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Life with T1D

8 Tips for Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes

Traveling with type 1 diabetes can be tricky—packing supplies and snacks and adhering to airport regulations is stressful enough for the average traveler. Also, leaving your comfort zone and trying new things can be mentally taxing. Not to mention, changing your routine can throw your blood glucose levels into a tizzy. The vacation stress of jet lag, traffic jams and unexpected delays is real, but with some planning, practice, and mental fortitude, you can prepare for life’s (and diabetes’) little hiccups.

8 Tips for Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes

Here are some practical tips to ensure you have a great trip. You deserve it!  

Whether camping in the remote Alaskan wilderness, driving to Orlando to visit Mickey or flying to Bora Bora on an international flight—when you have type 1 diabetes (T1D), wayfaring to new destinations can be challenging.

Unfortunately, the carefree lifestyle of ‘winging it’ doesn’t apply when you have diabetes. Nor does the aviation term ‘fly by the seat of your pants.’ There are many factors to consider when traveling with diabetes. However, by strategizing, packing, and planning wisely—you’ll save yourself not only time and trouble but maybe your life.  

Don’t let diabetes infringe on your jet-setting lifestyle! Here are some practical tips to ensure you have a great trip.

Diabetes Travel Checklist

Travel tip #1: Pack Extra Supplies

Make sure you have enough diabetes supplies to cover emergencies (and then some). If you have an insulin pump, bring backups and backups for the backups, just in case a needle breaks, your insulin pen stops working, or a site falls off prematurely. It’s no fun to track down insulin pump supplies in a strange city; take it from someone who's tried- it's no fun.

Since most items need prescriptions that require overnight shipping and can’t be purchased in a drugstore, it’s best to cover your bases and create a checklist.  Also, get prescriptions filled early for your diabetes medication, glucose meter, and continuous glucose monitoring. Carrying extra medical supplies, pen needles, backup glucose monitors, and insulin pump supplies can be a hassle, but it's truly better to be safe than sorry.

Travel Tip #2: Create a Supply Packing List

It may sound like a lot of work, but it will save you major headaches in the long run. The sometimes not-so-pleasant joys of travel include delayed or missed flights or sitting on the runway for hours. Don’t let an inconvenience turn into an emergency. It's best to brace for the bumps in the road that will inevitably come.

Create a list from the items below with your personalized travel needs, then triple it.

  • Pump supplies (cartridges, infusion sets).
  • Dexcom, Freestyle Libre or other continuous monitoring supplies.
  • Insulin and cooling pouch.
  • Insulin pen and pen needles.
  • Backup needles (in case of pump failure).
  • Test strips and meter (in case the Dexcom stops working).
  • Juice, glucose tablets, and sugar/honey packs to treat low blood sugar.
  • Water and zero carb treats in case of high blood sugar.
  • Extra snacks (fruit chews, nuts, protein bars).
  • Sick day guidelines and pump settings (in case you need to reprogram your pump).
  • Prescription for insulin.
  • Extra blood glucose meter as insulin pumps and CGMs may need troubleshooting.
  • Batteries for the pump or a USB charging cable.
  • Glucagon emergency kit.
  • Ketone testing kit.
  • Medical alert bracelet.

Pro Tip: It’s a good idea to pack several days in advance to ensure you don’t need to order something. For the best snack options to raise blood sugar levels quickly, check here.

Airport Travel Pointers

If hitting the airport security line makes your heart skip an extra beat, it’s best to be organized. Traveling is a stressful gig, but when you’re prepared and transparent with your supplies, it helps things run smoothly and keeps blood sugar levels in check. Also, don’t head to the airport on an empty stomach. Get a full breakfast and stay hydrated!

Pro Tip: You can go through an airport metal detector wearing your insulin pump and CGM, as these devices are designed to withstand common electromagnetic interference. However, it's best to inform the attendant in charge of the screening process as there may be an additional hand inspection or pat-down required.

Travel Tip #3: Carry on All Diabetes Supplies

The Transportation Security Association (TSA) urges travelers to notify a TSA officer if they have diabetes and are carrying supplies. Hand your bag to the security agent and let them know your bag needs to be hand inspected. Your insulin and pump should not go through the X ray machines or the full body scanner. If you choose not to remove your pump or are wearing a continuous glucose monitor, request to go through the metal detectors or have a pat down. Most devices should not risk damage or malfunction due to radiation exposure.

