Vacationing/Traveling with Diabetes

Posted on May 20, 2015


Recently, I was asked to write about being on vacation with diabetes.  Over the years, I have traveled the world with diabetes in tow, and I will tell you, it is possible – as long as you plan accordingly.  Planning and preparing is essential.

In order to plan and prepare I would recommend the following:

1. Map out (I make a list) specifically what you need for supplies (and bring extras of everything):  vials of insulin, pump supplies, insulin pens, lancets, blood strips, meter (I bring a spare meter), batteries for meter and pump, glucagon, and glucose tabs or quick acting sugar snacks.  I check the items off my list when officially packed just to make sure I do not forget any of them. Day to day I use Novolog in my pump, however, I always have a Levemir pen on hand in case my pump dies.  I bring a small lunch bag with ice and keep my insulin in that (not directly on the ice though – I wrap the insulin in a wash cloth/small towel and place in a clear bag.  And wear a medic alert (notice I did not say pack – rather wear).  People need to know that you have diabetes just in case something goes wrong.

2.  When flying, pack all meds in clear, sealable bags and take them out of carry on bags when going through security.  I always tell the TSA folks that I am a diabetic, and I provide them with a letter from my endocrinologist spelling out why I have all this “stuff”.  I alert them to my insulin pump and ask to be patted down versus going through the scanner.  Most pumps do fine in the scanners, but why risk it before going on a trip.

3.  Carry snacks with you at all times.  Having snacks easily available is necessary in case your blood sugar goes low or you are unable to eat a meal on time.  When travelling, my meal and snack schedule fluctuates so I always have food available.  Pack extra supplies and snacks in a backpack, fanny pack, or purse when touring around.  Quick and easy access to food is key.  Can you tell I am big on having food nearby?

4.  Once  I get to the destination, I put my insulin in the refrigerator (if available) – on the door shelf to prevent freezing in a refrigerator that is too cold.  If there is no refrigerator, then I get ice from the ice machine, place it in a cup and place my insulin in the cup (keeping the insulin wrapped in a cloth and in a bag).  I change out the ice when the it melts, and I am in the room – usually morning and late afternoon/night.

5.  Blood testing frequently is important since your schedule is probably going to be different.  On vacation/trips I am more likely to exercise more or sometimes less, eat at different times, and perhaps eat different types of food (guestimating carbs at restaurants).  So I test often to monitor my blood sugar level.  And on active vacations, I decrease my basal rates so testing ensures that the new rates are set appropriately.

6.  Eating out and counting carbs can be challenging while travelling.  So to prepare, I measure my food and read labels all the time at home.  That way, when I am out to eat, I have a better idea of what one cup of pasta looks like, etc.  Some restaurants (or ones with similar food that you can use as a reference), provide their nutritional information online too which is helpful.  I admit, I have thought about carrying measuring cups in my purse, but have not done that yet.  At least, not at restaurants.  At friends houses I whip out the measuring cups.

7.  Pay attention to the temperature outside to prevent insulin (in tubing of pump or in your bag – pen) from freezing or overheating.  When I am outside in the cold, I am usually exercising (skiing or running), so I put my pump and the tubing against my skin and then cover that area with extra layers.  If I fear the insulin in the tubing might freeze, I make a point to go inside and warm up.  If I am in hot weather, I periodically jump in the pool or ocean to keep my pump cool.  Or I pour cool water over my pump if a pool or ocean is not nearby (or if the pool water is too cold – I am particular about the temperature of water before I dive in).  Getting in the shade for a bit helps too.

8.  Do not forget comfortable shoes.  I wear running shoes everywhere.  No one wants blisters during a trip.  And I don’t have to tell you that diabetics need to pay special attention to their feet.  I do bring a pair of flip flops for the pool or ocean type venues.

9.  Enjoy the local food but do not over do it.  I love to eat but in moderation.  Overindulging in food (or alcohol) can backfire, and crazy blood sugars are not fun on trips.

10.  If you are travelling alone, make sure someone checks on you every morning.  When I travelled alone for work, I would call my husband every morning to let him know all was well.  He was instructed to call hotel security if he  did not hear from me.  Luckily, this never happened.  When travelling with work colleagues, I always made them aware of checking on me if I did not show up for a meeting. Which is why carrying a phone is essential.  I have one on me even when running outside.

11.   Plan out your days so you can adjust insulin and food needs accordingly.  Plan, plan, plan the best you can.  I know it is hard on vacation.  But worth it!

Whew!  Seems like a lot of information, but important to know when travelling.  Prepare, eat well, test, exercise and most importantly have fun!

I am ready for a vacation!  Are you?