Traveling With Diabetes

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It’s summertime, which means that you’ll probably be traveling for a few days, if not taking a week or two off for a well-deserved vacation.

Diabetes can mean a bit more planning for your travels, but that’s just it! All it takes is planning. 

Taking steps to prepare for your trip will ensure that you’ll have a safe, relaxing, and fun time on the road and abroad!

Before You Go

Take it from @typeonetypehappy:

Being out in the middle of nowhere can fill someone with so much anxiety with the thoughts of something going wrong or medical supplies failing or not having enough medication. But preparation is absolutely key. Back-up supplies, back-up supplies, back-up supplies. Can’t say it enough. After that, then taking the leap to be able to see the beauty of the world is 100% worth getting outside that comfort zone. 🙌🏻

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So, what exactly does preparation entail?

If you’re anything like me, clothes are going in your suitcase the night before takeoff. But there are several health-related items that you should plan to pack and prepare for ahead of time. Consider this your go-to checklist: 

  • Ask your doctor how the actual traveling process* might affect your diabetes and plan your adjustment to any time changes. 

*Generally speaking, traveling east through time zones means shorter days and less insulin needed. When traveling west, days are longer and more insulin may be necessary. 

  • Request a travel letter from your doctor if you're going abroad. 

  • Pack twice as much* medication and/or insulin as you’ll actually need for the amount of time you’ll be gone, especially if you’re traveling to a remote area!

*Keep in mind: in order to pack twice as much, you’ll need to have twice as much on-hand. This may require an extra visit to your doctor beforehand to get samples, in case your insurance won’t process your refill in time.

  • Keep everything you need to take care of yourself in your carry-on bag so that even if your checked bag is lost, you’ll still be able to meet your immediate needs.

  • Bring backup batteries for all of your devices.

  • Consider buying a design-forward, trendy travel cases to keep everything organized and temperature-controlled!

  • Take care of your feet! Pack comfortable walking shoes, good socks, and a first aid kit (with lots of bandaids!). 

  • If you’re traveling abroad, research local cuisine. If you’re going somewhere like France or Italy, where you’ll be offered a lot of carb-y food, take the wise advice of the diabadasses who have gone before you! Focus on the incredibly fresh and locally-sourced meats and cheeses that these places have to offer. Here’s a great example!

Getting Through Security

The TSA’s limit on liquids does not apply to your medications.

While you can bring everything you need (including medically-necessary liquids like juice over 3.4 ounces) through security, you may want to factor in 30 minutes of time for the screening process.

The process will be quickest if everything is labeled, organized, and easily removable from your bag for screening. You can notify the TSA verbally, or use this card.

According to USA Today, “passing through airport security with needles, medication, an insulin pump or other diabetic equipment is as simple as notifying an agent about what you're carrying.

And we can vouch - it is! Just be prepared to remove everything from your bag from screening. Yes, insulin is okay to go through the scanner!

If you have an insulin pump, it's better (saves time) to request a pat-down rather than going through a scanner.

According to USA Today, it’s important to “explain that you're wearing an insulin pump and demonstrate where it's located. The TSA will need to verify that the pump isn't a concealed explosive device. Typically the agent will ask a passenger to touch the pump and then test the passenger's hands for any residue of explosives.

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Best Food for Travel With Diabetes

Now that you’re through security, you probably have the munchies like I always do.

Adam Brown at DiaTribe reminds us that we’re all human, and airports can bring out the worst in our eating habits:

I’m more likely to be sleep deprived and stressed while traveling, which drive insulin resistance, sugar/carb cravings, and worse food choices. If I fall into such choices when I’m not even hungry, high blood sugars are almost guaranteed.

Most airports have better options than planes do. So if you’re hungry beforehand, eat! Even if not, it's always good to have a few backup snacks for your time on the plane.

Here are some items you can typically find at the airport: 

  • Nuts and seeds, avoiding any that are coated with added sugars. Try Blue Diamond Almonds, Lightly Salted
  • Salads with chicken. Be sure to avoid the croutons and stick with simple olive oil and vinegar dressing.
  • Beef Jerky. Check the carb-count and make sure there’s not too much added sugar.
  • Eggs. You can find hard-boiled eggs in many airport salads. 
  • Burgers with a lettuce bun. Simply ask the waiter to replace the bread bun with a lettuce bun. 
  • Carne Asada Bowl. Ask for no rice and beans, and pile up on the guacamole and salsa! 
  • Whisps Cheese Crisps
  • Quest Bars. Or any other bars high in protein with less than 20g of carbs.
  • Good Culture Whole Milk Classic Cottage Cheese
  • Plain yogurt. Add your nuts and seeds to this!
  • String or block cheese

The Flight

Or the long drive, or boat ride, or train ride! For the actual trip itself, here are top tips to remember: 

  • Get up and move every hour or two to prevent blood clots.
  • Make sure you don’t sleep through a dosage. Set an alarm on your phone.
  • Airplane snacks - avoid them. The free snacks on airplanes are often straight carbs (like pretzels or chips) or high in sugar (glazed nuts or Biscoff cookies).
  • As a general rule of thumb, though, eat before you get on the plane (or stock up on snacks to bring onto the plane) and
  • Stay hydrated! This is key. Keep in mind, you'll need to go to the bathroom more, but keeping your body hydrated will hugely benefit blood sugars. 

Adjusting to New Places (And Time Zones)

You made it! Now that you’ve survived the journey, it’s time to enjoy the destination.

Here are the best ways to adjust to new places, especially if you’re operating on a different schedule: 

  • Walk around town once you arrive! Depending on your schedule and if it permits, this is a huge help. In the air, on a train, etc., you're not moving, might be eating not-so-great food options, and blood sugars could start to creep up. A great way to get them back in line is to walk around and explore. Not only is it good for blood sugars, but it's a perfect way to see a new place!

  • If your body is on a fairly regimented schedule of taking something like metformin or basal insulin, or any other type of diabetes med, it could shake things up a bit if you don't properly plan your dose timing just right.

    Stick to the same regimen if you aren’t experiencing too much of a time change. For instance, my current at-home schedule is taking my basal insulin at 8pm ET every night. If I travel to San Francisco, I'll take my insulin at 5pm PT (8pm ET), so I stay true to my routine. Since there’s not too much of a time difference (it’s only 3 hours, and I don't have to wake up to take it in the middle of the night), then it's an easy workaround. 

  • For destinations 5 or more hours ahead or behind, slowly change your regimen and pay attention to how your body is reacting. For example, when I travel abroad, each day I'll tweak my dose so that it's within a ~4-6hr +/- time frame from when I would normally dose. As I continue to tweak, eventually I'll start taking it closer to the 8pm time zone that I'm actually in.

Now that you’ve reviewed these tips for traveling with diabetes, it’s time to get packing. 

Get out there, enjoy what this world has to offer, and let us know other diabetes travel hacks you learn along the way! 

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    Grace Vlaha
    Jul 18, 2019

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