Labor Day is almost here, which means you might be gearing up for a vacation. Whether you’re hitting your favorite beach for one last weekend or embarking on a week-long road trip, it’s important to have a self-care plan in place for your health, especially if you have a chronic condition.
For instance, if you use a blood glucose meter, moving from place to place throughout your travels can make it difficult to set up your tools and use two hands, not to mention find a clean space to wash up before you get started. Even if you’re using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), managing your blood sugar can get tricky, as your numbers may vary drastically depending on your activity level, explains One Drop coach Rukiyyah Khan, a certified diabetes prevention specialist.
Then there’s the issue of medication management. What if your pills get mixed up during transit and you’re not sure what to take or when (due to timezone changes)? What if you forget one of your doses? How do you take insulin on vacation without feeling like all eyes are on you?
To help address these challenges and more, follow the advice below from One Drop coaches:
Plan What You Can
The truth is, when you’re traveling, it helps to expect the unexpected all-around. Still, there are a few things you can plan for ahead of time.
Taking Medication On the Road
First, coordinate your prescriptions and refills ahead of time to ensure you’ll have an adequate amount of medicine available throughout your trip, says One Drop coach Alex, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) and certified diabetes care and education specialist (CDCES). “If you’re going to be away from home and your usual pharmacy for a long time, have your doctor or your pharmacist forward your prescription to another pharmacy in the area you’re staying,” she adds.
If you’re living with diabetes, Alex suggests packing a kit with all your medical tools in one place, including more than what you usually need (you never know, right?). If you use an insulin pump or CGM, that means bringing backup supplies and having the company’s customer support phone number handy in case you need it. Other items on your diabetes device checklist: instructions from your doctor about how to handle time zone changes (especially important when traveling far from home), and what to do in the event of a device failure.
If you’ll need to take insulin, and there’s even a chance you’ll find yourself dosing in a cramped, grimy bathroom at some point in your travels, prepare yourself by packing plenty of alcohol pads and hand sanitizer, suggests Khan.
Depending on what you wear, clothing can be another obstacle to taking insulin in a good site. Dress for the occasion—whether you’re hiking or going to the beach—but keep in mind how you’ll take your insulin in certain outfits as well, adds Khan. “Having an injection site that’s easy to access can make dosing while out much easier,” she says.
If your medications include any pills, know that your schedule is likely going to be compromised throughout your vacation, making it easier to take your medicine incorrectly or forget to take it altogether. Khan recommends scheduling reminders and, if needed, jotting down notes on how to take your medication, so that nothing slips through the cracks while you’re out of your element.
Nourishing Your Nutritional Needs In Transit
When eating on the road, it’s a good idea to have some go-to snacks and a refillable water bottle with you at all times in the (likely) event of unstructured or delayed meals.
If you’re able to bring along a cooler or lunch box, One Drop coaches suggest loading it up with some of the below goodies:
- Turkey and cheese roll-ups
- String cheese (low-fat mozzarella)
- Veggie spears with dip (hummus or Greek yogurt ranch)
- Nut butter pouches
- Whole-grain crackers with cheese or dip
- Smoothies (in mason jars)
- Ants on a log (raisins and peanut butter on celery)
- Canned tuna or sardines
- Fresh veggies (celery, carrots, bell peppers, cucumber)
- Fresh fruit (berries, bananas, apples)
- Smoked salmon
- Edamame beans
- Homemade trail mix
- Sugar-free Jell-O
- Sugar-free popsicles
If a cooler or lunch box is unrealistic, you’ll have to get a little creative at places like gas stations and rest stops. While these quick-stop spots are heavily stocked with sugary, processed, carb-heavy foods, if you look carefully, you can usually find a few protein-rich options or fat-based snacks that won’t cause a huge spike in blood sugar.
“The key is to look for a snack that has some protein to hold you over until you can sit down for a meal, and to limit those high-carb, sugary snacks like chips and candy,” says One Drop coach Krista, a certified diabetes prevention specialist.
With that in mind, you should be able to find most, if not all of the following foods during your travels:
- Veggies like carrots, celery, bell pepper, broccoli, or cauliflower
- Turkey jerky
- Unsalted or lightly salted nuts
- Air-popped popcorn
- Sunflower seeds
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Low-sugar yogurt
- Cottage cheese
- String cheese
- Snack packs (nuts and cheese, cold cuts and cheese, etc.)
