Essential Tips for Traveling with Diabetes

November 21,2023 |
woman at airport

Diabetes doesn't have to keep you from exploring, but it does demand some extra preparation. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, going on a trip requires careful planning to ensure a safe and enjoyable time away. To help, here's a comprehensive guide to managing your diabetes while traveling.

Diabetes Management Tips for Safe Travels

Regardless of if you're traveling with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, there are a few extra precautions you need to take. To help, here are some of the most important tips and information to help you get to your destination safely.

Do Your Research

Regardless of whether you're engaging in eastbound travel or westward travel, understanding your new environment is important. This is especially true if you're going somewhere internationally. Consider the changes in food, how the weather will be, and any important phrases in the local language that you'll need to learn. This can help give you the confidence to navigate your trip with ease. If traveling across time zones, consider how this may change how your body uses insulin while adapting to the new routine.

Talk to Your Doctor or Diabetes Team

Before traveling, people with diabetes should always consult with their doctor or team of specialists. This ensures that you're healthy and have the proper care when traveling. You may need to review different aspects of your trip, such as the destination, lifestyle modifications, changes in medications when crossing time zones, recommended immunizations, and necessary medical supplies you'll need. Plus, a pre-trip visit to the doctor can provide you with the most up-to-date physical exam to make sure you're in good health and managing diabetes well.

Prepare Essential Documents

The next step is to create a checklist of all the documents you may need and get them ready for travel. Even if you don't think you will need them, it's important to have:

  • Prescriptions
  • Certificate for transporting medical supplies
  • Health insurance card
  • Certificate of international health insurance (if traveling abroad)
  • Medical history
  • Contact information of your current doctor
  • Continuous glucose monitor or insulin pump details (if applicable)
  • A list of emergency contacts

    Consider A Diabetes ID Bracelet or Necklace

    Wear a medical ID bracelet, regardless of whether you're traveling or not. Doing so can help ensure that you receive the proper care in times when you may not otherwise be able to respond. The ID states you have diabetes so that first responders can act quickly with necessary medications.

    Check Blood Sugar Levels Regularly

    To manage your diabetes while traveling, it's important that you regularly check your blood sugar. You may need to change your routine for medications or insulin administration, so it's important to check your blood sugar often while you're away. In some instances, you may require more insulin injections than usual; others may require less. The important thing is to ensure that you're staying on top of your medications regardless of where you are.

    Pack Enough Diabetes Supplies

    As a good rule of thumb, it's best to pack twice as much medicine and supplies as you think you'll need. Having extra insulin or glucose tablets with you can make it less stressful once you arrive at your destination, as you won't have to worry so much about finding additional supplies if you need them. The most important supplies people traveling with diabetes should pack include:

  • Oral medications
  • Insulin and/or basal insulin
  • Gel packs to keep insulin cool (if necessary)
  • Syringes and/or pen needles
  • Blood glucose meter
  • Insulin pump
  • Extra batteries
  • Other blood testing supplies you may use
  • Medical ID bracelet (preferably being worn at all times)
  • Urine-testing supplies
  • Glucose tablets
  • Glucose emergency kit
  • Diabetes-friendly snacks (i.e., crackers, hard candy, apple, peanut butter, nuts, dried fruit)
  • General first-aid medications

When traveling by air, it's important to take your insulin in your carry-on luggage only, as the checked luggage storage compartments can reach temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Since you need to store insulin between 40 and 86 degrees, this can reduce its effectiveness and make diabetes management more complicated. If traveling by car during the summer, gel packs to help keep insulin cool are recommended.

Be Strategic About Your Luggage and Carry-on Bag

When packing, put some supplies in a carry-on and some in your checked bag. This will ensure you have access to your supplies in case of low blood sugar while en route. The only exception is flying with insulin, as mentioned above. Insulin should also be kept out of direct sunlight, for individuals traveling by car or train.

Consider Adjusting Your Insulin Dose

If you wear an insulin pump or take insulin, talk to your doctor about any changes to your dose while away. You may not need to make any, but it's important to know what to do to keep your blood glucose stable. For those who use an insulin pump, always travel with extra batteries in case of emergency.

Prepare for Different Time Zones

Similarly, different time zones may require changes to insulin or diabetes medications. Ask your doctor about how to adjust to a new time zone, and make sure you have a referral for a doctor at your destination.

Tips for Flying with Diabetes

When boarding the plane, you may want to alert a flight attendant of your condition so that they know you have diabetes. This can help give you peace of mind, just in case. Otherwise, here are some tips for navigating air travel.

Pack Your Meal

Airline food isn't known for being the most nutritious, so it might be best to pack your own. Doing so can help you keep your blood glucose levels stable during the flight and reduce the need for unnecessary diabetes treatment.

Prepare for Airport Security

The full body scanner or x-ray machine operated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can negatively affect your insulin pump and CGM, so it's important to opt out and receive a pat down. This may take some extra time, so try to get to the airport earlier than usual. Additionally, people with diabetes are exempt from the liquid rule for their medications and supplies, so make sure you have your TSA Disability Notification Card to help with the process.

Stay Hydrated

Flying can cause dehydration, which can reduce electrolytes and increase your risk of complications. So, make an extra effort to stay hydrated while flying.

Diabetes Care During Your Trip

Once you arrive at your destination, check your blood sugar again, as the change in altitude can sometimes affect monitors. Then, consider these tips to help you during your trip.

Dress Comfortably

One of the most important travel companions when living with diabetes is a good, comfortable pair of shoes. This can help reduce the risk of blisters and diabetic foot ulcers, thus ensuring that your feet stay healthy while you're away. If you have swollen feet, take it easy the next day and consider seeing a local diabetes specialist if they don't get better. You should also check your feet every day for any signs of breakdown.

Make Healthy Food Choices

Make sure that you drink plenty of water and consider taking it slow when it comes to trying new foods—especially if you're going abroad. As a diabetes educator about food recommendations in advance. Otherwise, try to stick to your usual rules for eating diabetes-friendly meals.

Listen to Your Body

If you feel tired, take a rest. If you're experiencing any signs or symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis or other complications, don't ignore them. Diabetes can be hard on your body, especially when you change your routine. However, even with these travel tips, you may still encounter instances that require contact with a healthcare provider. In case of emergency, find the nearest hospital and have your diabetes documents ready.

To help you make the most of your trip, Byram Healthcare has a range of diabetes management tools. We also offer diabetes support and educational materials to give you everything you need for comprehensive care.