Diabetes and Winter Travel

It’s starting to be that time of the year where folks might turn into geese, and flee the cold weather. I can’t say I blame them. My home state of Iowa, for example, is well known for its balmy 0°F temperatures in winter. Last year, the pipes in our kitchen froze and we had to wait a few days for them to thaw out so we could have running water for cooking.

I’m jealous… but I digress. I wish you all a happy travel season! But… does it worry you to travel with diabetes?  What sorts of things should we keep in mind when we do?

  • First things, first: Plan ahead! Include exercising as part of your vacation (and why not? Make it fun!), enjoy healthy ‘foodie’ restaurants, or book a room with a kitchenette. If you are staying with friends or family, let them know of any food restrictions, allergies, or special needs. Get medication-friendly carry-on luggage.
  • Meet with your doctor: Your doctor may provide you a letter that explains your condition, and your need to have medical supplies on your person, such as oral agents, a meter with strips, needles, insulin, or an insulin pump, CGM, etc. These are supplies which you must keep with you as a ‘carry-on’ because they won’t allow for drastic changes in temperature while stored as cargo. If one uses a pump, or a CGM, the letter might also explain the need for a pat down rather than going through an x-ray machine. Other supplies to include in this letter are any necessary food items, such as juice boxes, snacks, glucose tabs or gels, etc. You might have to present this letter to airport security agents or to hospital personnel if it came about.
  • Know your rights as a person with a medical health condition: Keep your cool and present any letters or reference materials given to you by your doctor to TSA security agents. While many persons without disabilities or medical conditions are ignorant to our situation and our technology, most are just trying to be thorough with their job. In most circumstances, there’s no point to taking personal offense and ruing one’s day. However, do KNOW your rights. You have the right to request a pat down (with a third party present) instead of going through an x-ray machine. Some equipment will NOT function properly if ran through an x-ray machine, and there might be indications in warranty materials, or you may call Customer Service ahead of travel and inquire. Do not allow for yanking of your pump tubing, or CGM, etc., as it may rip the insertion site.
  • Have twice as many supplies with you as you would normally need for the length of your vacation: You never known when there might be illness, a loss of luggage, or when you might have to re-schedule a return flight. If you are travelling overseas, especially, you might not have access to your insurance or be able to renew prescriptions. It might not be a bad consideration to research traveler’s insurance. Keep all prescription indications with your medications.
  • Get your flu vaccine and research travel advisories: Travelling increases our exposure to the flu, and other illnesses, and getting over sickness is just that much harder with diabetes. For some of these, it’s best to travel when the risk of exposure is minimal, such as for West Nile, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses, which are transmitted by mosquito bites and might reach their highest epidemic rates during rainy winter seasons. (I have had Dengue fever, and it is brutal. I was also young, healthy, and with no diabetes. It’s an experience I am loathe to repeat. I am told Chikungunya is much worse than Dengue, and all of these are far more dangerous than the flu.) If you do have to travel during a peak season, seek out the more metropolitan/tourist based areas, which are more likely to have prevention practices in place and spray regularly for mosquitoes.

Travelling during the holidays is traumatic enough – but with diabetes, we must plan, plan ahead. Planning ahead is the name of the game.

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