Tips for Travel with Diabetes

Whether it’s a week in the mountains or a trip to Hawaii, it’s not too late to savor the last month of summer. When you have diabetes though, just packing for a trip can seem overwhelming.  “I have heard it likened to packing a disaster kit,” said Courtney M. Sahn, a pediatric nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. “In some ways it’s true. You’re hoping and assuming that everything is going to go right, but you have to plan for what if something does go wrong. But at least travel is always worth it.”

We asked Courtney if she could give us some tips that will make traveling with diabetes as wonderful as traveling without it. Here are some of her ideas:

  • Diabetes should not hold you back from doing whatever it is you want to do. You just need to be prepared before you do it.  Start with your endocrinologist or your CDE so you can create a personalized care plan.
  • Take one of the Berrie Center’s travel letters with you (ask your doctor or educator for one). In addition to a letter, make sure you have a medical alert ID on you at all times. If you don’t want to wear a bracelet or necklace, consider setting up the medical alert on your iPhone—which is in the health application.
  • Take your medical supplies in your carry on bag—especially your insulin. Keep it cool.
  • Pack extra supplies! Bring more insulin, pump supplies, sensors, batteries, test strips and quick acting sugars to last more days than you are planning to be away.
  • Pack for pump failure. If you’re on a pump, taking extra pump supplies may not be enough. You always want to have Lantus, pen needle or syringes (if you are using vials), and a copy of your most recent insulin pump settings with you. Take a picture of your settings so the information is easily accessible on your phone.
  • Plan ahead for activities.  Whether you are biking, hiking or touring a city, if your activity level is increased, your insulin doses will likely need to decrease.  Your doctor or educator can help you make new basal patterns, or temp basal regimens specific to your needs.
  • If you are going abroad, it is important to have a list of your medications with you all the time.  The Berrie Center is not able to call in prescriptions overseas, but many pharmacies and hospitals in Europe do sell insulin and supplies over the counter.
  • Be aware of all time changes. For pump users, we advise adjusting your basal rates prior to arriving at your destination. Talk to your educator about when to adjust your dosing based on the time zone.
  • On beach vacations, remember to keep your insulin cool—insulated beach bags work well—and that you always have supplies with you. That includes your meter, pen or vial and syringes. Be prepared to treat lows.  If you’re going swimming and wearing a pump, make sure it is waterproof. If it’s not and if you disconnect—two hours is the limit!  If you are going to be in the water for more than two hours, you may want to take a ‘pump holiday’ and go back on Lantus with multiple daily injections. Check with your doctor or educator. Make sure your blood glucose is at a safe level (>180) before going in the water.
  • And if you’re a skier with diabetes already dreaming about the first snow—remember to check your blood sugar before getting on a chairlift and stay hydrated on the slopes. Be prepared to undercover carbs or use an alternate basal plan to prevent lows while on the slopes. Be aware that higher altitude, when combined with increased activity can decrease your insulin requirements and lead to low blood glucose levels. Be prepared to treat lows and, if you wear a pump with tubing, make sure it is securely tucked in an inside pocket so it doesn’t freeze. High altitudes may also impact the accuracy of your blood glucose meter.
  • Have a great time!