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Traveling Guide for People with Diabetes

Published: 12/13/21
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By Monica Oxenreiter

Planning to travel over the holidays? Use this helpful checklist to make sure you have everything you need to get to your destination safely.

If you are a person with diabetes planning to travel this holiday season, this guide is for you. While traveling with diabetes can be fun and safe, it does require a few extra steps of planning to make sure that you have everything you need with you. As many people did not travel last season due to the pandemic, these tips can help you brush up on your vacation prep to-do list after a year and a half of locking down.

Here are a few essential items to make sure you always bring with you when traveling, as well as some tips and suggestions for how to travel safely.

Key items to bring with you: 

  • Diabetes medications – insulin and other diabetes medications (metformin, SGLT-2 inhibitors, GLP-1 receptor agonists, etc.), as well as syringes, pens, and insulin pump supplies for at least three extra days beyond your planned trip; delays and cancelations might move your itinerary unexpectedly.

    • You might also consider wrapping your insulin with a damp cloth to help keep it cool and out of direct sunlight. This is particularly important as light quickly degrades insulin. 

  • Blood glucose meter and supplies: alcohol swabs, lancets, etc.

  • If you use a CGM, it is always good to have a spare CGM sensor and a BGM, should your sensor fail or should your plane take an extra day to get home. 

  • If you use an insulin pump, have a spare infusion set and be sure to also have extra basal insulin injections should your pump break.

  • Carry a letter of medical necessity on you from your primary care physician or endocrinologist. If you have proof of your diabetes, it can make it easier to work with TSA agents or flight attendants and help avoid any confusion when going through security.

  • Fast acting carbohydrates (like glucose tablets, or other non-liquid, non-gel foods), and glucagon. These can be brought through security and make it easier to treat a low while on the plane.

  • Ketone testing supplies.

  • ​​Depending on where you are going, discuss other medications with your healthcare team, such as antimalarials, skin creams, anti-inflammatories (tylenol), and antiemetics or other medicines for food issues if going to someplace remote or exotic or developing world, etc. 

    • Take care when traveling with strong painkillers, such as opiates or codeine containing drugs, since these drugs are not allowed in certain countries. 

Flying with Diabetes

Outside of bringing extra supplies with you, here are a few more tips when traveling via airplane: 

  • When going through security, the full body scanner can negatively interact with your  insulin pump and CGM. Models that cannot go through the full body scanner include Medtronic and Tandem pumps, and Dexcom and Medtronic CGMs. Please check with the manufacturer of your technology before flying if you have any questions. If you cannot go through the full body scanner, you will need to opt out and have a pat down. 

  • Give a little bit of extra time for security.

  • If you are traveling on a long-distance flight, check in with the flight attendant and let them know you have diabetes. Prior to the flight, you can also mention your diabetes when entering any food restrictions for the in-flight meal options.  

  • Traveling can throw off normal routines, causing high stress due to new foods, higher or lower amounts of activity, and disrupted sleep. 

  • Airplanes can increase risk for dehydration, so remember to stay hydrated when traveling. Bring an empty water bottle with you to fill at a refill station in the airport terminal.

  • If checking a bag, make sure to keep your diabetes supplies in your carry-on, as baggage can sometimes be lost. You should always have at least 3 days’ worth of supplies in an easily-accessible location when traveling. 

    • However, if a situation does arise where you lose your supplies, do not worry. Diabetes medications are generally available worldwide, but you may incur the costs of seeing a doctor for a prescription, and the costs of purchasing the supplies. 

    • Some medications (for example, NovoLog) have different names outside the US.

  • “Baggage claim low:” if you wear a pump while flying, make sure to double check your blood sugar after landing. The quick change in altitude (and air pressure) can impact the rate that your pump administers insulin when the plane is taking off and landing, which often leads to low blood sugars for people by the time they reach baggage claim. 

  • If you are landing in a different time zone, update your meter, pump, and CGM settings so that the time is accurate on your devices. Your basal rates are often tied to the clock in your machine, so make sure those time settings are correct.

Read Alan Uphold’s article, “Traveling Inside Your Comfort Zone,” for more travel tips this holiday season and enjoy your trip!

About the authors

Monica is a master's candidate at the Brandeis Heller School of Social Policy, where she is pursuing a dual degree Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Business Administration... Read the full bio »

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