Tips for travelling with diabetes

9 Jan 2023
Navin Khosla medical writer
Navin Khosla
Medical Writer
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Travel can be stressful. And if you’re like me – living the fullest of life while having insulin-treated diabetes on multiple daily injections – a little bit of planning can make it much easier. Here are a few of my travel tips.

How I approach travel

When I travel, I generally go further afield on a new adventure as I like nothing more than experiencing different cultures and food. I enjoy activity-led trips, lying on a beach for days on end, and everything in between.

The first thing I think about before going away is do I have an excuse for another shopping trip. Be it a new swimsuit or an upgraded ski jacket, you can’t beat a bit of retail therapy.

Once the all-important new wardrobe is in place, I’ll move onto my diabetes checklist which always starts with these 2 key questions: how many days will I be away for? and what’s the time difference?

From here it goes something like this:

  • Talk to my healthcare team about my travel plans. They can help me figure out how to best manage my diabetes while I’m away from home
  • How much diabetes supplies will I need? test strips, insulin, insulin pump, lancets, needles syringes, continuous glucose monitors (CGM), fast-acting carbohydrates such as glucose tablets, glucagon emergency kits, ketone test strips and any other medical devices. Including that all-important buffer kit in case of a diabetes disaster
  • Are my diabetes travel items still in good condition? I use a Frio cool bag to keep my insulin cool and carry a doctor’s note from my diabetes consultant to help my case with any airport security
  • Pack my medical ID card or bracelet that says I have diabetes. This will come in handy if I have an emergency and am unable to speak for myself
  • Get travel insurance that covers diabetic supplies and emergency care, just in case
  • Alongside my checklist, I’ll start to hoard a diabetes pile (minus the fridge items), to make sure I don’t forget the most crucial items I’ll need on any holiday and take on my carry-on in case of luggage delays
  • What hand luggage bag shall I take to fit all my diabetes kit in? Queue an impromptu moment of stuffing everything I’ll need into the bag of choice to see if it all fits. I like to take almost all of my medical supplies with me in my hand luggage so finding the bag size is usually determined by the distance of the flight and the number of days I’m away for – the longer these are, generally the bigger the bag
  • One of the most crucial questions I then ask myself is: when should I inject my background insulin with an x hours time difference?

Why diabetes won’t stop me

I quite often take a “diabetes holiday” while I’m travelling where I switch off from my type 1 diabetes a little more than on an average day. I like to explore so I will eat all the foods I want to taste and sightsee until my ankles swell up. While I refuse to let diabetes stop me from enjoying any part of it, being prepared with enough equipment, such as hypos (low blood sugar) treatments at inconvenient moments, always helps to pick me up and continue to live life it to its fullest.

How I deal with my biggest travel challenges

Travelling with diabetes is not always easy, these are my 3 biggest challenges and how I overcome them.

Time difference

If travelling long haul it can become even more complicated when travelling across different time zones. It’s always a bit tricky to get your background insulin doses into some kind of stable pattern. When you travel east, your day gets shorter and your body’s natural rhythms are disrupted. This can make it difficult to maintain consistent blood sugar levels. Similarly, when you travel west and your day gets longer, you may find yourself feeling tired and needing more snacks to maintain your energy levels. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead when crossing time zones as a diabetic. The more you pre-plan when to adjust it and/or how slowly to adjust it in the lead-up to travel, the quicker it can become stable while you’re away. Your diabetes team should be able to support you on this too.

Food

Trying lots of new foods brings a lot of uncertainty on exactly what’s in them and how much insulin to inject. There’s no magic formula to overcome this. It’s in these moments I go on a “diabetes holiday” the most and that’s OK.

I do bring along snacks and drinks that will help keep my blood glucose levels stable in case I can’t find anything else to eat. Non-perishable items like hard candy, nuts, and granola bars are good options.

Hot weather

Hot climates can take its toll. Remembering that you don’t need as much insulin, while sitting on a sun lounger all day, can take a while to re-adjust to. Don’t be too hard on yourself, you’re human – you’ll get into the swing of it within a few days or so and that’s also OK.

How I use Now Patient while travelling

This depends on where I’m going. For the most part, I enjoy exploring new places so it’s unlikely I will visit the same place twice. I don’t consider logging my food when exploring a new place as each day is so different that there aren’t as many benefits for me to look back on particular foods that I’ll likely never have again.

Knowing the timing of my insulin is very helpful. So I find the Onboard wheel and notifications useful, especially for background insulin, as it can be a challenge on time zone changes over 4 hours.

Whereas, if I’m on a “staycation” with familiar surroundings, I use the Now Patient app as I would on an average day. I’m more likely to do the same things again and want to be able to refer back to previous decisions in the future.

We’d love to hear your views, experiences and advice on travelling with diabetes.

Check out our video with more tips for travelling with diabetes. If you want to join our research programme, you can apply

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