Travel Tips for Diabetics

Even though you’d prefer to take a vacation from your diabetes, the fact is, you take your diabetes on vacation with you. But that doesn’t mean you have to limit possible destinations or activities.

If you have diabetes and are going on vacation or traveling for business you just have to do some extra planning. How much extra depends, in part, on your destination, the kinds of activities you’ll be participating in and the length of time you’ll be gone.

But for any trip, long, short or even around town, there are a few things that you should always do:

Carry Medical Alert ID. Sometimes seconds can make the difference in a life and death situation and you want emergency professionals to know your status.

Carry Contact Information. In addition to emergency contact information also carry the name and number of your primary care physician. Also be sure to carry your medical insurance card and emergency number for your medical insurance company.

Always Carry Your Medication and Testing Supplies with You. It may seem a bit extreme, but a random power outage could leave you stuck in an elevator for hours; an earthquake could leave you without access to your home, medical supplies or emergency assistance for 72 hours or more. So, being prepared for travel, starts close to home.

For Short or Long Trips Always Pack

Always pack DOUBLE the amount of diabetes medicine and supplies needed for your trip in case you should be delayed for any reason.

  • Glucagon kit if you use insulin – glucagon kits contain a liquid injectible hormone that can be given to diabetics if they lose consciousness due to severe hypoglycemia.
  • While modern insulin does not need to be refrigerated, they still need to be kept within a temperature range of 33 – 80 degrees F for maximum effectiveness so an insulated bag and blue ice are advised if you are going to be in extreme temperatures.
  • Bring a list of current medicines and keep it with you at all times.
  • Snacks: 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.
  • First aid kit including: bandages, gauze and topical antibiotic, pain reliever,
  • Medicines to treat diarrhea and motion sickness, sunscreen and insect spray.

Trip Planning

Planning is essential and that begins with where you want to go and what you are going to do while you are away. One week of back packing in the Rocky Mountains, two weeks in Southeast Asia, or a week on a cruise are all going to create different demands on your diabetes. The longer the trip and more exotic the location the more research and planning you need to do.

  • Make an appointment with your health care provider 4 – 6 weeks prior to your trip.
  • Check your A, B, C’s (A1c, Blood Pressure and Cholesterol). With 4 – 6 weeks before departure you have an opportunity, if necessary, to make some small adjustments to your self-management routine before your trip.
  • Discuss your travel plans with your doctor and get any necessary immunizations 3 – 4 weeks prior to your departure, as some of the shots do have mild adverse reactions and can alter your glucose levels for a short time.

Get written documentation from your doctor outlining any particular diagnosis you have including your diabetes. The letter should also list the medications you take for each condition. It should list insulin, syringes, and any other medications or devices you use. Be sure your doctor includes any allergies you have, or any foods or medications to which you are sensitive.

Also get an extra prescription for any medications. Of course, you are going to pack DOUBLE what you need for the entire trip, but a prescription can come in handy in case of an emergency. In the United States, prescription rules may vary from state to state. Just in case, get the names of the generic versions of the drugs that you take from your pharmacist so, if you have to get them on vacation, you have more than one option.

In general, you should stick with the exact brand and formulation of insulin your doctor has prescribed. However, if you run out while you are on the road, and your regular brand is unavailable, you may substitute another brand’s equivalent formulation (for example, NovoLog for Humalog, Humulin R for Novolin R). But never substitute a formulation (for example, from rapid-acting Humalog to short-acting Humulin R) without medical supervision. Be sure to discuss the appropriate options with your doctor beforehand.

Insulin, in the United States, is all U-100 strength. In foreign countries, however, insulin may come as U-40 or U-80. If you need to use these insulins, you MUST BUY new syringes to match the new insulin to avoid a mistake in your insulin dose. For example, if you use U-100 syringes for U-40 or U-80 insulin, you will take less insulin than your correct dose. If you use U-100 insulin in a U-40 or U-80 syringe, you will take too much insulin.

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