Travelling with type 1 diabetes: navigating common challenges
Travelling with type 1 diabetes can be fun and safe – and with a little preparation, you’ll have peace of mind that you’ll be able to tackle any eventuality that arises.
How to travel with type 1 diabetes
Hopping on a plane, a ship or in the car to travel away from home is a dream many of us have. And whether you’re planning a family holiday, a solo adventure or a group trip, there’s no reason someone living with type 1 diabetes can’t have an amazing time on holidays, too.
Get started with our essential type 1 diabetes travel checklist. It offers stress-free support while you’re in the planning stages, and will help ensure you stay healthy after arriving at your destination.
You can also watch our T1D and travel video about what you need to know before you go away.
1. See your GP, endocrinologist, or diabetes educator
Booking a check-up several weeks before you leave is essential to discuss your itinerary with someone who knows your medical history. Your health care specialist can also help you plan ahead when it comes to vaccines, food you might encounter, and how to handle it when things go wrong (like an insulin pump playing up).
It’s also a chance to flag any worries or concerns you have, especially if you’re going on a holiday that might be physically strenuous, like hiking or trekking. Similarly, your health practitioner may be able to give advice on managing your BGLs while enjoying the local cuisine.
Plus, if you’re travelling through different time zones you can also formulate a general plan for your meals and medication. And don’t forget to discuss a strategy for sick days and how to adjust your insulin dose if required.
TIP: If you use an insulin pump and will be travelling to a different time zone, make a note of how to change the time on your pump so you can correct it once you get to your destination. Ask your health specialist or contact the device company for instructions.
2. Take out travel insurance for type 1 diabetes
Travelling can raise your risk of encountering infectious illness. And for people living with type 1 diabetes, dealing with different time zones and being out of your usual routine can mean you’re more likely than usual to have problems with low or high blood glucose levels. Because of this, it’s critical that you can access good quality healthcare if you need it.
Make sure your travel insurance covers type 1 diabetes, as not all policies do. Read the terms and conditions of the policy carefully before you book, to ensure the accident and health cover applies to:
- pre-existing conditions such as type 1 diabetes
- replacing a medical device if it’s lost or stolen (such as an insulin pump)
- seeing a local doctor if you need to
- medical evacuation if you need it
- the locations you’re planning to travel to
- the activities you may be doing (like skiing, diving etc).
If you want cover for prescription medication, SmartTraveller says you may need a specialised insurance policy that covers you if your bag is lost or stolen and your medication was inside, or if you’re hospitalised and need prescription meds.
Some companies may charge an extra fee if you’re travelling with type 1 diabetes and if you lose your diabetes supplies or insulin. Claiming may be a different process, depending on the insurer you go with, so it’s best to ask all the questions before you take out any policies.
3. Pack twice as many supplies as you think you’ll need
We know – luggage space is precious, and you’d rather your diabetes kit didn’t take up more room than it needs to. But you don’t want to be stuck without essential T1D supplies in a country you’re not familiar with. It may also be difficult to fill a script at your destination. For this reason, pack twice as much as you’ll need, and always carry your insulin in your carry-on.
Make a list of everything you use to control your diabetes: insulin, test strips, lancets, alcohol swabs, syringes, hypo food, a small approved sharps container; the lot. If you use a pump, you’ll want to have a spare infusion set, inserter and batteries with you as well.
Figure out how much of everything you’ll need for the time you plan to be away, then pack two lots of everything – one set of supplies in your suitcase and one set in your carry-on, just in case of theft, accidental destruction or the airline losing your luggage.
4. Add these essentials to your packing list
Anyone travelling with type 1 diabetes needs to have a hypo kit on hand that contains fast and slow-acting carbohydrates.
In the weeks before you travel, it’s a good idea to Google a list of English-speaking doctors, clinics, pharmacies and hospitals near where you’ll be staying. Make two copies of this list, keeping one in your carry-on and another in your main luggage.
On another list, include numbers for your healthcare team and insulin company, along with details for your next of kin or family member. Make sure you have copies of your NDSS card and proof of identity, too.
5. Carry all necessary documentation and identification
Just like you’d never go overseas without bringing your passport along, it’s essential to have a letter from your doctor that states you have type 1 diabetes.
The typed letter should outline that you’re travelling with type 1 diabetes, the type of insulin you take, your dosage regimen, the devices you use, the related prescription medications you take, the importance of carrying your medication/s with you, and instruction that your insulin pump (if used) must not be removed.
