Planning a trip with type 1 diabetes doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In this comprehensive guide, I cover lots of helpful hacks and tips to help you plan for a worry-free travel experience.
Travelling is an experience like no other, exploring new destinations, immersing yourself in different cultures, and creating unforgettable memories. But if you are living with type 1 diabetes, it can bring its own unique set of challenges.
These challenges may seem overwhelming, but fear not! In this comprehensive guide, full of tips that we have learnt, I will share the knowledge and tools that have helped us to navigate the world of travel with confidence. From pre-travel preparations to essential travel kit and ultimately, enjoying your journey – This article has got you covered.
So, get ready to explore my top type 1 travel hacks, plus a free planning and packing checklist and discover how you can stay in control while experiencing the wonders of the world.
Understanding Type 1 Diabetes and Travel
Travelling with type 1 diabetes is one of many firsts and hurdles that comes with a diabetes diagnosis. However daunting it may seem, once that first is out of the way you will realise that travel is just another adjustment that you need to be prepared for.
To ensure a safe and enjoyable trip, it’s essential to plan ahead and educate yourself about the intricacies of type 1 diabetes management while travelling.
There are certain factors that can impact blood sugar levels differently, compared to your usual routine. These factors range from:
Changes in time zones
Changes in physical activity levels
Different Environments – temperature and altitude
Different foods and the ability to carb count accurately
Being aware of these potential influences will help you anticipate and manage any fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
As with every aspect of diabetes management, planning ahead can help you have a more enjoyable and stress-free time. So here is my checklist of things that I like to research and plan for:
1. Plan for Emergencies
OK, so this isn’t the way anyone wants to think about their holidays. But, trust me., if you research and walk through any possible eventualities, you will create your own emergency plan which certainly helps to lift any worry.
Start by researching medical facilities and healthcare providers available at your destination, including their contact information and addresses. This way, if you require medical assistance or need to refill your supplies, you’ll know where to go.
Additionally, know the local emergency services numbers.
The Foreign travel advice page on the gov.uk website is very helpful
2. Travel and Health Insurance
Make sure any existing policies or new policies for travel insurance will cover pre-existing medical conditions, including type 1 diabetes-related emergencies. While it may seem like an additional expense, having insurance can provide peace of mind knowing that you’ll have financial protection whilst travelling.
If you are living in the UK, I would also recommend applying for a The UK Global Health Insurance Card ( GHIC ). This card lets you get state healthcare in Europe at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. This card covers emergency and non-emergency treatment in Europe for pre-existing conditions
3. Diabetes Identification
If you aren’t already routinely wearing some form of identification or have something in your wallet or bag, then I highly recommend you get something for your travels.
These identification tools can alert others about your condition in case of emergencies, ensuring that you receive the appropriate medical attention promptly. Include essential information on the card or bracelet, such as your name, contact information, type of diabetes, and any allergies or medications you take.
We love the medical alert products from Diabitys. They have bracelets, watch straps and necklaces.
We also bought our customised Medical Alert Card here
I would also recommend printing off a Medical Device Awareness Card if you are wearing any devices to help you through security at airports.
4. Check your Supplies
Before you set off on any journey, make sure you have an ample supply of all your diabetes kit. Double-check that you have enough insulin, test strips, lancets, CGMS, adhesives and any other necessary medications. But also make sure that you have spares. I always carry extra supplies and backups just in case of unexpected delays or losses.
Read my packing essentials for more information and free checklists on all the items we always use and pack when we travel.
5. Airline and Travel Companies Policies
Check with the airline, train, ferry or travel company and understand their policies for travelling with medical equipment and Type 1 Diabetes. We have found that this varies widely depending on how and who we are travelling with, so I make sure I always check this regardless. For example, different airlines have different requirements and some like to know in advance travel emergency information and a list of what you will be carrying on board.
It will also give you the opportunity to prearrange food for any long-haul travel.
6. Medical Letter
Make sure that you always have a copy (or 2) of a letter from your Type 1 Diabetes team outlining your condition and required treatments with you when you travel. This letter is also helpful during security checks or if you need medical assistance abroad.
7. Talk to your Diabetes Team
If you have any questions at all then definitely run through them with your Diabetes team. They can provide valuable advice and recommendations specific to your health needs. They may suggest adjustments to your basal insulin to accommodate the environmental change or ways to manage if you are switching between insulin delivery methods.
By taking the time to prepare, you can minimize any potential disruptions that may occur during your travels and it will help you to better manage your type 1 diabetes whilst away.
This is the part I check, recheck and triple-check!
