Diabetes and Travel

Diabetes is no barrier for travelling. However, traveling for diabetics, whether it’s on a plane, train or by car, can be comfortable and safe as long as it is planned carefully. It is simply necessary to consider a few key issues and make necessary preparations to minimize potential problems.

Before you go:
Talk to your doctor about your travel plans and seek advice concerning management of the therapy during your travel, e.g. how to adjust your insulin dose if you are going to cross time zones. Insulin may be absorbed faster in warmer climates and more slowly in cold climates. So, it’s important to check blood sugar levels regularly to allow adjustments in dose be made safely.

Buy travel insurance if you go abroad.

Find out where you can get insulin supplies at your destination in case of emergency.

Take twice the quantity of your medical supplies you would normally use and pack them in your carry-on bag, which should always be kept at hand. It should contain:

  • Your diabetes ID
  • Glucose meter, plus extra batteries for it or for your insulin pump
  • Blood and urine test strips and lancets
  • Tissue or cotton balls
  • Oral medications or insulin
  • If you use insulin, talk to your doctor about getting a glucagon kit to treat severe hypoglycemia, just in case
  • A snack pack of biscuits, sugar cubes, candies and glucose tablets to take in case of hypoglycemia.

When traveling by plane:
Take a letter from your doctor which says that you need insulin and syringes onboard during the flight.

Allow yourself some extra time at the airport as security screeners may not know about insulin pumps or glucose monitoring devices, so delays may happen.

Don’t send your pump or continuous glucose monitor through X-rays. You may disconnect them if going through airport body scanner or ask a pat-down screening if you can’t remove them.

Don’t give your diabetes supplies in checked baggage to prevent freezing.

When traveling by car or bicycle:
Major concern regarding diabetes and driving or cycling is the danger of hypoglycemia when at the wheel. So,

  • Check blood sugar before driving
  • Carry quick-acting carbohydrates in the car
  • Don’t leave insulin, strips and meter in the hot car, keep them in the glove-compartment or a cooler instead.
  • Don’t put your insulin right on the ice or gel pack.
  • Pack your cooler with plenty of water to drink to avoid dehydration
  • Pack your emergency kit with frequently used medications, including oral rehydration solutions and anti-emetics.

When you get to your destination:
Take it easy at first to let your blood sugar adjust for a few days.

Learn the cuisine available or ask for a list of ingredients for unfamiliar foods. While food is a huge temptation on a cruise, eating out with diabetes should be smart. Try to choose foods that will give you a healthy taste of culture, but wont’ hurt your diabetes control.

Protect yourself from sunburn to avoid skin problems. Wear long sleeves and loose trousers, and use sunscreen for the areas of the body left exposed to the sun.

Always wear comfortable footwear and supportive cotton socks with loose elastic to protect your feet from swelling, scratches, blisters and injuries.

Never go barefoot on the beach. Wear well-fitting sandals, so that your feet don’t burn on the hot sand.

Avoid prolonged immobilization. Walk or stretch your feet at regular intervals.

If you are more active than usual, take along snacks when sightseeing or hiking.

Always be alert. Relax tours, physical inactivity, food choices and skipping your insulin dose or glucose-lowering medication can result in hyperglycemia. So, always take your self-care along with you to travel safely and without risk of ill-health.

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