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.

Diabetic Traveller holding map

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.

Senior speaking with doctor about diabetes management for travel

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.