Planning ahead can lead to smooth sailing.
Planning for a trip is always a little hectic. The logistics are a handful: Should you save money and take the redeye flight, even if it means having a poor night of sleep? Should you reserve the nicer hotel on the outskirts of the city, or get the simpler hotel right in the heart of it all?
But if you have diabetes, your travel planning might be even more daunting. Not only do you have to come up with an itinerary, but you also have to come up with a way to keep your insulin at room temperature—and that’s just the start.
Diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from traveling. Many people with diabetes continue to travel and see the world, all while successfully managing their condition. All it takes is a little planning ahead.
Got a trip coming up? Here’s what experts recommend for a safe and enjoyable trip.
1. Talk to your doctor first
A pre-travel visit to your doctor accomplishes several tasks. Consider asking your doctor the following:
- Is my diabetes under control, and is it safe for me to travel?
- Is there anything I need to keep in mind for the activities I have planned?
- I’m changing time zones. How should I adjust my insulin schedule?
- I’m going somewhere warm. How should I keep my insulin vials at room temperature?
- Are there any vaccines I should get before going to this destination?
It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor to write a letter stating you have diabetes and why you need your diabetes supplies. This can come in handy if you encounter obstacles getting your supplies through airport security, for example.
2. Pack an emergency care kit
Keep the following items easily accessible during your trip:
- Your diabetes medicines, including insulin
- Your medical devices, including your insulin pump or glucose monitor
- Fast-acting glucose tablets or gels
- Diabetes-friendly snacks, such as nuts
- Wet wipes to clean your hands (no matter where you are) before testing your blood sugar
- A medical ID and/or doctor’s contact info
If you’re flying, make sure you keep these items in your carry-on bag. Not only will they be more accessible, but it can help keep your insulin and devices at room temperature.
3. Flying? Plan for the security process
If you have diabetes, you are allowed to “break” some of the TSA rules about what’s allowed in your carry-on bag. For example, you don’t need to worry about the 3.4-ounce rule for liquids when it comes to insulin or orange juice, and you won’t get in trouble for having syringes and needles.
That said, airport screening can be a hectic process, and preparing right can help you get through without too much hassle.
Arrive early, just in case your screening time takes a little longer. Make sure all your medicines are labeled, and consider including a letter from your doctor for even more clarity. You can also print out and show a TSA Disability Notification Card, which is optional, but may help ease the process.
As someone with a medical condition, you have many rights during the airport security check. To best prepare, check the TSA website to learn what you can (and can’t) do during the screening.
4. Keep your diabetes supplies at safe temperatures
Heat can damage insulin, glucose monitors, and insulin pumps, and insulin in particular needs to stay at room temperature. Keep out of direct sunlight (i.e., don’t put them on the dashboard of your rental car), and consider packing ice packs or coolers.
5. On the trip, check blood sugar more than usual
Let’s be honest: Nothing is “normal” when you’re traveling. You eat at different times, and you might eat more indulgent meals. You might be more active as you walk through a large airport or around a big city. Because of these changes, your blood sugar levels may be much different than what you’re used to.
Be proactive and check them frequently, so you can catch low or high blood sugar before it becomes an emergency. (Learn more about preventing low and high blood sugar here.)
6. Stay active to avoid blood clots
People with diabetes are at a higher risk of getting blood clots, which can obviously put a damper on a trip. Blood clots are more common when you’re sitting still for long periods of time. To prevent these, plan lots of pit stops if you’re driving, or walk the aisles if you’re flying.
7. Avoid common diabetes complications to the feet
As you probably already know, people with diabetes have a higher risk of problems with the feet. Do your best to keep your feet safe on your trip to prevent cuts, blisters, wounds, or infections.
For example, wear comfy walking shoes that you’ve already broken in. Cotton socks can help wick away moisture to prevent fungal infections like athlete’s foot. And finally, even when you’re at the beach, do not walk around barefoot.
Still unsure? Go over your plans with a doctor or diabetes educator. They can help empower you to manage your diabetes on the go—and have a great trip.
- 21 tips for traveling with diabetes. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on July 10, 2020)
- What can I bring with me? Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association. (Accessed on July 10, 2020)
- What special concerns may arise? Arlington, VA: American Diabetes Association. (Accessed on July 10, 2020)