Your Guide to Traveling with Diabetes
Planning to take a vacation? Or maybe you’re traveling for work. Either way, traveling gets you out of your normal routine.
Of course, that’s the reason traveling is so fun! However, it can also make it harder to manage your diabetes — eating new foods, being more (or less) active than usual, delaying your meals and navigating time zones.
Yes, it’s safe to travel with diabetes. But you do need to think ahead. With a bit of planning, you can have a great time while keeping your blood sugar well managed. This guide can help make it easier for you.
Before You Travel
Schedule a visit with your doctor a couple weeks before you travel. You want to make sure you’re fit to take your trip. Things to talk about include:[i]
- How activities you’re planning may affect your diabetes and what you can do about it.
- Tips on adjusting insulin doses if you’ll be traveling through different time zones.
- Emergency prescriptions (especially if you’re traveling out of the country).
- You should get a flu shot if you haven’t had it. Ask about additional vaccinations if you’re traveling internationally.
- Get a doctor’s note. While you may not need it, it’s helpful to have one explaining your need to pass through airport security carrying insulin, syringes, and additional supplies.
- Ask for a list of supplies you need to take with you on your trip.
Pack double the supplies and medicine you think you might need. It’s a good idea to keep half of your supplies and medicine with you in a carry-on bag you can access at all times. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, essential items include:[ii]
- Any medicines you take by mouth
- Syringes and insulin for your trip, plus extra
- Glucose meter
- Extra batteries for your meter
- Additional blood testing supplies
- Urine-testing supplies (if you test for ketones)
- Additional supplies or medicines
- Diabetes ID
- Glucose tablets
- Snack pack containing items like peanut butter, crackers, cheese, juice box, hard candy (if you don’t have glucose tablets) and a juice box
Air Travel Tips
You’re allowed to take diabetes-related equipment, medicines, and supplies — including liquids like insulin — on the plane with you. Of course, you do need to declare and separate your items before going through screening. Tips to remember include:[iii]
- Arrive for your flight 2-3 hours early.
- Pack your medicines in a separate clear, sealed bag. They’ll need to be removed from your carry-on for screening.
- Bring the box for your insulin with a pharmaceutical label on it labeling the medication.
- Lancets must be capped and kept with a glucose meter that has the manufacturer’s name on it.
- Keep glucagon kits in their original containers showing the pharmaceutical label.
- Never put insulin in checked luggage, since it may be affected by changes in temperature and pressure.
- If you’ll be eating a meal on the plane, call the airline a couple days before you travel to request meals low in sugar.
- Stay well-hydrated while flying.
- Avoid taking your pre-meal insulin until you have your meal, since delays are common on flights.
Tips When Traveling by Car
Even when you’re traveling by car, it can still mess with your blood sugar control plans. Try following these tips on the road:
- If you’ll be sitting in a car all day, your energy needs may drop. Choose meals that are lower in calories and limit snacking.
- When you stop, use it for a chance to exercise. Try walking briskly for several minutes.
- If you use medicines that can lower your blood sugar, have glucose tabs or other fast- acting carbohydrate foods in the car with you.
- Wear comfortable socks and shoes to keep your feet protected.
- Pack a cooler filled with plenty of water and healthy foods.
- Don’t store diabetes medicines or insulin in direct sunlight. Keep them in your cooler, but avoid placing insulin directly on gel packs or ice.[iv]
Additional Travel Tips
Other tips for traveling if you have diabetes include:
- Plan to take it easy for a day or two after a long flight.
- Test blood sugar often. More activity, different time zones and new foods can throw blood sugar levels out of whack.[v]
- Plan activities in your day to work around meals and medicines.
- Don’t go barefoot, even by the pool or the beach. You don’t want to injure your feet.
- Check your feet daily after every adventure. Clean any irritations well. Get help at the first sign of infection on your feet.
- Make sure the people around you know that you have diabetes.
- Be careful about drinking alcohol. It may be a great indulgence on vacation, but it can throw blood sugar levels out of balance.
- Wear a medical alert bracelet that shows you have diabetes.
- If you’re sightseeing, take snacks with you. Never assume you’ll be able to find food.