Traveling With Diabetes
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: February 2021. | Last updated: August 2022
Travel can pose several challenges to your diabetes care routine, even if it is fun and relaxing. Changes in time zones, eating, physical activity, and when to take your medicines can be changed by travel. However, with a little planning, you can travel comfortably with type 2 diabetes.
Before you leave town, here are several steps you can take to make your travel safer should a medical emergency happen.
Work with your doctor
Before you go, let your doctor know where you will be traveling, for how long, and what you will be doing. Ask your doctor to give you a written prescription for all of your medicines. If you lose your medicine bag or need a refill for any reason, you can go to a local pharmacy and get your prescriptions refilled.1
Also, ask your doctor to write a letter saying that you have diabetes and why you need your medical supplies. Ask if your doctor has any suggestions for how to adjust your insulin doses if you travel to a different time zone, how your plans may affect your diabetes, and if you need any vaccines.1
Prescriptions and supplies
Get a carry-on bag or backpack big enough to carry all of your prescriptions and supplies. You will need to keep this with you so the bag does not get too hot or too cold in the car trunk or airplane baggage compartment. If you are going someplace with extreme temperatures, you may need to invest in an insulated carry bag.1,2
You should keep your medicine in the containers they came in. If you need to save space, ask your pharmacist for extra labels to stick to clear plastic bags. Other tips for travelling with your drugs include:1,2
- Get a medical ID bracelet or necklace that says you have diabetes and any other health conditions.
- Bring double the amount of medicine and supplies you would normally use in the days you will be away from home.
- If you use an insulin pump, make sure to have a backup for getting your insulin if your pump stops working.
- Keep your medicines and other supplies (insulin, syringes, blood glucose meter, sharps, test strips, glucose tablets or gel, glucagon kit, and snacks) close at all times.
- Create a list of all the medicines you take, including doses and how often each is taken. Even if you keep this information in your phone, keep a paper copy in your wallet.
Know before you go
You can travel more safely if you know some key information about where you are going. This includes:1,2
- Locate a pharmacy, clinic, or doctor where you are going.
- Find out if your health insurance will cover you where you are going or if you need to buy supplemental travel insurance.
- If you are traveling somewhere where people speak a different language from yours, learn to say “I have diabetes” in the local language. Also learn how to ask for sugar or fruit juice.
- Visit the TSA website or call the TSA at 1-866-289-9673 to find out how to pack your diabetes supplies for going through airport security.
- Consider buying travel insurance to financially protect yourself should some unexpected difficulty keep you from traveling.
Traveling outside the United States with diabetes
If you are traveling out of the country, enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Program. This program sends you safety alerts before and during your travel, and lets the local embassy or consulate know where you are expected to be. This makes it easier for the State Department to help you during an emergency.3,4
The local embassy or consulate, American Express office, or American Diabetes Association may be able to help you find a doctor who speaks your language where you will be traveling.
Packing your carry-on bag
Give yourself plenty of time to create a road-worthy care kit for your trip. The items to bring will change for each person, but may include:3,4
- All medicines and supplements
- Monitoring equipment, such as a glucose meter
- Pump supplies, pen needles, syringes, glucose and ketone test strips, lancets
- Glucagon kit
- Glucose tablets or gel or other rapid-acting carbohydrate
- Snacks (crackers, dried fruit, nuts)
- Antibiotic ointment and bandages
- Alcohol wipes or hand-washing gel
- Spare batteries
- Small hard-shell container for sharps disposal
- Written copy of your prescriptions, and your home doctor’s name and contact information
People with diabetes are allowed larger amounts of liquids and other items on airplanes but may need extra time to go through security before boarding a plane.
Adjusting your care routine while traveling
You can still get the exercise you need and stick to a healthy diet while on the road. The key is to pre-travel planning. You can make it easy to try new activities or stick to old favorites by packing comfortable shoes, socks, or other exercise equipment, such as a swimsuit. Plan for the unpredictability of eating during travel by keeping snacks on hand. You may also need to check your blood glucose more often because you will be eating unfamiliar foods on a different schedule.