Tips for traveling with diabetes

If you have diabetes, traveling requires extra planning. Changes in meals, activity levels, and time zones can affect your blood glucose (sugar) levels.

What can I do to plan ahead for a long journey or if I’m traveling by airplane?

Your diabetes shouldn’t stop you from traveling anywhere in the world. To plan ahead, you should carefully consider the following:

  1. See your family physician / nurse practitioner before traveling:
    Visit your family physician / nurse practitioner for a check-up.
    Discuss your travel plans and work out a plan for your meals and medication, especially if you are traveling through time zones.
    Take a list of your medications [PDF |  609 KB] with you.
    Ask for a prescription for insulin or other medications in case of an emergency.
    Ask for a travel letter stating that you have diabetes and that you need to carry insulin, syringes, needles, testing equipment, and may be wearing an insulin pump. Carry this letter with you at all times during your travel.
  2. Test your blood glucose levels:
    You will need to test your blood glucose levels more often on the day that you fly. Remember to record your blood glucose results [PDF | 36 KB].
  3. Meal plan:
    Follow your usual meal plan as closely as possible. Carry some food with you in case there’s no meal or snack served on your flight or if the food service is delayed.
  4. Identification:
    Wear some form of diabetes identification (Medic Alert® bracelet or necklace) at all times to ensure that, in the event of a medical emergency, those helping you will know right away that you have diabetes.
  5. Insulin and oral medication:
    If you know that you will be traveling through several time zones (e.g., 3 or more hours) you will need to adjust your insulin or oral medication.

    If you take insulin: 
    Talk to your family physician / nurse practitioner or diabetes health care team for advice on how to adjust your insulin.
    For example:
    When traveling east, your travel time will be shorter. If you lose more than 2 hours, you may need less insulin.
    When traveling west, your travel day will be longer. If you gain more than 2 hours, you may need to take more insulin.

    If you take oral medication: 
    If the time difference is less than 3 hours, you can move the time you take your medication by 1 to 1.5 hours.
    If the time difference is more than 3 hours, ask your family physician / nurse practitioner or diabetes health care team.

    If you use an insulin pump: 
    Speak with your diabetes health care team at least 6 weeks in advance of your trip for advice.
    Contact your insulin pump company to discuss having a back-up “loaner” pump available on your trip in case your own insulin pump malfunctions or is damaged while you are on your trip.

    Make sure that you have enough insulin and diabetes supplies in case they get lost or accidentally broken. A good guide is to double up on what you would usually require if you were not traveling.
    Ensure a prescription label is on your insulin vials or cartridges and that all your diabetes supplies are in their original boxes.
  6. Inform the airline that you have diabetes:
    Advise the airline when booking your ticket that you use insulin and will be traveling with diabetes supplies. You will also have to advise the ticket agent at check-in, as well as security.
    Most airport x-ray machines will not affect insulin pumps or blood glucose monitors.
  7. Diabetes supplies:
    Always carry-on your diabetes supplies with you. Don’t risk a checked bag getting lost or sitting in an unheated, uncooled cargo hold. You may want to consider splitting your supplies between your carry-on and the carry-on of someone you are traveling with (in case one of your bags is lost or stolen).
  8. Travel insurance:
    Look into buying travel insurance. Travel insurance is available to all members of the Canadian Diabetes Association. For further information, please contact:

    Diabetes Canada
    1400-522 University Avenue
    Toronto, ON   M5G 2R5
    Telephone:  (416) 363-3373
    Toll-free:  1-800-BANTING (226-8464)

What if I’m going on a short trip?

If your trip is short:

  • Pack enough insulin or medication and carry it with you at all times;
  • Store your insulin or medication properly (it will spoil if left in temperatures that are too hot or too cold);
  • Pack your diabetes supplies:
    • Syringes, pen needles, insulin pen or pump supplies
    • A spare insulin pen, in case of an emergency to withdraw from an insulin cartridge (Remember: do not insert air into the cartridge)
    • Blood glucose meter, test strips, lancets, extra battery, and record book
    • Alcohol wipes (if traveling where access to clean water may be limited)
    • Glucagon emergency kit
    • BD Safe Clip Insulin Syringe Needle Clipper or Clip & Stor Insulin Needle Clipper Safe Clip Safety System (for safe sharps disposal)
  • Dispose of your needles and sharps when you return home; and
  • Pack snacks, glucose tablets, candies or drinks (to treat lows).

For more information, visit the Diabetes Canada website

Published date: 
February 24, 2017
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