Managing diabetes often involves closely monitoring blood sugar levels and administering medication, which may be difficult when traveling. However, people with diabetes can safely fly and enjoy their vacation with proper planning.

Type 1 diabetes is a condition that impairs the body’s ability to process blood glucose, resulting in excess sugar in the blood. It occurs when the body does not produce a sufficient amount of the hormone insulin or cannot respond to it correctly.

A person with diabetes may need to stick to a strict management regimen to help them control their blood sugar levels.

Many aspects of traveling, such as flying, delayed meals, unfamiliar foods, warmer climates, higher activity levels, and being in different time zones, can disrupt diabetes management. However, with careful planning, a person with diabetes can relax and enjoy all the experiences of their trip.

In this article, we suggest tips and guidelines that will be useful for those living with type 1 diabetes who are planning to travel.

A person checking their blood glucose.Share on Pinterest
Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Some useful steps to take before traveling include:

  • booking a checkup appointment with a healthcare professional to ensure that the person is managing their diabetes well, is in good health to travel, and is up to date with their travel vaccinations
  • asking a doctor how certain activities may affect diabetes and whether the person needs to adjust their insulin doses due to differing time zones
  • asking a doctor for a prescription for any medications and the trade names for the medications in different countries
  • getting a letter from the doctor stating that the person has diabetes and requires their medical supplies
  • researching the holiday destination and noting the location of the closest pharmacies and clinics
  • wearing a medical ID bracelet or another form of jewelry stating that the person has diabetes and mentioning any other health conditions, if applicable
  • purchasing suitable travel insurance that will provide cover in case the person loses their belongings or requires medical care
  • remembering to keep snacks nearby and in a carry-on bag in case the person suddenly needs to correct a hypoglycemic episode

The following advice might also be helpful when it comes to packing:

  • If flying, a person can bring their diabetes-related supplies, equipment, and medication onto the plane, and this can include liquids, such as insulin and gels, that exceed 3.4 ounces.
  • It is advisable to pack insulin in the hand luggage, as it can freeze in the luggage hold, altering its effectiveness. A person may also wish to buy a cooling pouch to ensure that the insulin stays at a suitable temperature and check that their destination has a refrigerator to store the supplies.
  • It is advisable for a person to pack roughly twice as many supplies as they think they will require. If possible, they should also pack them in separate carry-on bags in case of loss or theft.
  • Some medical devices may not be able to pass through the airport X-ray machine without damage. As such, a person may need to ask for a hand inspection instead. An individual can let a transportation security administration (TSA) officer know about any medical devices or equipment prior to the screening process.
  • Medical equipment and supplies may need to undergo a separate screening. To assist TSA officers, a person can arrive early, print prescription labels, and pack medications in a separate clear, sealable bag.

When traveling on a form of transportation, such as a plane, some useful tips include:

  • It is advisable for a person to set alarms on their phone or another device in case they fall asleep on the flight. This can ensure that they do not sleep through mealtimes or medication times. Alternatively, they can ask for help from the airline crew.
  • When on a plane, it is important for an individual to monitor their blood sugar levels frequently. This may be easier with the use of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Depending on their destination, a person may need to adjust the frequency and size of their insulin doses.
  • It is important to ensure that insulin, snacks, and other diabetes equipment are easily accessible in the hand luggage and at a suitable temperature.
  • A person should take care to stay active while in transit and wear compression socks to help prevent blood clots. If possible, they should book an aisle seat so that they can easily get up to walk while on the plane.

People with diabetes will also need to consider how to manage the condition once they have reached their destination. The following strategies may help:

  • It is important to test blood glucose routinely and consistently. Multiple factors, such as unfamiliar foods, different amounts of activity, travel stress, jet lag, and disruption to the usual routine, can affect blood glucose levels. People should correct blood glucose as appropriate.
  • Consuming items that may upset the stomach can make it more difficult to control blood glucose. Therefore, it is sensible to be extra cautious with food and drinks.
  • It can be difficult to manage diabetes in warmer climates. As such, it is advisable to drink plenty of water, limit alcohol and caffeine, wear suitable clothing, and keep medicines, supplies, and equipment out of the heat. In addition to cooling pouches, it is important to have amenities, such as a refrigerator, to store supplies.
  • People should always wear suitable footwear, especially at the beach, and regularly check their feet for any injuries or cuts.
  • It may be advisable to learn some useful phrases in the local language, if it is different, such as “I have diabetes” and “where is the nearest pharmacy?” It is also important to note that the names of diabetes medications may be different in other countries.

Type 1 diabetes does not need to be an obstacle that prevents a person from traveling. With careful planning, preparation, and packing, a person can relax and enjoy all the exciting experiences of their trip.

As long as a person plans carefully and ensures that they have easy access to all of their medical supplies, they can safely manage their blood sugar levels while traveling.