It’s getting closer and closer to the summer traveling season, so we came up with our top tips for traveling with your own or a loved one’s diabetes. A lot of these are, in fact, common sense, but it also never hurts to go back over some ideas from time to time. Details of your trip will determine which of these tips is appropriate in your scenario.
So, before you slather on sun screen or start your forever wait in line at airport security, let’s…
Make a plan!
As we all know, planning ahead can save headaches and avoid leaving behind something urgent. One of the best ideas we like to use is making a list. Oh I just heard the eye rolls, but it’s true – if you have a list to work off of, both leaving and coming back, then you’re a lot less likely to forget something. And your list doesn’t have to be extravagant, but the more details you have, the less likely for mistakes. Also, don’t wait until the last minute! Start your list NOW! It can easily be edited as your needs and plans change. Once you have a list, save it! Make a base copy that you can keep and reuse at home. Depending on your trip, your list may be more or less detailed.
Copies of documents can make your life easier, again, depending on where and how you’re traveling. If you’re going for a simple over-night or weekend to the local state park, you may not need all of this, but hey, it’s still a good idea! Not only that, once this is done one time, maybe with some tweaking here and there, this can be good for years!
Take a copy of your insurance information. You don’t know when and where you might need emergency medical attention, or when you may have to get an emergency refill on prescriptions. If your insurance plans covers part of your medications, then obviously, this can save you some money!
Copy your prescriptions – get not only paper copies (available from your prescribing physician), but copies of the labels on your medications in case yours get lost or damaged and you need to get refills. An easy way to do your medication labels is by taking a photo of them. Most of us have phones with cameras in them, and what better way to quickly and easily snap pictures of your current meds and have them with you. If your phone has the option, you can even make a folder just for these photos, and have easy access to them without having to search your entire photo folder. These copies give a local pharmacist, plus any emergency medical personnel, a lot of information about your health that they may need at a critical time.
Make a simple copy of your medical history. While we’re talking about traveling with diabetes, most diabetics have other health issues, too. Make a list of any health issues you have and any surgeries. Again, if an emergency occurs, time is precious. All of this information, can assist physicians who don’t know you, help treat you in the most efficient manner possible.
Identification paperwork. It might sound silly, but if your legal name is “Robert” and you’re traveling as “Bob”, then having personal identification to prove you are who you say you are, can be critical. Having identification that matches your prescriptions and/or medical history can make it easier to get emergency refills, or save precious time in an emergency situation.
Finally, keep multiple copies: one on you, one in checked luggage, and one emailed to yourself. Emailed? Absolutely! In today’s world, no matter where you may travel, you can almost always find access to a computer and access to your email, especially if you use Gmail, Yahoo, or other email services that are similar. An emailed copy can be waiting for you in just a few key strokes!!
Medication and supplies requirements
A big part of your plan is knowing what to take. You figure out what clothes you’re taking, what sundry items (hair care, skin care, etc.), well, the same holds true for your medications and supplies. And we’re not just talking insulin here. While most of us won’t travel with our prescription bottles, a good way to plan and organize medications, especially oral medications, is a pill organizer. You can get these as single doses (1 slot), two-a-day does for a week (14 slots), or even four-a-day doses for a week (28 slots.) Some of the week versions have the feature of being able to pop out individual days, so you only take what you need.
First, figure how many days you’ll be gone; figure out what medications (oral, insulin, etc.) you need to take, when, and how often you take them (me? I’m on a morning/evening schedule, so I need two slots per day, plus insulin supplies); figure how much in supplies (syringes, etc.) you’ll need; then allow for extra days in case of emergency, travel plan changes, delays, etc. I always carry extra insulin supplies “just in case” there’s a delivery system failure (something’s wrong with a syringe or pen needle, etc.)
Consider Storage Temperatures
Consider temperatures of not only your destination, but the traveling to and from, as well. Some oral medication, your insulin, and test strips may be temperature sensitive. Know what the temperature limits, both high and low. Think about how your medications will be packed, and will they experience any temperature extremes. Pack accordingly. Do you need to take a small cooler to keep things from getting too warm? Maybe a small, insulated, soft-sided lunch box with a cold pack, will keep medications at the temperature they need to be!
Sharps Disposal Regulations
It’s always helpful to know local sharps disposal regulations. Some municipalities or countries may have tighter regulations on sharps disposal than your home town. Contact a local pharmacy or public health department. Both should be a wealth of information for you. If in doubt, take a sharps container.
Packing – Checked vs Carry-On
If your travel plans call for air travel, whether domestic or international, you have to decide where you’ll carry your medications, supplies and testing equipment. It’s always a good idea to have some of them in your carry-on luggage, because if your checked luggage gets lost, then you won’t be without at least some of what you need. This holds true if you’re traveling by rail or even by bus. Luggage gets lost, or worse, stolen, every day. Having some, if not all, of your medication with you can make your trip a little easier.
If you are traveling through any form of transportation that requires Federal TSA Screening, then here is information directly from the TSA website: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips/can-you-pack-your-meds-pill-case-and-more-questions-answered
Just remember, if you are stopped during screening, if you have the copy(ies) of your prescription paperwork (see tip up above!), you should have fewer problems.
Keep tabs on your diet
Some of the most memorable parts of travel can be the different foods we are introduced to, or maybe even just a different way a food is prepared. Needless to say, traveling with diabetes can be a challenge, especially when it comes to your diet. You know you’re going to be tempted to eat – just take it easy. Keep a more careful eye on your testing and medications, especially if you’re on a sliding-scale insulin dosage. Moderation is always the key. Enjoy yourself, but know what you can handle and plan accordingly.
Check your overall health
Another strong tip for the traveling diabetic, is to keep an eye on your health in general. Most travel seems to require more walking than we normally do. Keep a vigilant check on your feet, especially if you suffer from neuropathy (loss of feeling in the feet or toes.) Wounds can pop up almost out of nowhere, and if not cared for immediately, can lead to infections, which, as we know, diabetics take longer to heal.
If you have pre-existing wounds, whether they are on your feet or elsewhere, make sure you’re looking after them, too. Being away from home, whether for work or pleasure, is no time to have a wound break down, especially if it’s from simply overlooking its care.
Finally, as we’ve mentioned before, stay consistent on your glucose testing regimen! You know how your body reacts to food, stress, environmental changes, etc. And your blood glucometer is your front line tool of choice to keep you updated with how your body is doing. With the variety of models available, there are those that can even communicate with your smartphone, by way of Bluetooth, so you can have a running history of how your numbers are doing!
Plan for rest
Sure, traveling can be a lot of fun, but a common effect of diabetes is the fatigue, or tiredness, that can be caused by low blood glucose levels, especially those who are using insulin to control their diabetes. Knowing this, it’s always a great idea to make sure you get plenty of rest. Yes, you want to see all of the sites and do all of the activities, but if your body gives out on you in the middle of it, that’s no fun. So, plan in short breaks; find a place to sit and rest for a while, then keep going, as you feel capable.
Enjoy your travel
Our last travel tip – you guessed it: HAVE FUN!! No matter if you’ve been living with diabetes for years or you’re just now beginning your journey with the disease, you don’t have to let it define you. The key, with your physician’s or other medical practitioner’s help, is to come up with a plan where YOU are in control!
We hope that no matter where you head to – the beach, the conference you’ve been wanting to go to, the amusement park with the family, or that second honeymoon you’ve always wanted to take – that you have a great time and have no issues when traveling with your diabetes!