Exploring new places, discovering different foods, and learning about various cultures- traveling can enrich your life in many ways. One of the biggest thrills of traveling is escaping from the monotony of your everyday life, giving you a much-needed break from your daily routine. But for people living with diabetes, sticking to a routine is crucial for good diabetes management.
Diabetes can undoubtedly make travel more challenging, but it doesn’t have to keep you close to home. Changes in what you eat, your activity level, and even time zones can quickly impact your blood sugar levels. However, planning is the key to effective diabetes management when you travel. The more you prepare, the more you can enjoy your vacation, relax, and experience all the fantastic adventures that lie ahead.
Let’s discuss some tips to make your travels easier in this guide to traveling with diabetes.
How Does Traveling Impact Diabetes?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37.3 million Americans are living with diabetes today, indicating the condition is prevalent throughout the country. Although there is no conclusive evidence that those traveling with diabetes are more likely to become sick than those without, it is clear that changes to your normal routine can negatively impact your health. Additionally, people with diabetes must make accommodations to travel with medication and medical devices to properly treat their diabetes while away from home.
Pre-travel preparation should allow you to enjoy a rewarding trip without serious medical concerns. Still, you’ll need to know what steps to take to prepare yourself effectively for a successful trip. Since changes in diet, eating schedule, increased activity, new time zones, and climate changes can all impact your blood sugar levels, you must know what to expect when it comes to diabetes management while traveling.
The Ultimate Preparation Guide for Traveling with Diabetes
Use this guide to help you plan so you can have fun without worrying on your next vacation or business trip.
Before You Go
Unless your travel plans pop up unexpectedly, you should ideally start planning your trip well in advance of your departure date. This will ensure you’ve taken all the necessary steps to have everything you need for your diabetes management. Before you go, consider these tips:
1. Schedule a Checkup with Your Doctor
It’s always a good idea to see your endocrinologist before you travel. They know your condition best and have critical insight into your current health status. Give them the specifics of your travel to ensure you’re fit for the trip. Be sure to ask the following questions:
How can travel affect my diabetes, and what should I do to manage it?
Do I need to bring any additional medical supplies? If so, can you provide a prescription?
How should I adjust my insulin when I enter a different time zone?
What signs of a problem should I watch for, and when should I seek medical attention?
Before leaving the office, ask for a medical note documenting your condition. This will ensure no issues if you are flying or taking another form of public transportation.
2. Secure Travel Insurance
Take advantage of travel insurance. Even if you feel healthy, you never know when things will change if you live with a chronic condition. Although diabetes is considered a pre-existing medical condition, most insurance companies won’t charge extra for insuring individuals with diabetes if they have no complications. Make sure you declare diabetes as a pre-existing condition to the insurer before traveling. Discuss the conditions of your coverage since some companies will not replace lost, stolen, or damaged insulin.
3. Prepare Your Medication
Organizing your medication is the most critical part of your travel preparation. You’ll need to make sure you have all your medications with you for your trip and enough of each! Create a written medication administration schedule to ensure you have everything you need. Add a few extra days to plan for any unforeseen changes to your travel schedule. Pack all diabetes medication, equipment, and supplies in secure luggage that stays with you wherever you go.
Make sure you have the following:
All diabetes medication, including pills, syringes, pens, and insulin pump supplies
Enough insulin to administer the highest dose at each test to ensure you have plenty of medicine for your trip
Blood glucose meter, alcohol swabs, lancets, test strips, and charger (if applicable)
If you use a continuous glucose monitor, bring a spare sensor and a backup testing meter if your sensor fails.
Spare infusion set and extra basal insulin injections if you use a pump
Letter of medical necessity from your endocrinologist if traveling by plane
Fast-acting carbohydrates like glucose tablets or gels
You should also keep a list of your current medications and dosages on you at all times. Just in case, do your research in advance for local pharmacies and urgent care clinics near where you’re staying. If you’re traveling to another country, learn to say phrases such as “I have diabetes” or “where is the nearest pharmacy or urgent care clinic” in the native language. If possible, get a medical ID bracelet that states you have diabetes and any other conditions.
4. Pack Your Medication Effectively
In addition to packing enough medication, it’s essential to pack your medication effectively. Put all diabetes medication and supplies in a carry-on bag that can remain at your side during your trip. If traveling by car, pack your diabetes management essentials in a smaller bag you can keep by your feet. This will make it easy to check your blood sugar and take your insulin when stopping for food.
Pack medication in the original pharmacy bottles or boxes. If you don’t have the original pharmacy packaging, ask your local pharmacist for extra labels to attach to your storage bags. Most insulin requires refrigeration. You can buy insulated carrying cases designed explicitly for insulin or use a thermal lunch pack to pack your medications. You can also wrap your insulin in a damp cloth to keep it cool. Keep in mind you must also keep your insulin out of direct sunlight.
