Traveling with diabetes

Traveling with diabetes. Good preparation and planning are important to avoid both hypoglycemia and hypoglycemia while on vacation. In addition, diabetics must of course always have their special equipment with them to be able to control blood sugar while traveling.

Diabetics who inject insulin or take medications to lower blood sugar can prevent severe fluctuations in blood sugar even in the distance. If you follow a few general recommendations, nothing stands in the way of a relaxing vacation.

The preparation starts with packing the suitcase: Which devices do I pack? What goes into hand luggage, what goes into main luggage? Where do I stow the insulin? These are important questions that you should clarify in advance. In addition, travel planning also depends on the choice of the means of travel: What does the insulin strategy look like for longer flights over several time zones? How do I behave in a jet lag?

Also on the travel destination, you should seek specific inquiries, beyond tips and advice of a travel guide. For example, it is important to be able to communicate about the illness in the respective national language or to inquire about the commercially available medication in the holiday country in order to be able to provide replacement on-site in an emergency.

We have put together some information that can help people with diabetes plan and prepare for the vacation they deserve. In general, however, the following applies: Before every trip, you should speak to your doctor and be examined thoroughly, especially before long trips. With your doctor, you can discuss and clarify individual features of your diabetes mellitus, which can be important during a trip.

Traveling with diabetes

“Even a  journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” says a saying. The first step for people with diabetes is good to travel preparation and planning. Please note a few general basic rules in advance for Traveling with diabetes:

  • Think about snacks! When traveling by plane, for example, there may be travel delays at the airport that require another snack. Or the traffic jam on the highway can extend the travel time. In such cases, you should ensure a sufficient supply of snacks and, for example, do not forget glucose.
  • Please note the import regulations for certain foods of the respective country: Here too there may be special features that you can find out in advance.
  • Have your doctor certify which medications you need to take and which devices you need so that there are no unpleasant surprises at customs or baggage control. Especially when traveling abroad, it is advisable to write the letter in English.
  • Learn important terms in the local language! Even if you are familiar with the language of the holiday country, it makes sense to refresh certain words in the respective language. This includes, for example, vocabulary such as “diabetes”, “doctor” or “hypoglycemia”, as well as phrases such as “I am …” or “I have …”.
  • Inquire about the usual insulins in the trade of the respective travel country. If you are treating yourself with antihypertensive drugs, you should write down the name of the active ingredient so that there are no replenishment problems if you lose the tablets.
  • Think of replacement materials! Nobody is immune to unforeseen events: take enough replacement materials with you, which are important for self-control as well as for insulin and tablet treatment. If you inject insulin with a pen or pump, for example, you should definitely carry spare syringes. In the event of a defect, you can use the syringes to avoid insulin gaps.
  • Check the functionality of the devices before traveling. The expiration date of the insulin and the tablets should still be valid – at least until the end of the trip.
  • Are you vaccinated? In general, the following applies before every trip: Check the vaccination status again and make up for any missing vaccinations.
  • Think of your insurance cover. The insurance cover of health insurance companies generally only applies to the domestic market. Therefore, contact your health insurance at least six weeks before the trip. Because with European health insurance, medical benefits are also covered by the health insurance within the European Union (EU). When traveling outside the EU, it is advisable to take out private foreign health insurance. Also recommended: luggage insurance.
  • Find out if there are cooling facilities in the hotel to store insulin or test strips if necessary.
  • Let fellow travelers know about your diabetes. People accompanying you on the trip – such as a guide or acquaintance – should know what to do in an emergency.

Checklist: Packing suitcases made easy

When packing suitcases, you should differentiate between hand luggage and main luggage. This is particularly important for air travel: Because you have no access to your main luggage at the latest when you check-in for the time of the flight. In addition, extreme fluctuations in temperature, insulin, often prevail in the cargo hold of an aircraft and can damage blood sugar strips.

