Taking Care of Your Diabetes When You Are Away From Home
You have a routine in place to manage diabetes when you are at home and work. And, you try hard to eat right and exercise. But, any change to your schedule can disrupt your blood sugar (glucose) level. This doesn't mean you can't enjoy holidays and vacations. You just need to take the time to talk to your doctor and create a plan that’s right for you.
Dealing With Holidays
The holidays are filled with temptations—from 5-course meals to fancy alcoholic drinks. When high-calorie and high-fat foods are on the menu, not to mention all of the opportunities to slip away from your exercise routine, you'll need to take additional steps to manage your diabetes.
Follow these tips to safely navigate the bustling holiday season:
- Stick to a healthy diet—one that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in fat and calories. If you continue to follow your meal plan, you’ll be less likely to overindulge.
- Keep track of carbohydrates, which can be found in many types of food, like starchy foods (eg, potatoes, bread, pasta), as well as milk and fruits and veggies. Be mindful of carbs because the body breaks them down and turns them into glucose, causing your blood glucose levels to rise.
- If you are invited to a holiday party, ask if you can bring something, like a carb-free drink or a low-cal dessert. Right before going to the party, avoid hunger pains by having a snack and a glass of water. This way you will not be ravenous and ready to dig into all the sweets. Once you are there, place a few different types of food (in small portions) on your plate, rather than sampling every dish.
- Alcohol may be abundance at parties. If you are going to have a drink, do so when you are eating (not on an empty stomach) and only in moderation. This means 1 drink if you are a woman, and 2 drinks if you are a man. For some people with diabetes, it is unsafe to drink alcohol because it can lead to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Ask your doctor what is safe for you.
- Even though you have a hectic schedule, keep exercising! This can help lower your blood glucose levels.
- Remember to continue checking your blood glucose level. While the holidays are enjoyable, they can also be stressful, which can affect your glucose level. In some people, it causes the level to rise, while others have a drop in glucose. Relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, can help reduce stress.
Dealing With Vacations
When you have diabetes, going on vacation means extra steps to keep your blood glucose level in check. Taking the time to prepare for your flight or road trip will help you to anticipate and treat problems, like hypoglycemia. These tips can help you to be ready for anything, whether it is a delay at the airport or an extra day in Miami Beach.
Bring Extra Medication
Be prepared by ordering the medication 1 month before your trip. Ask your doctor if the insulin needs to be in a special insulated bag (but never frozen). Keep a list of your medications (including the generic names) and have the prescriptions with you, not in your checked luggage.
Bring Extra Supplies
These may include glucose testing strips, needles, syringes, and ketone testing strips. If you use an insulin pump, bring a back-up pump (including batteries) or an insulin injection kit in case of emergency. Know what your pump settings are. Also pack your glucagon kit, if you are at risk for severe hypoglycemia. When traveling abroad, keep in mind that other countries may not have the same supplies that are sold in the United States, or the same electrical outlets for recharging batteries.
Flying to a warmer climate? Both the excitement of a trip and the heat can cause hypoglycemia. Testing your levels more often and staying hydrated can help stave off problems.
Get the Latest Airport Security Information
Check out the Transportation Security Administration’s website. Here, you will find the most current information on getting through security. You are allowed to pack your medication and diabetes supplies in your carry-on. The medication does have to meet the restriction of being less than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters). Just be sure your medication has original labels on it. If you have an insulin pump and are worried about going through the metal detector, be sure to explain this to the security officer. In addition, if you are in line and are having a diabetic reaction, such as hypoglycemia, tell the officer right away.
Ask for a Special In-Flight Meal
If you are taking a long flight, call a few days before and ask if they offer a special meal for people with diabetes. Once onboard, ask a flight attendant when the meal will be served. If you are using a rapid acting insulin, this will give you a timeframe as to when you should give yourself an injection.
Don't only rely on what the airline will serve you. Come to the airport prepared with your own snacks and meal. As long as the food is tightly wrapped and in a spill-proof container, you can bring it through security and onto the plane. Snacks like pretzels, granola bars, and carrot sticks are fine to put in your carry-on. Also remember to pack foods to treat hypoglycemia (like glycogen tablets, sugar packets, and hard candy). Once through security, you can buy a drink and bring it onto the plane. If you have checked luggage, pack an extra meal. This may consist of dehydrated soup, a package of tuna fish, and raisins. These items are also great to include if you are taking a road trip.
Be Prepared for Time Zone Changes
If you are traveling across time zones, ask your doctor how this will affect when you give yourself an injection and how much insulin you should give. Also, if you use an insulin pump, remember to change the clock setting to the local time. Switching time zones can be especially challenging when you have diabetes, so be sure to frequently check your blood glucose level.
Test Your Blood Sugar Before Driving
If you have a road trip ahead of you, test your blood glucose level before leaving home. Pack plenty of snacks, meals, drinks, and a kit in case of hypoglycemia. Take breaks so you can check your glucose level and stretch your legs.
Talk to Guest Relations
If heading for the thrills at an amusement park, talk to the staff in the guest relations office. They may give you a handicapped pass that will reduce the amount of time you spend waiting in line. Also, remember to bring your backpack filled with diabetes supplies, snacks, and drinks. If you are at a water park, be sure to protect your supplies by putting them in a waterproof bag. A wheelchair may be a good option if you have trouble walking.
Take Care of Your Feet
When you have diabetes, you are more prone to developing foot problems because of nerve damage. Take extra care of your feet while on vacation by wearing shoes that fit you well. Avoid going barefoot because you may cut or bruise your foot.
Stick to Your Meal Plan
While it is tempting to overindulge while away from home, try to stick to your regular meal plan. If you find that you are eating in restaurants a lot, try splitting the meal with your partner. This can help with portion control. Before visiting another country, ask your dietitian for advice on making good food choices. In general, order a broth-based soup or salad, skip the bread and butter, eat a normal-sized meal (not super-sized), and share or skip dessert.
Be Prepared for Emergencies
Know how to get in touch with your doctor in case of an emergency. It is also a good idea to find the location of the closest hospital and whether they accept your insurance.
No matter where you are—a friend’s holiday party or a ride at an amusement park—you can take care of your diabetes. If you put time aside to prepare and get advice from your doctor, then you can break from the regular routine and still control your blood glucose level. While having diabetes means paying extra attention to your health, it doesn’t have to mean that you miss out on anything!
American Diabetes Association
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse
Canadian Diabetes Association
Public Health Agency of Canada
Alcohol. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/making-healthy-food-choices/alcohol.html. Updated June 6, 2014. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Eating out. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/food-tips/eating-out/. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Fitting in sweets. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/holiday-meal-planning/making-sugar-count-during-the-holidays.html. Updated July 11, 2014. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Insulin pumps. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/medication/insulin/insulin-pumps.html. Updated June 29, 2015. Accessed July 19, 2016.
FAQ. Transportation and Security Administration website. Available at: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/frequently-asked-questions. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Stress. American Diabetes Association website. Available at: http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/stress.html . Updated December 6, 2013. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Take charge of your diabetes. Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pdfs/library/takechargeofyourdiabetes.pdf. Accessed July 19, 2016.
Take care of your diabetes during special times or events. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/type1and2/specialtimes.htm. Updated February 2014. Accessed July 19, 2016.
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 July 19, 2016.
Last reviewed July 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 10/15/2014