Travelling Diabetic

Having diabetes doesn't mean you can't travel. It just means you need to plan. How you prepare depends on where you're going and how long you'll be gone. Here are a few guidelines to make traveling safe and easy.

Before You Travel

If you'll be away from home for more than a few days, it's a good idea to follow these tips:

  • Have an exam. Visit your healthcare provider and have a medical exam several weeks before your trip to make sure your diabetes is under good control. If it isn't, you'll still have a few weeks to get your glucose level in a healthy range before leaving.
  • Get a list of diabetes organizations. The American Diabetes Association may be able to provide a list of ADA professional members in the area to which you're traveling. The American Association of Diabetes Educators can provide referrals to diabetes educators in your area or in the area to which you're traveling. These diabetes educators can also refer you to other providers in their area. If you're going out of the country, write to the International Diabetes Federation for a list of diabetes organizations in other countries. You can also get a list of English-speaking doctors in other countries by writing to the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers.
  • Learn a few foreign phrases. If you're leaving the country, learn a few key phrases such as "I have diabetes," and "Sugar or orange juice, please," in the languages of the countries you're visiting.

Be Prepared

  • Carry a copy of your prescription. That way, if your medicine is lost or stolen, or you run out because of a travel delay, you'll be able to get more when you need it.
  • Carry a letter from your doctor. Ask your doctor to write a letter outlining what you need to do for your diabetes, including the type of syringes or other insulin-delivery devices and insulin or other medications you need, as well as any allergies or sensitivities to foods or medicines you have.
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet. A medical ID bracelet or necklace shows that you have diabetes. Your pharmacist or doctor can tell you where to get one.
  • Take plenty of medicine and blood-testing supplies. Pack twice as much of your diabetes pills or insulin and blood-testing supplies as you think you'll need. Carry at least half your supplies with you onto the plane. Keep your medicine and testing supplies with you at all times. Also — if your doctor recommends them — pack other medicines or medical supplies, such as glucagon, antidiarrheal medicines, antibiotic ointment and antinausea drugs.
  • Keep your insulin cool. Take steps to keep your insulin from becoming too hot or too cold.
  • Keep snacks or fast sugars with you. Carry well-wrapped snacks and fast sugars to treat low blood glucose, such as crackers, juice, hard candies, glucose tablets or fruit.
  • Ask for special meals. Before flying, you may wish to request a special meal for people who have diabetes. To be safe, take along some food of your own. Wait until you see the meal being delivered before you inject your insulin.

At Your Destination

  • Stick to your day-to-day schedule as much as possible. Plan your meals, activity, and medicines to stay on schedule. If you're crossing time zones, talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about how to time your injections or pills to stay on track.
  • Test your blood glucose regularly. That way you can spot changes quickly. If you're flying, test your blood glucose as soon as you land.
  • Don't overdo. Traveling can be physically exhausting. After a long journey, take it easy for a few days.
  • Avoid tap water and unfamiliar foods. In foreign countries, take extra precautions not to upset your stomach with tap water — including ice — or foods that may upset your digestive tract.

Written by Bobbie Hasselbring

Reviewed by Beth Seltzer, MD

Last updated June 2008