Therefore, take the following with you in your hand luggage before Traveling with diabetes:

  • Chilled insulin and tablets for the entire trip
  • Syringes, needles, pen and pump
  • Blood glucose meter and test strips
  • Blood sugar diary
  • Emergency bread units
  • Glucagon syringe for when needed
  • Acetone test strips, urine sugar test strips
  • Dumpster
  • Dextrose, possibly fruit
  • Sufficient snacks
  • Certificate from the doctor for customs and baggage control
  • Diabetes ID – this should be written in English and the respective national language

In the main luggage:

  • Replacement pen, disposable pen and disposable syringe
  • Replacement blood glucose device and replacement batteries
  • Carbohydrate exchange table
  • Pen needles and lancets
  • Insulin cooler
  • General first aid kit (painkillers, plasters, clinical thermometers, diarrhea tablets)
  • Insulin or medication supply
  • Test strips
  • glucose

Also remember to pack addresses and telephone numbers for emergencies – for example from doctors, hospitals, or pharmacies in the travel destination.

See also, Sugar substitutes do not save from diabetes and obesity

Traveling with diabetes: on the way – the arrival and the return

No matter where you are going: make sure you have enough breaks and hydration and always have a snack and a little glucose at hand!

For long car journeys, you should measure your blood sugar regularly before and while driving. Because hypoglycemia can significantly impair driving ability.

When traveling to countries with different time zones, the medication setting must be adjusted – depending on whether it is going east or west.

Time shifts

Other continents, different time zones – this fact is particularly important for people with diabetes. When traveling to countries with different time zones, insulin management should be well planned for the day of travel. As a rule, even larger time shifts are not a problem for diabetics – but always talk to your doctor before traveling.

The day is extended for travelers on flights to the west. That means that times until dinner and bedtime are moving backward. Insulin deficiency with the risk of hypoglycemia may occur because the body needs more insulin.

The day of travel is shortened for flights to the east. There is a risk of hypoglycemia because less insulin is required than usual.

See also, Nutrition and diabetes – glucose Control guidelines

Jet lag

A  jet lag always occurs when flying through several time zones: The inner clock is out of rhythm and only needs the times, the new location set. This can take three to five days. The adjustment process is often accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty concentrating, mood swings,  insomnia or nausea accompanied – symptoms that can allow an over- and hypoglycemia easily confused can. Therefore: Check your blood sugar regularly to be on the safe side. Measurements at intervals of no more than three hours are advisable.

In general, when traveling to countries with other time zones, it is advisable to keep the usual time until you reach the destination country and to adjust the daily routine at the destination to the local time.

Always discuss your travel plans with the doctor treating you. Especially if you travel to countries that are in different time zones. The doctor can best give a recommendation for an optimal and individual medication setting.

Traveling with diabetes: arrived – what you should consider during your stay

Finally arrived – packing suitcases and getting there is a thing of the past. Now it can really start. During your stay, there are still a few things to consider because of diabetes, so that the holiday is a real pleasure after a good start:

  • Insulin should not be exposed to intense sunlight. Therefore, if possible, store it in places where the sun’s rays have no chance. For example in the cooler bag or in the shade. There should be no direct contact with ice packs. Care should also be taken when injecting the insulin: do not sunbathe afterward. The insulin effect can accelerate due to strong sunlight – and the risk of hypoglycaemia increases.
  • Foreign cultures, strange food – this can be a challenge for people with diabetes. The carbohydrate amounts of food are not indicated on the packaging in all countries. It is therefore advisable to measure blood sugar at shorter intervals before and after eating. This prevents the derailment of the blood sugar value. Also, make sure to drink enough fluids. You can consume alcohol – but in moderation.
  • Be especially careful with physical activity. Whether hiking,  cycling, or swimming: Those who exercise more on holiday than in normal everyday life should take this into account when setting medication and measuring blood sugar and keep an eye on the values ​​even after exercising – because physical activity lowers blood sugar.
  • Take a regular look at your feet while on vacation: small blisters and cracks can quickly catch fire and trigger a diabetic foot syndrome. If possible, do not wear sandals and do not walk barefoot. Also, take bathing shoes with you.

Our recommendation: It is best to involve the doctor treating you in the vacation planning and let him advise you. He can clear up any uncertainties and clarify specific questions individually.

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