Living with Diabetes

How to take diabetes on the road this season

12/18/2018 by Heather Nelson

Holiday Travel is a time-honored tradition of traversing busy roads and packed airports all for that heart-warming moment of being embraced by our loved ones who have missed us dearly.

But for those of us in the Diabetic community, travel is a who-beast of a different color. Trying to remember what to pack and how to be prepared for unpredictable settings can leave you in an anxious sweat. FEAR NOT my weary traveler! I’ve both ‘been there’ and ‘done that’ and have some practical tips to help make sure your holiday travel won’t be waylaid (at least, not by diabetes).

Before you leave

One of the best things you can do to ease the stressors of holiday travel is to pop into your doctor’s office for a quick checkup. Not only can you discuss any necessary changes to insulin dosing and basal rates (time zone, elevation, and/or climate changes might require a shift) but they can hand you PAPER SCRIPTS for backup supplies and insulin should you need it. Paper might seem backward in our techie-age but TRUST ME ON THIS ONE. Many small-town pharmacies don’t accept electronic scrips from out of state doctor offices. Paper prescriptions are old school, but they are still legit and it’s better to have a paper scrip in hand for a replacement insulin vial and NOT NEED IT, then to be trying to call the on-call doc at midnight because you broke your brand new bottle on the hotel floor. And while I’m on the subject, before you leave, map-out medical facilities! If the place you are going to is new and largely unknown, you need to have the nearest 24-hour pharmacy and ER plotted out and ready to go. Almost anywhere you travel in the 50 states should have one of each. If you are traveling abroad, visit the International Association for Medical Assistance for Travellers. You can find English-speaking physicians and proactively locate clinics. It might seem overkill, but “better safe than sorry” as they say. Finally, get a LETTER OF MEDICAL NECESSITY (some call it a TRAVEL LETTER) from your endocrinologist! While the TSA does provide handy print-out cards to assist you in security screening, my experience has shown that the entire security/check-point process is easier with a letter from the doc to explain WHY you need a giant suitcase full of kiddie juice boxes and sharp needles. In fact, I make several copies of it to have on hand in case anyone needs to hold onto a copy of it.
mySugr Bundle - Unlimited Accu-Chek Guide test strips

Travel day

Packing all your supplies can be a job all on its own. Some people say take 50% more supplies than you think you need, I’m all for a solid 100% overage if you pack it EFFICIENTLY. I discuss this topic AT LENGTH in my blog post from August of 2018, but truly you can’t really OVER PACK when it comes to diabetes. Make sure your diabetic supplies have their own bag, and that your Med bag STAYS with you at all times. And no matter what, never EVER check your diabetic supplies. 
Did I mention NEVER? 
How about once more for the cheap seats in the back of the room.


On the off chance your luggage was to get dropped, damaged, or lost, clothing can be replaced anywhere you travel, but your diabetic supplies are invaluable, and you always need them close to you no matter what. In case you are wondering about packing restrictions, allow me to ease your mind with a few handy TSA Websites: Between those sites and your handy LETTER OF MEDICAL NECESSITY that you got before you left, you should have no trouble taking whatever you need with you on the plane to help manage your diabetes well while traveling. Just to be safe, give yourself extra time in case they need to manually search your bags so you don't add flight delays to the stress of it all. Remember your elementary school skills about making friends and using the buddy system? They apply here too! When you board the plane, introduce yourself to the flight attendant and give them a heads-up about your condition. They can be mindful to watch for you, should you need assistance getting to your diabetic supplies, and might be less grumpy about you roaming about the cabin in search of snacks. And I know you know this but HYDRATE! Traveling can be very dehydrating. Between traffic and pressurized airplane cabins, YOU NEED WATER! Stay hydrated and your blood sugar levels will do far better. And FOR THE LOVE let’s all at least promise to TRY to eat healthy travel snacks like fruit and nuts. Salty chips and roadside candy are appealing, but not the best option.

After you arrive

If you have done your diligence, your arrival should be easy-peasy. Take a peek at your diabetic supply suitcase and make sure nothing was broken in transit. Take a blood sugar reading and see if you need a snack or maybe even a small meal and then adjust the time zone settings on your insulin pump, glucometer, and any other supplies that need adjusting. Be mindful of the changes in your climate and/or elevation that might impact blood glucose levels and ENJOY YOUR VACATION! One last word from this T1D Mama Bear Consider it a little Holiday Love from me to you in that nagging MOM sorta way. Wear your medical alert ID. I mean, you should be wearing one anyway, RIGHT? Especially when you are traveling. There are hundreds of style options, so you have no excuse not to find ONE you like. Don’t put yourself at risk. TRAVEL SAFE!

Heather Nelson