Whether you're driving a few hours to visit Grandma or jetting off to an exotic locale, managing diabetes while en route—and away from home—can be challenging. Packing testing supplies and insulin, and planning out where and when to eat, are important considerations that don't have to ruin your trip.
1. Be prepared for airline security.
In today's world, airport security requirements and delays are a part of life. Restrictions on everything from liquids to luggage size can put a cramp in holiday packing. To make your next flight a smooth one, make sure you know the latest security rules to prevent unnecessary slow-downs at the airport. Check your carrier’s website for restrictions. Many have detailed FAQ sections. Or, visit: https://www.tsa.gov/ where you can search specific items such as insulin.
Before leaving for a trip, discuss your travel plans with your physician. Have your doctor write you a travel letter on official stationary. This can be helpful if you need to seek medical attention when you're out of town and can be used if your carry-on luggage is flagged for examination by airport security. Keep your syringes, needles, lancets, and pens in their original boxes with the Rx label clearly marked to prevent any issues with security clearance. Be sure the name on your physician’s note matches the name on your prescriptions, supply boxes and airline ticket.
As of this writing, according to the most current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guidelines, it’s permissible to bring medically-necessary liquids, medications and creams in excess of 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in your carry-on bag. You should always declare your medical liquids to a TSA screener and remove them from your carry-on bag to be screened separately. You are not required to place your liquid medication in a plastic zip-top bag.
If you will be transporting insulin with you and need to keep it refrigerated, carry it in an insulated container—most airlines are not able to store medications in the airline refrigerators. You will also need to keep your insulin chilled while you go through security and wait to board your plane.
One easy way to do this is to use an insulated bag with ice packs. However, make sure your ice packs are frozen solid when entering security. Melted ice packs are considered a liquid and may be confiscated or searched. To prevent this, pack extra plastic zip lock bags. Once through security, head to the nearest food establishment and ask them for a cup of ice. You can place the ice into the plastic bags and add it into your insulated container to keep your insulin chilled. If you are unable to keep your insulin chilled, remember that many insulin options can last at room temperature for several days. Speak to your pharmacist prior to departing to determine the best storage options for your specific type of insulin.
When you travel, anticipate and prepare for every possible scenario that may occur. Be sure to bring along a diabetes kit, similar to the one you keep at home, but that includes enough supplies and medication to last for the length of your trip. If possible, pack extra in case your trip is extended due to travel delays or flight cancellations. Be sure it is accessible to you during travel. Never pack it in your checked luggage, since it may become lost. It’s hard to predict when a flight may become delayed, cancelled, or re-routed, so be prepared. If you travel with a glucagon kit to treat hypoglycemia, be sure that you have your prescription for it and that it matches the name on your ticket.
If you will be traveling through various time zones by air, it’s important to work out a plan for your insulin and/or medication needs. Before leaving for your trip, discuss any time zone changes with your physician and/or diabetes educator. Typically, if you are changing more than three time zones in a single day, adjustments will be needed. When traveling east you lose time, so you may require less insulin; westward travel adds time to your day which may result in needing more insulin. Checking blood glucose levels often on the day of travel will help you determine your medication needs and make necessary adjustments.
Regardless of your mode of travel, eating healthy can be tricky. If a meal will be served during your flight, let the airline know in advance that you’d like a diabetic option. Most carriers will make them available with prior notice. If you're road tripping it, pack non-perishables such as bags of nuts, freeze-dried fruit, whole grain crackers, dry cereal, and dry-roasted edamame. In an insulated bag with freezer packs, store fresh fruit, cut-up veggies, mini sandwiches, low fat cheese and a hard-boiled egg.
If you know you'll have a longer layover or road trip, search out which food establishments you'll have access to. Then check out their menus so you can be assured that you'll have healthy options to choose from along the way.
Always keep a fast-acting carbohydrate on hand, such as juice or glucose tablets, in case hypoglycemia presents. If you will be driving, always check your blood glucose level before getting behind the wheel. Treat lows accordingly to keep yourself and your passengers safe. Anticipate long stretches of highway with limited opportunity to purchase food. Bring along an insulated cooler with healthy sandwiches, fresh fruit and vegetables, yogurt, and even nuts and seeds.
Planning removes extra stress from an already stressful time of year and with the proper supplies there will be no stopping you!