When you’re away from home it is vital to have everything possible with you for those just-in-case moments. So make sure to pack all your necessary diabetes management supplies including spares and extras like batteries!
I have created a handy diabetes management travel checklist of all the essential kit items to pack, which you can download below:
Diabetes Kit Travel Bag
To Keep all your diabetes supplies together, I recommend a sturdy, waterproof bag to help protect them from damage or extreme temperatures. I would also always carry this as hand luggage if you are flying.
In fact, we went so far as to buy a specific hand luggage bag for all of our daughter’s medical kit. After a lot of research, I chose to buy a baby-changing bag. As not only does it have insulted pockets which are great for helping to keep insulin cool, but there is plenty of storage and compartments, it’s a great size for hand luggage on a plane and it’s pretty comfortable to carry. I just left the included baby changing mat at home
Keeping your Insulin cool
This is quite possibly the most important aspect of travel with type 1 diabetes. Proper storage is crucial to maintain the effectiveness of the insulin. Here are some guidelines for proper insulin storage:
- Temperature control – Insulin should be stored in a cool place between 36°F to 46°F (2°C to 8°C). Avoid extreme temperatures, such as freezing or exposing it to direct sunlight, heat sources, or excessive humidity.
- Refrigeration – Most types of insulin can be stored in the refrigerator without compromising their effectiveness. However, do not freeze them or store them near the freezer’s cooling element.
- Room temperature storage – Some types of insulin can be kept at room temperature (between 59°F and 86°F/15°C and 30°C) for up to one month without losing potency. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for specific details about your insulin product.
- Avoid extremes – Do not expose insulin to extreme temperatures like leaving it inside a hot car during summer months or placing it next to ice packs that could freeze it.
Two products that we couldn’t be without when we travel are our Frio bags and a portable insulin cooler. Both these products give us peace of mind that our insulin will always be kept at the right temperature, protected and when we are travelling without access to a fridge, we know that this isn’t a problem
Go to my shop for direct links and a discount on these products.
Snacks and Glucose Tablets
I am sure this goes without saying but always make sure you have plenty of snacks and glucose to help you manage blood sugar levels on the road. We got caught short on a flight when our plane got diverted 3 times, so now I always overpack for every eventuality!
Unforeseen delays and changes in meal times often occur when you are travelling, so it’s really important to have quick and accessible sources of food. Make sure to pack snacks that are both convenient and nutritious, such as oat or granola bars. These can provide a steady source of energy and help stabilize your blood sugar levels. We try to avoid sugary or processed snacks as they can cause rapid blood sugar spikes and dips.
Additionally, stay hydrated to help manage stable blood sugar levels. Drink plenty of water throughout your journey, as dehydration can affect your body’s ability to properly utilise insulin. Again avoid sugary beverages and opt for water or unsweetened drinks whenever possible.
Carb Counting on the go
Carb counting while away can be trickier if you’re eating out more than usual..
However, one item we have found really helpful to take with us to the breakfast buffet or restaurants is a set of travel scales.
The scales we chose fold up and if you ask for an extra plate or bowl you are able to weigh out most of the countable carbs, which has certainly helped us to be a little more accurate.
You can also use the Carbs and Cals app which has great visual representation of foods. But you can also research common foods of the area you are travelling to and download a list of the main countable carbs by 100g/portion size just in case you don’t have access to wifi. Although on some of our trips where wifi hasn’t been available, I just take my Carbs and Cals book with us!
Top Tip for Insulin Pump Users
You may choose to continue with your pump delivery system whilst travelling or move to insulin pens or even a mixture of both. Regardless I would highly recommend keeping a paper or electronic copy of all of your pump settings that are easily accessible.
This will ensure that you have all your carb, correction and basal ratios easily accessible and ready to use when you need them.
Don’t let diabetes hold you back from experiencing new adventures and making lifelong memories. Embrace the opportunity to explore the world, knowing that you have the power to stay in control of your health. Whether it’s strolling through ancient streets, immersing yourself in vibrant cultures, or indulging in local cuisines, there is a world waiting to be discovered.
Remember that life with diabetes is so much more than just managing your condition – it’s about fully embracing the adventure and making the most of every opportunity.
By following the tips and guidelines laid out in this comprehensive guide, you can confidently embark on your travels with type 1 diabetes. Remember to plan ahead, take necessary precautions, and prioritize your health while exploring the world. With proper preparation and a positive mindset, you can navigate any challenges that come your way.
Other Resources on Type 1 Diabetes Travel
Diabetes UK – Travelling with Diabetes
NHS – Type1 Diabetes and Travel
Diabetes.co.uk – Travel and Diabetes