We live in a global village. To travel from one continent to another has become commonplace. Follow these tips for a safe and healthy journey when you travel, whether by airplane, bus or car, if you suffer from diabetes.
Travel tips about your destination
- If you're going to a non English-speaking country, learn a few phrases in the language of your destination in case you have an emergency. For example, 'Where is a pharmacy?'
- Secure a list of hospitals in the area where you are going.
- Request a prescription from your doctor and a letter explaining why you carry insulin and needles. With strict safety regulations, you may be asked to show this type of proof before you can board a plane or cross a border.
- Take along a back-up supply of insulin in case of breakage and ensure an adequate supply of syringes and testing material. Also ensure that your blood glucose testing strips are not exposed to extreme temperatures.
- Wet conditions may decrease the efficiency of tablets. Therefore always keep tablets and capsules in their original containers and keep them in a dry place.
- Carry your insulin and supplies in your hand luggage and not in the luggage compartment of the plane, bus or car.
- Keep the insulin cool, but never let it freeze. Use a small cooler bag. The container should keep the insulin between 2 and 8°C.
- Take one day's food supply with you.
- To avoid a hypo while driving, stop and eat at your regular times.
- Ask your doctor to prescribe anti-nausea and anti-diarrhoeal drugs for you, just in case you need them.
- In case of sickness, take your carbohydrates in the form of fluids and test your urine for ketones at regular intervals.
When travelling by airplane
In addition to the tips above, take note of the following:
- Place an order for a diabetic meal before the flight. Choose foods you know are suitable or take your own food with you. Drink plenty of liquid before boarding and drink water or a sugar-free drink every hour. Avoid alcohol.
- Insulin is stable under normal conditions at airport terminals and passenger security check points. X-ray machines that scan carry-on baggage should have no effect on your blood glucose monitoring devices and insulin pumps. If you are worried, you can request that your hand luggage be checked by hand.
- Frequent blood glucose monitoring, that is at least every four to six hours, is essential during flights.
- Your blood glucose levels might be higher than usual because you are inactive during the flight. Try to move about the cabin to use up some of the glucose.
- Travelling over several time zones requires an adjustment in your insulin dose. This can be done based on the results of your self-monitored blood glucose levels and understanding the activity of the insulin you take. Flying westward makes your day longer and flying eastward makes your day shorter. If travelling westward you should increase your insulin dosage and increase the snack content if the time difference is more than four hours. If travelling eastward you should decrease the insulin and the snack content.
- As a general rule, reset your watch when you land when you have travelled to a different time zone.
Bon voyage … and remember to wear your Medic-Alert identification at all times.