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Insulin, While You Travel
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Insulin, While You Travel

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Have insulin, will travel
For people who have diabetes, traveling can be made simple with a little forethought and planning.
Planning a trip? Whether you’re camping or cruising, you can go anywhere and do almost anything. It just takes a little planning ahead to handle your diabetes.

How you prepare depends on where you’re going and for how long. Two weeks backpacking through Europe takes different planning than a week at the beach. Will you be crossing time zones? What kind of food will you eat and when? Will you be more active or less active than usual? The answers to these questions are important.
Getting ready

Before a long trip, have a medical examination to make sure your diabetes is under control. Schedule the exam with enough time to work on reaching targets before you depart. Get immunization shots – if you need them – at least one month before you leave. That way, if the shots make you sick, you’ll have time to recover before your trip.

Before any trip, get two papers from your doctor: a letter and a prescription. The letter should explain what you need to do for your diabetes and should list insulin, syringes and any other medications or devices you use. It should also list any allergies you have or any foods or medications to which you are sensitive.

The prescription is for your insulin or diabetes medication. You should make sure that you have more than enough insulin and syringes or medication to last through the trip, but the prescription may help in case of emergency. However, it’s important to bear in mind that prescription laws may differ across countries. No matter where you go, wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace that shows you have diabetes. If you’re leaving the country, also learn how to say “I have diabetes” and “sugar or orange juice, please” in the language of the countries you’ll visit.
Packing tips

The second rule of travel for a person with diabetes is to pack at least twice as much medication and blood-testing supplies as you think you need. Pack at least half in your carry-on bag so that your medication is always with you.

Whether you travel by car, plane, boat, bike, or foot, you’ll want to keep this “carry-on” bag with you at all times. The bag should include:
  • all the insulin and syringes you will need for the trip
  • blood and urine testing supplies (include extra batteries for your glucose meter)
  • all oral medications (an extra supply is a good idea)
  • other medications or medical supplies, such as glucagon, anti-diarrhoea medication, antibiotic ointment, anti-nausea drugs
  • your ID and diabetes identity card
  • a well-wrapped, airtight snack pack of crackers or cheese, peanut butter, fruit, a juice box, and some form of sugar to treat low blood glucose
Eating in the air

When you fly, you can request a special meal low in sugar, fat, or cholesterol. Make your request at least two days before the flight. If you take insulin, wait until you see your food coming down the aisle before you take your shot. Otherwise, a delay in the meal could lead to low blood glucose. To be safe, always carry some food with you. If your meal is delayed or an order is mixed up, you won’t be stuck with an empty stomach.
Traveling with insulin

When you travel with insulin, give some thought to where you’ll be storing your supplies. Insulin does not need to be refrigerated but insulin stored in very hot or very cold temperatures may lose strength. Don’t store your insulin in the cubby-hole or boot of your car and remember that backpacks and cycle bags can get quite hot in the direct sunlight. If you plan to travel by car or bike or to be out in the elements, use a cooler bag to protect your insulin.
Crossing time zones

If you take insulin shots and will be crossing time zones, talk to your doctor or diabetes educator before your trip. Bring your flight schedule and information on time zone changes. Your doctor or educator can help you plan the timing of your injections while you travel.

Remember: eastward travel means a shorter day. If you inject insulin, less may be needed. Westward travel means a longer day, so more insulin may be needed.

To keep track of shots and meals through changing time zones, keep your watch on your home time zone until the morning after you arrive.

If you inject insulin while in-flight, be careful not to inject air into the insulin bottle. In the pressurised cabin, pressure differences can cause the plunger to “fight you”. This can make it hard to measure insulin accurately.

Checking your blood glucose while travelling is as important as when you’re at home. Also, check your blood glucose level as soon as possible after landing. Jetlag can make it hard to tell if you have very low or very high blood glucose.
When you arrive

After a long flight, take it easy for a few days. Check your blood glucose often. If you take insulin, plan your activities so you can work in your insulin and meals. If you are more active than usual, your blood glucose could go too low. Take along snacks when hiking or sightseeing. Don’t assume you will be able to find food wherever you are.

No matter what kind of diabetes you have, it’s smart to watch what you eat and drink when traveling. Avoid tap water overseas. This includes ice cubes made from tap water.

Wear comfortable shoes and never go barefoot. Check your feet every day. You should look for blisters, cuts, redness, swelling, and scratches. Get medical care at the first sign of infection or inflammation.

Go wherever your heart leads you. Just remember that you take your diabetes with you so take your self-care along, too.
© American Diabetes Association

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