Have diabetes, Will Travel

Summer vacation is the time for fun, relaxation and a break from everyday life. While having diabetes shouldn’t stop you from vacationing in style, you will need to do some careful planning to stay healthy while you’re on the go this summer. Here are some helpful diabetes travel tips from the National Diabetes Education Program.


  • Get all your medical shots (immunizations). Find out what’s required for where you’re going, and make sure you get the right shots, on time.
  • See your health care provider for a check-up four to six weeks before your trip to make sure your diabetes ABCs are under control and in a healthy range before you leave. The ABCs of diabetes are your A1C level, blood pressure, and cholesterol [URL: http://ndep.nih.gov/i-have-diabetes/KnowYourAB Cs.aspx].
  • Ask your health care provider for a prescription and a letter explaining your diabetes medications, supplies and any allergies. Carry this with you at all times on your trip. The prescription should be for insulin or diabetes medications and could help in case of an emergency.
  • Because prescription laws may be very different in other countries, request a list of prescription laws from the International Diabetes Federation groups at: IDF 1 rue Defaeqz B-1000 Belgium (or visit http://www.idf.org).
  • You may also want to get a list of English-speaking foreign doctors in case of an emergency. Contact the American Consulate, American Express, or local medical schools for a list of doctors. Insulin in foreign countries comes in different strengths. If you purchase insulin in a foreign country, be sure to use the right syringe for the strength. An incorrect syringe may cause you to take too much or too little insulin.
  • Wear identification that explains you have diabetes. The identification should be written in the languages of the places you are visiting.
  • Plan for time zone changes. Make sure you know when to take your diabetes medicine, no matter where you are. Remember: eastward travel means a shorter day on the day you are traveling. If you use insulin, less may be needed. Westward travel means a longer day, so more insulin may be needed.
  • Find out how long the flight will be and whether meals will be served. You should always carry enough food to cover the entire flight time in case of delays or schedule changes.


  • Take twice the amount of diabetes medication and supplies that you’d normally need. Better safe than sorry.
  • Keep your insulin cool by packing it in an insulated bag with refrigerated gel packs.
  • Keep snacks, glucose gel, or tablets with you in case your blood sugar (glucose) drops.
  • If you use insulin, make sure you also pack a glucagon emergency kit.
  • Make sure you keep your medical insurance card and emergency phone numbers handy.
  • Don’t forget to pack a first aid kit with all the essentials.


  • Don’t be shy about telling the flight attendant that you have diabetes – especially if you are traveling alone.
  • Plan to carry all your diabetes supplies in your carry-on luggage. Don’t risk a lost suitcase.
  • Have all syringes and insulin delivery systems (including vials of insulin) clearly marked with the pharmaceutical preprinted label that identifies the medications. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that people travel with their original pharmacylabeled packaging.
  • Keep your diabetes medications and emergency snacks with you at your seat – don’t store them in an overhead bin.
  • If the airline offers a meal for your flight, call ahead for a diabetic, low-fat, or low-cholesterol meal. Wait until you know food is about to be served before you take your insulin. Otherwise, a delay in the meal could lead to low blood sugar. If no food is offered on your flight, bring your own meal.
  • If you plan on using the restroom for insulin injections, ask for an aisle seat for easier access.
  • When drawing your dose of insulin, don’t inject air into the bottle (the air on your plane will probably be pressurized).


  • Don’t leave your medications in the trunk, glove compartment, or near a window. This may cause your medications to overheat.If possible, carry a cooler to keep medications cool and store healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, raw vegetables and fat-free or low-fat yogurt instead of eating at rest stops or going to a fast-food drive-through.


  • Stay comfortable and reduce your risk for blood clots by moving around every hour or two.
  • Always tell at least one person traveling with you about your diabetes.
  • Protect your feet. Never go barefoot in the shower or pool.
  • Check your blood sugar often. Changes in diet, activity and time zones can affect your blood sugar in unexpected ways.


  • Try to be active for at least 30 minutes each day.
  • Bike, camp, hike or canoe on your trip to move more.
  • If you’re going to the beach, go for a swim, take a long walk or play a beach game.
  • If you’re staying in a hotel, go to the gym, walk a few extra blocks instead of taking a taxi, or spend the evening dancing.


You may not be able to leave your diabetes behind, but you can manage it and have a relaxing, safe summer vacation. To learn more about managing your diabetes or to order free resources, visit the National Diabetes Education Program at www.YourDiabetesInfo.org or call 1-888-693-NDEP (1-888-693-6337), TTY: 1-866-596-1162.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program is jointly sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the support of more than 200 partner organizations including AACE.