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 to the bag you check in and you carry with you, the other one you check in.

Snacks

The uncertainty of travel itineraries means that it’s particularly important to carry plenty of starchy snacks and fluids with you at all times and replenish them as required. 

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

Type 1 patient (Patricia) walking by fence next to the beach

Temperature

Monitoring

It is essential to monitor your blood glucose 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

Neuropathy

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

Storage

Insulin can be degraded by high temperatures, reducing its effectiveness. Think about how you’re going to transport insulin and keep it within the recommended temperature range.

Thermally insulated containers and cool bags are useful for this. 

Insulin absorption:

 

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Hot weather. High temperatures can mean insulin is absorbed faster than usual into the body, which could put you at risk of hypos.

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

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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 glucose levels are lower than usual and so you need to monitor this before injecting


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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emergency kit for severe low blood glucose

 

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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

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

Type 1 patient (Alexandra) standing on train platform

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 glucose 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 glucose 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


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