10 Tips for Traveling With Type 1 Diabetes
Ginger Vieira | Dec 19, 2017
Type 1 diabetes is, without a doubt, a high-maintenance chronic illness. Simply managing its 24/7 demands on a regular day is challenging enough without adding the work of traveling while managing those demands. Traveling with type 1 diabetes can absolutely be done, but it requires careful planning and preparation. Here are 10 tips to ensure your plans go as smoothly as possible.
Pack more supplies than you think you’ll need
If you normally use four test strips a day, pack twice that amount. Traveling means following different schedules, eating different food, and possibly being more (or less) active than usual You may eat more carbohydrates than usual, so you’ll go through more insulin — and more infusion sets if you use an insulin pump. Don’t forget to bring a set of new batteries for your meter and your pump.
If you use a pump, bring supplies for injections
This is an easy one to forget if you’ve been pumping for years and injections are a faint memory. Especially if you’re traveling outside of your home country (which means picking up insulin at a nearby pharmacy is going to be complicated). Bring a basal or “long-acting” insulin vial with you in case you need to immediately replace that basal insulin from your pump. Be sure to ask your doctor for the correct dose. And don’t forget to bring plenty of syringes or pen needles as well.
Pack all your diabetes supplies in a your carry-on bag
With travel being so hectic these days, there is no guarantee that your baggage will be in the same place you are when you get off the plane, which is a real nightmare if you have type 1 diabetes and rely minute-by-minute on those supplies. The storage area for suitcases on an airplane can also be really hot or really cold, which can destroy insulin. Keep all your supplies with you at all times.
Bring a note from your doctor
Between insulin pumps, syringes, vials of insulin, and your CGM attached to your body, there are a lot of gadgets and gizmos to raise the eyebrows of airport security. Bring a note from your doctor that explains that these supplies and medications are authentic and life-saving requirements. Also, if you don’t want your vital technology going through an x-ray machine, insist for a pat-down versus walking through the machines.
Pack plenty of fast-acting carbs to treat low blood sugars
You may be more active than usual while traveling, and will likely eat foods you don’t normally eat — which means your blood sugar levels may drop more than you’re used to. Choose a fast-acting glucose source that’s affordable and compact to ensure you’ll always have something with you. Jellybeans, gummy fruit snacks, and traditional glucose tabs are all good options because a small serving is plenty for one low blood sugar, and they don’t spoil in heat or cold. And again, keep them in your carry-on!
Wear your medical alert
If your medical alert is at the bottom of a drawer in your bathroom and hasn’t been worn in 10 years, you’re not alone! But there’s no better time to wear it than when you’re away from home and surrounded by people who don’t know you. With a clear, identifiable medical alert bracelet or necklace, anyone including the strangers on an airplane or the EMTs in Russia will understand what’s going on if you’re unable to speak for yourself or unable to communicate in the local language.
Create a few emergency translation cards in the local language
It can’t hurt to have a couple of simple index cards in your pocket or purse that state simple yet life-saving phrases in that country’s language. For example, “My blood sugar is low, I need sugar quickly,” and “I have type 1 diabetes, where is the hospital?” and “Where is the pharmacy?” Keep in mind that even something as simple as getting to a local market for some fruit to treat low blood sugar might not be possible if you’re too low to get yourself there on your own two feet.
Don’t forget your glucagon pen
You know that glucagon pen that’s been sitting in your drawer for the past five years? You should definitely bring that. Make sure to check the expiration date and review the directions on how to use it. (It is very easy to use incorrectly. You must mix the two ingredients before injecting.) If you’re traveling with a friend, co-worker or partner, be sure to explain to them where it is, how to use it, and when to use it.
Remember to adjust your pump for different time zones
The basal rates in your pump are designed around your usual day of sleeping, breakfast, activity, etc., so you’ll want those same basal rates to occur, for example, when you’re asleep on your vacation in a different time zone. Most people adjust the time on the morning of their first travel day, because as soon as you land in that new state or country, you’re going to be living on local time.
Don’t be afraid to Tweet for emergency supplies
Twitter has actually helped fellow type 1 diabetics get emergency insulin, test strips, or infusion sets in a pinch. Using hashtags like #T1D and #diabetes, you can Tweet something like, “Does anyone in #Boston have a couple infusion sets I could borrow? Mine were stolen while I was sleeping in a hostel.” You can also post in a Facebook diabetes group or a diabetes forum. Most likely, someone will see it that knows somebody in that area and you’ll get the insulin or supplies you need in a jiffy!