12 Tips for Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes

Woman with backpack and suitcase at the airport

Traveling can introduce a lot of variables to your blood sugar management. Delayed flights, changes in time zones, different eating patterns, and varying activity levels can all impact blood sugars. Something as simple as forgetting to pack a snack or accidentally overheating your insulin on the beach can really impact blood sugars. I’ve certainly had my share of diabetes mishaps while traveling, and believe me, a little extra attention to planning and packing can make traveling with diabetes a whole lot easier. 

Here are my 12 tips for traveling with type 1 diabetes: 

1. Pack

 Extra Diabetes 

Supplies

I can’t stress this enough! Prepare for delayed flights and pump malfunctions. As a rule of thumb, pack double the supplies you think you’ll need for your trip. 

Diabetes Supplies: 4 insulin pods, medication box, continuous glucose monitor, liquid adhesive, glucometer, test strips, insulin, syringes, chargers, candy

Diabetes Packing List:

  • Extra insulin (vial and/or pen)
  • Syringes and/or pen needles
  • Insulin pump changes
  • Insulin cooler
  • Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) changes
  • Glucometer, test strips, lancets, and lancet device
  • Chargers (phone, pump, CGM)
  • Adhesives or patches
  • Alcohol pads
  • Other diabetes-related medications (blood pressure, heart, and oral diabetes medications, eye drops, vitamins, etc.)
  • Snacks to treat low blood sugar
  • Sunscreen – did you know that sunburns can raise blood sugar?!
  • Face masks and hand sanitizer to keep you safer from COVID-19

2. Keep

Diabetes Supplies with You

If flying, keep your medications, supplies, and snacks in your carry-on luggage. Never put insulin in checked luggage. Once you get where you’re going, I recommend keeping some supplies at your home base/hotel/Airbnb and a day’s worth of supplies with you at all times. 

3. Pack Snacks for Low Blood Sugar

Traveling can make blood sugars unpredictable. I’ll never forget the time I was on a train to New York City when an unexpected low hit and I didn’t have any snacks with me – I had to ask a stranger for candy! Keep snacks to treat low blood sugars with you at all times. If flying, TSA allows people with diabetes to take juice (larger than the 3.4oz liquid limit) in your carry-on luggage.

4. Store Insulin at the Right Temperature

Most insulins can be kept at room temperature for up to 28 days, but unopened insulin should be refrigerated. Insulin starts to break down if it gets too hot (above 98 degrees) or too cold (below 40 degrees), making it a challenge to keep insulin at the right temperature while traveling. If you’ll be spending time on the beach, or bringing extra insulin vials or pens on your trip you may want to invest in an insulin cooler, like the Frio Cooling Wallet

5. Expect a TSA Search if You Wear an Insulin Pump

If you wear an insulin pump, tell the TSA agent. TSA agents will give you a pat-down, then perform a test on your hands to check for explosive residue. While this is usually pretty quick, be sure to budget enough time for this extra step so you don’t miss your flight.

6. Wear a Diabetes Medical ID

Consider wearing a medical alert ID bracelet or necklace, or carrying an ID card with you stating you have diabetes, especially if you are traveling alone. If flying, choose an emergency contact who knows about your diabetes or any other health concerns. If you’re taking ground transportation, consider keeping an emergency contact name and phone number in your purse or wallet. 

7. Check your Blood Sugar

Check your blood sugar more often than usual or keep a close eye on your CGM while traveling. Changes in routine can easily throw blood sugars out of whack. If you’re an anxious traveler your blood sugars might go up. If you’re sitting for a long drive or flight, this may also make your blood sugars go up. 

8. Be Prepared to go “Old School”

Even if you primarily use an insulin pump, it’s smart to pack the old school vial and syringe for backup in case of a pump malfunction. This may mean bringing different types of insulin (basal and bolus) with you.

9. Check Time Zones

Check time zones and adjust insulin pump settings if needed. For many people with diabetes, basal insulin rates and insulin to carb ratios change throughout the day. Talk to your healthcare provider about how to adjust your insulin while traveling to a new time zone.

10. Adjust Basal Insulin Rates

Basal insulin doses typically represent our day-to-day lives. So, keep in mind that depending on the type of traveling you’re doing, your insulin needs may vary drastically. For example, if you’ll be more active than usual (hiking, biking, snow sporting, etc.) you may need less basal insulin. If you’re planning a very leisurely vacation, sitting on the beach all day, or settling in for a long road trip, you may need more basal insulin. Talk to your healthcare provider about any adjustments you may need ahead of time. 

11. Research Local Cuisine

Look up local cuisine at your destination before you go to get a better sense of available foods and carbohydrate contents. 

12. Speak Up!

If you need special accommodations from your travel partners, such as eating at specific times, or stopping to check your blood sugars or take insulin, prioritize your needs and speak up. 

Traveling with diabetes can be stressful, but a little extra planning goes a long way. Wishing you safe travels!

Blue clouds outside airplane window

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