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Traveling with Diabetes

Planning ahead is the key to traveling with diabetes. People with diabetes can enjoy all kinds of recreational travel from a week at the beach, to camping in the Rockies, to sightseeing across Europe. Here are some helpful tips.

Taking special care when traveling with diabetes

Have a complete health exam well before you travel. This helps to make sure your diabetes is under control. It will also give you enough time to get any needed vaccines, and time to recover from any side effects. Also ask your healthcare provider to give you a letter with the following information:

  • How your diabetes is treated (diabetes pills, insulin shots)

  • All medicines and equipment needed to manage your diabetes (for example, insulin, syringes, and other medicines or devices)

  • Allergies to foods or medicine

Also have your healthcare provider give you a prescription for insulin or diabetes pills. You should take more than enough of your medicine and syringes to last through the trip with you. But in case of emergency, the prescription may help. Use only U-100 syringes while traveling. Other syringes will give you higher or lower doses than you need. 

Prescription laws may be very different in other countries. If you are traveling abroad, contact International Diabetes Federation groups for more information. You may also want to get a list of English-speaking healthcare providers in the countries you are traveling to before you leave. Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT) for more information. 

It's important to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that shows you have diabetes. If traveling to other countries, you may also want to learn a few key phrases. It may be helpful to know how to say "I have diabetes" or "Sugar or orange juice, please," in the languages of the countries you will be visiting.

Packing for preparedness

Pack at least twice as much medicine and blood-testing supplies as you think you will need. At least half of these should be with you in your carry-on bag. Have this bag with you at all times. Keep the labels on all medicines and supplies. You may need these during the security check for air travel.

When packing, include these items:

  • All the insulin and syringes you need for the trip, plus some extras

  • Blood- and urine-testing supplies, plus extra batteries for your glucose meter

  • All oral medicines

  • Other medicines or medical supplies

  • Your ID and diabetes identification card

  • A well-wrapped, airtight snack pack of crackers or cheese, peanut butter, fruit, a juice box, and some form of sugar (hard candy or glucose tablets) to treat low blood glucose

Before you fly, request a special meal low in sugar, fat, and cholesterol at least 48 hours in advance. Always carry some food with you. This is helpful in case your meal is delayed or there is a mistake in your order. Don't take your insulin shot until you see your food coming down the aisle. If your meal is delayed, you could have low blood sugar. If you are used to injecting some air into a bottle of insulin before drawing out some insulin, don't do this while in the air. 

Plan for crossing time zones 

If you take insulin shots and will be crossing time zones, talk with your healthcare provider before your trip. Ask for help in planning the timing of your injections while you travel. This will be based on your travel route. Eastbound travel means a shorter day. So if you inject insulin, you may need less. Traveling westbound means a longer day. So more insulin may be needed. To help you keep track of shots and meals through changing time zones, keep your watch on your home time zone until the morning after you arrive.

Checking blood sugar while traveling is just as important as when at home. Check your blood sugar soon after landing. Jet lag may make it hard to tell if your blood sugar is very low or very high.

Storing insulin

Insulin does not need to be refrigerated. But it's important to store it correctly. Insulin should not be stored in very hot or very cold temperatures. Don't store it in a car trunk or glove compartment, or in backpacks and other bags that could be exposed to differences in temperature and weather. Many travel packs are available to keep insulin cool.

Other tips for traveling with diabetes

Other tips include:

  • Take it easy for a few days after a long flight.

  • Test your blood sugar according to your healthcare provider's advice.

  • If you use insulin, check the bottle of insulin before each shot. See if it has changed in appearance since you last used it. If it has, don't use it.

  • Plan your activities so you can work in your insulin and meals. You may be much more physically active during your vacation. You may need to change the doses of your medicines so you don't have hypoglycemia.

  • Take along snacks when hiking and sightseeing. Don't assume you will find food wherever you are.

  • Be extra careful about food and water safety. Don't eat uncooked foods or drink tap water. Foods that upset your stomach could cause your blood glucose levels to become uncontrolled.

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Never walk with bare feet. Check your feet every day, looking for signs of blisters, cuts, redness, swelling, and scratches.

  • Get medical care at the first sign of any infection or inflammation.

Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Robert Hurd MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.