There are a few things to consider when you travel. Besides the usual preparations, it is important to think about your diabetes when you are planning to be away.
Some types of travel make life simpler when you have diabetes. A cruise or an all-inclusive resort, for example, because of their regular schedules, wide variety of foods and rapid access to medical care, let you enjoy your vacation in complete safely.
But even if you want an adventure holiday, you can travel safely if you keep a few key considerations in mind.
Travel and diabetes are completely compatible, provided that you’ve done the proper planning.
See your doctor
You should visit your doctor a few weeks before you leave to talk about adjusting your insulin or medication based on:
- Time-zone changes
- Planned activities
Your doctor should also sign an official letter (ideally in the language of your destination country and in English) stating that you have diabetes and that you need to carry your medication, injection equipment and glucose meter with you at all times.
See the Resources box for some bilingual sample letters, in various languages, that you can download and print for your doctor to sign.
See your dietitian
Before you leave, your dietitian can help you modify your daily meal plan based on:
- Your travel meal schedule
- the food choices available at your destination(s)
See your pharmacist
Your pharmacist should give you:
- a complete list of your medications
- The name of your medications and their concentrations in the destination country(ies), in case you need to buy some while you are away
- Carry extra medication and supplies (including replacement batteries) in your hand luggage, along with your doctor’s official letter, in case of flight delays, lost baggage or other unexpected problems.
- Carry enough insulin or antidiabetic medication to last your entire trip, along with some extra, in case unexpected problems occur.
- Carry snacks with you, such as cereal bars, in case meals are delayed, along with quickly absorbed sugar (glucose tablets, sugar packets, etc.) in case you need to treat hypoglycemia.
- Before you leave, locate the emergency clinics at your destination(s), as well as the location of the Canadian embassy or consulate.
- In an emergency, an ID bracelet or pendant identifying your diseases could save your life.
- Take blood glucose readings more often: your activities, rest periods and dietary habits will be different when you travel and will very likely affect your glycemic control, as will the sun and possible dehydration.
Are you worried that you can’t refrigerate your insulin when you travel? Insulin can be stored at room temperature for approximately one month. However, you must avoid temperature extremes. You can also use insulated pouches to keep insulin cold.
For more information, download our « Travel Guide for People with Diabetes » : see the Resources box.
If you travel by plane
Security measures can differ from country to country. That is why it’s a good idea to find out about them from the airlines you fly with or from your travel agent.
Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Advise security personnel that you are diabetic and carrying medical equipment in your hand luggage (show them the official letter from your doctor, if necessary).
- Your syringes should be transported in their protective sheaths. The vial or cartridges must have an official pharmacy label with the name of insulin and its dosage.
- Your prescription medications should be in their original packaging with the pharmacy’s label to properly identify them.
- Your lancets must be equipped with protective caps and your blood glucose meter must bear the manufacturer’s name.
- If you wear an insulin pump, advise security personnel that you cannot remove it because of the catheter. It is preferable not to pass through the metal detector but to ask for a manual inspection.
Visit a travel medicine clinic to get all your vaccinations up to date, and to get advice about your destination(s). No vaccine is contraindicated for people with diabetes. Moreover, you may even qualify for free vaccinations, for flu and pneumonia, for example.
The destination, duration, type of trip (e.g. : humanitarian) and living conditions abroad is the kind of information the clinic needs to give you the right vaccinations and information. Specific vaccinations for international travel are highly recommended and in some cases, obligatory.
In some countries, you will need drugs to prevent malaria. These drugs should be prescribed after the risks of contracting malaria during your stay have been assessed.
The infections that cause traveller’s diarrhea can have a significant impact on your blood glucose (sugar) levels when you have diabetes. Dehydration and the variations in your food intake can make your blood glucose (sugar) levels fluctuate. If your diabetes is poorly controlled, you are at greater risk of infection and must be doubly vigilant. In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed before departure.
Altitude shouldn’t be an obstacle in your choice of destination. Most people with diabetes can handle medium altitudes very well. However, you need to check the state of your medical supplies before and during your stay. Extreme climatic conditions and altitude could damage your medication and make controlling your diabetes difficult.
Research and text: Diabetes Québec team of health care professionals
Scientific review: Karine Chagnon, Travel-medicine and tropical diseases nurse, J.D. MacLean Centre for Tropical Diseases at McGill University.
June 2014 (updated on July 2018)
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