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Have diabetes, will travel

A woman standing in an airport and looking out a window at an airplane.

It's safe to travel if you have diabetes. Just make sure to prepare for your trip.

Diabetes can sometimes make travel more challenging. But having diabetes doesn't mean you can't venture far from home. You just need to do a little pre-trip planning.

Visit your doctor well in advance

To make sure your diabetes is under good control, make an appointment to visit your doctor before a major trip, suggests the American Diabetes Association. If you're traveling overseas, you may want to talk with your doctor about six to eight weeks prior to your trip.

You want to have plenty of time to incorporate any medication changes or other adjustments into your routine before you leave. It's also a good time to get any immunizations you might need.

You should also talk to your doctor about:

Documentation. Ask your doctor for a letter that states you have diabetes and lists the medications and supplies you use. Be sure it authorizes any need to carry syringes.

Prescriptions. You'll want to bring at least twice as many supplies, including medications, as you'll need for your trip.

Also ask your doctor to write out emergency prescriptions for all your medications, which you'll carry with you. This will make it much easier to replace any medicines that might be stolen or lost.

Time zones. Ask your doctor for advice about adjusting your medication schedule if you'll be crossing time zones during your trip. Setting an alarm on your phone for taking medicines might be helpful.

Travel insurance. Don't assume that wherever you go, your medical insurance will follow. This is especially true if you are traveling overseas.

If your insurance doesn't provide coverage in other countries, you might want to shop around for travel insurance. The primary reason many people buy travel insurance is to cover the high cost of medical evacuations, which can climb into the six figures.

Packing tips

Probably the most important piece of luggage you'll take on any trip is a carry-on bag that should never leave your side.

In this bag, keep:

  • All the insulin and syringes you'll need for the trip. Insulin doesn't need to be refrigerated and should never be frozen, but it should be kept at room temperature. If it's hot out, you may want to bring cool packs for storing your insulin.
  • Your testing supplies, including extra batteries for your glucose meter.
  • Other medications, including glucagon as well as antinausea and antidiarrhea medicines.
  • Alcohol wipes.
  • A snack pack of items like crackers, cheese, peanut butter, fruit, a juice box and hard candy.

Traveling by air

When you book your flight, try to get an aisle seat so you can get up and stretch your legs every hour or two. This can help prevent blood clots, which people with diabetes are at higher risk for.

Also, for long flights, order a special meal that fits your diet plan—or pack your own. Don't rely completely on the airlines for food.

When you arrive at the airport, tell the person at the security checkpoint that you have diabetes and what supplies you are carrying. Have your doctor's letter handy in case questions arise.

Other healthy travel tips

These additional tips can help you have a safe journey:

  • Check your hotel's website in advance to find out if it has an adjacent restaurant or at least a snack service.
  • If you plan on traveling out of the country, learn a few important phrases in your destination’s primary language, such as: "I have diabetes," "Sugar or orange juice, please" and "I need a doctor or pharmacy."
  • Find out what pharmacies and hospitals are closest to your hotel before you leave for your trip. You can also ask the hotel staff for recommendations, if necessary.

Reviewed 1/8/2021

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