Tips for traveling with diabetes
Traveling with diabetes is no big deal, as long as you remember to think ahead a bit. Use these tips as a checklist to remind you of what you need to do before you travel anywhere. Some of them apply only to longer trips; others to air travel, and still others to traveling outside the US. But they're clearly labeled, so simply check the ones that apply to the trip you're going to take.
1. Pack the right stuff, no matter how long the trip
Regardless of where you're going or for how long, be sure you have the following:
- Insulin (if you're traveling with diabetes, having the right amount of insulin is vital
- Insulated bag and cold packs to keep insulin cool
- Glucagon kit
- Extra copies of prescriptions from your doctor
- Testing strips
- Small packages of carbohydrate snacks and drink boxes
- Ketone testing strips (wrapped in foil)
- Medic Alert bracelet (or other ID that informs others that the wearer has diabetes. Essential, especially for travelling with diabetes
- Bottled water
- Extra batteries for glucometer and insulin pump (if you use one)
- Zip-lock baggies to keep supplies dry
2. If it's a longer trip
If a longer trip is in the works, arrange for an appointment with your doctor about six weeks in advance of the trip. The doctor and other healthcare team members will help you with insulin schedules and diet plans.
Do the following:
- Take a copy of the trip itinerary with you, and be sure it lists the following:
-Duration of trip.
-Arrival and departure times when you're traveling with diabetes.
-Flight durations (if flying is involved).
-Time zone changes (so the doctor can determine if your child will need to change the insulin regimen when crossing time zones).
- Ask the doctor for extra prescriptions and keep them with you (or be sure your child has them).
- If you're traveling with diabetes, be sure you get any needed immunizations at least a month prior to departure.
3. If you're traveling by air
There are some additional considerations if air travel is involved. Among them:
Pack diabetes supplies in a carry-on bag. Don't put it in checked luggage.
This is for three reasons:
- If you're traveling with diabetes, you'll want to be sure that your supplies are available, even if checked baggage is lost.
- The supplies won't be subjected to the extremes of heat and cold that can occur in a baggage compartment.
- If they're needed during the flight, they'll be there.
Note: Airport x-rays won't hurt a glucose meter, insulin or pump. But if you're concerned about it, ask to have carry-on bags inspected by hand.
Follow the rules
Since 9/11, the Federal Aviation Administration has made security changes to ensure airline safety. However, to protect the rights of people with disabilities (including those travelling with diabetes), Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
Among its provisions:
- Syringes with proper medical documentation are permitted
- A separate bag, for diabetes supplies, does not count as carry-on luggage
- One additional piece of luggage is also permitted
You can take everything you need. However, the items have to be properly identified.
That means that:
1.) Your insulin will have to have a professionally-preprinted pharmacy label on it, and that label must clearly identify the medication
2.) Lancets have to be capped and they have to be accompanied by a glucose meter that displays the manufacturer's name
3.) Keep glucagon kits in original containers that bear a pharmaceutical label, just to be on the safe side.
Equalize pressure before injecting
Airliners are pressurized, so, equalize the pressure in a syringe before using it. Do this by removing, and then replacing, the plunger.
**Note: Prior to your travels, write down the phone number of your pump manufacturer, in case something should happen to your pump. As a precaution: If you're leaving the country, call the manufacturer before you go and ask for a recommendation for getting a replacement pump outside the US.
4. Plan ahead so you have the right foods
If you're going to rely on airline meals, be sure to call at least two days before the flight, to request the proper food. If you have type 1 diabetes, consider bringing (or sending) your own food. The diabetic meals offered by most airlines are low-carb meals geared toward type 2 diabetes and weight control.
5. If traveling out of the country
In the US, we use "U-100" insulin and syringes. However, other countries might use "U-40" or "U-80" insulin and syringes. If you buy insulin abroad, remember that you'll need U-40 syringes for U-40 insulin or U-80 syringes for U-80 insulin. Syringes must match the type of insulin you use, or they'll draw the wrong amount.
6. Documents you should take
- Prescriptions: Pack a copy of all prescriptions in case you have to get more during your trip. Also, copies of prescriptions will reduce the likelihood of trouble at security checkpoints.
- A letter from your doctor indicating that you have diabetes. (If it is insulin-dependent diabetes, be sure that's noted in the letter.) Such a letter might not be needed, but it can be very helpful under certain circumstances. View a sample letter.
- Traveling medical record. This is not required by anyone, but it seems like a great idea. It's a summation of all of your medical information kept in one place, in case of emergency, and especially when traveling. Get more information.
7. For any kind of travel
Regardless of the mode of travel, include glucose tablets, gels or candy to counter symptoms of hypoglycemia. And pack plenty of snacks (breakfast bars, crackers or trail mix) in case meals are late or missed.