5 Tips for Traveling with Insulin (2023)
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
While prediabetes and some cases of type 2 diabetes can be controlled with food and oral medication, type 1 diabetes and a considerable percentage of type 2 cases depend on insulin. People with insulin-dependent diabetes need special precautions before travelling to keep their condition at bay.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the top 5 tips for travelling with insulin safely and conveniently.
Travelling frequently, especially if you travel long distances, can be quite stressful for your body. Even if you're completely healthy, your biological clock will take a hit, and jet lag can add to the stressful experience.
While this stress doesn't cause diabetes, it can affect your blood sugar levels and interfere with your insulin intake schedule.
So besides packing your usual supplies and your luggage for the trip, you'll need to devote some extra time to ensure your diabetes needs are well taken care of.
Here's what you should consider before traveling with diabetes:
According to studies, you need between three to four injections a day to control your blood sugar. It makes sense to pack around eight syringes for a 2-day trip.
While that can work without issues, you can't be too careful regarding diabetes management. Uncontrolled diabetes can form blood clots which can be fatal. We recommend packing extra insulin, double your expected dose, to be exact, for the following reasons:
ONE OF YOUR INSULIN VIALS MIGHT BREAK
THE TEMPERATURE MAY DAMAGE THE INSULIN
Insulin is often stored in refrigerators or at room temperature. That's why you should do your best to prevent your syringes from overheating, as this could reduce the insulin efficiency or even damage it.
YOUR TRIP CAN TAKE LONGER THAN EXPECTED
Delays and unexpected events may require more insulin doses than you initially anticipated. Even without damaging the syringes or losing them, you might still run out if your trip takes longer than planned.
Diabetes supplies, as well as most medical supplies, can be damaged by extreme temperatures, whether hot or cold. You shouldn't treat them as normal luggage. There are travel packs specially made to keep the temperature stable on the move.
If you don't have those, your best bet would be to store your insulin in the carry-on luggage, which you can store over or under your seat for better monitoring.
Regardless of the travel method of your choice, you should store insulin away from heat extremes. Some people store insulin in ice packs to prevent heat damage, which can still damage your insulin vials.
Some people with diabetes may fail to administer their insulin for various reasons. This could be as simple as forgetting about the dose or as severe as falling into a hypoglycemic coma; a condition where the patient loses consciousness because of dangerously low blood sugar levels.
Good diabetes management usually prevents this, but it's always better to be extra sure. Having information like your insulin type, dosage times, and medical prescription on your person can help people around you to identify and deal with hypoglycemic attacks.
Also, having a Diabetes Identification Card or a Disability Notification Card will help you go through the airport security screening process quickly and easily, reducing pressure and keeping your condition stable.
People with diabetes can tell when their blood sugar drops to dangerous levels because of panting and energy loss. However, it would be ideal to detect low blood sugar before it shows symptoms.
That's when a glucose meter can help by quickly detecting your blood sugar levels whenever you use it. We recommend using it often to keep track of blood glucose and detect any dangerous fluctuations before they show symptoms. You should also keep extra supplies like lancets, test strips, and alcohol swabs on hand at all times.
You may also utilize a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). It's a wearable device that monitors your blood glucose levels as long as you wear it. All you have to do is frequently check the screen to ensure that everything is fine.
Healthy snacks are essential for diabetic patients regardless of the diabetes type they have. Flights and bus trips often offer meals to the passengers, but they may not be suitable for those with blood sugar issues.
If you have diabetes, you must have heard about the insulin resistance diet. It's a collection of low-carb foods that won't spike up your blood sugar levels and may even stabilize your glucose levels without the need for insulin in type 2 diabetes.
Options like raw veggies, yogurt salads, or a protein-packed lettuce wrap can be convenient, tasty, and healthy.
However, it's not only high blood sugar levels you should look out for; the opposite scenario of hypoglycemia can still happen.
That's why you should also pack some fast-acting carbs, like a juice box, glucose tablets, or hard candy, to quickly bring your blood sugar back up if it goes too low.