It’s best to pack glucose tablets, fruit chews, gels, and honey packs around the 3.4 FL oz guidelines for lows in your carry on hand luggage. Some airports allow juice boxes, while others require clear see-through containers.

Interesting Fact: Most airlines allow individuals with medical conditions an additional bag to carry supplies. The catch is that the bag can only hold supplies.

Travel Tip #4: Store Insulin and Insulin Pens in a Chilled Pouch

Insulin vials and pens should be stored in a chilled pouch, FRIO bag, or small cooler and carried with you at all times. Packing your insulin in your checked bag is not recommended, as the plane’s cargo area is not temperature-controlled.

Travel Tip #5: Provide Medical Identification

It might make your life a whole lot easier to acquire a signed note from your healthcare provider or a TSA disability card to keep in your wallet. This diabetes ID scores points with the transportation security administration at security checkpoints and is easy to download and print. The medical alert ID asserts you have a medical condition and alerts those around you in case of an emergency. This is especially important if you’re traveling alone and not wearing a medical alert ID bracelet.

Plus, if you have both a TSA notification card and a TSA Pre-Check designation, you may not need to remove shoes, laptops, 3-1-1 liquids, belts or light jackets during the screening process.

Another perk of the ID card or medical ID bracelet is that people with diabetes (and other disabilities) can preboard flights. This can help ensure your carry-on bag gets boarded. On fuller flights, agents sometimes require passengers to check bags at the gate to go underneath the plane. This is not an option for diabetes supplies!

Travel Tip #6: Pack a Bite to Eat

In addition to packing juices, gels, and glucose tablets, it’s always a good idea to include high protein, high fiber snacks to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Also, don’t count on buying a snack box or meal onboard; these sometimes sell out, specifically if you’re in the back of the plane. The same applies to road trips and those long stretches of highway you might encounter.

Coolers full of cheese sticks, yogurt, hummus, and protein drinks can be helpful. If you're experiencing a high blood glucose episode, you'll want extra water, beef jerky and other low-carb snack options.

Travel Tip #7: Be Prepared for Un-Expected Blood Sugar Highs and Lows

So many factors can cause your blood sugar to drop or rise, including not enough sleep, a break in your schedule, and stress—all of which happen when you travel. If you suffer from low blood sugar anxiety, being prepared for these pesky annoyances limits the power they hold over you.

Both driving and flying can cause blood sugars to act up. If you discover you get low during the takeoff or descent—you might disconnect your pump at these times.

Pro Tip: Be careful when switching your phone into airplane mode. Some phones may turn off Bluetooth by default, so make sure to turn your Bluetooth connection to the pump back on.

Travel Tip #8: Don’t Forget to Move!

In addition to drinking plenty of water, it’s good for everyone, especially T1Ds, to stay active on long car trips and extended flights. If driving, stop at a scenic bypass to check out the view or take a hike near a rest stop.

Even standing up on a flight helps. The Mayo Clinic suggests you walk every two to three hours. If you can’t stand due to the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign, simple calf raises, and leg stretches every 30 minutes help circulation. A quick stroll to the restroom or down the aisle gets the blood flowing and reduces leg cramps, swollen ankles and feet. Another tip is to wear diabetes compression socks to prevent blood clots. If you can, book an aisle seat for easy access.

You’ve Arrived!!!

Once you get to your destination, whether camping or lounging beachside, it’s best to look up the nearest hospital (that takes your insurance) just to be safe. If you're especially anxious to travel you can always speak with a diabetes educator about the best blood sugar management on the road.

Also, be prepared for time zone changes (Update the correct time on your insulin pump and meter) and be ready for jet lag that may affect your blood sugar levels. Healthcare professionals suggest you stick with your current settings until landing. Diabetes management evolves over a 24-hour cycle.

Most importantly wear a medical ID bracelet to alert others in case of an emergency. Remember the best laid plans, sometimes work in our favor. Don't let erratic blood sugars upset your vacation. Managing diabetes is tough and should be rewarded!

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