Tips for traveling with diabetes

The universal symbol for diabetes

Contributing health and spa writer Sheryl Kraft offers some simple steps for staying healthy and fit while traveling with diabetes.

Travel takes careful planning – no matter what the circumstances. But traveling with a chronic illness requires a bit more than just figuring out which pair of shoes to pack and making decisions about other particulars–like hotels, local sites of interest and transportation schedules.

For someone with diabetes, a little organization and planning ahead can go a long way toward ensuring a healthy, safe trip.

Heed these helpful tips developed by the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), a multidisciplinary organization that educates healthcare professionals about diabetes education, management and support:

1) Pack more than you need (medications, of course). It’s not altogether uncommon for travel to be delayed or supplies misplaced. If you’ll be gone for a week, make sure to pack two weeks worth of what you need: insulin, syringes, testing strips, extra pump batteries, a first-aid kit, glucagon emergency kit, etc.

2) Think about back-ups. Do you use a pump? It’s not a bad idea to ask the company for a backup in case yours fails.  Get a prescription from your doctor for insulin or oral medication, in case of an emergency.

3) Protect your supplies. Keep an eye on your medications and supplies. Don’t put them in checked luggage. Keep them out of a car’s trunk puts them at risk for spoilage with extreme (too hot, too cold) temperatures. If you’re air-bound, bring them in their original packaging and in a bag separate from your toiletries, as requested by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Good to know: the usual 3.4-ounce liquid carry-on limit does not apply to diabetes medications and supplies.

4) Identify yourself and your condition. Make sure to wear your medical bracelet or necklace noting you have diabetes and take insulin. Other important documents include a doctor’s note that explains you have diabetes and the medications you take and a prescription in case you need more, plus a health card that includes your emergency contact and doctor’s name and phone number. And it’s not a bad idea to learn the local language of the country you’ll be visiting. Key words and phrases: “I have diabetes,”  “sugar,” and “orange juice, please.”

5) Pack snacks and low blood sugar treatment. Since low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can strike any time and food access during travel is unpredictable, snacks such as peanut butter crackers, granola bars and trail mix as well as glucose tablets or gel are a good idea.

6) Simplify flying. Tell the TSA folks that you have diabetes (they’re used to accommodating people with health issues). To learn about the current screening policies, visit the TSA website for Passengers with Diabetes before your trip. If you plan to inject insulin while flying, be forewarned – the pressurized air can make it more challenging to draw up your insulin, if using a vial and syringe, so be extra careful not to inject air into the bottle.

7) Test often.  New foods, increased activity and different time zones can throw your glucose levels out of whack, so be sure to test frequently, including before and after meals. If you take insulin, keeping your levels steady can be tricky when changing time zones, so make a plan to adjust your schedule for injecting. Before your trip, speak to your physician or a diabetes educator, who can help you with this process.

8) Be attentive to your feet.  Wear comfortable well-fitting shoes and socks at all times – resist the temptation to go barefoot. Check your feet frequently, especially after a hike or long walk. Feet and ankles often swell during flights so consider wearing light knee-high compression stockings (20-30 mm Hg) or bring thinner socks to change into if your feet swell. Wear a shoe that can be loosened if that occurs. Pointing and flexing your ankles during a flight can improve blood flow in your calf muscles and decrease swelling as well as lower the risk of blood clots.

9) Prepare for a health emergency. Nobody likes to think they’ll get sick while traveling, but it’s possible. If you need medical treatment, ask your hotel to recommend a local doctor who treats diabetes. Prior to an overseas trip, get a list of local English-speaking doctors through the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.

Other resources:

*The post above provides general information. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice from a physician or other healthcare provider.

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  1. My husband is diabetic and we spend a great deal of time traveling. I think he is aware of all of this but I shared it just in case. Thanks!

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