Anyone who has gone through the experience of planning a trip understands it comes with its fair share of stress and preparation, but this rings even more true for those travelling with type 1 diabetes.
Thinking ahead is key to a successful journey, so with a few tips and considerations thought of ahead of time, you can ensure a smoother vacation.
Book a check-up with your healthcare team ahead of departure
A few weeks ahead of your departure, book a check-up with your doctor to ensure you’re in good health for the trip ahead. Knowing you are prepared will give you the confidence and peace of mind you need for the journey. Also, consider walking your healthcare team through your itinerary so they can help you plan ahead to consider meal options and medication plans.
Before you leave, ask your doctor to draft a letter that states you are allowed to carry medicines (like insulin) and extra supplies (i.e.: needles) on board at all times in case of an emergency. If you happen to be traveling somewhere where English isn’t the first language, have your letter translated into the country’s language of origin. This will be a huge help and speed up any foreseeable issues in security. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Take double the medications and supplies you need in case of loss, theft, unexpected destruction or travel delays. Pack all your medications and supplies in your carry-on so you can ensure you will always have what you need if/when you may need it.
Some other considerations to think about:
- If you take insulin, be sure to record the types of insulin and whether the insulin is rapid-acting, short-acting, intermediate or long-acting. Carry a copy with you at all times.
- Confirm none of your medications will expire while you’re travelling -sometimes this is easily overlooked!
Get more tips on what to think about when travelling in this article.
Storing your insulin
When insulin is opened it must be kept cool and out of direct sunlight, but don’t worry: it actually doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Travelers with type 1 diabetes can wrap insulin pens in a sweater or light jacket to keep them protected and shaded. Store in your purse or backpack on-board for easy access, too.
However, take note that in more extreme temperatures, injectables should be stored in any type of insulated carrier, similar to those used for lunches, camping or specific to diabetic supplies.
Breeze through airport security
The Canadian Air Transportation Security Administration (CATSA) asks travelers with diabetes to inform airport security personnel when they have medical supplies or equipment to be scanned, and if they’re wearing insulin pumps. (Check the CATSA website for specific travel guidelines)
Type 1 diabetes patients can send insulin; syringes, pens and meters through scanners, and some insulin pumps can pass through medical detectors but not X-Ray machines. Patients whose pumps can’t go through the X-Ray scanners will likely have to be patted down. Allow for some extra time here.
Stay on schedule
Traveling can really throw people with diabetes off schedule, whether there is a flight delay or sitting on the tarmac for longer than expected. This becomes increasingly more challenging when different time zones are involved, especially when it comes to managing insulin dosing.
Learn more about ‘Managing insulin across changing time zones’ in this article.
Minimize your risk
It certainly would be optimal to have a healthcare team on call for you 24/7 while you’re away travelling, but that’s not always realistic. Should you find yourself in a situation where medical help is needed, the key is in knowing where to go, and whom to call ahead of time. Find out where to get medical care: the names of pharmacies, nearby hospitals and physician phone numbers, as well as having a list of prescriptions needed. In the unlikely event you need medical attention, this will help make sure you are taken care of quickly and effectively.
It’s always advisable – regardless of your condition – to obtain full health insurance with comprehensive coverage when you are travelling. It protects you from any unexpected medical situations or emergencies.
Research the insurance you have or investigate different policies that will give you coverage you require. Make sure to read the small print to avoid any confusion in understanding what will be covered, but more importantly what won’t.
Eat like a local
One of the greatest pleasures in travelling is indulging in local cuisine and it would be a shame not to experience the joys of dining out. Do a bit of research on the types of foods common to the countries you will be visiting and the associated carb content of these foods. If necessary balance higher carb indulgences with lower carb meals such as fish or meat and vegetables. Check your glucose levels frequently. It would be a shame not to indulge in that delicious dumpling should it find its way across your plate!
Increased activity during travel
It is common to be more active with certain types of travel versus a beach holiday. If you are planning to do lots of walking, hiking or biking, get tips from our experts on how best to manage your carbs and insulin with increased activity.
As Winston Churchill once said, ‘Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential’.