Traveling with Diabetes: Tips and Tricks
Diabetes can be extremely stressful sometimes, even when you’re in the comfort of your own home. When it comes to traveling with diabetes, a whole different set of worries comes along, too. I should know since I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic myself for almost 13 years.
At this point, I can’t remember the first place I traveled to after my diagnosis, or whether I got there by plane, train or car. But what I do know is that I was nervous and had tons of questions. It’s gotten a lot easier over time, but I still get anxious when I travel because of all the additional things I need to keep track of.
Based on what I’ve learned and experienced myself, I’ve answered some common questions about traveling with Type 1 diabetes below—but it can be used by all other diabetics, too!
What should I pack?
Since everyone’s needs vary, it’s important to make a checklist of your diabetes supplies before you start packing. Be sure to consult with your doctor if this is your first time traveling since your diagnosis.
Pro tip: A general rule of thumb is to pack double the amount of supplies you think you’ll need for the length of time you’ll be away.
Make sure to pack your medical supplies in your carry-on instead of your checked luggage whenever possible—sometimes checked luggage gets lost or damaged.
My packing checklist usually looks something like this:
- 1. Vials of my regular, rapid-acting insulin
- 2. Pump supplies (for me, these are “pods” but for other pumps, they’re “infusion sets”)
- 3. Continuous glucose monitor transmitter and sensors
- 4. Additional adhesive to keep my pump and CGM on (especially if I’m going to be swimming or exercising while on the trip)
- 5. Batteries for devices (they’re often the round, harder-to-find type)
- 6. Chargers for devices
- 7. Syringes as a backup in case of pump failure
- 8. Long-acting insulin in case of pump failure
- 9. Blood glucose meter, test strips, lancing device and lancets
- 10. Glucose tablets or juice boxes to treat lows
How do I deal with airport security?
In my experience, dealing with airport security can be one of the most nerve-wracking parts of traveling with diabetes.
I always let a TSA agent know that I would like to get a pat down and hand check since I wear an insulin pump and CGM on my body. Certain devices are ok to go through x-ray machines and scanners, but some can get damaged from doing so. If you’re unsure, it’s best to play it safe and avoid the x-ray machine. Just keep in mind that it might take a little longer than usual for you to get through so be sure to account for that.
If you get a pat down and/or hand check, the agent will ask if you’d prefer to be taken to a separate area or if you’re comfortable where you are. Then, the agent will do a typical body pat down. Next, they’ll either touch your medical devices or have you touch your devices and then test your hands to make sure everything is safe.
Another tip is to travel with a doctor’s note. I’ve actually never been asked for one by any members of airport security, but it can bring peace of mind to have it with you just in case. Your doctor will probably be used to writing these letters, and it will simply say that you are a diabetic and are entitled to carry your medical supplies with you at all times.
Can I bring my medical supplies on the plane?
Yes! You can take your medical supplies on the plane with no problem.
One thing to note is that many diabetes devices use wireless communication to operate. Check your device manuals or talk to your healthcare provider before traveling to determine if you need to put your devices on airplane mode when the flight attendants make the announcement.
What about traveling with insulin?
It’s a good idea to purchase a cooling case when traveling with your insulin to make sure it doesn’t get too warm. If you don’t have time to find one before you travel, an ice pack or two should do the trick.
Check with your hotel or other accommodations before your trip to find out if a refrigerator will be accessible to keep your insulin cold throughout your trip.
And, don’t be like me and forget your insulin in the hotel fridge at the end! Leave yourself a note by the door as a reminder.
What if something goes wrong while I’m away?
It’s always a good idea to research your destination before you go. Find a pharmacy near where you’ll be staying and even an urgent care facility, just in case. Make sure your doctor’s information is programmed into your phone as well as written down so you always have it!
If you’re traveling internationally with diabetes, things can get a little more complicated. You’ll want to be even more sure than ever that you have extra supplies. However, it’s important to remember that every country has diabetics and therefore you will be able to get what you need in an emergency!
I have traveled out of the country many times, even studying abroad in Spain for four months, and I’ve always found a solution to any diabetes problems I faced while so far from home. Here are some potential problems you might
face and how to handle them.
Scenario: You get sick. Your illness may not be diabetes related (for example, I got tonsillitis while abroad) but still requires a doctor’s help.
Solution: Search online for English-speaking doctors, or call the local US Embassy for recommendations. If you’re going to be away for an extended period, it’s worth purchasing travel insurance. If you decide not to, you can contact your US-based insurance company to see if they’ll cover certain emergency services.
Scenario: Your last vial of insulin breaks or goes bad.
Solution: Head to a nearby pharmacy and show them a note from your doctor and your insulin prescription. You may not need both in all countries, but it can’t hurt.
Scenario: Your blood sugar is all over the place while traveling.
Solution: Consider adjusting your basal rates for the time you’re away. Factor in changes in your eating schedule/content, amount of walking or exercising, sleep patterns, etc.
What if I’m traveling to a different time zone?
If you’re changing time zones when traveling, don’t forget to change the time setting on your insulin pump and blood glucose meter!
It may take some time for your body to adjust to the change, so be sure to also carry snacks with you in case of low blood sugar.
Let’s round up some of the tips we’ve talked about.
Before you leave:
— Pack extra diabetes supplies
— Keep medications and devices in your carry-on
— Get a doctor’s note and/or insulin prescription
While you’re traveling:
— Request a pat-down at airport security
— Keep an ice pack near your insulin
— Make sure you have low treatments on hand, like glucose tabs
At your destination:
— Update the time setting on your pump and meter
— Adjust your basal rates if needed
— Carry snacks at all times
Traveling can take a toll on your blood sugar. Between different activities, foods, sleep patterns, and temperatures, it may take your body several days to adjust. Just remember that that’s ok! Be safe, but remember to enjoy yourself.