Simple steps people with diabetes can take to make travel safer and happier: get a doctor's note, wear a medical ID bracelet, know TSA rules and more.

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Travel Tips for People with Diabetes


(MARCH 2014) Like traveling with any disease, preparation and forethought are critical for people with diabetes. Follow these tips to prepare for a successful trip.

Get a Doctor’s Note

Just like when you needed a note from your doctor to miss school, you should have your doctor write an open letter that includes your diabetes treatment plan and a list of supplies that you might need for diabetes care. Having a letter on your doctor’s stationery will be useful in the case of any emergency when you reach your destination.

Medical ID

In addition to your doctor’s note, you should always wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace indicating that you have diabetes, and perhaps a note asking for sugar or orange juice. Your doctor’s plan is important for longer care, but a medical ID can help the people around you make sure you are stable in case of an emergency. Make sure your ID has instructions in the language of any country you plan on traveling to.

At The Airport

Traveling through an airport is a hassle for most people, but it can be an extra headache to bring your diabetes medication and equipment through the security checkpoint.  Most TSA agents should be well aware of the needs of diabetic travelers, including insulin pumps, gels, aerosols and necessary cooling accessories (like gel packs). While the TSA normally X-rays all items, you can request a hand inspection. The following items will be allowed on the plane, and should be kept in your carry-on bag in case of emergencies.

  • Insulin and insulin loaded dispensing products (vials or boxes of individual vials, jet injectors, biojectors, epipens, infusers, and unlimited numbers of unused syringes when accompanied by insulin)
  • Lancets, blood glucose meters, blood glucose meter test strips, alcohol swabs, meter-testing solutions
  • Insulin pump and insulin pump supplies when accompanied by insulin
  • Glucagon emergency kit
  • Continuous blood glucose monitors
  • Urine ketone test strips
  • Unlimited number of used syringes when transported in sharps or similar disposal container
  • Liquids (including water, juice, or liquid nutrition) or gels over 3.4 ounces

Despite the TSA ban on liquids larger than 3.4 ounces, people with diabetes can take all medications even if they are in containers larger than 3.4 ounces. If you have any questions about screening, call TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227 at least 72 hours before your flight.

Clearly Label All Medication and Devices

Whether or not you’re traveling by air, always clearly label and separate all your medications and devices, like insulin pumps. You should also separately pack your medication, with labels, in a clear bag so they’re obvious to security personnel, but also easy to find in case of an emergency.

Move Around

Whether you’re flying or driving, try to get up and move around the plane or stop to walk around, every 90 minutes to avoid the risk of blood clots.

Food Considerations

First, you should always have small snacks accessible in your carry-on, or in your car. Bring well-wrapped snacks like dried fruit, nuts or crackers that can be easily measured into small portions before your trip.

Also, remember that you may not be able to find fresh food during your journey, so if you think you’ll need fresh fruit, vegetables or any other food, make sure you pack a cooler when you can.

Adjust Your Schedule

Your schedule is crucial to managing diabetes, and it’s important to remember to adjust for the effect of time zones when you travel. Many travelers with diabetes are so conditioned to take their insulin at a specific time, and they forget that “noon” for their bodies might be a few hours ahead of the local time. If it helps, bring a second watch that is set to your normal local time with alarms to remind you when to take medication.

Know the Local Rules

Traveling abroad can be trickier than just the time change. It’s best to travel with at least double the insulin you think you’ll need, because insulin usually comes in different doses and manufacturers outside the US. For instance, in the US insulin is sold as U-100 (100 units of insulin per mL), while it often comes as U-40 or U-80 in other countries, which will require additional syringes. Be aware of any possible changes, and be sure to pack appropriately.

Exercise Normally

We know the whole point of vacation is to get away from your normal routine, but regular exercise should always be a part of your daily routine. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, even if it’s just walking to the beach and back.

Be Mindful of Heat

Speaking of the beach, remember to protect your feet when walking on hot pavement or sand around any resort you may be staying at. Additionally, heat can damage your insulin, so be sure you have cooling packs or a refrigerator at your final destination.