How to Travel Safely with Diabetes
by Allison Karp, Education Coordinator
Traveling can be stressful, even traumatic, in the best of times, particularly since the threat of terrorism changed the way we are monitored and checked at airports. TSA travel rules for diabetes supplies and regulations regarding what can and can’t be carried on board aircraft have become stricter.
With all this changing legislation it has meant that traveling with diabetes can be more complicated.
Traveling with diabetes isn’t as straightforward as people might think, especially for those with Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes. However, with a little extra planning and through seeking advice in advance from your medical professional there is no reason why a diabetic cannot enjoy a relaxing and delightful vacation like anyone else.
Last minute travel plans, while often cheaper, don’t allow much preparation time, so wherever possible plan your travel well in advance in order to put measures in place to ensure a healthy and stress-free vacation.
Perhaps it’s your first time traveling with diabetes after your diagnosis. It’s a good idea to meet with your healthcare professional in advance to discuss whether your condition is controlled well enough for travel. They will have some additional advice for you, specifically about how to properly store your diabetes supplies and to maintain control of your blood sugar levels in an unfamiliar environment.
Wherever you travel, but in particular if you are traveling abroad, request a letter or certificate from your doctor explaining your need to carry medication such as insulin, needles and syringes. You will need to present this to authorities as you travel in places such as airport check in and security desks.
The U.S. Transportation Safety Administration has a “Disability Notification Card” that you can print before you travel.
If you are traveling across time zones and you are insulin dependent, then it is advisable that you consult with your medical professional before you travel to discuss how to time your insulin intake.
Even if you don’t normally carry some identification about your diabetic condition it is a good idea to do this when traveling to new territory. Wearing or carrying some form of diabetic identification is useful for if you become separated from your group or if hypoglycemic attacks are a concern.
While you may be used to being able to obtain cheap home insurance, it may not be so easy with travel insurance, yet it is just as important. Diabetes is considered a pre-existing medical condition and must be declared and it is vital to cover yourself while on vacation. You will find that if you have none or few complications of diabetes then most regular insurance companies won’t charge extra.
Once you are on your way to your destination be mindful for any delays or cancellations to flights or other modes of transport and try to have contingency plans in place to cover all eventualities. Try to carry extra food and snacks in line with customs regulations to ensure you maintain your blood sugar levels.
Carry insulin and other medical equipment in your hand luggage so you have access to it at all times during travel. Also monitor your blood sugar levels regularly if you have a very long journey. If you suffer from travel sickness combat this with anti sickness medication as repeated vomiting can cause hypoglycemia.
If you are traveling with a group or organized tour it is a good idea to notify someone of your condition in case the worst happens so they know what to do. The same applies if you’re planning adventurous activities whilst you’re away so that people can support you if problems occur.
Traveling by Airplane
If you are going on vacation via airplane there are a few specific things to bear in mind. In your hand luggage ensure you are carrying the following:
1. Insulin and syringes
2. Blood and urine testing equipment (including spare batteries)
3. All medications
4. Identification and diabetes identity card
5. Snacks including some form of sugar in case of low blood sugar
When proceeding through security checkpoints, the TSA advises that you notify a security officer that you are diabetic and that you are carrying diabetic supplies and/or equipment. Once your supplies and equipment are properly screened, you will be allowed to take them onboard the flight. The TSA’s rules allow for visual and manual inspections of supplies and medications. Make sure any medications are clearly labeled and in their usual prescription bottles.
If you have questions about the airport screening policies, you should call the TSA’s helpline at 1-855-787-2227 at least 72 hours in advance of your flight. The TSA can make arrangements to have a trained representative available when you arrive.
If you are insulin dependent and need to inject while on board be mindful of changes to your insulin. Due to cabin pressure it can seem like the plunger is fighting you and can make it more difficult to measure you insulin dose accurately.
When eating on board an aircraft it is a good idea to order your meal in advance of travel by at least two days. That way the airline can accommodate your dietary needs by offering a meal that is low in sugar, fat or cholesterol.
As soon as practicable after landing ensure you check your blood sugar to ensure you are able to make your onward journey safely. Jet lag can make it hard to tell if there is a problem with blood sugar levels. After long flights it is also a good idea to take it easy for a couple of days in order to acclimatize to your new surroundings. After all a vacation is all about relaxing!
Eating and Drinking
Part of the enjoyment of travel is enjoying another country’s food and drink. While diabetics are no more prone to stomach upsets than any other person keep in mind what you are eating and practice good food and water hygiene to avoid any episodes of illness.
If you don’t speak the language of the country you are in, take a phrase book with you which will be useful to help translate menus or ask for certain foods you need.
Keeping hydrated is important, particularly in hot climates where the body will lose more fluid through sweating. Maintain a high fluid intake but take care to use bottled water to avoid illness.
Above all else your trip should be a positive and enjoyable experience. There is no reason why it can’t be so long as you take precautions and advice in advance. That way you can enjoy a happy and healthy break.
TSA Rules for Travelers with Hidden Disabilities: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/editorial_1374.shtm#3
“When you Travel:” Tips from the American Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/medication/when-you-travel.html
TSA Cares Helpline: http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/disabilityandmedicalneeds/tsa_cares.shtm
Downloadable TSA Disability Notification Card