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Traveling with diabetes

It's safe to travel if you have diabetes; just make sure to prepare for your trip.

Having diabetes doesn't mean you can't be a globe-trotter. It just means you have to do a little extra planning before you leave.

Well in advance

To make sure your diabetes is under good control, make an appointment to visit your doctor at least four weeks before a major trip, suggests the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

This gives you plenty of time to incorporate any medication changes or other adjustments into your routine before you leave. It's also a good time to get any immunizations you might need.

You should also talk to your doctor about:

Documentation. Ask your doctor for a letter that states you have diabetes and lists the medications and supplies you use. Be sure it authorizes any need to carry syringes.

Prescriptions. You'll want to bring at least twice as many supplies, including medications, as you'll need on your trip, says Davida Kruger, MSN, author of The Diabetes Travel Guide, 2nd Edition (American Diabetes Association, 2006).

Also ask your doctor to write out emergency prescriptions for all your medications, which you'll carry with you. "You might not be able to fill it everywhere, but if your medications were stolen or lost, it's better to have this in prescription form than just a list," she says.

Time zones. Talk to your doctor about adjusting your medication schedule if you'll be crossing time zones during your trip. The ADA suggests you bring a copy of your travel itinerary for you and your doctor to review.

Travel insurance

Don't assume that wherever you go, your medical insurance will follow, says Kruger.

"If you are traveling within the United States, you probably don't need extra insurance," she says. "But if you are traveling outside the country, your insurance might not cover you."

Kruger suggests you check your policy for things such as:

  • Are you covered for treatment in any emergency room?
  • If so, does your insurance need to be notified at the time?
  • What should you do if any of your diabetes supplies are lost or stolen?

If your insurance doesn't provide coverage in other countries, you might want to shop around for travel insurance. Your travel agent can help you start the search.

Packing tips

Probably the most important piece of luggage you'll take on any trip is a carry-on bag that should never leave your side, says the ADA.

In this bag, keep:

  • All the insulin and syringes you'll need for the trip. Insulin doesn't need to be refrigerated, but it will lose potency if exposed to extreme temperatures. Keep it in an insulated travel pack for safety.
  • Your testing supplies, including extra batteries for your glucose meter.
  • Other medications, including glucagon as well as antinausea and antidiarrhea medicines.
  • Alcohol wipes, cotton or tissues.
  • A snack pack of items such as crackers, cheese, peanut butter, fruit, a juice box and hard candy.

You also might want to pack a first aid kit that includes aspirin or another analgesic, antibiotic and antifungal creams, and bandages.

When choosing travel clothing, comfort is No. 1, says Kruger—especially when it comes down to your feet. "Don't use your trip as a time to break in a new pair of shoes," she says.

Instead, wear your most comfortable shoes—and bring a backup pair if possible.

Traveling by air

If you're traveling by air, says Kruger, try to get an aisle seat so you can get up and stretch your legs occasionally. That can help decrease swelling and other complications.

Because the air in planes tends to be dry, Kruger suggests having travel-size lip balm and hand cream in your carry-on bag.

"Caffeine and alcohol also can cause dehydration, so avoid those during the flight," Kruger advises.

Also, you can call the airline a few days in advance to request a special meal that is low in sugar, fat or cholesterol, according to the ADA.

Still, Kruger recommends you don't rely completely on the airlines for food. Pack some other items yourself, just in case.

When you arrive at the airport, tell the person at the security checkpoint that you have diabetes and what supplies you're carrying. Have your doctor's letter available in case questions arise.

Read more about traveling by plane.

Other healthy travel tips

These additional tips can help you have a safe journey:

  • Check your hotel's website in advance to find out if it has an adjacent restaurant or at least a snack service, Kruger says.
  • Check your blood glucose often. Just the excitement of travel can make it fluctuate.
  • If you plan on traveling out of the country, learn a few important phrases in that language, such as: "I have diabetes," "Sugar or orange juice, please" and "I need a doctor or pharmacy."
  • Keep in mind that other countries don't necessarily use the same U-100 insulin common to the United States. If you need to use other strengths such as U-80 or U-40, you must use a different syringe for correct dosing.

If you need information or help during your trip, look for an ADA branch if you're in the U.S., or an International Diabetes Federation group if you're abroad.

reviewed 7/2/2019

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