Travel Tips for People With Diabetes

By Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, being prepared can make your trip as stress-free as possible. Don’t let travel delays, lost luggage or “bugs” picked up along the way spoil your trip. Plan to carry enough diabetes medications and supplies with you to get you through a couple of extra days, just in case. Check expiration dates on all of your medications and supplies well in advance of your trip. Refills can then be ordered or items purchased without having to rush at the last minute. Keep in mind that many prescriptions take a minimum 48 hours to be filled. Depending on where you are going, locating and obtaining your diabetes medicines and supplies can take some time.

Travel Check List

To help you pack for your trip, here is a checklist of supplies to take:

  • Diabetes pills, insulin in vials or pens, or other injectable diabetes medicines
  • Syringes or insulin pens
  • Glucose monitoring equipment – glucose meter, lancet device and lancets
  • Snacks
  • Diabetes identification – wallet card, necklace and/or bracelet
  • Emergency supplies – such as quick-acting sugar, like glucose tablets, and ketone test strips. If you use insulin, also bring a glucagon emergency kit.
  • Sample Travel Letter
  • Other helpful supplies in the event of illness – antinausea, anti-diarrhea medicines such as Compazine®.

Nothing can ruin a vacation or business trip like an unplanned illness. Pack these supplies in a bag that you keep with you at all times. Checked bags may be exposed to extremes in temperature, misplaced or lost.

Take written copies of your prescriptions for all medicines and supplies, in case you are asked about them. It is also a good idea to have a travel letter from your health care provider that states you have diabetes and need to carry medicine and supplies with you. A sample travel letter has been included here.

If you use a diabetes medicine that causes low blood sugar, keep quick-acting sugar and snacks where you can reach them easily. For example, keep glucose tablets in your pocket, purse or carry-on bag under your airplane seat. If food or beverage for treating low blood sugar is in your car trunk or overhead bin on the airplane, you may not be able to reach it when you need it. Traveling by plane or car may require packing different types of quick acting sugar, as most airlines will not let you carry more than three ounces of fluid on the plane.

If you are traveling by plane, keep in mind that most airlines no longer serve meals. Bring non-perishable snacks with you in your carry-on bag. Examples of snacks that travel well include nuts, granola bars, dried fruit and meal-replacement bars. Many airlines now offer boxed meals and snacks that can be purchased on domestic flights, while overseas flights often provide meals. Check on availability of special meals by contacting your airline carrier several days before your trip. These meals cannot be ordered the day of the flight.

When your travels take you outside of the United States, you can get pre-travel advice and -- if needed -- immunizations from travel medicine clinics in your area.

Ask your healthcare provider for a referral. Local health departments also may provide immunizations and other travel-related services. Call or check your local health department’s website to determine services provided. The travel medicine clinic or health department may also provide care after your trip, if you need it.

How far you are traveling from home can also be an important consideration. If you will be crossing time zones, ask your health care provider or diabetes educator for help figuring out your medicine and meal schedule. The details will depend on:

  • The length of your flight, train, car, or boat travel
  • Whether you are traveling east or west
  • If you take insulin, your insulin delivery plan (shots or insulin pump)

There are many different ways to keep your injectable diabetes medications cool during your travel, especially if you plan to visit warm locations. A handy reuseable container called a Frio ® pack is available in variety of sizes and can keep insulin cool for several days if you do not have access to a refrigerator. To keep an insulin pump cool in hot climates, specially designed Frio ® packs are available for these devices too. Diabetes supplies for several days can be carried in specially designed diabetes kits available online, or look for advertisements in diabetes magazines. If you need to bring large quantities of insulin, consider using a small cooler with dry ice or gel cool packs.

Special considerations for Individuals that use insulin pumps or a continuous glucose sensor system

Security screening equipment used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may affect how your devices work. Check with your device manufacturer’s website or customer service department for up-to-date information to prevent damage to your diabetes devices. You can also check the TSA website (www.tsa.gov).

If traveling by air, do not walk through the full body scanner while wearing an insulin pump or continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system (receiver, transmitter and sensor). If you choose to go through the full body scanner, you must disconnect your insulin pump and CGM (transmitter and sensor). To avoid having to disconnect these devices, most manufacturers recommend either walking through an airport metal detector or screening with a hand wand. The pump or CGM system can remain connected and powered on in these situations. Do not put diabetes devices through the conveyer belt for X-ray scanning. If questioned about your devices, notify the TSA agent that you have diabetes and are carrying supplies with you. Instruct the agent that this is a life-saving medical device. If requested by a security agent to remove your devices, place the insulin pump or CGM receiver in one of the provided containers and hand it to the agent. Ask the TSA agent to scan devices by wand.

CGM systems are safe for use on commercial airlines. The CGM transmitter is referred to as a Medical- Portable Electronic Device (M-PED). It meets emission level standards and may be used on board aircrafts.

However, if the airline flight crew requests that you turn off your personal CGM system, you must comply.

Insulin pump users must be prepared in case of pump failure or malfunction. Even if you are going on just a very short trip, be sure to have a back-up insulin plan. Bring a supply of insulin pump infusion sets and cartridges, tape, alcohol and cleaning wipes, and extra batteries. Carry a several-day supply with you on the plane. It is critical to take insulin syringes and long-acting insulin such as Lantus® (glargine) or NPH insulin with you. Ask your health care provider for the dose of long-acting insulin; it is typically your 24-hour basal insulin dose. Keep a copy of all of your insulin pump and CGM system settings in your wallet or smart phone. In addition, many insulin pump manufacturers will loan you an extra pump for your trip for a nominal price for overseas trips.

To help guarantee you have a healthy and successful trip, plan to check your blood glucose level a little more often than usual. Self-monitoring your blood glucose will help you determine how the change in your routine, food, time zones and activity are affecting you. With a little advance planning and extra monitoring , you can have a wonderful trip, wherever you plan to go.