Diabetes Travel Guide
Winter ski holidays, short break trips, long haul flights and exotic summer holidays all need to be planned carefully if you have diabetes and use insulin.
The information contained in this article may answer some of your questions if you are arranging a holiday. Remember you should always consult your diabetes care team if you are in dount about any aspect of your diabetes regime.
It is advisable for you to find out what type and strength of insulin is available in the country you are travelling to. Some countries are still using U-40 insulin, although this is becoming less common.
- U-100 (Orange Coloured Syringe Cap)
- U-40 (Red Coloured Syringe Cap)
Contact the manufacture of the insulin you are using to check what is available in the country you are travelling to.
Vaccinations when travelling to certain countries are recommended. You should check with your travel agent and GP if these are required.
Preparing for a long journey does require some more thought. If you are crossing time zones or travelling for many hours, you are right to be concerned about your insulin regime. Do contact your diabetes care team for specific advice. The BDA also provides information on time zones.
Airlines are usually helpful when arranging meals, but you can have the standard meals provided and make up the carbohydrates with your own supply. Remember to always carry extra in your hand luggage. Planes can be delayed, so remember to take your emergency carbohydrate with you. It may be useful for you to find out the carbohydrate content of several typical foods from the country you are travelling to. You should consult your dietitian or the BDA for special information.
Customs and Excise
You are not required by law to declare your insulin or other equipment. To prevent unneccessary confusion it is a good idea to carry an ID card. For some countries you will also need a letter from your diabetes centre as an ID card is not always sufficient e.g. The Far East.
Free or reduced cost emergency treatment is available in other EU countries. You should ask your local Post Office or contact the Department of Health for the appropriate form.
Insurance is vital when travelling abroad to cover medical services and equipment. A holiday insurance package that does not exclude pre-existing illness should be obtained. Check with your insurance company and make the company aware you have diabetes.
Storage of Insulin
When travelling by air, you should always carry your insulin and equipment with you in the cabin. Whenever possible you should give spares to your travelling companions.
Aeroplanes fly at altitudes that can cause freezing in the baggage hold so don’t pack your insulin and equipment in your suitcase.
Containers to keep insulin supplies cool are available i.e. cool bags. However, if your destination has access to cool storage these should not be necessary.
It’s wise to take at least double your required amounts of insulin and equipment to allow for any situation that may arise.
If you suffer from travel sickness you should still take your appropiate medication as directed. Management of travel sickness/diarrhoea should be discussed with your diabetes care team prior to travelling. If sickness and/or diarrhoea do develop, you can substitute solid foods with carbohydrate containing fluids i.e sweetened drinks.
NEVER STOP YOUR INSULIN EVEN IF YOU CANNOT TOLERATE SOLID FOODS
You should monitor your blood glucose levels frequently and adjust insulin as appropriate and remember to take your ketone testing equipment with you. If sickness and/or diarrhoea persists you should seek medical advice.
If travelling to a warmer climate, you should know that:
- Insulin may be absorbed faster in warmer climates so regular monitoring is especially important
- Insulin should be kept out of direct sunlight
- Some blood glucose testing strips may over-read in very hot weather
- Use high factor sun screen and avoid walking barefoot on the beach (because it is especially important to avoid damage to the skin)
If travelling to a cooler climate you should know that:
- Insulin should not be allowed to freeze, as it’s activity will drop
- Some blood glucose strips will under-read in cold weather
- Wear warm socks and sensible shoes so as to avoid injury to the feet
Holiday Check List
- Do you have the correct container for storing your insulin?
- Have you packed a spare pen and needles, syringes and vial of insulin in case of any insulin delivery issues?
- Have you packed your B-D Safe-Clip to ensure safe disposal when you have finished with your needles?
- Are your carbohydrates packed in your hand luggage enough to cover the airline means and any delays?
- Do you have an ID card to show you have diabetes and a medical letter from your diabetes centre if necessary?
- Are you travelling within an organised group? Also, have you informed the group leader about your diabetes?
- Have you noted the address and telephone number of the Diabetic Association in the country you are visiting in case you should require and advice during your stay?
- Remember to consult your diabetes care team prior to your holiday if you have any aspects of travelling abroad you need to discuss.