There are a few extra things to consider if you're a constant traveler:
While the tips we mentioned are directed toward conventional insulin injection methods, there are other insulin delivery means, like an insulin pump or an insuJet needle-free insulin injector.
Insulin pumps have the advantage of delivering insulin at specific times. So, you won't have to worry about setting reminders or forgetting doses. However, they are often attached to your belt or clothes, which could be too bulky for some people.
InsuJet injectors work similarly to your regular insulin syringes. The one difference is that they deliver insulin without a needle, making the delivery much more convenient for those who fear needles.
Whichever one you choose to use, you still have to bring extra InsuJet nozzles and insulin pump supplies for the trip.
The means you travel can affect your blood sugar and insulin intake times. For example, traveling in a car could be more comfortable for some people, making it easier for them to manage and remember the times of their insulin intake.
Others who need to travel long distances or don't like to drive usually opt for trains or planes. Still, the difference in time zones and the long distance traveled could be confusing and exhausting.
There's also the chance of falling asleep and missing the time of your dose. We would recommend that you set permanent alarms on your phone daily at your specific injection times.
Remember that if you're using an insulin pump or a glucose monitor, you should disclose that before going through checkpoints requiring you to path through an x-ray machine. X-rays can damage medical supplies in general and diabetes supplies in specific.
If you need to be inspected, please ask for a hand inspection instead to avoid disconnecting your insulin pump.
People with diabetes face extra challenges when the weather is too hot, especially in humid environments. If your destination is hotter than your average temperature, you may need to make some adjustments.
You'll likely need to drink more water to cool your body down. While that's generally good advice, people with diabetes need to stay hydrated. That's because some disease-related complications can affect your sweat glands, making it harder for your body to cool down during those hot spurts.
High humidity also prevents your sweat from evaporating. That evaporation is essential because once sweat evaporates, your body produces more of it, which cools your body down further.
During such weather conditions, you must check your blood sugar even more, drink plenty of water, and keep some glucose tablets on hand.
Now that you have safely reached your destination, you may notice that the sugar levels may be out of range even with taking your insulin injections on time. Like jet lag, this should quickly be fixed within two or three days once your biological clock is back on track.
If the problem continues, it's best to contact your doctor for more instructions.
Also, if you're traveling to a country where few people speak English, learning phrases like "I am diabetic" or "I have diabetes" in the native language could help the locals guide you to the nearest doctor.
If you're staying in a hotel, avoiding the temptations usually found in all-you-can-eat buffets is best. Sticking to your diabetes meal plan is necessary to prevent any unpleasant complications.
Lastly, planning activities around your insulin injection times is a must. You have to incorporate your food needs throughout your daily or weekly schedule and prioritize them as well.
As long as your diabetes is controlled, you can safely travel for work or for the fun of it. According to the American Diabetes Association, whether you're using insulin or not, eating healthy foods with the proper serving portions is crucial to keep your glucose levels under control.
While keeping insulin in the refrigerator is the ideal storage method, it isn't necessary while traveling. As long as the temperature remains between 36ºF and 46ºF (2°C and 7°C), your insulin will stay safe to consume.
The first step is selecting the proper bag which won't absorb heat. Placing the insulin in a plastic container will also reduce the amount of heat it absorbs.
You can also put your insulin next to cooler items like cold gel packs. However, you should never place it next to frozen items or ice as this could freeze the insulin, reduce its efficiency, or damage it permanently.
The short answer is yes. Since liquids aren't allowed on the plane and staff might confuse your insulin vials with other substances, most airlines will request a doctor's letter or note before they allow you to take your insulin supplies on board.
Once you're diagnosed with diabetes, managing your condition is a top priority. As soon as you get the hang of it, your diabetes will be controlled, and you can go about your day just like anyone else.
To travel safely with insulin, make sure to overpack and properly store it, constantly monitor your sugar levels, and be vigilant of your food intake. This should make traveling with diabetes supplies manageable and your trip, whether for business or pleasure, less of a hassle.