Travel and diabetes

Travel and diabetes

People with diabetes can travel just the same as people without diabetes. You will need to do more planning to make sure travel plans include management of diabetes.

Key points to remember about travelling with diabetes

Make sure travel plans include management of diabetes.

  • make sure travel plans include management of diabetes
  • contact your diabetes team about one month before travel to make sure you have the right plans in place including insulin adjustments and supporting letters
  • have a review by your diabetes team about one month before travel
  • make sure you take enough diabetes supplies

How do I prepare for travel with diabetes?

People with diabetes can travel just the same as people without diabetes. But, you will need to do more planning to make sure travel plans include management of diabetes.

When travelling it is important to think about:

  • length of journey
  • possibility of delays
  • timing of insulin
  • availability of carbohydrate food
  • access to medical services and diabetes supplies
  • care of insulin and diabetes equipment
  • customs regulations in different countries
  • changes in type of foods
  • changes in activity levels
  • changes in medicine and sleep routines
  • prevention and management of sickness away from home
  • carrying letters from your diabetes team in case you need these at customs or security check

What supplies do I need when travelling with diabetes?

Make sure you have enough supplies when travelling with diabetes.

Make sure you have enough supplies, such as:

  • insulin
  • glucagon
  • syringes
  • insulin pens
  • blood glucose meter and spare batteries
  • blood and urine test strips
  • diabetes Medic-alert bracelet or neck chain
  • insulin pump supplies

It is a good idea to have a spare blood glucose meter as a backup. Protect the insulin, blood glucose meter, test strips and GlucaGen™ hypokit from extremes of temperature.

Don't pack supplies in your luggage in the cargo hold.

Don't pack supplies in your luggage in the cargo hold - they may be exposed to extreme temperatures or get lost at the airport.

Use an insulated container or packing if extremes of temperature are likely to occur on the trip.

During the trip, you need to divide essential diabetes equipment between 2 separate hand luggage bags in case one is lost.

If you are travelling with an insulin pump, make sure you have a supply of insulin pens or syringes as a backup in case of pump failure.

Contact your pump company to see if they can provide you with a spare back-up pump.

Make sure your child is wearing a diabetes ID necklace or bracelet, such as Medic-alert.

Divide essential diabetes equipment between 2 separate hand luggage bags in case one is lost.

Do I need a review by the diabetes team before travelling?

It's a good idea to have contact with your diabetes team about one month before travel. This is especially important for overseas trips. They will assess blood glucose levels and make any needed adjustments to treatment. The diabetes team will supply appropriate letters and give advice about coping with time zone changes. You can also discuss other issues such as insulin adjustments for activity changes, flights and overseas medical facilities.

It's a good idea to have contact with your diabetes team about one month before travel.

What letters and contacts do I need when travelling with diabetes?

Ask for a copy of your most recent clinic letter which summarises medical information about your child in case you need to seek medical advice away from home. For overseas trips and domestic flights, ask for a letter stating that you will be carrying supplies such as insulin and syringes, as well as fluid and food for hypoglycaemia treatment. This is so you avoid any problems at customs or security inspections.

Ask your doctor about suitable diabetes services at your destination. Your diabetes team can provide contact names, addresses and phone numbers for most parts of the world. Make sure you have the contact phone, fax number and email address of your usual diabetes team in case you or others need to contact them about your child.

Ask your diabetes team for a copy of your most recent clinic letter which summarises medical information about your child.

What should I do about immunisations before travelling with diabetes?

Make sure your child is up to date with immunisations and has any special immunisations they need for travel to particular countries. Allow at least 2 months for this in case your child needs special immunisations - your family doctor will be able to give you advice about this.

What about travel insurance when travelling with diabetes?

Buy travel insurance well in advance. As the insurer will usually need information from your doctor, you need to allow enough time for this process.

What about meals on the plane when travelling with diabetes?

Check with the airline about meal times on the plane when travelling with diabetes.

Ask the airline or travel agent about approximate meal times on the flight and whether extra snacks are available. It is best not to ask for a 'diabetic diet' as this is often low in carbohydrate and not the type of food children like. Ask for a children's meal or normal meal and if there is not enough carbohydrate ask for more or use some of your own food.

How can I prepare for sick days when travelling with diabetes?

Prepare a kit for sick day management.

Revise information on sick day management and hypoglycaemia management.

Take supplies of easy-to-eat carbohydrate for treating hypoglycaemia as well as enough extra carbohydrate in case of delayed meals. For a long flight, always have enough carbohydrate foods for 2 to 3 meals. Be prepared for long and unexpected delays. Carry supplies of bottled drinks and water if allowed, although there are limits on carrying liquids on some overseas flights.

Take supplies of easy-to-eat carbohydrate on the flight for treating hypoglycaemia.

For trips to countries where English speaking is uncommon, it may be a good idea to have medical letters translated into the local language and also some translations for important requests. For example, "I need to find a doctor", "I need sugar quickly". Making contact with the New Zealand consulate may also be a good idea for longer stays or in case there are any difficulties.

What care do I need to take with food and hygiene when travelling with diabetes?

Like all travellers in overseas countries, you need to be extremely careful with food hygiene. In countries where water supplies and general hygiene is suspect:

  • drink only bottled water
  • avoid ice cubes
  • avoid salads
  • avoid street food sellers and market stalls

What adjustments should I make for overseas flights and time zone changes when travelling with diabetes?

You need specific insulin adjustments for your child for flights crossing time zones. These adjustments need to take into account:

  • the length of the flight
  • the time zone changes - how many hours difference between home and your destination
  • timing of meals, snacks and stopovers
  • usual pattern of insulin doses
  • time of arrival at destination and plans for that day (for example, sleeping or being active)

Remember:

  • never stop insulin on flights
  • do extra glucose checking
  • keep one watch on local departure time and one on destination time
  • set an alarm or arrange for someone to wake you to avoid oversleeping on the plane or after arrival
  • be prepared to give extra doses of rapid or short-acting insulin whenever glucose levels are above the target range
  • be prepared for unexpected hypos
  • carry plenty of extra carbohydrate in case there are delays or late meals etc
  • higher glucose levels are more likely during flights because of inactivity
  • low glucose levels are more likely if you're not careful to avoid more than the usual overlap of long-acting insulin doses, or if your child eats less food because of sleeping more than usual
  • you don't need to make significant adjustments for mostly north-south travel with less than a 2 hour time shift (for example, Pacific Islands or Australia)
  • talk to your diabetes team if you are using an insulin pump as there are specific guidelines on how to manage the pump for takeoff and landing

The content on this page has been approved by the Clinical Network for Children and Young People with Diabetes, Paediatric Society of New Zealand. 

This page last reviewed 10 April 2019.
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