How to Adjust to Life With Diabetes

Travel Tips for Diabetics

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.Travel is not one of the luxuries you need to forgo because you have diabetes.

Just because you have diabetes doesn't mean you can't enjoy the full range of joys that life has to offer -- including traveling. Whether embarking on a roadtrip or heading overseas, there are some precautions you should take if you are traveling and you have diabetes.

Drive Safe

When hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) occurs, the brain, deprived of glucose, cannot function properly. Clouded judgment, impaired reaction time, confusion, and disorientation can result. Obviously, this is not a good state to be in while driving, for you or for anyone else on the road.

Take precautions before you get behind the wheel:

  • Always test your blood glucose level before you drive. Carry testing equipment with you.
  • Always carry a form of fast-acting sugar as well as a follow-up snack containing protein! Keep extras handy for unexpected events such as when you're caught in rush hour traffic or the car breaks down. Store peanut butter crackers, juice boxes, and glucose tablets in the glove compartment. And don't forget to replace any food supplies you use!
  • If you experience hypoglycemia symptoms, pull off the road and wait until your blood glucose level returns to normal range and your symptoms have ended before continuing.
  • Drive with a companion when possible.
  • Stop to test your blood glucose at 3- to 4-hour intervals and/or any time you suspect hypoglycemia.

Pack SmartClutching your plane ticket and itinerary, you smile when you think about how much you're going to enjoy this trip. But the smile fades when you realize that for all your careful planning, you've forgotten to plan how to fit diabetes control into this vacation. How will you handle the change in time zones? Will you be able to find appropriate foods at your destination? You place a call to your diabetes educator, who confirms that travel can present some challenges but assures you that diabetes care is generally available worldwide. Your educator points out that if you follow some commonsense tips for travel, you should be able to hit the road without hitting too many snags. Start with what you pack:

  • Take plenty of supplies. Double the amount you anticipate you'll need in the event of any problems. Insulin bottles can break, and replacing them may not be easy. If you do break a bottle of insulin, go to a local pharmacy or emergency room for insulin. Some countries may have another strength of insulin (U-40 or U-80) and syringes to match, so be careful and accurate when measuring the dose.
  • Keep your supplies with you at all times. If you're flying, place your meter, strips, insulin, syringes, and snacks or glucose tablets in carry-on luggage, not in your check-in baggage. If you need them during the flight, it's usually a good idea to explain briefly to the person sitting next to you what you're doing with that needle. In general, people are supportive and will probably tell you about their friends and family members with diabetes. Pack enough food in carry-on bags to replace the carbohydrates you might normally consume at a meal. Crackers and raisins are easy to transport.
  • Keep insulin in an insulated container, especially if you're traveling to a warm climate. A wide-mouth thermos works well for this. Travel packs designed for this purpose are available.
  • If you're hiking, biking, mountain climbing, or boating, carry plenty of food and a fast-acting source of sugar. If you take insulin, carry a Glucagon kit along, and teach someone how and when to use it. Keep your meter with you, too.
  • Travel with a buddy, if possible, and ask him or her to carry extra supplies for you as well. If you're traveling alone, make sure your carry-on bag or briefcase is well stocked.
  • Take sugar-free powdered drink mix if you're traveling to a country where diet drinks are not readily available. Mix it with bottled water.
  • When traveling outside the United States, obtain a prescription from your doctor, stating that you have diabetes and that you are required to carry syringes. Wear your medical ID to show customs personnel in case you are questioned.
  • Crossing time zones can really throw your management schedule off. Depending on the distance you travel, you could lose or gain as much as a day. Your diabetes educator can help you plot out your home schedule and that of your destination to see how the time differences will affect your usual eating and medication times.
  • If you're flying and you are not on a flexible insulin regimen, call the airlines to ask when food is usually served. Airlines prepare special meals if you request them 24 hours ahead of time.
  • Keep your watch on home time until you arrive at your destination. This allows you to adjust your schedule correctly in the new time zone. Or purchase a traveler's watch with two faces.

Ask your registered dietitian for advice on adjusting to different types of foods. In some countries, meats, fresh fruits, or vegetables may be a rarity; diets may consist of a lot of complex carbohydrates, such as beans, corn, bread, and rice. You'll need to adjust your medication accordingly. Also, if beer or wine is the culture's beverage of choice at mealtimes, you'll need to calculate these extra calories into your plan. The evening meal in Spanish-speaking countries is typically quite late. Consider reversing your bedtime snack and evening meal to accommodate this habit.If you travel frequently, you might consider a more flexible regimen such as an insulin pump or multiple daily injections. Finally, we will look at what might be the most important aspect of living with diabetes -- staying positive. We will give you some tips to keep your spirits up on the next page.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.