Managing Your Diabetes While Traveling

If you are traveling or going on vacation this summer, make sure you plan ahead to keep your diabetes in check. Dealing with high blood sugars – or worse, a trip to the hospital – can put a damper on your plans.

With a little advance planning, you can have the restful, relaxing and fun vacation you deserve. Here are some things to consider before you leave.

Talk to your child’s healthcare provider

Before your trip, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. Review your plans, what activities you hope to do, and where you are headed. Your diabetes provider will be able to give you tips to keep your diabetes under control, whether you are lying on a beach, climbing a mountain or taking a casual bike ride. Have a safety plan for emergencies, weather, power outages or if you are unable to obtain supplies or medicine.

Get an extra prescription

Ask your child’s healthcare provider for an extra prescription for any insulin or diabetes medicines your child is currently taking. This prescription may help if you lose your child’s medicine or need refills on the go. Prescription rules vary from state to state so be sure to ask your provider if the prescription will work where you are headed. If you are traveling outside the United States, additional requirements may be necessary to get refills.

Pack enough diabetes supplies

Make sure you have more than enough supplies for your time away by packing twice as much as you think you need. If you have extra supplies available, you won’t have to worry about trying to find a pharmacy if you break a vial of insulin or need to test more often than usual. Also, some pump companies may be able to offer you a “loaner” pump as a back-up while you are on vacation. Contact your supplier at least one month before your trip.

Bring the following diabetes supplies:

  • Insulin
  • Syringes
  • Pen needles
  • Insulin pump supplies
  • Continuous glucose monitor (CGM) supplies
  • Testing supplies
  • Glucagon
  • Extra batteries, pump and CGM chargers
  • Low blood sugar treatment  
  • Snacks

Keep insulin cool

Think about how you will pack and travel with your child’s insulin. Insulin should be kept between 55 and 85 degrees. Bring an insulated cooler and cold packs if you’re going to be in warmer temperatures. You don’t want the insulin to lose its effectiveness or spoil at the beach or in the glove compartment of the car. 

Wear a medical ID

Make sure your child or teen ALWAYS wears a medical ID bracelet or necklace indicating they have diabetes. Consider creating a contact card for every member of your family that contains your child’s name, emergency contact number, healthcare and insurance information, known allergies and medical conditions. Cards can be worn as bracelets, shoe IDs or in a pocket.

Keep food and drink handy

Make sure you always have food and drink with you. If you get stuck on a freeway or runway, you don’t want your blood sugars to get too low. If you are traveling outside of the U.S., teach your child how to say "I have diabetes" and "sugar or orange juice, please" in the language or languages of the countries you'll visit. If your child is younger, learn how to say “my child has diabetes.”

Flight preparations

If you are flying to your destination, there are a few other things you’ll need to consider before traveling with a child who has diabetes.

  1. Contact the airline and find out the policy for carrying your child’s diabetes medicine and supplies onto the plane. You may need a travel letter from your diabetes provider.
  2. Take diabetes supplies with you in your carry-on luggage onto the plane. Don’t pack diabetes supplies in luggage that is to be checked into the baggage hold.
  3. When you get on the plane, store your carry-on bag with your diabetes supplies near your feet or under the seat in front of you. Do not place it in the overhead bins because there may be times during the flight when you are not permitted to stand.
  4. If your flight involves a time change, talk to your diabetes provider about how to manage your insulin schedule. Remember: Eastward travel means a shorter day so you may need less insulin.  Westward travel means a longer day, so more insulin may be needed.
  5. If you inject insulin with a syringe during the flight, be careful not to inject air into the insulin bottle. The pressurized cabin alters the air pressure, causing the plunger to “fight you” and make it harder to measure insulin accurately.
  6. If you are on an insulin pump, the plunger in the insulin pump may move slightly during the flight takeoff and landing. This is not shown to have a dramatic effect on blood sugars, but there are recommendations on how to prevent this:
  • The cartridge should contain only 150 units of insulin.
  • Disconnect the pump before takeoff.
  • At cruising altitude, take the cartridge out of the pump and prime the lines with 2 units of insulin before reconnecting the pump.
  • During flight emergencies, when air pressure is changing rapidly, disconnect the insulin pump. 

Planning ahead to manage your diabetes can be work, but the rewards are worth it. You’ll get to pursue activities you enjoy and the opportunity to go new places.

And if your child has a problem, don’t hesitate to call your healthcare provider, who will be available to answer questions, offer advice, and ensure your child gets the care they need.