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10 Tips For Traveling With Diabetes

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

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!



Recent Comments

  • Karen
    May 23, 2014 - 2:02 pm · Reply

    It was really helpful to read your tips! Disappointed my plans interfered with participating in the ADA chat. I, too, was fascinated to learn about the reasons for disconnecting pumps during take-off and landing! Wonder what implications are for my son’s Omnipod. Hearing your BG tips was interesting as well. We’ve never had a problem carrying reusable ice packs either. Have your tried the Frio wallet? I assume your preference to carry an icepack with your insulin would be for your back up supplies of insulin — so they don’t start that 28 day clock toward expiration? Thanks for posting! It’s inspiring to see all the places that you visit while managing T1!

    • Oren and Cassie
      May 23, 2014 - 6:31 pm · Reply

      Thanks so much! I haven’t tried the Frio Wallet only because I hadn’t heard about it before I started traveling. I will absolutely be ordering one for my next big trip, but I didn’t want to recommend something that I had never used before. See you on the road 🙂

  • Courtney
    July 27, 2014 - 1:44 pm · Reply

    Huh. I have had a pump for 4 years and never knew that one should take it off during take-off/landing (and I have gone on MANY plane journeys during that time). I am sure the effects of any air bubbles expanding would be quite minimal, but I guess better safe than sorry.

    However, you should also be careful about keeping an ice pack up against your insulin pens. Insulin that freezes becomes unusable when it thaws. I would suggest keeping some kind of barrier between the ice pack and the insulin vials/pens themselves.

    • Oren and Cassie
      July 27, 2014 - 9:51 pm · Reply

      The point about the air bubbles surprised me too. I think you’re right that the effect would be minimal, but I think it’s one of those better safe than sorry things, as you said.

      And you’re absolutely right about the ice pack. I always pull the ice pack out a few hours before I pack it with the insulin to make sure it warms up a bit. That way I don’t risk freezing (and destroying) my insulin. Thanks for visiting the page, and safe travels!!

  • mytravelfever
    July 9, 2015 - 11:32 am · Reply

    Love this post – such practical information for people travelling with diabetes! It’s great that you’ve been able to get back on the road and manage the condition so well (probably much better than most people at home!)

    • Oren and Cassie
      July 9, 2015 - 12:19 pm · Reply

      Thank you so much!! I truly hope this post inspires others with diabetes (or any other medical issues for that matter) to get out there and travel in a safe, healthy way!

    • Larry
      July 16, 2015 - 10:29 am · Reply

      Oren Have you ever looked into Afrezza by Sanofi for Insulin. Easy to carry and fast acting.

      • Oren and Cassie
        August 29, 2015 - 4:08 pm · Reply

        I haven’t actually. but I’m a bit familiar with it. I’ve never had an issue with the insulin I use, but if I do one day, I’ll know where to look! Thanks!

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