Managing diabetes while you’re traveling can make the difference between enjoying yourself and having a vacation filled with problems. Taking a trip can be stressful on your body, especially given the changes in your daily routine, including different food choices, different time zones and more or less exercise than usual. These changes can have a serious effect on your blood glucose. Keeping your blood glucose within your target range will ensure an enjoyable excursion.
The first step will be getting through security, which will be difficult if you don’t carry the proper documentation for your medication. Check with your airline or the Transportation Security Administration before packing to be sure you’re following current security guidelines, because the rules for traveling with insulin can change any time. A month or two before your trip, ask your doctor for documentation that includes your medical history and verifies your need to carry needles and lancets. Carry prescriptions for all of your medications, syringes and diabetic supplies, and pack medications in individually labeled prescription bottles to avoid delays.
Pack your doctor’s note and diabetes supplies in your carry-on bag – don’t check them, just in case your luggage gets lost. Make sure your insulin is protected from extreme temperature by storing it in an insulated bag or cooler. Carrying an emergency card in your wallet or purse or wearing a medical ID bracelet will protect you in case of a medical emergency, because healthcare providers will be able to quickly give you the treatment you need.
The Internet has many sites that can help you get prepared for your trip. The American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org) provides articles and books about traveling with diabetes. Try The Diabetes Travel Guide: How to Travel with Diabetes Anywhere in the World, by Davida Kruger. The International Association for Medical Assistance for Travelers (www.iamet.org) includes a directory of English-speaking doctors around the world. Finally, the TSA Web site (www.tsa.gov) includes information about carrying medical supplies on planes.
The time you spend traveling and the activities you are involved in will affect your blood sugar. Always check with your doctor for specific dose instructions before making any adjustments. If your travel stretches across more than four or five times zones, you probably will have to adjust your insulin schedule and doses. If you are traveling east, this shortens the day. It is unlikely that you will have to adjust your basal dose. Take your meal insulin when you eat, even if your meal times change during travel. If you are traveling west, this lengthens the day. You probably will have to adjust your basal insulin. Take your meal insulin when you eat even if your mealtime changes during travel. The time zone converter at www.timezoneconverter.com includes time zones across the globe and within countries to simplify the process.
If you are less active when traveling, you may need more insulin. If you are more active when traveling, you may require less insulin. Talk to your doctor about insulin adjustments for your specific needs and activities. You probably will need to check your blood sugar more often to keep track of your daily insulin needs.
Laws regarding disposal of used syringes and lancets vary from state to state and throughout the world. You can ask housekeeping or at the front desk of your hotel about local policy, or you may consider bringing them back with you to avoid any potential problems. Keep the used syringes and lancets in a disposal container or any other hard-cased carrier. For example, a hard plastic liquid laundry soap container is acceptable, as long as its lid is tightly secured and taped.
Watch what you eat and don’t hesitate to ask questions regarding the menu when ordering food and, if necessary, ask to speak with the chef. Test your blood frequently, stay well hydrated and be sure to wear comfortable shoes to avoid skin breakdown on your feet. Then you’ll be off and running — and feeling well.
What You’ll Need
Diabetic supplies may have different names, concentrations or be unavailable in other countries. Check with the manufacturers of the supplies that you use, or better yet, don’t wait to run out. Pack wisely and be prepared before you go:
Twice the usual quantity of insulin, syringes, insulin pen and cartridges
Put new batteries in your glucose meter and pack a spare meter
Test strips and ketone strips
Lancets and lancing device
Glucose tabs, gel, hard candy to treat low blood sugars
Fanny pack or backpack
Over-the-counter medications such as anti-nausea or anti-diarrhea remedies, and pain relievers such as Tylenol, aspirin, ibuprofen
Meal equivalent and snacks such as a sandwich, fruit, cookies, vegetables, granola bars, pretzels, mini bagels, string cheese, crackers
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