Travelling With Diabetes: Essential Things To Consider
Having diabetes shouldn’t stop you from travelling but when you do, planning is essential. Making the right preparations will minimise the risk of problems, allowing you to enjoy your time away safely. You just need to take the time to consider a few key issues.
Before You Travel
You should start preparing for your trip four to six weeks before you depart. Make a checklist of everything you need to do, which should include the following:
- Make an appointment with your GP so you can discuss your travel plans and receive advice about any necessary special precautions or medication changes. Your GP can also give you a letter which will allow you to carry syringes and insulin with you on a flight. Some GPs will charge for writing a letter.
- If you use an insulin pump or a contiguous glucose monitor (CGM) and are travelling by aeroplane, make sure your airline will allow this to be used during the flight, and check whether the devices are safe to go through an X-ray machine.
- Find out where you can get supplies of insulin at your destination in case of an emergency. Check with your insulin manufacturer whether your insulin is supplied in the country you are travelling to, and whether it is sold under the same name.
- Make sure you have a diabetes ID you can carry with you that will inform people you have diabetes, which would be helpful in an emergency.
- If you’re travelling to a European Union member country, apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to ensure you have easy access to healthcare in that country.
- Make sure you buy travel insurance. This is advisable even if you’re going to an EU country with an EHIC, as there are certain emergences the card won’t cover.
Packing For Your Trip
- Double check that all the medication and equipment you need are packed. Take more than you’ll need in case of unforeseen delays or extensions to your trip.
- Keep your diabetes supplies in an airtight container or in bubble wrap, then wrap it in a towel and place it in the middle of your suitcase to avoid damage.
- Split your diabetes supplies into different bags, keeping some in your hand luggage in case your bags get lost or stolen.
- Pack enough snacks to cover the journey and possible delays. You should carry some type of sugar with you in case you develop hypoglycaemia.
- Make sure you have your diabetes ID and any necessary documents from your doctor.
Taking a Flight
When taking a flight, you should inform airport security that you have diabetes and need to take medicinal supplies onto the flight. Make sure you’re carrying all of the necessary supporting documentation. If you’re wearing an insulin pump, notify security of this too so they can visually inspect it.
On some flights, you may have to hand your medication over to the cabin crew for storage. It’s important that insulin is not packed in the hold baggage, as here it could be exposed to temperatures which could degrade the insulin.
High temperatures can affect your diabetes control. Spending long periods of time sunbathing can make your blood glucose levels higher than normal, and the hot weather can cause insulin to be absorbed more quickly from the injection site. You’ll need to monitor your levels more often and be ready to adjust your diet or insulin dose accordingly.
It’s important to also be wary of misleading test results. Insulin can be damaged by extreme heat, and the temperature may affect the accuracy of your meter.
In cold weather, insulin is absorbed more slowly at first, but can later be absorbed suddenly when you warm up. This can cause a hypo, as can the fact that your body will be using more energy to keep warm. Hypos are more dangerous in cold conditions because they interfere with your body’s attempt to stay warm, increasing the risk of hypothermia, so it’s important to guard against them.
Like extreme heat, extreme coldness can affect the accuracy of your meter, so be wary of possible misleading results.
Dealing With Illness Abroad
If you become ill while abroad and require medical treatment, inform your doctor of what medication you are taking – not just the brand name, but the generic name too.
If you develop sickness or diarrhoea, which can be common in certain countries, do not stop taking your insulin. Try to maintain your carbohydrate intake, and persist with your medication even if solid foods cannot be tolerated.
With the right attention to your medication, diet and blood sugar levels, you will hopefully be able to avoid illness on your travels. If you take the necessary steps to prevent problems, diabetes doesn’t have to interfere with your holiday plans, whatever they are.
For additional information on a general first aid kit for travelling, please click on the link to our earlier article.