Travel Tips for People with Diabetes
Travel Successfully with Diabetes
Packing for vacation can be a snap--even for people with diabetes (PWDs). The key is to be prepared, says Davida Kruger, APRN, BC-ADM, author of The Diabetes Travel Guide (American Diabetes Association, 2006). "Think about it ahead of time. Don't just show up."
Amy Tenderich, PWD type 1, is a firm believer in being prepared. As creator and editor of DiabetesMine (diabetesmine.com), she travels often. Tenderich packs her diabetes gear before she packs her clothes so she's less likely to forget something. She uses an insulin pump and always packs more supplies than she needs.
"You never know when your pump is going to poop out or your lancet is going to break--what are you going to do? Stab yourself with a kitchen knife?" she says. Even for an overnight escape, never underestimate the need for backup.
Here are more packing tips for a smooth, diabetes-smart journey.
Traveling with Diabetes Medication
Keep medicines in your carry-on. Lost bags or delayed bags may mean you miss pills. Keep all prescriptions in your carry-on or personal bag.
Avoid temperature swings. "One person told me he gave his insulin to a flight attendant to keep it cool and she accidentally put it in the freezer," says Davida Kruger, APRN. Protect injectables (insulin, Byetta, Symlin) from extreme temperatures and direct sunlight, which can degrade them. "Your car will become an oven in summer or a freezer in winter," says William Quick, M.D., PWD type 1, an endocrinologist who loves to travel. If you are going to be away from the car for a few hours, take insulin and other injectables with you, he says.
Treat injectables to a cool bath. When temperatures are hot, Mark Abbott, PWD type 2, of the DiabetesMonitor (diabetesmonitor.com) recommends carrying a quart-size zipper storage bag as an emergency cooling station. Drop in the pen or vial, seal the bag, and dip the bag in cool water when you reach your destination.
* Insulin: Keep pens and vials at room temperature below 86 degrees F (discard after 28-30 days) or refrigerate vials (discard after 90 days). Do not expose to direct sunlight.
* Symlin (pramlintide): Refrigerate or keep at room temperature below 86 degrees F. Do not expose to direct sunlight (discard after 30 days).
* Byetta (exenatide): Keep at room temperature below 77 degrees F. Do not expose to direct sunlight or liquids (discard after 30 days).
* Glucagon (emergency kit to treat severe low blood glucose): Keep at room temperature below 90 degrees F and away from direct sunlight.
Use insulating cases. Davida Kruger, APRN, recommends the Frio Cooling Wallet, which cools with just water (no ice or freezing required).
Get a larger supply. Long road trip? Stock up on meds and supplies beyond a 30-day limit. You or your pharmacist can ask your insurance company for a "vacation override."
Traveling with Diabetes Supplies
Plan for lost luggage. Distribute supplies between two separate bags and keep one with you, says Davida Kruger, APRN. That way, if one bag is lost, you will have enough to get by for a while.
Make sure items are labeled. The Federal Aviation Administration recommends keeping syringes and insulin-delivery systems in their original packaging that includes the prescription label. Of course, if space is tight, you may want to discard any packaging that's not required to keep the items sterile.
Pack a first-aid kit. Keep it in your carry-on bag, says Marcia Draheim, R.N., CDE, PWD type 2. "Be sure to include gauze, bandages, and an antibiotic cream so if you get a sore on your foot you can protect it."
Pack the code key. If you use coded test strips, be sure you pack the code key if you discard the outer packaging. Roche, maker of Accu-Chek test strips, says it's OK to store the plastic code key inside a tube of strips.
Dispose of sharps safely. Carry a travel sharps container (this can be a rigid plastic bottle with a screw-on lid) and dispose of it properly when you get home.
Carrying Medical Paperwork With You
Put it in writing. Ask your doctor for a letter (on letterhead that includes his or her contact information) explaining that you have diabetes and listing the medicines you take.
Keep copies of all prescriptions with you. For travel in the United States, Davida Kruger, APRN, recommends getting prescriptions from a chain pharmacy. "If you use a mom-and-pop pharmacy, that's great, but get a backup script with a chain pharmacy before you go," she says. The reason: Chains are often open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and have computer access to your records.
Bring along contact information. Bring a copy of your health insurance information with phone numbers. Know your policy and group numbers and whether you need preauthorization for hospital admission.
Keep track of your devices. For glucose meters, insulin pumps, and continuous glucose monitors, carry information about your device brand and model, the product ID number, and the toll-free phone number for customer service. This information often is on the device, but write down the numbers in case the device is lost or stolen.
Food to Bring Along
Bring snacks. If you fly, remember that many airlines charge for snacks, meals, and beverages. Keep food with you, not in the overhead bin. Amy Tenderich, PWD type 1, says she always brings her own meal on the plane if none is provided.
Be ready for low blood sugar. If your medication may lead to hypoglycemia, be sure you keep glucose sources--tablets, gels, liquid--with you. Don't store them in the overhead compartments, where you can't access them during takeoff or landing.
Preview menus. Check out your destination city's cuisine or peruse online menus before you leave to plan for foods that fit your eating preferences and needs.
Traveling by Air
Protect your feet. Keep a pair of comfortable shoes with you at all times. Marcia Draheim, R.N., CDE, PWD type 2, always carries a pair of slip-ons in her computer bag in case her feet start to ache.
Pack your carry-on. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows insulin, lancets, syringes, pens, pen needles, pumps, and other items in carry-on baggage. The items are no longer required to be kept in a clear plastic bag, says Davida Kruger, APRN. Visit tsa.gov for complete rules.
Alert baggage screeners. If you desire, tell security personnel that you have diabetes and are carrying supplies. "I'm impressed with how far we have come with security," Kruger says. Most TSA agents are well-educated about the supplies a PWD must travel with, she says.
Don't worry about setting off security alarms. Pump and continuous glucose monitor wearers can proceed though security detectors but can request a pat-down if preferred.
Seek support from the crew. If you're alone on a long flight, consider telling a flight attendant you have diabetes.
Know where to find English-speaking medical help. The International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers has a directory of English-speaking physicians, specialists, clinics, and hospitals in 125 countries. For more information, visit iamat.org.
Speak the language. Learn how to say "I have diabetes" in the language of the country you will visit.
Crossing time zones? Accu-Chek offers this advice for resetting insulin pumps on long trips: On the first night following your arrival, leave your basal rates unchanged. The next morning, set the insulin pump to your lowest basal rate; monitor your blood glucose levels more often and correct when necessary. After three days, reset your insulin pump to the original basal rates and local time.
Vacation Packing Checklist for People with Diabetes
Make your vacation planning easier. Print Diabetic Living's free complete packing checklist to make sure you have all of the traveling essentials.