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Get Ready, Get Set, Go!

A diabetes travel checklist

Years ago while eating dinner with friends in Houston, we began to talk about how nice it is in San Antonio. “I’ve never seen the Alamo,” one friend said.

“You should definitely go,” I told him.

By the time we’d finished our dinner, my friends and I had concluded that we needed to go to San Antonio right that minute (we were young). We piled into the car and arrived in San Antonio with the sunrise.

Nowadays, such spontaneity is not an option for us. Traveling with diabetes means you have to think and plan ahead. If you don’t, you can find yourself in big trouble. My husband who lives with type 1 diabetes, for example, forgot his glucose meter when we once took a trip to southern Turkey.

One way to avoid such incidents is to do like author Riva Greenberg does, “I have a trusty packing list which I use for all my trips, pleasure and business,” she says. Riva, who lives with type 1 diabetes, goes through the list line by line and puts each item into her suitcase. “That piece of paper is my security blanket,” she says. Riva also puts a note on the door to remind her not to leave without the few items she needs to pack at the last minute, like her glucose meter. “That way,” she says, “I can’t leave the house without it!”

Here are some suggestions for a diabetes travel checklist of your own:

One month before your trip

Dr. Zachary Bloomgarden, clinical professor at Mount Sinai School of Medicine recommends the following:

1. Get a letter from your doctor documenting all diagnoses, medications, and allergies in case of illness or emergency while traveling.

2. Have a letter (can be the same letter as above) confirming that you need to travel with medication, syringes, glucose testing supplies, and any other medical supplies you require.

One month before Riva travels, she makes sure she has enough insulin, test strips, and other medication to last for the duration of the trip. If not, she renews her prescriptions right way.

You can use plain old pen and paper, or try one of many websites and apps that can help you make lists and set reminders. One, Remember the Milk, allows you to receive reminders by email, text message, or instant message.

The American Diabetes Association (the Association) recommends doing the following one month before traveling:

1. Get a physical exam to make sure your blood sugar is in good control.

2. Get immunization shots, if you need them.

3. Get a medical ID, especially if you use insulin.

One week before travel

“At least one week before you travel, you should have a plan to adjust your medication to suit time zone changes,” says Dr. Bloomgarden. “And remember that there is greater potential for hypoglycemia when changing time zones.” (You can read more about the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia here.)

If you’re traveling out of the country, consider contacting the International Diabetes Federation to find out which resources may be available in other countries.

Packing

Packing right is crucial to traveling appropriately with diabetes. The Association suggests packing at least twice as much as you need, in terms of diabetes supplies. If you’re traveling to another country, this might include a spare glucose meter. Remember that if you require any equipment that uses a power plug, that power is different in many If you use an insulin pump, it’s not a bad idea to have a backup. Just ask writer Catherine Price, who lost her pump in a waterfall in Thailand!

Here are some specific packing tips from the Association:

1. Pack your supplies in a carry-on bag so that your medication is always with you (checked luggage can get lost).

2. Whether you travel by car, plane, boat, bike, or foot, you’ll want to keep this “carry-on” bag with you at all times. Pack this bag with all that apply to you, from the following:

  • all the insulin, syringes, and lancets you will need for the trip
  • blood and urine testing supplies, including extra batteries for your glucose meter and insulin pump
  • all oral medications
  • any other medications or medical supplies, such as glucagon
  • your ID and diabetes identity card
  • infusion sets, infusion set inserter

3. Pack your carry-on with a well-wrapped, airtight snack-pack of crackers or cheese, peanut butter, fruit, a juice box, and some form of sugar (hard candy or glucose tablets) so you are prepared in case of low blood glucose.

4. If you’re traveling to a warm climate, buy a cooling pack to store your insulin. (You can find some diabetes-friendly travel bags and totes here.)

The day before you leave

On the day before your trip, check that everything on your list is ready to go. Michael Aviad, co-founder of ASweetLife, always packs twice as much as he needs, but he doesn’t pack it all in one bag. “Everyone assumes that only checked luggage gets lost,” Mike says. “Carry-ons can get lost or stolen, so I like to make sure I have supplies in each bag.” And a great tip on what to do the day of trip also comes from Michael, who had the misfortune of experiencing hypoglycemia on an airplane during take-off. His diabetes supplies were stowed in the overhead compartment, and he could not access them. Luckily a passenger nearby handed him a sugar packet. So when you’re heading out the door and all of your suitcases are packed, stop to put glucose tablets, sugar, or candy in your pocket.

You can find more travel tips here, and insulin storage suggestions here.

Happy travels!

Jessica Apple is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online diabetes lifestyle magazine A Sweet Life. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times Magazine, The Financial Times Magazine, The Southern Review, The Bellevue Literary Review, and Tablet Magazine. Apple is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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