Planes, trains, and automobiles: traveling with diabetes

April 16, 2014
photo of couple looking at a map in an RV

For people living with diabetes, planning ahead is a must. Consider these tips for traveling with diabetes.

For people living with diabetes, taking a spontaneous trip isn’t as simple as packing up and leaving for the weekend. Traveling requires planning and preparation to make sure you have everything you would need in the event of an emergency.

“You don’t need to change anything from your daily routine, but you do need to plan ahead to make sure you have things like insulin or access to sugar if you start to hit a low,” says David Leal, health educator at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi. He conducts community-based diabetes education classes to help diabetics learn how to successfully manage the disease.

Leal recommends these tips to ensure diabetes does put a damper on your travel plans:

By car

You should eat breakfast one to two hours after waking up, and never let more than four hours pass between meals. If you start to experience low blood sugar levels, you can choose fast acting sugars—like glucose tablets, juice, or soda—to start feeling better, faster.

“If you find yourself at a low while traveling in a car, you should not drive,” warns Leal. “ Switch drivers or pull over immediately.”

By boat

While it can be tempting to sleep in and skip breakfast while on a cruise, it can also cause you to have low blood sugar throughout the morning. It’s important to make yourself get up and eat a balanced breakfast. After all, eating breakfast is an important part of weight management and glucose control for everyone, and certainly those with diabetes.

“A lot of people try to eat until they’re stuffed while on cruises because it feels like they’re getting their money’s worth,” says Leal. “Instead, you should try to plan healthy meals and get your value from activities like dancing and swimming.”

If you find that you do overeat while on a cruise, you should remember that a single meal can’t throw off all of your efforts. Try to stay positive and get back on track as soon as possible.

By foot

Always eat before going for a walk or hike to ensure your blood sugar doesn’t drop while you’re out. Pack nutrition bars or canned drinks in your backpack for the hike, but be sure to read the label before consuming.

“Nutrition bars and meal replacement drinks are great for hikes, but don’t be fooled,” urges Leal. “Sometimes these snacks can have up to 5 servings of carbs in a single item.”

Try to keep track of what you’re eating while you’re hiking so you don’t wait too long between snacks and meals. It’s also important to drink plenty of water, as hiking is a physical activity and can lead to dehydration.

By plane

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows diabetes patients to bring any necessary supplies, equipment, and medications—including liquids—onto the plane after proper security inspection. Arrive two to three hours prior to your flight, and pack all supplies in a separate clear, sealable bag for faster service.

“If you know you will be in the airport for a layover, be sure to plan your meals and snacks accordingly,” says Leal.

You should also carry or wear some form of medical identification and carry contact information for your physician.

The American Diabetes Association has more tips for diabetes patients who are traveling by air. If you have additional questions or concerns, call 1-800-DIABETES (342-2383).

— Kendall Cherry

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