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Life with Diabetes: Preparing for Travel

June 21, 2011

It’s Caitlin the intern again, and this week I’m providing you with some travel tips from JDRF, and my experiences, to make your travel experiences as a type 1 diabetic the best possible!

Its summer time, which means it’s the busiest travel time and with the heat in Texas and the often complicated travel situations, you need to be best prepared for any issue. Whether you’re planning short day trips or a journey of several weeks, thinking ahead will alleviate many problems, not to mention a lot of stress.

Although type 1 diabetes requires extra work, you will find that virtually any trip or event you have planned is doable. We have included tips for general travel, road trips, visiting amusement parks and flying, so read on and prepare to have a fabulous vacation.

General Travel Tips:

1.     Always pack more than enough snacks

It is so important that you have enough snacks because, with travel, comes a different schedule which causes more lows. Don’t be caught low without a snack handy. Always have glucose tabs, granola bars, fruit snacks and juice boxes easily accessible.

2.     Always pack more than enough supplies

Make sure before you travel you have checked multiple times to make sure you have all the supplies you need. A backup monitor, lancets, strips, insulin, needles or pump infusion sets and reservoirs, alcohol swabs or IV preps and batteries. Also, be sure to pack necessary supplies in multiple bags in case one is misplaced.

3.     Never lose sight of your belongings

It is so important you don’t lose sight of your belongings. Make sure you always have the bag with your supplies in it with you at all times. Never leave your bags unattended and keep it nearby or on you. You don’t want somebody to grab your bag with all your supplies in it. Again, pack supplies in multiple bags in case one is misplaced or stolen, to avoid being stuck without any of your necessities.

4.     Take an extra prescription with you

Before you leave for your vacation make sure you call your doctor’s office and pick up an extra prescription. Sometimes plans change so having the prescription will allow you to get extra supplies if needed.

5.     Know your travel destination

Before traveling, do some research. It is important to know where a doctor’s office, pharmacy and an emergency room are. Don’t get to your destination without knowing your surroundings, because in case something happens you can remain calm and not be scurrying around to figure out where the places are. Going on a camping trip? Get tips for being a smart camper!

6.     Know the language

If you are traveling to a foreign country, know the basic words. If you can’t get it down, be sure to pack a travel dictionary so you can make sure you aren’t lost in translation and a card that says “I have diabetes” in the language of your destination.

7.     Always wear your medical ID bracelet

It is so important to always wear your medical ID bracelet. You don’t want to be somewhere and have something happen to you without people knowing you are diabetic.

8.     Test, test, and retest

When traveling you will be on a different schedule and depending on where you go there might be a time difference, so make sure you are testing your blood sugar often. If you notice a pattern after a few days, try adjusting your insulin.  Heat and excitement are two factors that can significantly affect blood sugar levels. The more often you check blood sugars, the more easily you’ll be able to anticipate and avoid problems. Get tips for traveling between time zones.

Tips for the Road:

If you are taking a road trip, be sure you are stocked up on snacks and drinks. Always have a bottle of glucose tablets in the glove box, so in case you start feeling low while driving you can have them easily accessible. I also always have a few snacks in my center console that are about 15 carbohydrates (granola bar, fruit snacks, small bag of chips, etc.) just in case I feel low. It is also a good idea to have a few juice boxes at your access.

Tips for Visiting Amusement Parks:

If you are taking a child with type 1 diabetes to a major amusement park like Six Flags or Disney World, the first thing you should do when you arrive is go to the guest relations office. Explain to the staff that your child has type 1 diabetes and must eat, check blood sugars, and/or take shots at specific times. Some of them will give you a pass that will get your family in the handicapped line for most rides, which will drastically cut the amount of time you will have to wait in lines and will help avoid being in excessive heat for too long. Bring a backpack with snacks, juices, water, and all your type 1 diabetes supplies. You may also want to pack meters and insulin pumps in waterproof bags so they don’t get wet on water rides. If your child is relatively young, you can also rent a stroller for the day and stash supplies in there.

Tips for Handling Airport Security:

I have taken many vacations and I dread going through airport security. It seems like there are always issues with going through it with an insulin pump. I have passed through security a few times without any issues, but other times I have missed my flight due to airport security.

For starters, always arrive earlier than recommended in case there is an issue. If you don’t mention your pump then there is a chance that there will not be a problem, but if they do question it, just explain to them that you’re diabetic and it is your insulin pump. The TSA staff should all know what it is, but if for some reason they are giving you a hard time just ask for their supervisor so you can explain the situation to them.

Usually you will have to go through a one on one screening with a TSA employee. Just remember that although it can be frustrating, they are protecting our safety and it’s best to cooperate with them the best you can. Remember to always have a doctor’s letter stating you are diabetic with a list of the medications and dosages you need, this way, if the TSA have any questions they can check with your doctor by contacting them.

Also know that some airlines have not approved all pumps, including those that feature wireless transmissions, such as the Omnipod. When booking your flight, if you mention that you use a pump in the section for special accommodations, that you could be flagged for follow-up to ensure that your device is approved. When booking your flight, please consider your travel plans and the necessity of informing them of your situation, to avoid any arising issues. Flight attendants may become uneasy when they see you checking your pump or using your meter, so be prepared to explain your situation and have all paperwork handy.

The following diabetes-related supplies and equipment are allowed through the checkpoint once they have been screened:

  • Insulin and insulin loaded dispensing products (vials or box of individual vials, jet injectors, biojectors, epipens, infusers, and preloaded syringes) **Insulin in any form or dispenser must be clearly identified
  • Unlimited number of unused syringes when accompanied by insulin or other injectable medication
  • lancets, blood glucose meters, blood glucose meter test strips, alcohol swabs, meter-testing solutions
  • Insulin pump and insulin pump supplies (cleaning agents, batteries, plastic tubing, infusion kit, catheter, and needle); Insulin pumps and supplies must be accompanied by insulin.
  • Glucagon emergency kit
  • Urine ketone test strips
  • Unlimited number of used syringes when transported in Sharps disposal container or other similar hard-surface container
  • Sharps disposal containers or similar hard-surface disposal container for storing used syringes and test strips

If you are concerned or uncomfortable about going through the walk-through metal detector with your insulin pump, notify the Security Officer that you are wearing an insulin pump and would like a full-body pat-down and a visual inspection of your pump instead. Advise the Security Officer that the insulin pump cannot be removed because it is inserted with a catheter (needle) under the skin and know that you have the option of requesting a visual inspection of your insulin and diabetes associated supplies.

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To learn more about the JDRF Dallas chapter, visit our JDRF Dallas website!

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