Summer Travel With Diabetes: 11 Essential Tips

As you probably know all too well, diabetes doesn't take a vacation. So before you set off on a trip--be it a cruise, a week in the mountains with the family, or an international destination--be well-prepared for every possible scenario.

"When people are on vacation, they're just naughty," says Dana Simpler, MD, of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD.  "They eat more than they should, they may drink too much, and they may either get more or less exercise than usual."

One way to keep track of your blood sugar is to pack your glucose meter, and to use it during travel, Simpler recommends.

"Knowing your blood sugar is very important," Simpler says. "And when you keep track of your blood sugar, you can see what your vacation is doing to your diabetes."

As you're packing your suitcase and readying yourself for travel, you should:

  1. Compose and pack a list of all the medications, as well as a list of all medical conditions that you have. "Consider taking a recent set of lab results and an EKG," Simpler says. "This way, a doctor would know your baseline should an emergency come up while you are traveling."
  2. Pack duplicates of all your medications in case something should get lost during travel or left behind at the hotel, advises Gerald Bernstein, MD, FACP, director of the Diabetes Management Program at the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Take two or three days' worth of extra blood testing strips, too, in case you are delayed," he says.
  3. Pack your medications in your carry-on if you are flying, just in case your luggage gets lost.
  4. Be sure to ask your doctor whether you need any extra vaccinations before traveling. Don't wait until the last minute, since some have to be obtained many weeks before you travel.
  5. If you'll be immobile for hours at a time sitting on a cramped plane or train, ask your doctor if you should wear compression stockings or take a baby aspirin in order to prevent blood clots, Simpler says. Get up and walk around every hour or so while on the plane, too.
  6. Ask your doctor if you should take along an antibiotic just in case you get an infection, Simpler says.
  7. If you are abroad and you're not sure of the water quality, stick to bottled water and don't eat fruit or vegetables washed in local water. "When you are diabetic you are more susceptible to infections, and infections tend to be harder on you," Simpler says.
  8. Take snacks so that you'll have some shelf-stable foods that you are familiar with.
  9. Pack candy or glucose tablets in your carry-on in case of hypoglycemia. "Take a variety of glucose replacements and be prepared for any kind of circumstance," Friedman says.
  10. Pack plenty of cotton socks and loose-fitting, comfortable shoes. They'll come in handy if you do a lot of walking, Friedman says. Check your feet often, especially if you are doing a lot of walking on the trip.  
  11. Finally, and this is tough to follow when you're in vacation mode, use moderation at mealtime--at least for most of the trip. "After all, you're on a vacation for fun and relaxation, not to make yourself sick," Simpler says.