Traveling Tips for Type 2 Diabetes
Put the fun back into your travels with these prep steps for managing type 2 diabetes away from home.
By Wyatt Myers
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Going on a vacation should be fun, but there’s always some stress in the event: Getting the house ready to leave, packing for the trip without forgetting anything, and of course, dealing with the airport and other travel headaches.
Traveling tips for diabetes
For people who have type 2 diabetes, there are even more preparations to consider. While away from home, you may encounter new foods, be in a new time zone, or not have access to your medications. In addition, traveling can disrupt your daily routine. All this can make controling blood sugar levels a little more challenging, but if you’re equipped with the necessary information and diabetes supplies, traveling with type 2 diabetes can be a snap.
Travel With Diabetes: The Security Line
The first challenge you might face is in the airport security line, says Betul Hatipoglu, MD, a physician in the Cleveland Clinic’s department of endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism. According to the Transportation Security Adminstration (TSA) guidelines for 2011, sharp objects and liquids greater than 3.4 ounces are not allowed in carry-on bags. However, if you take injectable medication, you’ll need to carry diabetes supplies such as syringes and insulin — all red flags for security personnel at an airport.
While there are exceptions to the TSA rules for people with diabetes and other health conditions, the reality is that if you’re carrying diabetes supplies, it may take more time to get through airport security.
You can make the process of travel with diabetes easier by getting proper documentation from your doctor before you leave home. “This will be a letter that states your name, your disease status, and the medication and diabetes supplies that you need to have with you at all times,” Dr. Hatipoglu says. Showing this document to airport security personnel will help speed up the process.
What to Eat During Your Trip
Another challenge of managing type 2 diabetes when traveling is that you may not have access to your usual foods. Whether you’re traveling by plane, car, or train, the options available aren’t the best choices for managing blood sugar. “Often this is fast food that’s high in calories, sodium, and fat, and low in nutrition,” says Jennifer L. Miller, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at La Rabida Children’s Hospital in Chicago.
But you can prepare by simply packing your own healthy snacks like fruits, vegetables, energy bars, raisins, and small cans of tuna. If you’re traveling by plane, bringing a note from your doctor will help you avoid any questions and delays when carrying these foods through airport security.
Once you’ve reached your destination, food choices can also be a problem. Whether you’re in a foreign country or just in a different region of the country, the local fare may be new to you. You can prepare by doing research before you arrive to learn the menu lingo and find out what the healthiest options are for your diabetes diet. And your packed snacks can still come in handy while visiting tourist attractions or relaxing at the resort.
Traveling can certainly be an enjoyable experience if you’re well prepared before you depart. Here’s what else you should do before your trip:
Talk to your doctor. Any trip that involves air travel or traveling great distances warrants an advance discussion with your doctor. In addition to writing a letter that will make it easier to get your diabetes supplies through airport security, your doctor can help you schedule your medication and mealtimes if you are changing time zones or traveling overseas. “This can include meal planning for trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights and how to adjust your plan once a destination is reached,” Dr. Miller says. It’s important to have a plan that also accounts for adjustments in medication, including insulin doses and timing on insulin pumps, based on the type of travel and any time-zone changes.
Pack enough medication. A great concern for people who travel with diabetes is having enough medication. Miller’s easy answer to this question is to bring about twice as many supplies as you think you’ll need. “And carry everything on the plane with you if you’re flying,” she adds. “If you’re driving, make sure to have enough supplies within reach.”
Organize your bags properly. Airport security can be a bit of a hassle, but you can ease the process by having all of your medication and other diabetes supplies neatly arranged, separated into individual plastic bags and near the top of your carry-on bag, Hatipoglu advises. Bring snacks. Whether you’re in the car or on a plane, have healthy snacks and drinks close by for controlling blood sugar at all times.
Wear identification. You never know when an emergency might occur, so it’s important to be prepared in a way that will help others help you. “Always carry identification, such as a MedicAlert bracelet, which identifies you as having diabetes in case of emergency,” Miller advises. Check blood sugar levels before you drive. Finally, if you’re driving long distances, take the proper precautions to avoid a deadly accident while you’re driving. “Be sure to check your blood glucose before getting behind the wheel of the car and at each stop,” Miller says.
Once you’ve taken all of the needed prep steps, you can relax and enjoy your time away.
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