As vacation season arrives, here are travel tips for diabetics

It’s vacation season. Traveling offers unique challenges for diabetics, but nothing that careful planning and a few precautions won’t overcome, says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


The CDC offers these tips for diabetics to travel safely:

Before you leave

Discuss any concerns you may have about anticipated increased levels of activity, expected changes in diet and what to do if you have changes in your glucose readings with your physician. If you are traveling across time zones, let your doctor help you plan the timing of your injections. If you wear an insulin pump, make sure you know how to update the built in clock to reflect the change in time zone. The American Diabetes Association recommends making sure your blood sugars are well controlled before you leave.

Don’t forget your supplies

Always keep your supplies close at hand and accessible, no matter how you travel. And don’t forget to store them correctly; insulin stored in very hot or very cold temperatures may lose strength. Meters and supplies are also sensitive to extreme temperatures. There are cooling packs available made specifically for diabetes supplies.

To allow for any unexpected travel delays, it is recommended to pack twice the amount of diabetic supplies you expect to need. All supplies should be clearly labeled, with their original labels if possible, and don’t forget to bring a copy your prescriptions with you.

It is also important to plan ahead for the possibility that your blood sugar might drop. Changes in what you eat, activity levels, and time zones can affect your blood glucose, so you need to monitor your blood glucose more often. If you use insulin, pack a glucagon emergency kit and all diabetics should pack glucose gel or glucose tablets, along with a few snacks.

Carry documentation and let others know

Carry a laminated 3-by-5 card in your wallet that says you have diabetes along with a list of any medications you use. Joslin Diabetes Center recommends that if you are traveling to a country where they speak a language other than your own, translate the note into this language. The ADA recommends that this card also say, “Sugar or orange juice please” in the language of the country you will be visiting.

In addition to wearing medical identification that says you have diabetes, tell the people you are traveling with that you have diabetes and tell them what to do in the case of an emergency. It is also a good idea to give them a copy of your medical card.

Keep your health insurance card and emergency phone numbers on hand at all times, including your doctor’s name and phone number. First respondents are trained to look at cell phones for a contact labeled “emergency contact,” so make sure you put one in there. All phone numbers should also include the country code if traveling abroad.

Once you arrive, find the closest medical care facility that could provide care if necessary. You can get a list of English-speaking foreign doctors from the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers at or 716-754-4883, according to the ADA.


Do your homework before you go to determine the carbohydrate grams in the foods typically served where you are going. You might also want to pack a few bottles of water and some pre-measured dried fruit, nuts and seeds for snacks.

Air travel

If flying, put your diabetes supplies in a quart-size plastic bag separate from your toiletries. If you wear an insulin pump and don’t want to walk through the metal detector with it on, tell the security officer about it and ask them to visually inspect the pump and do a security pat-down.

It is also important to call the airline ahead of time to assess whether your nutritional needs will be met while traveling. If a meal will be served, you can put in a request for a diabetic meal. If not, make sure to bring appropriate food with you.

Another thing to remember is that air on an airplane is probably pressurized, so when drawing up your dose of insulin, don’t inject air into the bottle because the pressure differences can cause the plunger to “fight you,” says the ADA. For more information about air travel and diabetes, click here.

To reduce your risk for blood clots, move around every hour or two.

Protect your feet

As always, diabetics need to protect their feet, being especially careful of hot pavement by pools and hot sand on beaches. Wear comfortable shoes and make sure to check your feet daily for blisters, cuts, redness, swelling and scratches.The general rule is to never go barefoot.

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