Traveling is always exciting, but it comes with its own challenges — especially for those with chronic conditions like Type 1 or 2 diabetes. Not only do you have to think about getting to the airport on time and not forgetting your toothbrush, you also have to worry about managing your diabetes during the trip.
Unfortunately, diseases do not disappear like your workload when you take PTO, so how can you prepare yourself ahead of time to make things easier when you travel?
Know what could impact your blood sugar
Before you embark on your adventure, take a minute to think about all the factors that might affect your blood sugar control while you’re away.
Forty to sixty percent of diabetics have some form of consistent constipation. This is because high blood sugar or having diabetes over a long period of time can cause damage to the nerves in your intestines, thus leading to improper digestion and absorption, and possibly random blood sugar highs or lows.
Stress increases hormones in your body that can increase blood sugar, making it difficult to control your levels.
Add flying or long car rides into the mix and bam, it can make your constipation worse and make it harder to predict what your blood sugar will do.
Trips are fun but also stressful emotionally and physically. Stress increases hormones in your body that can increase blood sugar, making it difficult to control your levels. Stress can also cause you to make unbalanced food choices and cause binge eating or skipping meals. All of these factors can make your blood sugar react differently than when you are at home.
Lack of sleep
Even having one bad night of sleep can impact your blood sugar. Not only does sleep deprivation negatively influence your food and drink decisions, but it also impacts how well your body uses insulin and how stressed you get, making it hard to control highs and lows.
Changes in activity level
You might find yourself walking more or less than normal when you travel. Either way, it changes the way your body deals with your blood sugar, causing potential highs or lows that can keep you from fully enjoying your vacation.
Food choices and portions
When on vacation or even traveling for work, you’re often forced to eat out and eat something outside of your normal diet. If you are in a foreign country, you have the added complication of translating menus. This can cause you to under or overeat, messing with your blood sugar control.
Sunburns raise blood sugar and being in a new place can also put you at risk for picking up infections. Any added stress to your body like this can cause an increase in blood sugar.
Being dehydrated can cause blood sugar to rise and warm weather can impact how your body uses insulin. These sensations can be amplified when you are on a plane or traveling.
Talk with your doctor before you leave
Your doctor may want to tweak some medication or insulin ratios and review what to do in an emergency. They can also help answer any questions you have about traveling with diabetes.
Try to prevent highs and lows
- Check your blood sugar often and ketones (if needed)
- High blood sugar: 180 mg/dL or higher
- Risk for Diabetic Ketoacidosis: 240 mg/dL or higher
- Low blood sugar: 70 mg/dL or less
- High ketones: 1.0- 3.0 mmol/L
- Always have snacks and glucose tabs
- Stay hydrated
- Keep in mind how active you’ve been that day and take that into account when dosing insulin or taking medication
- Try to balance your food choices: have some veggies, some protein,
some fiber, some pizza and some gelato!
- If you check your blood sugar and it’s high, dose with insulin and moderate your carbs with protein and fats.
- If it is low, use the 15 grams of carb per 15 minutes rule. Make sure to get your blood sugar up to normal range (above 70 mg/dL) using quick acting carbs like candy, juice, crackers, white bread or glucose tabs and then check your blood sugar after 15 minutes (continue with this pattern until it hits normal range). Once blood sugar is normalized, follow up with some protein and fats to stabilize it (aka prevent it from skyrocketing up).
Teach your travel companions
Teach your friends or family signs of low and high blood sugar, how to use glucagon or sugar gels, and when it’s time to consider a trip to the hospital.
Store your insulin properly
- Remember that insulin can be less effective if held at a hot temperature. Think about purchasing a cool pack or container that can help keep your insulin cool.
- Store Insulin and medication in your carry-on bag in case your luggage gets lost.
- Diabetics are exempt from the TSA’s 3.3 oz liquid rule for medication and diabetic supplies. Talk to your doctor about getting a doctor’s note should any issues arise.
- Sending some insulin pumps and glucometers through X-ray machines can damage them. Refer to your device’s instruction manual and when it doubt, ask for these items to be hand searched instead.
Bring back-up supplies
Make sure to bring extra medication on your trip, as well as extra test strips, alcohol swabs, pump supplies, etc. You don’t want to run out while you’re away from home, so taking more is always better.
Have an emergency plan
- Figure out the closest hospital to your hotel.
- Have a health information card that is translated into the language of where you are staying so doctors and nurses know your health information.
- Learn diabetic phrases in the language of where you’re going.
- Always have your medical ID on you.