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Traveling With Diabetes
Diabetes can make things complicated, especially when you’re away from home for a lengthy period of time. Delays are not uncommon whether you’re in a car or an airplane, and it’s easy to lose track of your diabetes care plan when you have new concerns on your mind and fresh tasks to juggle. Without the right planning, your holiday could quickly take a turn for the worse.
Extra precautions are the name of the game when you travel with diabetes, and luckily, some smart adjustments can take most of the risk out of the adventure. Remember that what you do (or don’t) eat, how much energy you spend, and how well you monitor your body can have a big effect on your journey, especially when your trip drastically disrupts your routine.
What to Do Before You Go
The extent of your preparations will depend on where and how long you’re going away, but any diabetic traveler should begin with these steps:
Get a Doctor’s Note
Have your doctor write a note explaining your condition and your medication needs. Make a few copies of the note, in case you misplace one, and if you’re traveling to a country that doesn’t speak English have the note translated into the native language.
While you’re at the doctor’s office, you might want to ask for a second prescription in case you need to get more medication while you’re away. Get a refresher on how to correct for high blood glucose, and how best to handle lows when you’re in transit. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Give the Airport a Heads-Up
It’s a good idea to consult the airline’s website to see what’s allowed on board, and whether or not there’s room for special requests. Airlines will not deny you your diabetes medication on board, but they may have a special procedure to check and handle your medication. Be sure to seal it in a different plastic bag than your other liquids, and have everything labeled clearly.
When you’re on the plane, it’s worth asking if the airline staff could keep your medication refrigerated for you. If you have the opportunity to choose your meal beforehand, do so — these days, many airlines are prepared to make all sorts of adjustments based of different dietary needs, as long as they’re told in advance.
Measure Out Snacks in Advance
Airports, bus stations, and rest stops have one thing in common: they all serve highly-processed, wholly unhealthy food to weary travelers, and that’s definitely something to avoid.
Stay one step ahead of your hunger and away from junk food by making up single servings of healthy snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated. Mixed nuts and seeds, air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers, and a bit of dried fruit are good options. Know how each snack affects your blood sugar, and use them accordingly.
Stay Happy and Healthy on the Road
Sometimes things don’t go quite as planned when you’re en route to your destination. However, if the worst case scenario does happen, you’ll be able to handle it safely and swiftly as long as you:
Let Others Know
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Be honest and candid about your diabetes with the people around you, and if you’re traveling solo, it’s especially important to carry some piece of ID that clearly outlines your condition. In the event that you experience a hypoglycemic episode and you lose control or consciousness before you can tend to your blood glucose, the right info will allow people around you to help out quickly and appropriately.
A medic alert bracelet is a smart option, but it’s also a good idea to carry a card in your wallet with more detailed info — like whether or not you take insulin — and instructions on how to handle an emergency.
Finally, be sure to store your emergency contact’s number on your cell phone, under “Emergency Contact” — paramedics will look for this if you’re unconscious or unable to respond.
Store Your Supplies Properly
Ensuring you have all your medical supplies is only the first step. In order to protect their potency and account for unforeseen hiccups in your travel plans, be sure to:
- Keep ALL your insulin and medication within reach, never in your checked luggage
- Bring a cool gel pack to chill your insulin, not an ice pack (freezing the medication will ruin it)
- Pack enough supplies to last for twice as long as your trip
- Make sure all medication bears the original pharmacy label
Keep a Glucose Supply Close at Hand
You should always travel with snacks to account for missed or delayed meals, but it’s also a smart idea to keep concentrated glucose sources at the ready in case you need a really quick boost.
Gels or candies are easy to pack and easy to take, but they don’t hold up in hot weather as well as glucose tablets. In turn, you should probably favor the tablets over other forms, if space is limited.
Take Extra Care During Your Holiday
When your timetable changes, it’s more difficult to predict and account for blood sugar shifts. Throw in a host of new activities (or alternatively, much more down-time than usual), and you’ll likely have to make some careful changes to stay safe and healthy.
Test More Often
When meal times shift and you’re eating out with diabetes more than you normally do, you’ll probably have to check your blood glucose more often to stay on track. Look up some of the foods you expect to be eating on an online calorie counting website to see how many carbs and calories they contain. Test your blood before and after you eat the dish for the first time to see how it affects your body.
Remember that long days of sightseeing can drain your glucose stores, and lazy afternoons by the pool can lead to higher blood glucose levels. If you’ll be enjoying a different level of activity than you usually do, be prepared to test your blood glucose more often throughout the day.
Try to Stick to Your Regular Schedule
It’s not always easy to continue your regular lifestyle, especially when you’re traveling through time zones, but it’s important not to stray too far from your “normal.” You may be flexible when it comes to new activities, cuisines and time tables, but your diabetes is not.
If you plan to increase your activity level on your trip, go over your plans with your doctor so you know how to adjust your meals and medication. Keep in mind that the more time you spend on your feet and out of doors, the more prone to foot injuries you’ll be: never go barefoot on hot pavement or sand, and inspect your feet a couple of times a day to spot and treat any problems right away.