Diabetes and travel – 17 top tips to travel safe and stress-free

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A type 1 diabetic enjoying her travels on a bushwalk in Australia, wearing a continuous glucose monitor.
Photo credit - David Whitaker.

Travel can be a rich and rewarding experience, full of sights, sounds, and adventure. And diabetics don’t have to miss out on the excitement. It just takes a little more care and preparation. By planning ahead, you can ensure your diabetes and travel plans don’t become a problem.

So let’s take a look at some of the essential tips and strategies you should use to make the most of your trip. We’ll explore everything from how to manage travelling with diabetic supplies to selecting diabetic-friendly travel snacks.

Here’s what you’ll need to know:

  • Talk to your doctor
  • Pack extra supplies
  • Keep medications easily accessible
  • Protect your medications from extreme temperatures
  • Be prepared for security checks
  • Carry a medical ID
  • Plan meals and snacks
  • Stay hydrated
  • Monitor your blood sugar regularly
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • Protect your feet
  • Stay active
  • Inform your travel companions
  • Plan for emergencies
  • Manage stress
  • Get sufficient rest
  • Enjoy your trip

Tip #1 – Talk to your doctor

Depending on where you’re planning to go and what you’re hoping to do, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor. They can help make any adjustments you may need to your medications and check you’re up-to-date with your travel vaccines (helping you take care of your overall health and well-being). They can also provide you with a letter explaining your condition and medications, which can be useful when going through security and entry checkpoints (like at airports, museums, galleries, etc.)

Tip #2 – Pack extra supplies

When travelling with diabetic supplies and diabetes medication, include some extra. Depending on what you’re using to manage your condition, you should consider things like insulin, syringes or insulin pens, blood test strips, medications, glucose tablets, etc.

As a rough guide, aim to have a few days’ worth of extra supplies in case of unexpected delays or emergencies.

Tip #3 – Keep medications easily accessible

While travelling, you need to make sure your diabetes medications are easily accessible. Keep them in your carry-on luggage and with you at all times, and avoid putting them in checked baggage. This will remove the risk of possible problems with lost or delayed bags and also mean you can manage your condition effectively during long transit periods.

Tip #4 – Protect your medications from extreme temperatures

Insulin and other medications can be sensitive to temperature, such as extreme heat or cold. To keep your medications safe, and usable, it’s a good idea to invest in accessories and equipment that can help you keep them at a stable temperature while you travel. For example:

Tip #5 – Be ready for security checks

If you’re going to be passing through any security checkpoints, plan ahead and make the process as easy as possible. Tell security personnel about your condition, make sure your medications are easily accessible (see Tip #3) and have ready to hand a letter from your doctor (see Tip #1) explaining your disease as well as the medications and equipment to treat it that you may be travelling with.

Tip #6 – Carry a medical ID

Wearing a medical identification bracelet or necklace that clearly states you have diabetes can be incredibly useful in an emergency. When wearing one, first responders will know about your condition and can make sure you receive appropriate care.

Medical IDs come in many shapes and sizes, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find something you like and that works for you. Options include:

Tip #7 – Plan meals and snacks

What you eat and drink has a direct impact on your blood glucose level. So planning your meals and snacks in advance can play a major role in helping keep your blood sugar stable while you travel.

Research the food options where you’re heading, as well as what’s available along the way. And carry snacks so you can satisfy hunger or address low sugar as you travel – A good selection of travel snacks for diabetics will address both needs.

Nuts, seeds and whole-grain crackers have a low glycemic index and are excellent snacks for beating hunger without spiking blood sugar.

And glucose tablets, fruit juice and candy are worth carrying as well to help avoid and treat hypoglycemia (low sugar).

Tip #8 – Stay hydrated

Dehydration can affect your blood sugar level, so drink plenty of water as you travel. Keep a refillable water bottle with you, and take bottled water if you’re travelling through an area where clean water may not be readily available.

