Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes: How to Prepare

Posted by lindsay on Thu, 03/07/2013 - 21:19 in


Here is Lindsay in South Africa at the top of Cape Point, overlooking Cape of Good Hope in the distance

I’ve only had type 1 diabetes for six years, but it feels like a lifetime. I thought at diagnosis that diabetes would limit me in life – what I accomplish, experience, etc. That hasn’t been the case. I went from being nervous traveling domestically to traveling from San Diego to Belize and Africa all in the same year. Here are some tips for preparing to travel with diabetes.

1. I’d start making a list of what you’ll need to take with you, keeping in mind to pack 2-4 (my personal preference) times as many supplies as you would normally need. Pack your diabetes supplies first; it tends to be less overwhelming and allows time to add items you may have forgotten. When you think you have everything and you’re standing there staring at the giant pile of test strips, low treatments, sensors, etc. laid out on the bed, add more. Then question yourself, will this be enough? (It’s ok, we all do it.) And then, ADD MORE. Run through all of the “what-if” scenarios, as diabetes supplies are the most important thing you’ll need that can’t be purchased or easily obtained in a different destination.

2. When you think you’re prepared, prepare more. Be ready to have to rely solely on yourself if, for example, you have a severe low blood sugar. That’s the single most important thing I keep in mind. If there is an adverse reaction and emergency medical care is required, would it be available? If not, consider purchasing medical evacuation (medevac) insurance, so in the event there is an emergency, you and your spouse/family can be evacuated to safety. I purchased medevac insurance prior to our trip to Africa and it was very inexpensive. Fortunately we didn’t have to use it, but if we had, we would’ve been covered for medical and evacuation expenses. Research your destination (s), the facilities and services available to stay prepared.

3. The last thing I’d recommend, and something I didn’t come to realize the importance of until this last year of travel, is to bring food. Lots of food. And more food. Granola bars, honey, agave, jerky, dried fruit, nuts, etc. Whatever you can think of that you’d use if you needed food, take it, and then pack more (did I mention that already?).

Other Things to Consider with Diabetes

  • Pack supplies in your carry-on bag in case your checked luggage is lost. If you’re traveling with someone, divide your supplies in case one carry-on ends up lost or stolen.
  • Allow extra time to get through security at the airport.
  • Do you have a way to keep insulin cool during travel?
  • Do you have international power converters for charging medical devices?
  • Consider the destination – where you’re going and traveling to/from once you arrive. Will there be emergency facilities in the area that are equipped to handle an emergency if need be? Do you know the international dialing codes if you need to make a phone call? Will your cell phone work? Will you have access to safe drinking water?
  • Do you have a back-up plan for emergency contacts, medical care, etc.?
  • If you wear an insulin pump, are your basal rates saved somewhere else if you need to reference them?
  • Are there other medications/vaccinations you should obtain in light of having diabetes, based on the region you’re traveling to?
  • How will altitude and time change affect your blood sugar?

Each traveler with diabetes has to decide what they’re comfortable with and what works best for them and their situation. Like diabetes, each travel situation is unique to each person. Preparing for every possible scenario ensures safety (most important) and experiences that will last a lifetime (second most important)! Safe travels!