Between tracking cheap flights, researching your destination, and making reservations, a lot of planning goes into travel. Add diabetes management on top of that and preparing for a trip can sometimes feel daunting.
But with a little expert planning, there’s no reason you have to sacrifice your health — or your vacation. Follow this guide for extra precautions to consider plus tips for safe ways to venture beyond your typical food routine when you’re away.
What you need to do before you go
Your preparations will depend on where and how long you’re away but any traveler with diabetes should start with these steps.
Get a doctor’s note
Have your doctor write a note explaining your condition (e.g., if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes) and your medication needs. It’s a good idea to make a few copies of the note in case you misplace one.
While you’re at the doctor’s office, you might want to ask for an extra prescription in case you need to get more medication while you’re away. You can also use this appointment to establish an action plan for when you’re experiencing a diabetic emergency.
Call the airline in advance
If it’s your first time flying, it’s a good idea to review the airline’s website to see what’s allowed on board and whether or not they can accept special requests.
Normally, airlines will not stop you from bringing your diabetes medications and supplies on board, but they may have a special procedure to check and handle your medication. It’s important that you seal all medication in a different plastic bag than your other liquids and have everything labeled clearly.
Also, it’s worth asking if airline staff can refrigerate your medication for you.
Pack healthy snacks
Stay one step ahead of your hunger and away from junk food by preparing servings of healthy snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated. Keep in mind, though, how each snack affects your blood sugar. Great healthy snack options are:
- mixed nuts and seeds
- air-popped popcorn
- whole grain crackers
- dried fruit
How to stay healthy during your flight
No matter how much you prepare, sometimes things don’t go quite as planned. Even if the worst-case scenario does happen, these steps should help you handle it safely and quickly.
Let others know about your diabetes
Be honest and candid about your diabetes with your travel companions. If you’re traveling solo, it’s especially important to carry a medical ID that outlines your condition.
That way, if you experience a low blood sugar episode and you lose control or consciousness before you can tend to it, the right information will allow the people around you to help quickly and appropriately.
It’s also a good idea to carry a card in your wallet with more detailed info — like whether or not you take insulin — and instructions on how to handle a diabetes emergency according to the plan you discussed with your doctor.
Lastly, be sure to store your emergency contact number on your cell phone under “Emergency Contact.” Paramedics will look for this if you’re unconscious or unable to respond to their questions.
Store diabetes supplies properly
First, make sure you have all your medicine and supplies. To protect the potency of your medication, and account for unforeseen changes in your travel plans, be sure to:
- Bring a cool gel pack to chill your insulin. Don’t use an ice pack since freezing will ruin your insulin.
- Pack enough supplies to last for twice as long as your trip. It’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
- Make sure all your medication has the original pharmacy label on it.
Keep your diabetes supplies within reach
Keep your insulin and medication in a carry-on stored in an overhead bin near you or a personal item under your seat. Don’t keep your medications in your checked luggage.
You should always travel with snacks in your backpack or carry-on to account for missed or delayed meals. It’s also smart to keep concentrated glucose sources, like glucose tablets, ready in case you need a quick boost.
How to take extra care of yourself during a trip
When your schedule changes, it’s more difficult to predict and account for blood sugar shifts. Throw in a host of new activities or much more downtime than usual, and you’ll likely have to make some careful changes to prevent a diabetic emergency.
Estimate carbs and calories before meals
It’s a good idea to look up some of the foods you expect to be eating on an online calorie-counting website to see how many carbs and calories they contain.
Check your blood glucose levels more often
When meal times tend to shift and you’re eating out more than you usually do, you’ll probably need to check your blood glucose more often to stay on track. Aim to test your blood before and after you eat a meal for the first time to see how it affects your body.
Be kind to your body
While you’re out exploring the world, remember that long days of sightseeing can drain your glucose levels, and lazy afternoons by the pool can lead to higher blood glucose levels.
If you are enjoying a different level of activity than you usually do, be prepared to test your blood sugar more often throughout the day.
It’s not always easy to continue your regular lifestyle, especially when you’re traveling through different time zones. Still, it’s important not to stray too far from your usual routine.
You may be flexible when it comes to new activities, cuisines, and schedule, but your diabetes is not as flexible. Still, with some planning, you’ll be able to keep exploring the world.
NewLifeOutlookaims to empower people living with chronic mental and physical health conditions, encouraging them to embrace a positive outlook. Their articles are full of practical advice from people who have firsthand experience of type 2 diabetes.