Tip #9 – Monitor your blood sugar regularly

One of the best ways to manage and maintain stable blood glucose levels is by following a routine. However, when travelling, maintaining a routine becomes much more challenging!

This disruption can have a significant impact on your blood sugar levels. So monitor your blood sugar regularly and adjust your insulin or medication to keep it stable. Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) can be a great help with this, providing a constant insight into your blood glucose level. Even with a CGM though, it’s still a good idea to carry a glucose meter and test strips as a backup.

Tip #10 – Wear comfortable shoes

Whether you’re exploring a new city or trekking through nature, comfortable shoes are a must. Foot complications are a common problem for diabetics, and proper footwear can help avoid them.

Tip #11 – Protect your feet

Given how common foot complications are for diabetics, as well as wearing suitable shoes while travelling it’s also important to take proactive care of your feet. Every day, check your feet for any cuts, blisters or signs of infection – This is especially important if you’re walking long distances.

You should also keep your feet clean and dry and wear moisture-wicking socks (available for both men and women).

And if you see anything of concern, don’t wait. Treat it immediately.

Tip #12 – Stay active

Regular physical exercise can help regulate blood sugar levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve overall health. So make sure to stay active while you travel.

As tempting as it can be to just relax all day by a pool or on the beach, fit in some exercise every day. Even going for a walk can make a difference.

And as an added bonus, a mindful stroll can be a fantastic way to explore a new place! Stroll through a local market, go on a hike, or take a cycle tour – You’ll support your health and see more on your travels.

Tip #13 – Inform your travel companions

If you’re travelling with other people, make sure they’re aware of your diabetes and know how to help you in case of an emergency. They don’t need to be experts – Just let them know what the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia (low sugar) and hyperglycemia (high sugar) may be and what they can do to help you.

Also, letting guides know you’re a diabetic and that you’re carrying snacks to prevent hypoglycemia can help make sure you get the support you need, when you need it, particularly if you’re heading to an area where you’re not normally allowed to eat.

Tip #14 – Plan for emergencies

No one wants to have to face an emergency while travelling. But if you do, it’s best to be prepared.

Doing some basic research before you head off on your adventure can make it easier to handle any emergencies that do occur. Find out the emergency contact numbers, check what medical facilities are available, and see where the nearest pharmacies will be.

It can also be a good idea to invest in travel insurance. And when getting a quote, mention your diabetes. This will help make sure you get the right level of cover for your trip – The best travel insurance for diabetics could include coverage for things like 24/7 hour medical assistance, medical supplies, hospitals, and emergency evacuation.

This basic information and prep work can help give you peace of mind and security when tackling unexpected health problems.

Tip #15 – Manage stress

Stress can have a significant impact on your blood glucose level. Because of this, stress management can play an important part in diabetes care.

And this is true both at home and while travelling.

Practising relaxation techniques and managing your stress can help you keep control of your blood sugar when off on your adventure. Deep breathing, meditation, and yoga are all good options to consider (you can practise them practically anywhere), helping you stay calm and keep your blood glucose regulated.

Tip #16 – Get sufficient rest

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital not just for diabetes management but also to support your overall health.

Aim to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to help regulate your blood sugar and maintain your general well-being. To support this, be physically active during your day, avoid caffeine and alcohol before going to bed, and try to keep your electronic devices (like your phone or tablet) out of your bedroom to set a more relaxing environment and avoid temptation.

Tip #17 – Enjoy your trip

Finally, don’t forget to enjoy the adventure! Travelling is a fantastic opportunity to explore the world, take on new experiences, learn, and grow as a person. Having diabetes may mean you need to plan and prepare more before you head off but it’s definitely possible to manage your diabetes effectively while travelling.

So follow these tips, stay on track with your diabetes management, and enjoy your trip!

Disclaimer: The information in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have questions about your medical condition you should always consult your doctor or qualified healthcare provider.

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