Ahh, the joys of summer are upon us! Summer is, of course, the greatest time of year for so many reasons (I mean, hello… it’s rosé season!), but as soon as the 4th of July hits, so does the beginning of one of the busiest travel seasons of the year.
Traveling with diabetes can be a little stressful. In fact, the first time I traveled after getting diagnosed, I left my only extra box of test strips on the roof of my parents’ car before driving to the airport. I arrived in London the next day with approximately 4 test strips. I was going to be in London for 10 days. After the panic wore off, we figured out how to get more strips at the local Boots pharmacy, but let’s just say I learned the hard way that traveling with diabetes requires a little extra organization and planning.
Here are four of my tips to get you to and from your summer destinations with the proper preparation to keep you safe. The goal is for diabetes to take a back seat, and for you to be so organized that you sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
1. Plan and Prepare
I order my test strips, insulin, Dexcom and Omnipod supplies in as much bulk as my insurance will allow me. However, snafus happen. And they happen often.
About two weeks before I travel, I look at my calendar, then do an inventory
check. I ask myself:
- How long will I be gone? Then, I pack for three additional days.
- While traveling, will I be in places I can easily access food or drinks? If not, I make sure that non-perishable, TSA-compliant supplies are readily available in my travel bags (packets of fruit snacks are perfect for this).
- Will there be pharmacies nearby that could refill something in an
emergency? If I mess up my insulin somehow, I get peace of mind from knowing where my doctor could call in a backup.
- Do I already have supplies in the place that I’m going (i.e. my parents’), and if so, how much? This is simply to save room in your luggage!
- What is my “worst case scenario” plan, and how do I realistically prepare for it without overpacking? Life has a funny way of testing us when we least expect it. But when you’re prepared, challenges are much easier to handle!
2. Keep a Designated Diabetes Bag Half-Packed
As best I can, I keep a toiletries-style bag half-packed and ready to go at all times. I use a bag big enough that all of my medication and supplies can be in one place. The night before I leave, I add in the exact amount of supplies I’ve calculated I’ll need, but because the bag is already half-packed, it’s a breeze!
One hack I often see is people using these clear, TSA-approved bags so that you can see exactly what’s in there.
What I keep “pre-packed”:
- Alcohol swabs
- Packets of fruit snacks
- Glucose tabs
- AAA batteries
- Ketone strips
- Glucagon pen
- A backup insulin pump with spare infusion sets and reservoirs
If you don’t have one, reach out to the diabetes online community and see if anyone has an old pump at home they could donate to you.
3. Protect Your Insulin
A few years ago a friend of mine was flying to China for work, and while changing her pump site on-board, she lost her balance and broke her only vial of insulin.
Although that was a rare and extreme case, it was a reminder that anything can happen when you least expect it! It’s important to be extra cautious about keeping your insulin safe from harm and especially from overheating at all times.
Here are some of the ways to do that!
- Invest in a silicone wrap or protective sleeve that goes around your insulin bottle
- Keep your insulin vial or pen cool with a Frio case
- If you’re traveling by car, keep your insulin in a soft lunchbox with a gel ice pack. Make sure the bottle is in a waterproof bag, just in case!
4. Know Your Rights
It took me years to learn and appreciate that diabetes is considered a disability, and therefore I have rights that help keep me safe and comfortable while traveling.
Your rights are:
- TSA permits you to bring all necessary diabetes supplies with you in your carry-on (the only place I’ve hit a snag was with a gel ice pack and a juice box).You can always contact TSA Cares with questions at 1-855-787-2227 to ask about accommodations.
- Always always always keep your supplies with you, and never check it under the plane.
- You are entitled to pre-board your flight. You simply tell the gate agent
before boarding that you are a diabetic or that you have a disability, and you’d like to get on early. No one can legally question you or deny you this option, so be sure to ask for it if it is something that you think would make your trip more comfortable, safe and enjoyable.
Reasons why you might need to do this:
- You want to ensure there’s enough overhead bin room for your bag with your supplies in it
- Your blood sugar is dropping quickly and you want to sit down
- Your blood sugar is high and you want to correct it before you take off
- You want to test your blood sugar in your seat privately
- Or maybe you’re a nervous traveler who needs a little extra time