21 Tips for Traveling With Diabetes
Don’t let good diabetes management go on vacation just because you did.
Traveling to new places gets you out of your routine—that’s a big part of the fun. But delayed meals, having unfamiliar food, being more active than usual, and being in different time zones can all disrupt your diabetes management. Plan ahead so you can count on more fun and less worry on the way and when you get to your destination.
Before You Go
- Visit your doctor for a checkup to ensure you’re fit for the trip. Make sure to ask your doctor:
- How your planned activities could affect your diabetes and what to do about it.
- How to adjust your insulin doses if you’re traveling to places in a different time zone.
- To provide prescriptions for your medicines in case you lose or run out of them.
- If you’ll need any vaccines.
- To write a letter stating that you have diabetes and why you need your medical supplies.
- Just in case, find pharmacies and clinics close to where you’re staying.
- Get a medical ID bracelet that states you have diabetes and any other health conditions you may have.
- Buy travel insurance in case you miss your flight or need medical care.
- Order a special meal in advance for the flight that fits with your meal plan, or pack your own.
- Put your diabetes supplies in a carry-on bag (insulin could get too cold in your checked luggage). Think about bringing a smaller bag to have at your seat for insulin, glucose tablets, and snacks.
- Pack twice as much medicine as you think you’ll need. Carry medicines in the original pharmacy bottles, or ask your pharmacist to print out extra labels you can attach to plastic bags.
- Be sure to pack healthy snacks, like fruit, raw veggies, and nuts.
- Airport security:
- Get an optional TSA notification card [PDF – 23.8KB] to help the screening process go more quickly and smoothly.
- Good news: people with diabetes are exempt from the 3.4 oz. liquid rule for medicines, fast-acting carbs like juice, and gel packs to keep insulin cool.
- A continuous glucose monitor or insulin pump could be damaged going through the X-ray machine. You don’t have to disconnect from either; ask for a hand inspection instead.
- Visit CDC’s Travelers’ Health site for more helpful resources.
- Doctor’s letter and prescriptions
- Snacks and glucose tablets
- Extra insulin and diabetes medicines
While You’re Traveling
- If you’re driving, pack a cooler with healthy foods and plenty of water to drink.
- Don’t store insulin or diabetes medicine in direct sunlight or in a hot car; keep them in the cooler too. Don’t put insulin directly on ice or a gel pack.
- Heat can also damage your blood sugar monitor, insulin pump, and other diabetes equipment. Don’t leave them in a hot car, by a pool, in direct sunlight, or on the beach. The same goes for supplies such as test strips.
- You can find healthy food options at the airport or a roadside restaurant:
- Fruit, nuts, sandwiches, yogurt
- Salads with chicken or fish (skip the dried fruit and croutons)
- Eggs and omelets
- Burgers with a lettuce wrap instead of a bun
- Fajitas (skip the tortillas and rice)
- Stop and get out of the car or walk up and down the aisle of the plane or train every hour or two to prevent blood clots (people with diabetes are at higher risk).
- Set an alarm on your phone for taking medicine if you’re traveling across time zones.
Once You’re There
- Your blood sugar may be out of your target range at first, but your body should adjust in a few days. Check your blood sugar often and treat highs or lows as instructed by your doctor or diabetes educator.
- If you’re going to be more active than usual, check your blood sugar before and after and adjust food, activity, and insulin as needed.
- Food is a huge highlight (and temptation!) on a cruise. Avoid the giant buffet, and instead order off the spa menu (healthier choices) or low-carb menu (most ships have one) or order something tasty that fits in your meal plan from the 24-hour room service.
- Don’t overdo physical activity during the heat of the day. Avoid getting a sunburn and don’t go barefoot, not even on the beach.
- High temperatures can change how your body uses insulin. You may need to test your blood sugar more often and adjust your insulin dose and what you eat and drink. Get more hot-weather tips here.
- You may be unable to find everything you need to manage your diabetes when you are away from home, especially in another country. Learn some useful phrases in the local language, such as “I have diabetes” and “where is the nearest pharmacy?”
- If your vacation is in the great outdoors, bring disposable wipes so you can clean your hands before you check your blood sugar.
Diabetes can make everyday life and travel more challenging, but it doesn’t have to keep you close to home. The more you plan ahead, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy all the exciting experiences of your trip.