It’s official, we are in the middle of the most popular time to pack your bags and fly away! Whether you’re relaxing poolside or going on an exotic adventure there’s sure to be some planning involved. For most, this would include things like booking airline tickets and accommodations as well as arranging activities and sightseeing options. However, if you are a person with diabetes there is a whole other layer of preparation to consider- the logistics and practicality of managing your glucose levels while away from home.
Preparation is Key
Talk to Your RD and Healthcare Team
You might feel like a pro traveler (especially after reading all the tips below!) but nothing can beat individualized plans for managing your diabetes on the go. Meet with your doctor to verify that your diabetes is in good control for travel. It is also advised to get a prescription for any meds needed while you are away, as well as a doctor’s note outlining the medications and equipment you will need to bring on the plane to help you get through security and customs checkpoints. Meeting with your RD is just as important. They can give you information about the local cuisines of your destination, what to avoid and what are great new things to taste and experience while maintaining proper levels.
Be sure to wear a medical ID at all times while traveling. Emergency personnel are trained to look for these IDs, so in the case of an emergency where you are alone you will be taken care of properly.
Plan Your Meds
Consider how long you will be away and how much of your meds you would need for that length of time, and then double it for good measure! The American Diabetes Association suggests that you always pack at least twice as much medication and testing supplies as you think you need, as a rule of thumb, so you won’t have to worry about replenishing your supplies, especially if you are abroad.
While it is unlikely you will have any emergencies where you would need extra coverage, it is always better for your peace of mind to play on the safe side. Give your insurance provider a call to see what kind of coverage you will have available while traveling. If you are traveling internationally you may not have full coverage, and you want to know about this ahead of time so that you can buy travel insurance to keep you covered in case of an emergency. The Diabetes Council has an excellent guide for picking travel insurance, check it out here.
All Meds in Carry-On
Finally, make sure to pack any and all diabetic supplies in your carry-on luggage. The last thing anyone wants is for a checked bag to get lost, but this does happen on occasion. Keep the letter from your doctor on hand to help get through TSA checkpoints with your supplies, and consider asking for a hand inspection at security if you’d prefer not to have your insulin and supplies go through the x-ray scanners.
Shoes and Toiletries
When flying, the air in the cabin is pressurized and this can cause feet to swell, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes that are easy to take on and off. In the same respect, this pressurized air can be very dry. If you are on a long flight, consider keeping some moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.
Be sure to pack some snacks in your carry-on bag to help get you through any delays in food and beverage services due to turbulence. Also consider letting a flight attendant know that you are diabetic, as this will make them much more understanding and willing to provide juice or water in a pinch.
Most airlines offer meals that cater to special dietary needs. Call your airline a few days ahead of time and request a diabetic friendly meal. Calling ahead helps give the airline enough time to prepare, and if they don’t have any available options then in turn you will have time to prepare. Most airports will have snacks and restaurants where you can find healthier options such as nuts, fruit, and veggies, along with pre-made sandwiches and salads that you can bring on the plane. If you use insulin, wait until your in-flight meal has arrived to insure that there are no delays which could lead to low blood glucose.
If you are traveling across time zones, talk to your doctor about how to adapt to the new time zone and schedule. They can help you plan out the timing of your injections and any adjustments needed to your dosage. Also be sure to test your blood sugar as soon as you can after landing, to make sure your levels are under control after a long flight.
De-Stress in Your Destination
Learn the Language
If you are traveling to a destination with a foreign language, consider learning a few key phrases, such as “I have diabetes,” that can help in an emergency. You can even save phrases to your phone or use an app like Google Translate to help in a pinch.
Protect Your Feet
Often when people travel they do a lot more walking than a typical day. Be sure to always wear comfortable socks and shoes, and keep your feet covered at all times! Check your feet nightly for any cuts, scratches or blisters and get appropriate medical care at the first signs of infection.
One of our favorite things to do when traveling to a new place is to taste the local cuisine! Keep your portions in mind as you explore new foods, stick to healthy options and be careful with high carb alcohols such as beer and cocktails. Talk to your RD before your trip to get advice on portions on the go as well as tips and tricks for sticking to healthy foods when at restaurants.
All in all, when managed properly diabetes should never stop you from traveling the world and exploring new places. With these tips and tricks we hope you feel better prepared to travel safely, and never hesitate to ask a member of your healthcare team to help you along the way.