If you have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, that means making sure you take your medication at the right times and being diligent about monitoring your blood sugar — wherever you go. Whether you're newly diagnosed or have lived with diabetes for decades, here are some helpful tips to make your journey from point A to point B a breeze:
1. Plan and prepare before you go
Planning is already a way of life for people with diabetes, but it's realistic to anticipate some changes when travelling. Doing some research ahead of time can help navigate the unfamiliar and deal with the unexpected. To start, look into the area you're going with these questions in mind: Where are the closest restaurants and hospitals? Are any vaccinations required before your trip? Are there medical professionals onsite or nearby?
A pre-departure visit to your doctor to check your overall health is also a good idea. If you're travelling by air, your doctor can provide a letter explaining your condition and your need for carrying life-sustaining medical supplies, to avoid any difficulties at the airport.
Wearing a medical bracelet or carrying an identification card that tells others about your condition and how to treat it is also recommended, as well as educating your travel companions. If you're visiting an area where English isn't the native language, it may be helpful to learn these phrases: “I have diabetes” or “I need sugar” in the local language. Having the appropriate travel insurance is also essential in the event of an emergency.
2. Don't travel light
As a general rule, pack your diabetes supplies as if you were staying twice as long as you plan to. If you're heading away for an extended period and you rely on insulin, stash an extra supply in an insulated cooler and bring it with you on the plane along with any other medications you need. If you take oral medication for your diabetes, bring along twice as much as you expect to need. Never pack your medications in checked baggage in the event of lost luggage or delays. Diabetes-related medications and equipment are permitted in carry-on baggage, but again, it's always wise to carry an official letter from your doctor explaining why you are travelling with needles and drugs.
In addition to extra insulin, you should also be well-equipped with blood glucose testing equipment, test strips, needles and (if you use one) insulin pump supplies (don't forget extra batteries!). Pumpers should also carry insulin and syringes, in case of pump malfunction or battery failure.
Exploring new places often involves plenty of walking, and because proper footwear is so important for people with diabetes, be sure to pack a couple of pairs of comfortable shoes and socks to prevent blisters. Having diabetes can make foot injuries more difficult to notice, but if a foot injury is left untreated, it could lead to serious complications.
3. Keep to a routine
Sticking to a routine makes living with diabetes that much easier. Travel — whether a short road trip or an extended overseas adventure — can cause disruptions to your normal schedule and make diabetes management more challenging. Meals may be delayed or unavailable and levels of physical activity often change. These factors can greatly increase the risk of abnormal blood sugar.
To help with the change of routine and stay in tune with your body, check your blood glucose more frequently than you usually do at home — as often as every three to four hours — and more frequently still if you're behind the wheel. Carry snacks such as dried fruit, nuts and crackers with you and stay hydrated. Glucose tablets are also a quick fix for any hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) reactions.
Finally, while in transit, move around and take frequent breaks to re-energize. Get out of the car, take a stroll in the airport terminal before boarding your flight and walk up and down airplane aisles to stretch your legs while in the air.
Living with diabetes doesn't have to prevent you from living a normal life and exploring as much of the world as your heart desires. With some research and planning in advance, you can create a trip full of wonderful memories.
Travel checklist for people with diabetes
Don't forget to pack:
- Extra syringes or pen needles
- Extra supply of insulin
- Glucagon kit (for emergency treatment of hypoglycemia)
- Blood glucose testing strips
- Batteries and other supplies for pumping
- Alcohol swabs
- Glucose tablets
- First aid kit (for any wound, but particularly any on your feet)
- Spare glucose meter (and extra batteries)
Read more tips about staying healthy while travelling