Traveling With Diabetes: Expert Advice
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a casual one, living with diabetes can create some quandaries before you hit the road. This doesn’t mean you should be discouraged from travel adventures. Your passport to success for traveling with diabetes is obtained by planning the trip, preparing for situations, packing wisely, and focusing on positive solutions when challenges arise.
Give yourself plenty of time to plan your trip. This will give you a better opportunity to get an adequate stock of your daily diabetes medications and other medications and testing supplies. In particular, check the refill timing on your prescriptions so that you don’t run out.
You’ll probably be eating at different times and taking part in different activities on your vacation, so keep a sharp eye on your blood glucose levels so you can feel your best and enjoy your trip. In fact, pack extra testing strips to monitor responses to new experiences and foods. Review your itinerary and adjust your meal schedule to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), or plan how to fit in some walking to help avoid hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). If you’re working with a travel agent, tell him or her that you have diabetes so you can develop a workable itinerary for your journey based on your usual routine. Ask about the meal service on planes; nowadays, meals are the exception, not the norm, so carry items with you.
Furthermore, if you take insulin, talk to your doctor about developing a correction scale and having some fast-acting insulin with you in case you need it, such as Apidra, NovoLog, or Humalog. An insulin correction scale — or sliding scale, as it is sometimes called — is a written plan to help you address hypo- and hyperglycemic events as they occur, and it can be extremely valuable on the road, when you’re away from your usual health-care team. The correction scale, written by your physician or health-care provider, has various ranges of blood glucose values and the corresponding insulin doses you would need to take for each range of blood glucose. It’s tailor-made instruction from your provider on how to deal with excursions with your blood glucose levels while you’re traveling.
If you take any prescription medications, ask your pharmacist to print out two copies of your current medications. Put one copy in your suitcase and keep the other with you at all times.
The Internet is a great resource as you prepare for some of the decisions you will need to make. You can look up guidelines from the FAA, the airlines, and train and bus lines regarding baggage, carry-on rules, and ordering special meals or services. If you’re traveling by car, you can use online mapping sites to plot a route. You can also explore your restaurant choices, plan stops for bathroom breaks and stretching, and locate chain pharmacies or health-care facilities. (Click herefor a list of websites that offer helpful travel tips for people with diabetes.)
An important part of preparation is learning the baggage rules you’ll encounter, including guidelines for transporting medications, devices, gel cooler packs, and food. For example, if you wear an insulin pump (or other diabetes-related device) and you’re at an airline security checkpoint, inform them of your device; they’ll probably have you step aside and simply use the scanner wand so that you can keep your insulin delivery uninterrupted. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines of your device for additional advice about going through security scanning, water-resistance parameters for those hours by the pool, and temperature limitations. Plan to take extra pump or insulin device supplies, write down help-line numbers, and take along user tip sheets.
If you take insulin with syringes, think about how you’ll carry and dispose of your syringes or pen needles en route. Padded insulin travel packs — which include handy straps for organizing your supplies, cool pack inserts, and pockets for alcohol pads and other items — are available. Portable sharps containers and needle clips also can be found online. Some airports, hotels, and public restrooms have sharp containers, but many do not.
When you’re traveling by car, fill a small plastic food container or thermos with cotton balls to nestle your insulin vials in, secure the top, and then place it in a small cooler; do not freeze or place on ice. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to store insulin pens or vials and avoid spoilage or trips to a local ER for help. (Spoiled insulin often has visible clumps or crystals and should be discarded.)
Always carry your medical insurance card, pharmacy card, and physician/health-care provider phone numbers with you. Consider wearing a medical ID, since you could become separated from your purse or wallet.