Travelling with diabetes
British people take more than 60 million trips abroad every year. But being prepared for any potential health hazards that may arise while you’re away is important, and according to the NHS you should start preparing for your trip four to six weeks before you go.
People with diabetes, however, may need just a little more preparation than usual to make sure they have a happy – and healthy – holiday.
First, if you’re travelling to a country where you’ll need travel vaccinations, talk to your GP or diabetes nurse about them, as some vaccines may affect your blood glucose control. You’ll also need to take a diabetes ID card plus a letter from your GP if you’re taking insulin or another injectable medication and testing equipment with you. You may need to show this letter – which will say you have diabetes and that the medication you’re carrying is necessary for you to treat it – at security check-points on your journey.
Before you go, try to find out if the climate at your destination will have any effect on your insulin and the way your blood glucose monitor works, as extremes of temperature can make them less effective. Also make sure you know where you can get emergency insulin supplies when you get there.
It’s also essential to find out if you should change the times you take your insulin if you’re travelling to a destination in another time zone – speak to your GP or a member of your diabetes care team so that you know in advance exactly what you should do.
Also, whether you take insulin or tablets to treat your diabetes, ask your GP for an extra prescription before you go, and take twice as much as you’d normally need for your trip. It’s also a good idea to take a print-out of your prescription with you too.
Packing your bags
When packing for your journey, put your diabetes medicines in your hand luggage rather than the luggage you’ll be checking in. That’s because insulin can freeze in the cargo hold of a plane or overheat in the luggage compartment of a bus. Keeping it in your hand luggage may also prevent your insulin from becoming damaged in transit. Ask your pharmacist about storage options that can help keep your insulin at the right temperature during your journey.
Make sure any medication you’re taking in its original packaging and that the prescription label with the name and contact details of the dispensing pharmacy is clearly visible. If you’re taking any equipment such as a blood glucose monitor, put that in your hand luggage too. However, if you use an insulin pump or a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), you should inform the airline at least a few weeks before you fly. Speak to your GP or diabetes care team about extra equipment you could use – such as insulin pens – if you had to remove your pump for any reason.
On the day you travel, pack plenty of healthy snacks that contain starchy carbohydrates for the journey plus extra for any potential travel delays. If you’re flying, Diabetes UK recommends ordering the standard airplane meal – though this may not give you enough carbohydrate if you’re on insulin or certain diabetes tablets. In such situations, you can usually ask the flight attendants for fruit, crackers or rolls.
Don’t forget to take foods with you that can treat hypos, such as glucose tablets and glucose fluids, along with longer-acting carbohydrates such as biscuits (alternatives to glucose tablets and drinks include any sugary non-diet drink, sugary sweets and fruit juice).
Finally, don’t forget to look after your feet while you’re away. Avoid walking barefoot and always wear well-fitting sandals or other shoes, even when you’re on the beach. And when you’re applying sun cream, don’t forget your feet – make sure all parts of your feet are covered, including the soles.
Your local Careway pharmacist can give you lots of tips on keeping your diabetes medication safe while travelling and when you’re at your destination. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.