Making Life Easier If You Travel With Diabetes

Team Hoo
12th November 2020

Diabetes is a fact of life. One in fifteen people will develop a form of it at some point in their lives, and just anyone can get it. The condition is commendable only in how egalitarian it is.

For that reason, those who have diabetes should never look at it as a reason to stop doing the things they want to do. While certainly nothing to dismiss, diabetes is manageable enough that people who carry it can continue living they want to live and enjoy many of the things they want to enjoy. Provided they make sure they take the proper precautions and prepare accordingly.

Travel is no exception to this, with diabetic travellers skirting across the globe to every holiday destination under the sun. With such a plethora of people travelling with diabetes, it should surprise no one that quite a bit of experience and advice has slowly gathered for other people who want to have their own getaway despite being a carrier of diabetes.

Whether by plane, coach, train or boat, there is no means of travel yet that is beyond the reach of the diabetic traveller. All it requires is a bit of knowhow and some warranted caution. 

Some Things to Keep in Mind

No holiday is ever impossible. It will just require adequate preparation.

While it is important to stress that diabetes is no prohibition for travel, it is still important to treat it with all the respect and care that it merits. Travellers who think they can take a holiday from the usual treatments and restrictions will be in for a rude awakening.

Planning for the trip should start well in advance of the departure date, with some experts recommending a minimum of eight weeks before the holiday starts.

Meet with the doctor to get any advice they may have to offer about travelling. Be sure to discuss as much as possible what the plans involved are, such as location, activities, and how to adjust medicine while abroad.

The doctor will also be needed to provide written notices for things such as insulin needles, which will be needed if they need to be brought aboard a plane.

One important area that will definitely need to be covered is that of medical insurance. Before travel, always check to ensure that any medical or travel insurance will cover long term medical conditions such as diabetes in the event of an emergency. Many of the basic packages will likely not provide for it, so it is essential that the right insurance is acquired before departure.

Other details will be determined by the destination of the holiday and exactly what people intend to do while they are there. Naturally, the needs and planning of a camping holiday in Greece will be very different to a city break in New York. Take the time before departure to look up things such as local cuisine to see what is suitable to eat, the level of medical coverage in the area being visited, and whether the levels of activity will have any impact on blood sugar levels.

Remember to account for differences in time zones when taking medicine too. Check with the doctor to see how times should be adjusted and set an alarm to alert when medicine should be taken. It may take a day or two for the system to adjust to the new routine.

Once this preliminary planning has been started, work can begin on working out what needs to be prepared and what needs to be taken along for the ride.

How to Prepare and What to Pack

Naturally, insulin is a must.

When travelling it is essential to ensure that any insulin being taken is adequately stored, with suitable supplies brought for use. It is advised to take more than may be needed, just to be on the safe side, typically about twice the usual amount. It is better to bring it and not need it than the reverse.

If planning to acquire insulin while abroad, always research what kinds are available and in what strength. Some insulin made and distributed in other countries may be made in weaker dosages than UK and EU varieties, so are not interchangeable.

Further always make sure that insulin is safely stored and transported.

  • When not being used, insulin should be stored in a fridge.
  • It can be kept safely out of a fridge in temperatures between 2°C and 25°C and must always be kept out of direct sunlight.
  • If being carried, keep it in an insulated cool bag.
  • It should never be frozen.
  • If clear insulin has expired, it will have a cloudy appearance. Insulin that was already cloudy will have become lumpy and stick to the sides of the container when it has expired.
  • If travelling on a plane, make sure the insulin is brought as carry on luggage. This not only keeps it in easy reach, but also stops it from getting too cold in the cargo.

Remember that people who have diabetes are typically exempt from the usual airport measurement restrictions on liquids for medicines, drinks, and cooled gel packs for insulin. Make sure that the flight company know about any diabetic requirements before the flight – bring a letter from the GP to explain any medical information.

Also be careful that equipment such insulin pumps or glucose monitors do not get damaged during the transit. Keep them away from direct sunlight or heat and remember to have them hand check at airport security – do not let them pass through X-ray machines. 

Consider taking a medical ID bracelet when travelling that identifies anyone who has diabetes. 

Depending on the length of the journey, always pack healthy snacks to keep blood sugar up when travelling. Fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, yoghurt, eggs and omelettes, and green salads (no croutons or salad cream) all make for good snack foods and light meals.

Booking Hotels for the Diabetic Traveller

The important thing when booking a hotel is to make sure that the staff know well in advance of any dietary and medical requirements before arrival.

Most hotel companies will be happy to explain any accommodations that they can make for guests with diabetic conditions, such as adjusted menus and storage facilities necessary for any medication. They may also be able to provide wheelchair access or alert staff where necessary.

As part of the preparation before the holiday, always take the time to research hotels before making any finalised bookings. In general, international chains will be more likely to provide tailored accommodations than independent local hotels, although never just write off the latter either. Typically, information about accessibility will be provided in the hotel FAQ or booking information.

When booking at a suitable hotel, it is an important idea to see if the booking process allows for any sort of notification regarding dietary or medical restrictions. Usually this will be a small tick box or comments section when selecting a room. Otherwise, make sure to phone the hotel before making any reservations to discuss with them any provisions that they can make.

It may also be an idea to phone ahead before checking in, say a day or two in advance, to remind staff to have any provisions made ready.

If eating in at the hotel, always ask the waiter or any other staff for a specialised menu when ordering food. Most hotel chains will be able to offer an adjusted list where required. Again, this is something that can be discussed in advance with the hotel staff or management when arranging the stay.

Everyday health conditions like diabetes don't need to be an active barrier to enjoying your holiday as long as you bear in mind some key milestones with planning and preparation; where will you be travelling next?

Team hoo.

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