Traveling with Diabetes

Published by Chris Harvey August 8, 2005

Matthew Rusk, M.D.

Stress, irregular meals, and confusing schedules can make traveling with diabetes quite challenging. With a few precautions blood sugar control can be maintained even when traveling across multiple time zones. While many of the following rules apply to travelers with any chronic medical condition, they are particularly important for travelers with diabetes.

What to Bring and How to Bring it
Diabetics must be careful to carry all medications in their carry-on bags when flying in order to avoid loss of their medication if checked luggage is lost. An extra supply of medication, syringes, and glucose strips with a glucose monitor should be carried in a separate bag.

Here are some additional packing tips:

Carry a note from your doctor written on the medical office stationary explaining the need for syringes and medications.

Keep medications in their original containers.

If you use brand name medications, carry a list of the generic names medications since brand name drugs may be unavailable in other countries. (Be sure to check the HTH Drug Translation Guide to determine if your brand name medication is available in your destination country — Editor)

Refrigerating insulin is unnecessary. But it should be kept out of the sun and extreme temperatures. Since checked baggage may be exposed to freezing temperatures in the cargo hold of airplanes, insulin should be stored in carry-on luggage.

Prevent and Plan for Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
Traveling companions should be aware of the symptoms and signs of hypoglycemia:

Sweating, shaking, fast heart rate, anxiety and hunger.

Dizziness, headache, cloudy vision, slowed thinking, confusion, abnormal behavior, seizures, loss of consciousness.

Patients should carry a ready source of glucose such as juice or glucose tablets in the event of a low blood sugar. For those prone to hypoglycemia, an injectable glucagon solution is also recommended. Diabetics should wear a medic alert bracelet or necklace explaining their medical condition. After arrival it is vital to resume a normal meal schedule and eat more frequently when physical activity levels are high. Generally it is not recommended to request diabetic meals from airlines since they are of variable quality2.

Remember, if you’re flying across multiple time zones you may need to adjust your insulin or other diabetes medication.

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