If you have diabetes, preparing for even daily activities can require advanced planning. So how do you prepare for travel that can disrupt your diabetes care routine? Here are 9 tips for traveling when you have diabetes.
1 - Keep your supplies close at hand. Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile, make sure your diabetes supplies are easily accessible. If you’re flying, be sure to put all of your supplies in your carry-on bags. Back-up insulin should also be kept in your carry-on, because checked baggage can be exposed to extreme cold or heat that can spoil insulin, and ruin glucometers. The same rules apply for storing supplies while driving or on a train.
2 - Try to stick to your routine. Traveling can really throw people with diabetes off schedule, and at no fault of their own. The delay of a flight may mean sitting on the runway for hours, or if you’re traveling out of your time zone, it may mean feeling hungry when you should be asleep. When you have diabetes, you need to think ahead and stick to your routine as much as possible.
3 - Get documentation. Carry a note from your doctor stating that you have diabetes, and need to have your medication with you at all times. If you’re going to a country where they speak a language other than your own, translate the note into that language. Make a few copies of the note and distribute to those traveling with you, so you will have documentation at all times.
4 - Inform airport security you have diabetes. When flying, remember to put your diabetes supplies in a small container that is separate from the other liquids you’re bringing on board. Screeners can then immediately separate diabetes medications from other liquid items in your carry-on baggage. Sometimes it is helpful to carry your insulin bottles or pens in their original packaging to prove the prescription is your own.
5 - Always be prepared to treat low glucose. When you travel, you may disrupt your normal routine for both eating and insulin; you may also be sightseeing or increasing your physical activity. Because of these changes, you need to be prepared for low glucose whenever it strikes, so pack glucose tablets, which are usually the best because they won’t melt, explode in heat, or leak.
6 - Investigate the food you eat. If you take mealtime insulin, do your best to figure out the carbohydrate grams in the foods you’re eating so that you take the correct pre-meal insulin. Also, do some research on local foods before your trip so you have some nutritional information for foods you may not know a great deal about. In addition, test your blood glucose before and after meals to see how new foods are affecting your control.
7 - Consider time zone changes. If you’re wearing an insulin pump and will be traveling to a location that is in another time zone, be sure to adjust your insulin pump’s clock to reflect the change. If you have questions about how to handle the change, be certain to speak with your diabetes care team beforehand.
8 - Test your blood sugar. Travel can have all sorts of effects on diabetes management. For example, when traveling, you may be inactive for prolonged periods of time, which may prompt your blood glucose levels to become elevated. At the same time, sightseeing and other physical activity you might not be used to, may lower your glucose levels. Because of the changes in your schedule, it is very important to test glucose before and after meals.
9 - Tell others that you have diabetes. While it may not always be comfortable, it is important to tell the people with whom you are traveling that you have diabetes. Let them know what you have to do to stay healthy and active, and what they should do in case there is an emergency. Always wear a medical identification bracelet when you’re traveling and be certain that it states you have diabetes, if you take insulin, and if possible, list an emergency contact number. If you’re bringing your cell phone with you on vacation, be sure to enter a contact in your phone book entitled, "Emergency Contact"—many first responders are trained to look for this in a cell phone in the event that you are unable to communicate.