While traveling, you’ll also need to stay on top of your diabetes management. Here are some tips:
Pack healthy snacks to help keep your blood sugar regulated. Your travel plans can quickly get off schedule, delaying regular meal consumption and sending your blood sugar out of control. Keeping well-balanced, healthy foods nearby can help regulate sugar even when your itinerary is changed or delayed. Mixed nuts and seeds, air-popped popcorn, whole-grain peanut butter crackers, low-sugar protein bars, and dried fruits make great options.
When you check into your hotel, ask for a room with a refrigerator. If refrigeration doesn’t come standard with your hotel room, the hotel should provide you with an alternative at no charge. Be sure to indicate it is for medical purposes to avoid additional charges.
Heat and sunlight can easily damage your insulin, equipment, and other medications. Never leave your supplies in direct sunlight or a hot car.
Take frequent breaks, if possible. Stop and get out of the car every few hours. Walk up and down the plane, train, or bus aisle every two hours. Since those with diabetes are at higher risk for blood clots, getting up and moving every 2-3 hours is essential.
At Your Destination
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, it’s time to enjoy yourself. While you don’t want to be worried about your diabetes constantly, it is vital to pay attention to your blood sugar. If you’ve lived with diabetes for a while, you probably can feel your blood sugar rise and fall before even testing. Listen to your body. You should also follow these tips during your time away:
Your blood sugar may be out of your target range when you reach your destination. Changes in your diet, time zone and climate, and added stress can all impact your blood sugar levels. Check your blood sugar often to ensure your body adjusts well to the changes in your routine. Treat high and low sugar levels as instructed by your doctor.
Most diabetics take insulin before meals. Additionally, some individuals may be required to take injections or medications at various times throughout the day. It’s easy to get distracted or lose track of time when you’re on vacation, especially if you’re having fun. Set alarms on your phone that alert you to take specific medications. Again, keep medications close to you at all times. You can find convenient bags specifically designed to carry your medicines.
If you plan to be more active than usual, check your blood sugar before and after the activity. Since increasing activity can lower blood sugar levels, you’ll need to adjust food and insulin intake as required.
Don’t overdo physical activity, especially during the heat of the day. Most diabetics need to avoid the sun. If you can’t avoid direct sunlight, wear sunscreen, protective head coverings, and foot protection.
For many travelers, food is the highlight of the vacation. Although it may be challenging, opt for healthier, low-carb choices when possible. Most restaurants can accommodate food sensitivities, so talk to your waiter if you can’t find a healthy alternative on the menu.
High temperatures change how your body uses insulin. If you’re traveling in an area whose climate is higher than you’re used to, test your blood sugar more often and adjust your food intake and insulin as needed.
Dehydration is also a risk for diabetics, especially when exposed to increased activity or temperatures. Therefore, hydration is crucial to your overall health when traveling. Always keep a bottle of water with you and frequently hydrate throughout the day.
Other Tips for Traveling with Diabetes
Travel experiences vary from one diabetic to another because no two conditions are the same. As with anything else in life, you’ll learn to manage your diabetes more easily the more you travel. Still, it’s always a good idea to check back to this guide to ensure you don’t miss anything before you take an extended vacation or business trip.
Here are some other tips for traveling with diabetes:
Climate, atmosphere, and time zone changes can impact your blood sugar levels for days. Go easy and get plenty of rest for a few days following a long flight.
Test your blood sugar as you normally would, but don’t ever be afraid to re-test if something doesn’t feel right. You know your body best, so trust your gut.
If you aren’t traveling with someone who knows about your diabetes, inform a tour guide, team leader, or hotel staff about your condition. It’s always good to spread awareness in the event of an emergency.
Never assume you will find food wherever you are. Even if you’re just planning to go for a short walk, always bring a few healthy snacks to accommodate changes in blood sugar.
Wear comfortable shoes and avoid walking barefoot. Since people with diabetes are prone to foot infections, checking your feet daily is good practice. Look for signs of blisters, cuts, and inflammation and treat them accordingly. Seek medical attention at the first sign of any infection.
Give yourself a day or two of rest following your trip to get back to your regular routine and even out your blood sugar levels.
Don’t Let Diabetes Stop You! Plan Ahead and Travel Well with Diabetes.
Of course, it’ll take extra effort to travel safely as a person with diabetes. But a little bit of planning goes a long way. Even those with severe diabetes can travel safely with the proper preparation. While exploring a new destination, remember that long days and temperature changes can cause your blood glucose levels to fluctuate. Be prepared and test often.
It’s not always easy to travel with diabetes, but it’s possible. You may be flexible as you step out of your daily routine into adventure, but diabetes isn’t. Take the time and effort to prepare your body and your medications, and you’ll be on your way to exploring the world without worry.