Travel tips from Dr Handford: Travelling with Diabetes
Diabetes needn't change your holiday plans. With a little bit of planning, you can enjoy your trip and keep your diabetes under good control.
Planning your holiday destination
When considering your destination, give some thought to whether going 'off the beaten track' for a lengthy period is sensible.
- Insulin pens need to be kept refrigerated. Special storage containers are available and may be worth investing in.
- Travelling to remote places where medical assistance is difficult to access may not be a good idea if your diabetes may cause you to have hypoglycaemic attacks.
- Make sure the people you are with know you are diabetic, and what to do if you have a hypo.
- Bear in mind that you may be more physically active on holiday than in normal day to day life- this may mean you need to adjust your insulin doses, or increase the number of snacks you have in the day. Your GP or Practice Nurse will be able to talk to you about changing diabetes medication depending on activity.
- Check whether you need any immunisations before you travel.
Think about access to food and snacks
As a diabetic you need to consider whether you will be able to eat regularly and access snacks easily.
- It is a good idea to take some quick fix sugar snacks with you, in case your blood sugar dips and you cannot buy food easily.
- Carrying some dextrose sweets in your hand luggage and beach bag is a good idea.
- If you have a 'hypo' (low blood sugar) episode, then have a sugary snack or drink straightaway, but don't forget to have a more substantial snack, like a sandwich, as soon as possible too.
How to stay hydrated and avoid stomach bugs
Another thing to consider is the weather- it is especially important to avoid dehydration if you have diabetes.
- Drink plenty of water, and avoid alcohol during the day.
- Reduce your chance of developing an upset stomach by drinking bottled mineral water, and avoiding ice cubes in drinks.
- Steer clear of street food vendors, and try to stick to peelable fruits, like bananas and melons.
- Make sure you are careful with hand washing before and after meals, and after using the toilet.
- If you are unlucky and do develop a tummy upset, do not stop taking your diabetes medication, especially if you use insulin. Use some rehydration sachets, drink plenty of water, and check your blood sugar level regularly. If it is creeping up, you need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Taking your diabetes medication on holiday
Wherever you decide to stay, make sure you keep some spare diabetes medication locked away safely in case you lose your supply whilst out and about.
- If you need replacement medication, show the doctor or chemist any medication packets so they can replace them correctly.
- Take your GP practice phone number with you so you can contact them for advice if need be.
- Take spare medication with you when you travel, and make sure to put a supply in each suitcase as well as in your hand luggage, in case your baggage goes missing in transit.
- You will need a letter from your GP to say that you are prescribed insulin for your diabetes so that you can carry the needles with you on a flight.
Travelling to different time zones
If you are travelling into a different time zone, as a diabetic, it is sensible to keep a watch on UK time until you have adjusted, so you can keep track of medication timings and meal gaps.
- If the time difference is more than 4 hours, you may need to adjust your mealtimes.
- Remember, running your blood sugars slightly high for a few days won't cause any harm, but missing doses of medication or skipping meals could be more risky.
Always consult your own doctor or diabetes nurse before travelling
These travel tips are intended to provide general information to diabetics and do not replace a visit to your doctor or diabetes nurse. If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have.
Take your diabetes seriously on holiday, but don't let it hold you back. Keep taking your medication, stay well hydrated, eat regularly, and you can enjoy your trip without any problems.
About Dr Ruth Handford
Dr Ruth Handford is a GP with over 10 years' experience of working in both hospital and primary care. She is particularly interested in caring for the elderly in the community, child health, and family planning. Ruth lives and works in a rural community, and is kept very busy by her job and young family.
Important Information: These travel tips are intended to provide general information to diabetics and do not replace a visit to your doctor or diabetes nurse. If you are planning a holiday you should consult your doctor to ensure that you are fit to travel and discuss any specific health requirements you may have
Travel Insurance for Diabetes
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office recommend that you have travel insurance in place every time you travel abroad. Make sure that your insurers are aware that you are diabetic and ensure that your travel insurance covers your diabetes as well any other medical conditions you may have.