Diabetes is a serious, chronic condition—one that requires constant monitoring and, oftentimes, daily medication. You cannot put your diabetes on hold, even when you are on vacation. But having diabetes does not mean that you cannot enjoy a vacation. It just means that you have a little more planning to do.
Before you travel, it is a good idea to see your doctor. Schedule a medical exam to make sure your diabetes is in good control. Make your appointment early enough so that if your diabetes is not in good control, you have some time to work on it. Also, ask your doctor to write a prescription for insulin or any diabetes medications that you use. Always take more than enough medication with you. However, you should also have the prescription with you in case of an emergency, such as your medication getting lost or stolen.
Ask your doctor to write you a letter, too. The letter should state that you have diabetes and what you need to do for your condition. The letter should list insulin, other medications, syringes, glucose monitors, or any other medications or devices that you need. In addition, if you have any food or drug sensitivities or allergies, have your doctor list them as well.
When you pack for your trip, bring at least twice as much medication and blood-testing supplies as you think you will need. Put at least half of the supplies in a carry-on bag that you carry by hand onto the plane. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests that you pack your carry-on with the following items:
For the latest information on what is allowed in a carry-on for people with medical conditions, visit the US Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) website.
In today’s world of heightened security, you will need to be a little more prepared when traveling via airplane. Here are examples of items you can safely take with you once they have been checked by the security officers:
It is a good idea to explain to the security officer that you have diabetes and have your supplies with you. Some other issues that may come up at the airport include:
Liquids or gels that exceed the 3.4 ounce limit, or any items that are used to keep medications cold (like ice packs), may undergo additional scrutiny by the TSA.
If your trip leads you to a different time zone, calculate in advance when to take your insulin shots or medications. Your doctor or diabetes educator can help you plan your medication schedule. Keep in mind that eastbound travel across time zones means a shorter day, in which case you may need less insulin. Westbound travel, on the other hand, means a longer day, which may mean you will need more insulin. Keep your watch set to your home time zone until you land. This will help you keep track of your schedule while you are traveling through changing time zones.
Test your blood sugar soon after landing, as the feeling of jet lag may interfere with your ability to tell if you have low or high blood sugar. If you are going to be more active on vacation than you are at home, this can cause your blood sugar to drop. Make sure to adjust your insulin accordingly if your activity level increases or decreases. If you are touring around, wear comfortable shoes and do not go barefoot. Check your feet for blisters, scratches, or cuts at night and get medical attention if you notice inflammation or infection.
Wherever and whenever you travel, make sure to always carry some food with you and glucose tablets or hard candy. Having diabetes means you have to be a little more prepared. But, you can still have fun!
American Diabetes Association
Transportation Security Administration
Canadian Diabetes Association
Fact sheet: Air travel and diabetes. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://main.diabetes.org/dorg/PDFs/Advocacy/Discrimination/air-travel-and-diabetes.pdf. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Passengers with diabetes. Transportation Security Administration website. Available at: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/passengers-diabetes. Updated April 24, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. Transportation Security Administration website. Available at: http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information/travelers-disabilities-and-medical-conditions. Updated July 3, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2015.
When you travel. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/when-you-travel.html. Updated January 2, 2014. Accessed February 17, 2015.
Last reviewed February 2015 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 2/17/2015