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Travelling with diabetes

Travel Diabetes World Tour Inspiration Trek
Delphine, April 28, 2010

Traveling with diabetes is possible. Whether you leave for a weekend, a week or more, next to home or farer the diabetes logistic part planning is the key to a successful trip.


My best travel tips with diabetes.


Traveling with diabetes: key points


  • Insulin is vital for type1 diabetics. No insulin : no life ! Hence the importance of always having it. Finding insulin in some countries can be a challenge, a dangerous challenge that it is better not to try. You must prevent such a situation and not endanger your lives.

  • Insulin is fragile: it does not like temperature variations. Each thermal breaks it down and reduces its activity. It is therefore important to keep it at room temperature, which will be the one where you are. Isothermal cooler bag can be a help.

  • Carry-on a safety stock put in another bag (just in case : loss, theft, bag left in direct sunlight or under chilling conditions that would have altered insulin). You have to be as independent as possible.

  • Have emergency phone numbers: such as embassies and consulates, "your house" abroad, and local emergency phone numbers.

  • Do not forget always having some foods with you (sugars and snacks) to be be independent!

When I travel, for a few days / weeks, I take all my diabetes supplies for the stay , to which I add a security stock of 25%, put in another bag.
During my 1-y round the world (350 days), I took 4 months of treament + 25%. I could have gone with all the stock of the year, but insulin is fragile , and as we visited countries with very different weather conditions (like India 35 °C, Nepal / Himalayas 5 °C at night) I did not take the risk to have my insuline damaged. Friends and families came with my diabetes supplies, and when that was not possible I managed to recover on site (look up your insulin manufacturer to see if your insulin is supplied in the country you are traveling to, and confirm that it is under the same name). During my journey around the world, my insulin was therefore always at room temperature . I pay attention that it did not get hot (sun) or cold (in my sleeping bag at night, near my body during high altitude treks) so that it would not spoil.

Voyager avec un diabète
Thorong Pass, 5416m - Tour des Annapurnas, Népal


Air travel & diabetes

Can you bring your diabetes supplies with you in the plane ?

It is allowed for a diabetic traveler to bring all his diabetes supplies on the plane, even insulin which is liquid. Indeed, diabetes-related supplies, equipment and medications, including liquids are allowed through the checkpoint once they have been properly screened by X-ray or hand inspection.
At checkpoint, diabetes is now very well known, and this, whatever the airport. During our 1-y round the world, we took 40 planes - 29 different airports : no control concern. Nevertheless, even if prescription/diabetes letter is not required, having it may (sometimes) expedite the security screening process.
You should keep all your supplies with you. The cargo hold can get pretty chilly at 10 000 m / 30,000 ft (not such a pleasant atmosphere for insulin). An even bigger worry : delayed and lost luggage ! The safest way to ensure your supplies make it to your destination with you is to keep them on you while flying.

What about my insulin pump and CGM ?

Taking an insulin pump through airport security is quite common. You can continue to wear your insulin pump or continuous glucose monitor (CGM) while going through common security. Just notify security screeners that you have diabetes, that you are wearing an insulin pump and are carrying supplies with you.
Remenber to update the time on your insulin pump and glucose meter when you travel through different time zones. This is very important specially if you have multiple basal rates that vary significantly throughout the day.

Diabetic meal on plane ?

Some airways offer ‘diabetic meals’ on flights. At first glance, the idea sounds great, but unfortunately it is not so good. Most of the time, the diabetic meals are still high in carbs. It is also more likely to taste worse than normal airline food. The only positive point could be the fruit instead of the sweet dessert. Bringing your own snacks can be a good option to better manage diabetes.


Travel, Diet and Diabetes

Eating well while traveling is possible ! In most countries you will find everything you need. Cereals and starches are the basis of many foods, whether in Europe (wheat, rice, potato), Asia (rice, potato), or South America (but, quinoa, wheat ...). Fruits and vegetables are also available in many countries. And, thanks to globalization, it is easy to find products, which are sometimes known, with nutrition facts .

Some countries, such as Mongolia or Nepal, are a little more complicated because their diet are rich in carbs and fats ; so few fruits and vegetables. In Nepal, as I was treeking all day long, it was not a big deal, contrary to Mongolia where I did not exercice, and had to increase my basal flow.


Insurance for diabetic traveler

Do not forget to have a diabetes travel insurance to ensure you have full cover. Many standard travel insurance policies exclude pre-existing medical conditions. Therefore, if there is any health problem linked to diabetes while abroad, this would not be covered on a standard policy.
Further, if you are a resident of the European Economic Area, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) could be very helpful. It entitles the holder to treatment that may be necessary during their trip, and grants them the same access as a resident of that country. It is free to apply for and last up to five years. This card is NOT an alternative to travel insurance, but may be of benefit if you are traveling in Europe.

Bon Voyage!

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