You should also take identification that explains you have type 1 diabetes in case you are in a situation where you are unable to give instructions yourself. Consider getting a MedicAlert® emblem (bracelet or necklace) that indicates you have type 1 diabetes. If you have a smartphone, consider using an ICE (In Case of Emergency) app, which will show your ID and emergency contact on the home screen even if the phone is locked.
6. Be prepared for airport security
Airport security regulations are strict for everyone, but especially so for people who travel with type 1 diabetes and need to travel with medical supplies. But people with a genuine medical condition are allowed to carry syringes, lancets, insulin pens, insulin pumps and medication through security screening points.
You’ll want to allow extra time to check in before your flight, in case you and your items need to be searched more thoroughly.
When you get to the airport and it’s time to pass security, mention to the staff members that you have type 1 diabetes. Keep the letter from your doctor handy, as you may need to show it to staff.
The security scanners and metal detectors shouldn’t damage your insulin, insulin pump or blood glucose meter. But pumps and CGM transmitters can be damaged by x-rays in security equipment, so always ask airport security staff to physically check your luggage and give you a pat-down rather than using the x-rays.
TIP: Get more information on travelling by air with type 1 diabetes on the NDSS site.
7. Have an action plan for lost/stolen luggage
Lost luggage happens – but if you’re travelling with type 1 diabetes and have essential supplies packed in your bag, it can quickly become very stressful.
As soon as you know your bag is missing, register with baggage services and file a report before you leave the airport. You’ll be given a tracking number you can use to follow up with the airline. While you wait for your luggage to turn up, look into stocking up on any supplies that were in your luggage.
Remember that list of doctors, pharmacies and hospitals we mentioned creating as part of your trip planning? This is where it can come in very handy. Find out where you can tap into healthcare resources near you, so you can get replacement medication and/or any other supplies you know you’ll need (before you need them!). A local hospital can be a good place to start.
It’s also a good idea to learn a few phrases in the local language (or have them saved in your phone), such as, ‘Where’s the nearest pharmacy?’ or ‘I have type 1 diabetes’. That way, if you get stuck with limited diabetes supplies, there’s help not far away.
8. Research the different foods you may want to try
When you’re travelling, your typical routine is thrown out of whack, and that includes what you eat. Keeping your diet stable is important, but what about all those delicious foods you’re going to encounter in the different places you visit? Of course you’re able to indulge – but as always, you’ll just need to work out how to manage your BGLs.
Do a little research on the types of foods you may encounter overseas and ask your health care professional about the ones you’d like to try. They may also give you an action plan for how much insulin you might need when trying certain foods.
Once you’re there, before digging in, try to work out the approximate amount of carbohydrates in your meal and monitor your BGLs regularly. Try to ensure you’re carrying extra food, water, medication and sugar so you’re prepared for the unexpected.
TIP: In some countries, you’ll need to be careful that your food and water aren’t contaminated. Make sure you avoid tap water, including ice cubes made from tap water.
9. Get ready for different time zones
If you’re travelling long distances, chances are you’ll be swapping time zones at least once, meaning your day can be shortened or extended. As a result, keeping BGLs in range can be a little challenging.
If possible (and you don’t already use one), consider hiring or loaning an insulin pump. It’s an ideal way to deliver your insulin across time zones as you can pump and dose for meal in the normal way with no real change to your insulin regime.
It can also help to take two watches (or a phone and watch) to keep track of time zone changes. You can also use the time setting on most phones to track multiple time zones at once.
As for insulin dosing, here are two simple rules to remember:
- If you’re travelling east, your travel day will be shorter. If you lose more than two hours, you could need fewer units of intermediate or long-acting insulin.
- If you’re travelling west, your travel day will be longer. If you gain more than two hours, you could need extra units of short-acting insulin and more food.
TIP: When flying, ask the flight attendant to wake you at meal times to make sure you don’t skip meals.
To recap: Your type 1 diabetes travel checklist
Here’s our quick checklist on what to do before you go.
|✅||Book in to see your GP or diabetes educator.|
|✅||Take out the right travel insurance.|
|✅||Pack twice as many supplies as you’ll need.|
|✅||Google a list of doctors, pharmacies and hospitals at your destination and print out two copies to carry with you.|
|✅||Carry all necessary documentation with you.|
|✅||Have a plan and be prepared for airport security.|
|✅||Make a list of medical resources in case your luggage is lost.|
|✅||Prepare for trying new foods and being in different time zones.|
|✅||Have a great trip!|
Want more info on travelling with type 1 diabetes? Check out our free book, Straight to the Point: A guide for adults living with type 1 diabetes. Grab it here.
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