Tips to keep diabetes under control while traveling

2012-02-29 08:41:02 by Janet Haas, RN, CDE, as posted on the blog.

For people with diabetes, travel planning requires extra thought. To keep travel plans on track, a little preparation can ensure that families are prepared to deal with unexpected problems or schedule changes.

Plan ahead:

  • Be sure immunizations are up to date. If you’re traveling out of the country, find out if extra shots are needed. Visit the CDC Travel site for a list by country.

  • Know your A1C (average blood sugar) level.

  • Have a prescription for required medications to carry at all times in case of emergency.

  • Have your child wear identification explaining he has diabetes. For travel abroad, it should also be written in the languages of places you are visiting.

  • Plan for time zone changes. Make sure you always know when to take diabetes medication. Remember that eastward travel means a shorter day. If you inject insulin, less may be needed. If you travel west, the day will be longer, so more may be needed.

Pack properly:

  • Take twice the amount of diabetes medication and supplies that would normally be needed, including pump supplies with Lantus/Levemir as a backup.

  • Keep insulin cool in an insulated bag with refrigerated gel packs, but be sure the packs are not directly contacting the insulin to prevent it from freezing.

  • Keep snacks, glucose gel, tablets and juice with you in case of low blood sugar.

  • Pack a glucagon emergency kit.

  • Keep medical insurance information and emergency phone numbers handy.

  • Pack a first-aid kit.

Air travel tips:

  • Find out how long the flight will be and if meals will be served. Always carry enough food to cover the entire time in case of delays or schedule changes.

  • Carry diabetes supplies in carry-on luggage. Don’t risk a lost suitcase.

  • Vials of insulin and insulin pens must have the preprinted pharmaceutical label identifying the medication. The FAA recommends pharmacy-labeled packaging on insulin.

  • Keep your diabetes medications and emergency snacks at your seat and not in an overhead bin.

  • Ask for an aisle seat if you plan to use the restroom for insulin injections.

  • Inform the flight attendant that your child has diabetes.

  • When drawing up an insulin dose, don’t inject air into the bottle – remember that air on the plane will be pressurized.

  • If traveling out of the country, prescription laws may vary. Visit for a list of International Diabetes Federation Groups. You may also want a list of English-speaking doctors. Contact the American Consulate, American Express or local medical schools. Insulin in foreign countries comes in different strengths. If purchasing insulin abroad, be sure to use the right syringe for the strength. An incorrect syringe may deliver too much or too little.

Road Travel:

  • Don’t leave medications in a car trunk, glove box or near a window. They may get too hot or too cold. Keep them in a cooler and carry extra food.

General tips:

  • Help your child stay comfortable.

  • Protect your child’s feet. Never go barefoot – this includes in the shower, pool, on the beach or outdoors.

  • Check blood sugar often. Changes in diet, activity and time zones can affect it in unexpected ways.

Visit Akron Children’s Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology or for more information.

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