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Travelling and managing your diabetes

17 March 2011 15:34

Person injecting insulin for diabetes

Person injecting insulin for diabetes

People with diabetes – both Type 1 and Type 2 – travel all over the world and holiday in every known destination. Diabetes is certainly no barrier. If you make the right preparations you should be able to minimise any potential problems and have an enjoyable and safe trip.

People with diabetes do not need to choose 'special' holidays just because they have diabetes. There is no reason at all why you should not enjoy your normal activities – holidaying with friends, eating meals in a relaxing atmosphere and generally joining in with whatever you feel like doing. The key is planning ahead.

When you have booked your holiday you then need to get travel insurance which includes adequate cover for a pre-existing medical condition and wherever possible look for diabetes travel insurance. People with diabetes can find a better deal and better cover by contacting a specialist medical insurer, as their policies are tailored to provide a higher level of cover and take any medical history into consideration.

How you prepare depends on where you're going and for how long. Two weeks backpacking through Europe takes different planning than a week at the beach. Will you be crossing time zones? What kind of food will you eat and when? Will you be more active or less active than usual?

Packing tips

Pack at least twice as much medication and blood-testing supplies as you think you need. Pack all of them in your carry-on bag so that your medication is always with you (checked luggage can get lost).

Whether you travel by car, plane, boat, bike, or foot, you'll want to keep this "carry-on" bag with you at all times. Pack this bag with:

  • all the insulin and syringes you will need for the trip
  • blood and urine testing supplies (include extra batteries for your glucose meter)
  • all oral medications (an extra supply is a good idea)
  • other medications or medical supplies, such as glucagon, anti-diarrhoea medication, antibiotic ointment, anti-nausea drugs
  • your ID and diabetes identity card
  • a well-wrapped, air-tight snack pack of crackers or cheese, peanut butter, fruit, a juice box, and some form of sugar (hard candy or glucose tablets) to treat low blood glucose

Eating in the Air

When you fly, you can request a special meal low in sugar, fat or cholesterol. Make your request at least two days before the flight.

If you take insulin, wait until you see your food coming down the aisle before you take your shot. Otherwise, a delay in the meal could lead to low blood glucose. To be safe, always carry some food with you. If your meal is delayed or an order is mixed up, you won't be stuck with an empty stomach.

Have insulin, will travel

  • When you travel with insulin, give some thought to where you'll be storing your supplies. Insulin does not need to be refrigerated, but insulin stored in very hot or very cold temperatures may lose strength. Many travel packs are available to keep your insulin cool.
  • In general, you should stick with the exact brand and formulation of insulin that you have been prescribed by your doctor.


After a long flight, take it easy for a few days. Check your blood glucose often. If you take insulin, plan your activities so you can work in your insulin and meals.

If you are more active than usual, your blood glucose could go too low. Take along snacks when hiking or sightseeing. Don't assume you will be able to find food wherever you are.

No matter what kind of diabetes you have, it's sensible to watch what you eat and drink when travelling. Avoid tap water overseas. This includes ice cubes made from tap water.

Ask for a list of ingredients for unfamiliar foods. Some foods may upset your stomach and hurt your diabetes control. But you will also find foods that give you a healthy taste of culture.

Wear comfortable shoes and never go barefoot. Check your feet every day. You should look for blisters, cuts, redness, swelling, and scratches. Get medical care at the first sign of infection or inflammation.

Go wherever your heart leads you. Just remember that you take your diabetes with you. Take your self-care along, too.