Daisy McCarty

How Do You Travel with Diabetes?

Some health conditions (like migraines) only flare up once in a while; but diabetes is with you all day, every day. If you have this disease, you know that managing it starts out as a full time job. Then, you eventually get into a routine that makes things a little easier. That routine can go out the window when you travel with diabetes. Keeping your blood sugar stable is especially difficult when circumstances outside your control prevent you from staying in control of your health.

Here’s a true story that demonstrates how tough things can get:

At my previous job, I had a coworker with type 1 diabetes. She went on a cruise to the Caribbean with her family in early September of 2001. She took her insulin with her as usual. Then, after the catastrophe of 9/11, she was told that she could not take her insulin on board for the long return flight from Florida. Her medication was properly labeled and she had a letter from her doctor, but the security personnel wouldn’t budge. She ended up making it back home without having a medical crisis, but it was a close call.

Can You Travel by Air Safely?

Fortunately, the TSA quickly abandoned its “no insulin” rule – but that could change if the threat level is increased again in the future. These days, you can bring your insulin, syringes, pumps, and other related equipment and medication on board. It may take a little extra time to get through security with these items, so pack them in a clear bag to separate them from your other belongings. There’s plenty of great information on this topic at diabetes.org. They’ve even got a PDF you can download that covers airline travel and your rights as a diabetic traveler.

Learn to Communicate about Your Health

The American Diabetes Association has very specific recommendations for people with diabetes who are traveling to foreign countries. They advise you to learn phrases like “I have diabetes” and “sugar or orange juice, please” in the language of the country you’re going to visit. The organization also suggests that you ask about the ingredients in unfamiliar foods.

Being able to communicate about your needs makes it much easier to have a safe and enjoyable trip. One issue that’s made it difficult for diabetics to travel in the past is that typical tourist language programs don’t cover health topics in detail. You’d have to cobble together your own smattering of words like “No, sugar, bad” to get your point across.

Now, you have a tool that is specifically designed for your needs. We’ve got Rx: The Freedom to Travel Language Series of audio books available in 10 different languages. These books include phrases like “I need some candy or other food to raise my blood sugar” that you can use when hypoglycemia starts creeping up on you. You’ll learn to talk about your dietary needs in a restaurant setting with questions like “Do you have a sugar substitute?” You will also learn the terminology for your medical supplies in case you lose your glucose monitor or your meds.