- Banana with peanut butter
- Apple with almond butter
Figuring Out Food At Your Destination
Regardless of where you’re traveling, always consider what your food plan will be when you arrive, says One Drop coach Danica Crouse, RDN and certified nutrition support clinician. Depending on your lodging (hotel with or without a kitchen, campsite, etc.), it’ll be important to research options for groceries, food delivery, and dining out in the nearby area.
“If you’ll have access to a kitchen, consider going to the grocery store when you first arrive to stock up on nutritious foods to have throughout the duration of your trip as well as for your travels back home,” suggests Crouse.
As you shop for food, keep in mind that you may be engaging in activities you normally don’t do at home, such as hiking or swimming, which may unexpectedly affect your blood sugar levels, notes One Drop coach Lorraine Chu, RDN. “By having some snacks you can quickly grab in a pinch, and water to stay hydrated, you can better prepare for spontaneous moments without added stress,” she explains.
Need help filling out your grocery list? Find out what summer produce will still be in season amid your travels.
Go Easy On Yourself
A little planning goes a long way, but remember: You’re on vacation! While it’s certainly important to ensure you have all your health needs taken care of, you still deserve to have fun and live a little.
“Offer yourself some flexibility,” says One Drop coach Jackie, RDN. “Enjoy the food! Discovering new places and cultures can be amplified by immersing yourself in native food traditions. Relish in this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and be present in the moment to enjoy your meals to the fullest.”
Even if you don’t necessarily have the “best” or “healthiest” food at your disposal, try not to skip meals or snacks altogether, notes Jackie, as doing so can poorly affect energy levels and cognition, and it may cause more dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar.
If, along the way, you need to count carbs for an unfamiliar food to calculate a mealtime insulin dose, try to find a similar food in the One Drop app, or look up its nutritional information online, suggests One Drop coach Alexa Stelzer, RDN, CDCES. It may be tricky to find an exact match, but do your best to estimate, and keep an eye on your blood sugar after you bolus.
Be realistic with yourself about exercise as well. Instead of approaching it as something you have to incorporate into your vacation, make movement fun in whatever ways you can. For example, maybe you’ll have a chance to try surfing or stand-up paddle boarding for the first time. “Swimming and walking can also be enjoyable and have great benefits for heart health and blood sugar maintenance,” adds Jackie.
At minimum though, try to take stretch breaks during long periods of sitting. A little movement can make a big difference during long trips.
Lean On Loved Ones for Support
There’s only so much preparation you can handle on your own. If you’ll be traveling with friends or family, enlist their help with creating a checklist of what you need and how to pack it.
“Always have a bag of health-related items prepared,” suggests Khan. Perhaps it’s as simple as bringing a basic first aid kit with you, but if you live with diabetes, you’ll want to pack a bag with fast-acting sugar for blood sugar lows (such as glucose tabs), a snack with a more lasting carbohydrate that’ll keep you steady after a low (such as crackers with peanut butter), and additional medical supplies (such as insulin, infusion sets, insulin pens, alcohol wipes, glucagon, etc.). You may want to consider adding your insurance card and doctor’s contact information in the same pack, too.
Additionally, make sure the people you’re traveling with know where that bag is and what to do with it in the event of a health emergency. “Ensure someone on the trip can recognize symptoms, especially dangerous blood sugar lows,” says Khan. Traveling solo? In that case, it’s even more important to grab one of those cute medical ID bracelets you’ve been eyeing. This can mean a quicker response time in case you do need medical attention.
Emergencies aside, don’t be afraid to speak up when you simply need to pause and check your blood sugar, adds Khan. “Your family and friends would much rather you check than to walk around all day not knowing and then experience some ill results later.”
Finally, it goes without saying, vaccinations and masking up help protect against covid-19 while you’re on the go—a critically important travel tip for people living with diabetes.
To make monitoring your blood sugar on vacation easier than ever, learn how One Drop can help you achieve Complete Health, or click to shop One Drop Complete Diabetes products for on-the-go testing of your blood sugar levels.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Rachel Head, MPH, RDN, CDCES, clinical operations manager at One Drop.