Stay on Track: How to Travel with Diabetes
Last updated: June 2023
Diabetes doesn’t take any time off! The good news is, paying attention to your health while traveling doesn’t have to be that difficult. Plus, knowing you have diabetes can help inspire you to make healthy daily choices to avoid more silent threats like heart disease or cancer. Managing your diabetes while traveling helps you live healthier consistently, so you don’t come back from vacation weighed down from less healthy choices. Most vacations include overindulging on restaurant, meals full of extra fat, sugar, and sodium, excess alcohol, and taking a break from the gym. All these factors make it hard to keep blood sugar in check. By getting a little physical activity, paying attention to alcohol, navigating restaurant meals, and keeping stress at bay, a vacation doesn’t mean your blood sugar needs to go off the rails. Whether it’s a day trip, a holiday weekend, or a week-long stay in Europe, keep these tips in mind to help yourself stay on track to have a fun (and safe!) vacation.
Before You Head out the Door
When packing for your trip, double check that you have enough medication and supplies to get you through the trip and a copy of your prescription, just in case. Remember to always store insulin in a cool place, since it can lose its effectiveness if it gets too hot. It might be a good idea to get a letter from your physician explaining your condition and treatment specifications, especially for longer trips. Make sure you stay hydrated on the plane, even if that means buying extra water before boarding.
Be prepared for airport security! Avoid stress by giving yourself plenty of extra time to get through the line. Pack your supplies separately, near the top of your luggage, and let TSA know that you have diabetes and are carrying your supplies.2
Look up the area you’re visiting and find a doctor who has experience with diabetes ahead of time. Check your blood sugar often. A variation on your usual diet, change in sleep, and unanticipated stress (ever locked your hotel key in the room late at night?) can all affect blood sugar levels. Be aware of time zones! Keep track of what zone you are in so you can time your medications properly.
Make sure you pack snacks! Think snacks like trail mix or granola bars, that are easy to pack in your bag and won’t spoil. Don’t make the mistake of trying to “save up” calories for a big dinner, you’ll end up overeating and sending your blood sugar soaring. You can also avoid unexpected drops in blood sugar by always having a snack handy.
I know, “you’re on vacation” and that second cocktail might not seem like a big deal. However, if your diabetes means that you could be jeopardizing your safety.1 Not only do those signature cocktails contain excess calories (especially if you have more than one), the alcohol can interfere with your medications and your blood sugar. When your liver stops releasing glucose to in order to break down alcohol, blood sugars can drop, especially when your stomach is empty.3 Check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to consume alcohol. If so, choose a red wine or a simple mixed drink with seltzer water, and always have a meal to go with it.
Eating out is fun and often a necessity when travelling long days without access to a kitchen. However, restaurant meals can come in large portions and be packed with hidden fat, salt, and sugar. These simple tips make a huge difference without taking away from the experience:
- Ask for a box in the beginning of the meal and plan to set aside half the meal. No refrigerator in your hotel room? Give the box to someone in need.
- If the menu doesn’t specify how something is cooked, don’t be afraid to ask. Look for grilled, steamed, or baked items. Try to avoid fried foods. Choose a dish with chicken or fish over red meat to avoid saturated fat.
- If you have to get a burger, ask them to bring you the condiments on the side, rather than pre-slathered. Feel free to also request a whole-wheat bun, if the restaurant has them.
- If you have a craving for fries or dessert, order a side for the table so everyone can share. Have a taste, but you won’t feel obligated to finish the whole portion.
- Don’t be fooled! A restaurant salad can contain as many calories as a burger. Get dressing on the side and dip your fork into it before grabbing all the veggies.
Following these tips can help you be prepared to have a relaxing trip that keeps you healthy, too. You’ve earned it!
How often do you find yourself craving sweet snacks?