Traveling with Diabetes

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Having diabetes should never leave you grounded. As long as you plan carefully, pack thoughtfully, and, if you're headed overseas or to another country or will be gone for an extended period of time, check in with your healthcare provider to make sure you're prepared for all contingencies, you can travel safely.

diabetes travel kit
Ellen Lindner / Verywell 

What to Pack

Having these items on hand will give you peace of mind and keep you feeling prepared should the unexpected occur.

  • Glucose meter: Ideally, your glucose meter is with you at all times, even if you're just going to the grocery store. It's especially important to check and double-check that you have yours before you leave for the airport or set out on an extended road trip.
  • Oral diabetes medication: Pack your pills so you don't miss a dose.
  • Insulin pump: If you rely on an insulin pump to regulate your blood sugar, make sure you bring it with you.
  • Extra battery for the meter (and insulin pump if you use one): Glucose meter batteries differ by manufacturer. Make sure you know which type you need and keep spares in your testing kit.
  • Insulin: If you're heading to a hot climate, pack an insulated bag with cold packs to keep your insulin cool.
  • Syringes (or other insulin delivery device): Calculate how many syringes you use on an average day, multiply that by the number of days you'll be away, and pack at least that many—preferably more.
  • Test strips: Always keep an ample supply of test strips with you in case you need to test more frequently than you anticipate.
  • Lancing device and lancets: Carry at least the number of lancets needed for an entire day of testing. It is preferable to not reuse a lancet since it is no longer sterile after a single use and is more dull, which increases the discomfort.
  • Ketone strips: Even if you rarely use them, these are good to always have on hand. Foil-wrapped strips last longest.
  • Glucagon emergency kit: Glucagon is used in emergencies when blood sugar drops so low that you are unconscious or can’t swallow. Learn how to use it, teach those closest to you how and when to use it, and don’t leave home without it.
  • Fast-acting glucose: You should always carry a small supply of fast-acting glucose with you at all times in case you have a low blood sugar reaction. Glucose tablets and glucose gels are available for this specific purpose. You can keep these in your purse, coat pocket, briefcase, or glucose testing kit.
  • Snacks: Peanut butter crackers, a juice box, or an apple sauce pouch could also come in handy to treat low blood sugar.
  • Medical identification: It is a good idea to wear some sort of identification that indicates to emergency personnel that you have diabetes. If you are in an accident or found unconscious, this alerts medical responders to address your diabetes needs immediately. The most common types of ID are bracelets and pendants, but you may also want to get a medical ID card to keep in your wallet that states you have diabetes.
  • Health history: For more extensive travel, it's wise to carry a copy of your health history with you. A basic history includes known conditions (including type 1 diabetes), allergies, medications you are taking (include vitamin and herbal supplements), emergency contact information, healthcare providers and their contact information. You can now store this info on your phone using the Medical ID app (native on iOS or free via the Google Play Store). Update this information at least once each year.

How to Pack Your Supplies

Make sure that you have at least twice the amount of insulin, oral medication, glucose test strips, and lancets or other testing supplies you think you'll need for your trip or daily life. Designate a small carry case to house all your diabetes supplies, and then be sure to move it from bag to bag depending on what you're using that day.

Don't store your daily diabetes supplies in an environment that's not temperature-controlled, such as your car. The fluctuations between cold and heat could affect the quality of your supplies, and you don't want to waste them.

An open insulin vial and diabetes medications don't typically need to be refrigerated, but they should be kept relatively cool. A zippered plastic pouch works well for this purpose, or there are many appropriate insulated travel pouches available to keep your stash cool.

If you're traveling via airplane, keep at least half of these supplies in your carry-on bag. Be sure to keep all medication labels intact for getting through airport security, especially for any liquids.

Before You Go

If you're headed off on a longer trip or going somewhere where you'll be out of reach of standard medical care, see your doctor before departing. Checking in with your care team before you leave will give you an idea of your current glucose control, give you a chance to get any necessary immunizations, refill prescriptions, and talk with your doctor about an emergency plan if necessary.

If you'll be crossing time zones, ask your doctor to help you schedule the timing of your insulin injections or pill dosages so you don't lose control of your glucose levels.

What to Do in an Emergency

In an episode of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), quickly consume fast-acting carbs or glucose tablet, then continue to test your blood sugar every 15 minutes until it reaches your normal level.

If you're traveling with a group of people you don't know (participating in a tour, for example) and do not have a family member or friend with you, let the person in charge or at least several of your traveling companions know you have diabetes and what it might look like if your glucose levels drop to the point that you can't care for yourself.

Before heading to a country where English isn't spoken, learn to say a few helpful phrases in the language native to that country—especially "I have diabetes" and "Could I have orange juice or a banana, please?"

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