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Traveling with Diabetes

Planning ahead is the key to traveling with diabetes. People with diabetes can enjoy all kinds of recreational travel from a week at the beach, to camping in the Rockies, to sightseeing across Europe. The American Diabetes Association provides the helpful suggestions below for people with diabetes who are planning to travel.

Taking special care when traveling with diabetes

Be sure to have a complete medical examination well before you travel to make sure your diabetes is under control. This will allow enough time for immunizations, if you need them, and give you time to recover from any side effects. Also ask your physician to give you a letter with the following information:

  • How your diabetes is treated (diabetes pills, insulin shots)

  • All medications and equipment needed to manage your diabetes (for example, insulin, syringes, and other medications or devices)

  • Allergies to foods or medication

Also have your doctor give you a prescription for insulin or diabetes pills. You should take more than enough of your medication and syringes to last through the trip with you, but, in case of emergency, the prescription may help.

Prescription laws may be very different in other countries. If you are traveling abroad, contact International Diabetes Federation groups for more information. You may also want to get a list of doctors in the countries you are traveling to before you leave.

It is important to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that shows you have diabetes. If traveling to other countries, you may also want to learn a few key phrases, such as "I have diabetes," in the languages of the countries you will be visiting.

Packing for preparedness

Be sure to pack at least twice as much medication and blood-testing supplies as you think you will need. At least half of these should be with you in your carry-on bag, which you should have with you at all times.

When packing, be sure to include the following items:

  • All the insulin and syringes you need for the trip, plus some extras

  • Blood- and urine-testing supplies; be sure to include extra batteries for your glucose meter

  • All oral medications

  • Other medications or medical supplies

  • Your ID and diabetes identification card

  • A well-wrapped, airtight snack pack of crackers or cheese, peanut butter, fruit, a juice box, and some form of sugar (hard candy or glucose tablets) to treat low blood glucose

Before you fly, be sure to request a special meal low in sugar, fat, and cholesterol at least 48 hours in advance. Always carry some food with you in case your meal is delayed or there is a mistake in your order. Wait until you see your food coming down the aisle to take your insulin shot, otherwise, if your meal is delayed, you could experience low blood glucose.

Plan for crossing time zones 

If you take insulin shots and will be crossing time zones, talk with your doctor or other health care professional before your trip. Ask for help, based on your itinerary, in planning the timing of your injections while you travel. Eastbound travel means a shorter day, so if you inject insulin, you may need less. Traveling westbound means a longer day, so more insulin may be needed. To help you keep track of shots and meals through changing time zones, keep your watch on your home time zone until the morning after you arrive.

Checking blood sugar while traveling is just as important as when at home. It is important to check blood sugar soon after landing as jet lag may make it difficult to tell if your blood sugar is very low or very high.

Storage of insulin

Insulin does not need to be refrigerated, but should not be stored in very hot or very cold temperatures. It is important to store insulin properly. You should not store insulin in the glove compartment or trunk of a car, or in backpacks and other bags that could be exposed to the elements. Many travel packs are available to keep insulin cool.

Other tips for traveling with diabetes:

  • Take it easy for a few days following a long flight.

  • Test your blood sugar according to your doctor's recommendations.

  • Plan your activities so you can work in your insulin and meals.

  • Take along snacks when hiking and sightseeing. Do not assume you will find food wherever you are.

  • Be extra careful about food and water precautions. Avoid uncooked foods and tap water. Foods that upset your stomach could cause your blood glucose levels to become uncontrolled.

  • Wear comfortable shoes and never walk with bare feet. Check your feet every day, looking for signs of blisters, cuts, redness, swelling, and scratches.

  • Get medical care at the first sign of any infection or inflammation.