If you have diabetes, traveling can be an extra hassle – even a health hazard if you aren’t prepared. But with a little foresight, you can stay on top of your condition while far from home. Here are 20 tips for packing, snacking, medications and more...
Your bags are packed, and you’re ready to go. The last thing you want to worry about is your diabetes.
But no matter how well you stick to a daily regimen at home, things are bound to change when you’re away. You eat out, your activity level increases but also becomes less consistent, and unexpected stresses can push blood sugar levels up.
We’ve assembled a quick guide to managing diabetes while traveling – whether locally or internationally, for business or for pleasure. Read on for 20 smart tips on how to prepare, pack and plan your days off.
The Basics 1. Create a supply checklist. Write down everything you’ll need to stay healthy to ensure that you don’t forget important items, especially when you’re in a rush to get out the door.
2. Keep a small travel bag with you at all times. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that you keep a bag stocked with these items
Insulin and as many syringes as you’ll need for the trip (and a disposal container for storing used syringes and test strips)
Blood and urine testing supplies (with extra batteries and strips for your glucose meter)
Oral medications with the prescription labels attached (extras are a good idea)
Other medications, such as antibiotic ointment, anti-nausea drugs, etc.
Your ID and diabetes identity card, as well as your doctor’s emergency number
A well-wrapped snack pack containing crackers, cheese, peanut butter, fruit, raisins, a juice box, and some form of sugar (such as candy or glucose tablets) to treat low blood sugar levels
A portable meal (that doesn’t require refrigeration) in case of unexpected delays
3. Pack workout clothing. That way you’ll be ready to exercise, wherever you are. Most hotels have facilities for guests but require proper clothing. Ask the hotel staff or locals about safe places to walk and other active pursuits in the area.
4. Wear comfortable shoes. They’ll help you walk briskly – and ache-free – through airports, train stations or cruise ships. Plus, once you reach your destination, use them for sightseeing on foot.
5. Don’t neglect your blood-sugar monitoring. No matter how long you’ll be traveling, test your blood glucose as frequently as your doctor recommends. Regular monitoring can help you catch potential problems early, thus preventing highs and avoiding lows.
At the Airport Traveling by air can be stressful, especially if you have diabetes-related items to keep in tow.
Fortunately, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows people with diabetes to carry testing supplies and medications in their hand luggage.
Here are a few guidelines 6. Keep anything vital in your carry-on. More than two million bags were reported lost or mishandled by the airlines last year. If your checked luggage ends up lost, you don’t want to be without important medications, syringes and blood-testing supplies.
7. Tell the security screener you have diabetes and are carrying supplies. The TSA allows people with diabetes to carry these items on the plane
Insulin and insulin-loaded dispensing products (vials or a box of individual vials, jet injectors, biojectors, epipens, infusers, and preloaded syringes)
Unlimited number of unused syringes when accompanied by insulin or other injectable medication
Lancets, blood glucose meters, blood glucose meter test strips, alcohol swabs, meter-testing solutions
Insulin pump and insulin pump supplies (cleaning agents, batteries, plastic tubing, infusion kit, catheter, and needle); insulin pumps and supplies must be accompanied by insulin
Glucagon emergency kit
Urine ketone test strips
Unlimited number of used syringes when transported in Sharps disposal container or other similar hard-surface container
For more diabetes travel regulations, see the TSA website. The agency also has information about taking liquids through airport security and how best to present them.
Each airline may enforce security measures differently, so check with yours before you leave.
8. Identify your insulin and syringes with the proper manufacturer’s label. You may need to prove that what you’re carrying is insulin. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says you should bring the box that your insulin came in (or the plastic bag your boxes came in, if your insulin is from a mail-order pharmacy).
These packages should have a “professional, pharmaceutical preprinted label which clearly identifies the medication.”
9. Make special arrangements before your flight. Ask for an aisle seat if you plan to use the restroom for insulin injections. If the flight has meal service and you’re on a special diet, notify the airline at least 24 hours ahead.
If no food is offered on the flight, bring your own healthy meal on board.
10. Tell the flight attendant that you have diabetes, especially if you’re traveling alone. You may need help if your blood glucose levels go too low.
11. Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is common because cabin air has a much lower humidity level than a typical indoor environment. It can cause mild discomfort, scratchy eyes, fatigue and breathing problems for people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma. Drink water to stay hydrated, but avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages throughout the flight.
When Traveling Abroad Since prescriptions can differ from country to country, there are certain precautions to take if you’re traveling internationally and taking diabetes medication.
12. Consult your doctor before you leave on your trip. Ask your doctor for prescriptions and a letter that explains your diabetes medications, supplies and allergies, the ADA advises. This way, pharmacists or physicians in other countries can provide them for you in an emergency.
Some drugs may not be available in the country you're traveling to. And even if they are, they may have different names or come in other strengths.
13. Get extra supplies from your pharmacist. Keep a two-week supply of medications with you at all times, along with supplies you can store in a separate bag in case your luggage is lost or stolen.
14. Store all medications in an air-tight, insulated case. This will protect them from exposure to extreme temperatures or humidity.
15. Wear an ID bracelet. Also, stash an ID card in your wallet that identifies you as someone with diabetes. The identification should be written in the languages of the places you are visiting.
16. Plan for time-zone changes. Make sure you’ll always know when to take your diabetes medicine, no matter where you are. If you wear a watch with two time displays, keep one set to your home time.
Eastward travel means a shorter day, so you may need less insulin, according to the National Diabetes Education Program. Heading westward, you could need more.
When Dining Out When you’re on a strict diabetes diet, navigating an unfamiliar restaurant menu can be difficult. The key is to be prepared and feel comfortable asking for what you need.
17. Be vocal. Ask about the ingredients of menu items to avoid post-meal highs or lows that can ruin your day. Also, find out how food has been prepared, and request sauces and salad dressing on the side so you can control the amount on your food.
Some chefs are annoyed by special requests, so make sure the server understands the requests are for medical reasons.
18. Choose the right restaurant. Read the menu – it’s often posted at the outside the entrance – and decide if you have enough healthy, lower-fat choices before you sit down.
You also can call the restaurant, have a menu faxed to you, look it up on the Internet or ask your hotel concierge if they keep a menu collection.
Many chain restaurants post calories and other nutritional information, either at the restaurant on online.
In fact, a new federal law requires that all U.S. restaurants with 20 or more locations post calorie counts for all items on menus, drive-through boards and even on vending machines or glass displays. Additional information, including carbohydrate and sodium levels, must also be available on request.
19. Balance your restaurant meal with food choices the rest of the day. Save most of your calories and fat choices for when you’re dining out.
20. Look for low-fat words. Fish that is broiled or baked usually has less than 5 grams of fat per ounce. Also good for you: “grilled,” “baked,” “braised,” “broiled,” “poached,” “roasted” or “steamed.”
Avoid foods described with the words “fried,” “breaded,” “buttered,” “creamed,” “sautéed,” “scalloped,” or served “with gravy” or a “thick sauce.”