, make sure you’ve got a testing schedule worked out before you arrive and set an alarm to remind you of those new testing times. Generally, it’s a good idea to test your blood sugar more often while traveling. After all, the sooner you spot any inconsistencies or issues, the quicker you can get them under control.

  1. Always keep your diabetic supplies and medicine within reach

You never want your diabetic supplies and medications to be too far from you when traveling. For instance, if you are flying never put your supplies or medicines in checked baggage. They are useless to you in the cargo hold. Your best bet is to carry a backpack or other small travel bag with everything you need close at hand – your glucose meter, test strips, insulin syringes or pen needles, and all your diabetic accessories.

  1. Store diabetic supplies and medications properly

Too much heat can damage a lot of diabetic equipment, including blood sugar monitors, test strips and insulin pumps. Never leave these items in an overheated car. It’s also important to travel properly with your insulin. While it needs to be kept cool, putting insulin on ice is sure to damage it. Instead, travel with a cold bag or cooler and gel packs, but never place your insulin directly on the gel packs.

  1. Remember to take care of your feet

Diabetes-related foot problems can flare up during travel. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and never go barefoot, even if you’re visiting the beach. Feet can also swell up during long flights. When that “fasten seatbelts” sign is off, make it a point to stand, stretch and even walk around the cabin. It’s also a good idea to wear loose-fitting shoes that you can easily remove for added comfort.

 

Diabetes And Travel Takeaways

The big takeaway is that living with diabetes does not mean you have to give up on that love of travel. In fact, you don’t have to compromise it at all. Yes, you’ll have to do a little extra planning and take a few more precautions to get where you want to go, but that’s a small price to pay to follow your passion safely.

If you have a big trip in the works, the first step is to sit down with your diabetes physician and care team to assess your current condition and begin formulating a smart travel plan.

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