Tips for Traveling When You Have Diabetes
Even with diabetes, you can enjoy your vacation while keeping your blood sugar levels in check. It just takes careful planning and packing.

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Tips for Traveling When You Have Diabetes

For people with diabetes, traveling is more involved than just hopping in the car or taking a flight. But a trip can be enjoyable and safe. It just takes some careful planning.

See your doctor
Several weeks before you leave, see your doctor to make sure your diabetes is under control and you are cleared to travel. Talk with your doctor about how travel may affect the management of your diabetes. For example, discuss how a change in time zones may affect your insulin schedule. Talk about how often you should check your blood sugar and how to handle changes. Have a plan for what to do if your blood sugar is not controlled well. Check for any specific travel recommendations. Some travel destinations may require special immunizations or preventive medications. Get any necessary routine immunizations.

While you're there, ask your doctor for two papers. One is a letter explaining what you need to do for your diabetes. The letter should list the insulin, syringes and other medicines or devices you use. Your doctor may want to include any special instructions for managing your diabetes.

The other document is a written prescription for insulin or diabetes pills, depending on what type of medicine you use. This is separate from your prescription for the medicine you will take with you. It may help in case of an emergency.

If you're traveling abroad, it's a good idea to write down the names of hospitals or English-speaking doctors or your native language before you go. You can get a list of English-speaking doctors from the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers. Don't forget your medical insurance card and emergency phone numbers, including your doctor's name and number.

If necessary, learn how to say "I have diabetes" or "I need sugar" in the native languages of the countries you'll be visiting.

Medical bracelet or necklace
If you don't have one, get a wearable ID that tells others you have diabetes. This is especially important if you take insulin. Emergency personnel are trained to look for such an ID. Some IDs now come with a compact USB drive that can carry your full medical record.

Time to pack
Pack at least twice as much medication and blood-testing supplies as you think you will need. Having extra is important in case you experience travel delays.

Keep all diabetes medicine and supplies in their original pharmacy-labeled packaging. Put the items in your carry-on bag. Keep them away from extreme heat or cold. Keep insulin out of the glove box when driving.

Other things to pack in an easy-to-reach bag:

  • Healthy snacks and some form of sugar to treat low blood glucose
  • Your glucose meter and testing supplies
  • Extra batteries for your glucose meter
  • Your ID and diabetes identity card, medical insurance card and emergency numbers
  • All medicines you take by mouth
  • Over-the-counter drugs or supplies you might need

Going by air
Call the airline two days ahead for a special meal low in sugar, fat or cholesterol, if needed. If you won't get food on the plane, pack a meal.

If you use an insulin pump, you can be screened without disconnecting from the equipment. Be sure to tell the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer about your pump before the screening begins. Screeners may use imaging technology, a metal detector or a pat down. Travelers can ask for a pat down instead of the imaging technology.

Your pump is subject to more screening. Most of the time, this includes you patting down your pump and then having your hands screened for trace explosive materials.

The TSA allows passengers with diabetes to board planes with all necessary supplies. These include insulin, syringes, insulin pumps and liquids like water, juice or nutrition drinks. Be sure to tell the officer about your supplies before the screening begins.

When drawing up your dose of insulin on board, don't inject air into the bottle. The air on your plane will probably be pressurized. That may cause the plunger to "fight you" and make it hard to measure insulin correctly.

Check your blood glucose level immediately after you land. Jet lag can make it hard to tell if you have low or high blood sugar.

Keep the blood flowing
Whether you're in a car, plane or on a cruise ship, get up and move around every hour or two - whether or not you have diabetes. That helps reduce the risk of blood clots.

At your destination
Remember that your diabetes may be affected by changes in what you eat or your activity level. You may be doing a lot more walking than you're used to. Check your glucose levels often.

Additional tips

  • Get enough rest.
  • Keep up your exercise routine.
  • Take care of your feet, especially on hot beaches or pavement. Never go barefoot. Wear socks with shoes.
By Emily Gurnon, Contributing Writer
Created on 10/18/2005
Updated on 01/16/2013
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Have diabetes? Get tips for safe travels.
  • American Diabetes Association. When you travel.
  • American Diabetes Association. Fact sheet — air travel and diabetes.
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