We are in the middle of summer vacation season. A great vacation typically consists of a change in daily routine with travel to new places, eating more restaurant meals and more physical activities, such as hiking and swimming. If you have diabetes, some planning ahead will help you maintain good blood glucose control and prevent diabetes self-care activities from complicating your vacation.
I would like to share a few tips for managing diabetes self-care while on vacation:
Tips about diabetes medications and insulin:
- Review your supply and pack twice as much medication as you need in case your travel plans change or your trip is delayed.
- Keep oral medications in the pharmacy bottle with the pharmacy prescription label attached.
- If you take insulin remember to pack the box with the pharmacy prescription label in addition to individual insulin pens or vials and pen needles or syringes.
- If you are traveling by plane keep insulin and oral diabetes medications with you in your carry-on luggage instead of checked luggage, which may be lost or delayed.
- If take insulin or another injectable diabetes medication, keep it at room temperature while traveling. If you are hiking, camping, or driving in a hot car use a cold gel pack to keep the medication cool.
- It is a good idea to pack diabetes medications, insulin, and pen needles or syringes in a separate a clear zip lock bag for easy inspection at security screening.
- Be aware of schedule, meal, and time changes while traveling so you’ll know when to take insulin and other diabetes medications.
- Take copies of prescriptions with you in case medications need to be replaced at a local pharmacy during your trip.
- Pack snacks and an oral carbohydrate recovery food, such as glucose gel tablets, hard candy or raisins in case your blood glucose is low and needs to be treated.
- If your diabetes medical provider has prescribed a glucagon emergency kit, bring it with you on vacation.
Tips about blood glucose meters and testing:
- Pack an extra blood glucose meter and twice as much testing supplies and you expect to use.
- If your travel involves changing time zones, change the time of your meter to the local time zone.
- Changes in food choices, activity levels, and time zones can affect your blood glucose. Plan to check blood glucose more frequently to monitor the impact of changes so you can make adjustments as needed.
Tips for diabetes meal planning:
- Review your diabetes meal plan with a registered dietitian and make adjustments before traveling.
- Look for restaurants that offer healthy choices.
- Use a smartphone app such as MyFitness Pal or CalorieKing to track carbohydrate intake when eating in restaurants. This is very helpful if you take mealtime insulin and make dose adjustments based on how much carbohydrate you eat.
- Pack healthy food for meals and snacks while traveling. Remember most airlines no longer offer meals or provide snacks during a flight so be sure to pack a sandwich and a piece of fruit for a lite meal if needed.
- Bring a water bottle and keep hydrated especially on hot humid days.
- Drink alcohol responsibly.
Tips to stay healthy with diabetes while traveling:
- Wear a medic alert or carry a card in your wallet that indicates the type of diabetes you have and includes the medications you take to treat it.
- Pack your health insurance card and contact information for your diabetes medical provider and care team.
- Obtain a “travel letter” from your diabetes medical provider stating what medications and diabetes supplies you need to carry with you on a plane or through any security checkpoint to take care of your diabetes.
- If you use an insulin pump to manage your diabetes, do not walk through a metal detector at the airport or other security checkpoint wearing your pump. The metal detector can damage your insulin pump. Notify security that you are wearing an insulin pump and request a visual inspection of the pump and complete security pat-down.
- Protect your feet by wearing appropriate footwear. Make sure sneakers and hiking boots fit well. Never go barefoot!
- Research ahead where to go for diabetes medical care if needed while away from home.
Have a great trip!
Linda Tilton, MS, RD, CDE, is a Clinical Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at The University of Vermont Medical Center. In 2013, The UVM Medical Center earned national certification in diabetes education. Learn more about The UVM Medical Center’s Endocrinology, Metabolism and Nutrition practice. Linda is also the coordinating board chair for the Vermont Association of Diabetes Educators.