November Blog: Tackling the Challenges of Traveling with Diabetes

Guest Contributor: Bethany Taylor

It’s that time of year again! With Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s right around the corner, many of us will be hitting the road, the airway’s, or maybe even a cruise to spend time with family and loved ones to celebrate all we have to be thankful for. Traveling within itself can be a challenge, but especially when traveling with diabetes.

A dear friend of mine with type 1 diabetes has had a few close calls when flying to some Thanksgiving destinations.  She and her husband were traveling to New York City.  She was prepared with her cool pouch for insulin vials, bag with insulin pump supplies and syringes (in case of a malfunction with the pump) and her glucose tabs.  She realized as soon as she got in the security line that she had forgotten her letter from her provider regarding her need to have insulin and insulin pump supplies due to having type 1 diabetes. She began to panic but her husband calmed her down. She explained her situation to the TSA agent who appreciated and understood her situation.  She remembered to avoid the “scanner” as it would fry her insulin pump. Disaster averted and fun time in New York City was had.

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Here are a few tips to help traveling with diabetes go more smoothly.

First, here’s a few helpful tips with air travel:

  • Make sure to share with the TSA luggage inspector you are a person with diabetes.
  • Store your medications in your carry-on bag instead of putting them in your checked bag and carry a letter with you from your prescriber describing the need for your diabetes supplies as well as a list of medications you are on to prevent any issues with security. Storing medications in your carry on also avoids the potential of them getting lost if your checked luggage gets misplaced.
  • Liquid medications can be over 3.4 ounces (100 mL) in a carry-on bag, but you need to inform the TSA screener if any are more than 100 mL.
  • When traveling across time-zones, be sure to see your prescriber four to six weeks before you travel. When you travel east, the day is shorter so you may need less insulin or may need more insulin if you travel west. You also need to check your sugar more often. If you travel from north to south or vice versa, you likely won’t need to change how you take your insulin. With oral medications such as metformin, timing isn’t as critical, but you may need to skip the second dose of a twice-daily dosing when traveling east to avoid hypoglycemia.
  • When packing, be sure to include food and supplies to prevent and treat hypoglycemia.
  • Check feet daily for pressure sores.
  • The CDC recommends that patients check their blood glucose every 4 to 6 hours during air travel.
  • Persons with diabetes using insulin pumps may request a full body pat-down or visual inspection instead of going through a metal detector.
  • The recommended vaccines for diabetes patients to receive are influenza, pneumococcal, and hepatitis B vaccines. This is something that should be addressed when visiting your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before travel.

If you are planning to do a road trip to your destination, a diabetes kit is essential. The kit should include a glucose monitor with extra batteries, a backup monitor for emergencies, plenty of lancets, and a pack of alcohol/cleaning wipes. The kit should be easily accessible but avoid putting it in the glove compartment so that it doesn’t get too hot/cold. If you take insulin, be sure to put it in a cooling pack.

Whether you’re traveling in the air or on the road, remember to visit your doctor ahead of time, prepare your supplies, and wear a diabetes medical alert bracelet in case of an emergency. Enjoy the holidays and safe travel!

Resources:

Center, Therapeutic Research. “Travel and Your Medicines.” Pharmacist’s Letter, July 2016, pharmacist.therapeuticresearch.com/Content/Segments/PRL/2016/Jul/Travel-and-Your-Medicines-9921.

“Travelers’ Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2020/travelers-with-additional-considerations/travelers-with-chronic-illnesses#table503.

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