I took part in a very interesting Twitter chat about traveling with Diabetes. The idea of boarding a flight or a bus or a train loaded up with insulin and diabetes supplies terrifies a lot of people. It shouldn’t. Here are 10 tips for traveling with diabetes.
1) Keep Your Insulin With You – The most obvious tip is the most important. Don’t check your insulin or your critical insulin supplies. Put all of your insulin, your blood glucose monitor, and some test strips in your carry on and keep them with you. If an airline loses your clothing and your luggage, it’s a nuisance. If an airline loses your insulin, you’re in serious trouble. You can put extra lancets, extra needles, and surplus test strips in your checked baggage. But, again, always keep your insulin with you.
2) Carry Prescriptions and a Doctor’s Note – We haven’t had to pull these out yet, but carry prescriptions and a doctor’s note explaining your diagnosis in your carry on baggage. Dealing with overzealous security guards will be much easier if you show them the prescriptions with an official doctor’s logo on the paper. Additionally, if you run out of your supplies, misplace them, or get them stolen, it’s always a bit easier to get replacements if you have a prescription.
3) Carry a Reusable Ice Pack – This depends on your destination, but I think it’s a good tip in general. My insulin pens can’t get too hot, so when traveling through the 95 degree heat of Southeast Asia, I kept all of my insulin pens in a plastic container with an ice pack that I refroze every night. I would keep my extra insulin in the fridge. When we travel from one place to another, I pull out the plastic container with my insulin pens, put in the ice pack from the freezer, and my insulin stays cool all day.
4) Bring As Many Supplies With You As You Can – Dealing with pharmacies overseas can be a hassle. It can also be downright miserable, depending on where you are and how much the pharmacist knows about diabetes. Spoiler alert: In Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, pharmacists know almost nothing about diabetes and supplies are somewhat hard to come by. The more you can bring with you from home, the better off you’ll be. Don’t plan on bringing two insulin pens. Bring ten. I know it can be a pain to carry it all around. Trust me – it can be much more of a pain to find these supplies overseas.
5) Check for Supplies Overseas Before Traveling – If you’re going to be traveling for a while or aren’t able to bring insulin and diabetes supplies for your whole trip, don’t be afraid to figure out what the local pharmacy chain is and send them an email. Most of them are very helpful and will be happy to tell you what supplies they carry. This can be much tougher in places like Cambodia, which isn’t known for its healthcare or its treatment of diabetes. In that case, search for non-profit organizations that help treat and educate people with diabetes. They will be very helpful with telling you what supplies you can find locally. You may also be able to get your supplies right from the organization for the right price.
6) Run Your Blood Glucose Numbers High – Foreign food can be total guesswork when it comes to taking insulin. In addition, your body is under an entirely different set of circumstances, so it may respond completely differently to insulin. Don’t be afraid to scale back on your insulin for a few days. Run your numbers high so you have a bit of a buffer and don’t get hypoglycemic. Once you’ve gotten into the groove of your new location, you can take a bit more insulin and get your numbers back in the optimal range.
7) Prepare To Drop Your Insulin – Especially if you go somewhere hot, be ready to lower the amount of insulin you take. When your body sweats, it’s like doing exercise, which lowers blood sugar. We went from 20 degrees in NYC to 95 degrees in Bangkok, and my blood sugar plummeted. I went from taking 17 units of basal insulin a day to 12 units to make sure I wasn’t hypglycemic. Be ready for this. I’m not sure if it works the other way though. If you go somewhere cold, do you need to increase your insulin? Anybody know the answer to this one?
8) Insulin Pumps And Other Diabetes Electronics Should Not Go Through Electronic Scanners – Your electronic diabetes supplies do not need to go through electronic scanners. More importantly, they SHOULD NOT go through electronic scanners. I personally use insulin pens, but this one is very important for those who use pumps. The TSA has no right to force you to remove your pump and send it through a scanner. If they do, here’s the help you need from the American Diabetes Association.
9) Disconnect Your Insulin Pump During Takeoff And Landing – At first I thought this was nonsense, but the explanation is very interesting. If there’s an air bubble inside your insulin pump, it can expand as a plane climbs to altitude, which would force more insulin into your system without you knowing it. To be safe, it may be a good idea to disconnect your insulin pump during takeoff and landing. Again, I use insulin pens, but I’d love to hear what diabetics with pumps think about this one.
10) Always Carry Emergency Glucose – The last tip is the second most important tip on this list, and one every diabetic knows well. It’s especially true for traveling with diabetes. Always carry emergency glucose. I’ll say it again. ALWAYS CARRY EMERGENCY GLUCOSE. In my experience, Gummy Lifesavers and Skittles work well. They don’t melt in the heat, and they don’t take up much space.
Any other tips for traveling with diabetes out there that you’ve picked up in your travels? I’d be happy to add them to the list! Leave your tips in comments or contact us!