Be safe, take advantage of the opportunity.

Since this blog is about diabetes, naturally, part of it is going to be about my diabetes. Today, it’s about my diabetes and the challenges of travel. I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking about diabetes and travel on Twitter recently, and a little on Facebook too. Sorry about that. This is what’s happening in my life right now.

First, what this post isn’t: IT IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. Please check with your physician, endocrinologist, or diabetes educator before traveling, and certainly before making any changes in your diabetes routine.

Now, what this post is: It’s a few things I’ve learned over the years. Not exactly what to do for specific circumstances, but rather some things to keep in mind as you travel from place to place. Feel free to add to the list by leaving a comment below. More information is always better than less.

1. Check with your physician, endocrinologist, diabetes educator, or all three before you travel. A no brainer, right? See “What this post isn’t” above. This is especially true if you haven’t traveled for a while. Your medical team may be able to give you expert advice that would take you hours to gather via blogs and other social media. And they can give you a copy of your prescriptions, which is a must to have wherever you are.

2. Changing time zones? Determine a “best practice” scenario for updating pump settings, basal amounts, and dietary needs. I don’t have great advice here, and it’s not backed up by science. Do research (along with your medical team) to find out how to best handle time zone changes, including the possibility of making no time zone changes at all, either with devices or routines (a lot of athletes do this). Again, it’s not backed by science, but what I do is change the time on my pump to match where I’m going when I’m about halfway through my trip. A six hour flight across the country? I change the time to match where I’m going at around the three hour mark. I can’t tell you why this works for me, but it does. Find out what works for you (read #1 above again), and if you can, make it routine.

3. Check your BGs early and often. Travel usually involves a lot of walking, even if you’re just making your way through the airport. Also, a change in time zones, eating out for every meal, and other influences (drinking, anyone?) can make for weird and wonky blood sugar numbers. I have learned, the hard way sometimes, that testing more than I do at home is not only common, it’s necessary when I’m on the road.

4. Never, ever, go to bed with a low or even semi-low blood glucose reading. I don’t care if you’re traveling with your spouse. I don’t care if you’re traveling with someone else. I don’t care if you’re staying at a friend’s house. We can’t always avoid hypoglycemia. But if we’re sure that we’re in a good range when we go to bed, even if the number on the meter is a little high, we’ll be much less likely to encounter a middle-of-the-night low, a disruption to our time away, and a disruption to the time spent with the person we’re with. Again, this is something I’ve learned the hard way. Don’t make my mistakes.

To provide additional peace of mind, consider adding a continuous glucose monitor to help you manage your BGs on the road. Or, if you’re using a CGM now, consider taking it to the next level and employing Nightscout or Dexcom Share technology.

These four things to remember go in addition to the things we already know: Pack enough supplies and medications, wear medical alert information (it may save your life as it has saved mine), and (in the USA) know your rights as a traveler.

As we all know, diabetes is not simple, and it’s not easy. That doesn’t change just because you’re away from home for a few days. In fact, it complicates things. But that is no reason to avoid travel. For me, I think the emphasis needs to be on staying safe and being as ready as possible for anything that might be outside the norm.

Doing so allows me to take advantage of every opportunity possible when I travel. I love to travel. I don’t want to miss out on anything. Managing diabetes on the road can be very different from how I manage things when I’m at home. Remembering these four simple things helps to provide peace of mind for myself, to those I’m traveling with, and those who are waiting for me at home.

Have any outside-the-box traveling and diabetes tips? Feel free to leave yours in a comment below.

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  • theperfectd  On March 2, 2015 at 10:24 am

    This is a fabulous post! I think another thing to remember, especially when you’re traveling by air, is that the security people are not out to harass you… (Believe me, it may feel like it.) We have rights as individuals who wear medical devices attached to our bodies and we can tell them how we want to go through security.
    I choose to tell them I’m “opting out”, which triggers a call for (in my case, a female) assist. The TSA person walks you around the millimeter wave or the Xray machine, and I get a pat down. I refuse to go through the millimeter wave machine (they’ll see my Dexcom sensor attached to my arm and my insulin pump insertion set and I’ll get a putdown anyway… and I do not want any issue with a pump/CGM malfunction while I’m traveling, so no Xray machine for me.
    TSA also has the TSA Cares program, which can also help, especially with young kids with T1 or older individuals with diabetes. They’ve come a long way, but we still need to be advocates for our own diabetes, no matter where we are.


    • StephenS  On March 2, 2015 at 11:12 am

      Absolutely right… and thanks for the additional info. Frankly, I completely forgot about TSA Cares. For the record, I’ve experienced no issues or surprises when going through airport security in the past month. I hope I haven’t jinxed anything.


  • kelly2k  On March 2, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    Great list! I agree with what Christel said re: “opting out,” & TSA Cares – but I’ve haven’t used TSA Cares, yet.
    I also always carry my insulin, test strips and pump supplies in my Carry-On bag. I also keep a ziplock bag with 3 to 4 infusion sites and reservoirs “just in case something were to happen to my carry-on stash. I usually end up using the supplies in the ziplock back and never opening my box of infusion sites.
    I also keep an extra vial of tests trips in the makeup bag in my checked luggage, along with a few lancets. I rarely use those test strips but darn if they haven’t come in handy when I’ve traveled and run low on test-strips.
    When I arrive at my hotel I find a vending machine and buy a bottle of ginger ale, which I keep on my nightstand for middle of the night lows. MUCH cheaper than the honor bar and if I don’t use it, I don’t feel bad for spending $1:50 on a drink I never opened.


    • StephenS  On March 2, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      Oh, I forgot about putting all of your medications, test strips, etc. in your carry-on. They are always in my backpack. Thanks for adding to the list!


  • Karen  On March 5, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Great tips here, and I don’t really have much to add because you all have covered it so well. I guess my biggest thing (diabetes or not) is to keep your cool. Yes, on occasion TSA has been kind of rude to me. No, it isn’t right or fair. However, I remembered how miserable some people probably make their job and instead of popping an attitude back, I remained friendly and calm. And you know what? Their attitude turned right around and in the end I had a great experience with smiles all around. A little niceness can go a long way, and treat others as you wish to be treated.

    Liked by 1 person

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