Travel and holidays

Diabetes should not be a problem when travelling, but there are a few things you should remember to help your trip go as smoothly as possible.


Travel basics

Supplies

It’s a good idea to take more medication and equipment than you think you’ll need in case of lost luggage, delay or theft. Have a chat with your doctor or nurse beforehand and explain that you’re going away.

It is really important to pack your supplies in in to both the bag you check in and the one you carry with you. 

Snacks

Make sure you carry starchy snacks and plenty of fluids with you at all times. You might need them if you end up having an unexpectedly long gap between meals, or to treat a hypo

Documentation

Get some diabetes identification (such as a card, necklace or bracelet) and also a letter from your doctor stating that you have diabetes and what medicine you take. Keep these on you at all times.

You must also buy extra travel insurance and take the policy documentation with you. It’s a good idea to get a prescription for replacement medicine too, in case of emergencies

Temperature

Extremes of temperature, hot or cold, can affect how your insulin (see below), GLP-1 or glucometer work

It is essential to monitor your blood sugar levels even more closely than usual, but beware of misleading results if your glucometer has been exposed to extremes of temperature. It’s useful to carry alcohol wipes to clean your finger prior to testing, in case hand-washing facilities are not available

If you have neuropathy (nerve disease), be aware of your hands and feet – if you already have some numbness in them they will not feel extremes of temperature and you might not realise they are getting sunburnt or frozen


If you are on insulin or GLP-1

Storage

If you’re travelling with insulin or GLP-1 therapy, think about how you’re going to transport it and keep it within the recommended temperature range.

Thermally insulated containers and cool bags are useful for this. If you are travelling by plane, keep your insulin in your carry-on luggage: it could be damaged by extreme temperatures in the aircraft hold

Type 2 patient (Eladio) walking down street

Hot weather

Insulin can be degraded by high temperatures, reducing its effectiveness. However, high temperatures can also mean insulin is absorbed faster than usual into the body, which could put you at risk of hypos.

You’ll need to monitor your sugar levels more frequently and be ready to adjust your diet or insulin dose accordingly

Cold weather

In cold weather, insulin is absorbed more slowly, but if you suddenly warm up this can cause a hypo and you will need to follow the advice given in the previous point.

As your body is using more energy to stay warm, you might also find your blood sugar levels are lower than usual and so you need to monitor this before injecting

Time zones

You will need to think about how you will adjust your mealtimes and medication relative to any changes in day length. When travelling east to west, the day is lengthened and you may need an extra meal and to cover it with extra insulin.

When travelling west to east, the day is shortened and the amount of insulin and carbohydrate may need to be reduced. In general, if the time zone change is less than four hours, you will not need to make major changes to your schedule


Travelling by plane

Try to keep your medication in your carry-on bags where possible. You may need to show the letter from your doctor at security

Split your medication between multiple bags in case one gets lost in transit. Ask a travelling companion to take some in their bag if necessary

As you are less active, blood sugar can rise higher than usual. Make sure you move about the cabin as much as possible as this will help use up some sugar, and you'll arrive feeling a lot better too

Make sure you wear comfortable shoes. If you take new shoes, break them in before you leave home to avoid blisters

Remember to keep lancets capped, and find out if airport security will allow you to take all diabetes-related medicine and supplies with you, such as:

 

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insulin pumps and supplies

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other injectable diabetes medicines

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emergency kit for severe low blood sugar

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a hard-surface container for used syringes

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liquids (including water or juice)

Find out if there are any special rules you should be aware of, and allow for extra time to get through security

Type 2 patient (Ken) standing in from of car

Travelling by car

When going on a car journey, always take spare diabetes medicine, glucometer and food with you. If the car breaks down or there are traffic jams, you are then prepared for the wait 

When planning your route, try to include stops for meals at your regular mealtimes to keep your blood sugar controlled. You should also check your blood sugar levels if you are driving

Make sure you pull over at the first signs of a hypo to treat it with glucose tablets or something sugary. Don’t start driving again until all your symptoms are gone and your blood sugar readings have returned to normal

Travelling by boat

Find out what medical facilities are on board, whether doctors or other healthcare professionals will be present, and what the protocol for medical emergencies is

Make staff aware of your diabetes in case any problems arise

If you are going on a car ferry, don’t leave your medical supplies in the car

Keep as active as possible by taking strolls on the deck or participating in any activities offered, to help keep your blood sugar under control and your circulation active


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