Travelling abroad with diabetes may seem difficult when you have multiple time zones, medication transport and foreign food to contend with. But diabetes is no reason to hold off on booking a big adventure – a little extra planning is all it takes to make your travel dreams a reality.
So get out those travel brochures, find yourself a great deal on flights and read on for a step-by-step guide on preparing for a safe and enjoyable travel experience.
Step 1 – Talk to a health professional
The first step is to make an appointment with your specialist or diabetes educator, ideally at least two months in advance. This will allow you and your healthcare team to come up with a solid plan for tackling time zones, meals, sleep, medication timing and what to do if your diabetes equipment fails while away.
Your doctor will be able to provide all the necessary paper work required for customs and security. This paperwork should be a doctor’s letter (with their contact details and your name) outlining your medical conditions and the medications you take. This is especially important if you are taking insulin. The letter should list the exact quantity of each medication and your daily dose.
If you require a blood glucose monitor, insulin pens, syringes and/or pump while travelling, the letter must include this information.
Step 2 – Arrange travel insurance
Get a fully comprehensive cover that offers unlimited overseas medical expenses and medical evacuation costs. For a detailed look at the travel insurance options, view our previous blog post.
Step 3 – Contact your airline
Advising the airline of your condition allows information to be passed on to the cabin crew, who are trained to meet your requirements. They will be aware of your need for in-flight access to devices, medications and supplies (including liquid hypo treatments, if preferred) and can provide you with additional food or drink if required.
Step 4 – Register your trip with Smart Traveller
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade encourages all travellers to register their plans online before leaving Australia. This information will help them to find Australian travellers in an emergency such as a natural disaster or family emergency. Visit www.smartraveller.gov.au to register.
Step 5 – Prepare your medication
Always pack more medication than you need, just in case. A good rule of thumb is to take one and a half times the amount of supplies you need, so if you’re travelling for two weeks, take three weeks’ worth of supplies.
It’s also important to store insulin in the fridge, with 2°C – 8°C being the optimal temperature. Be aware that once insulin is kept outside the recommended long-term storage range of 2°C – 8°C, it is considered ‘insulin in use’ (even if it’s unopened) so its potency is not guaranteed after 28 days.
Step 6 – Pack your bags
What you pack in your carry-on and checked baggage is extremely important. Long delays or lost luggage may mean you can’t access your suitcase for long periods of time and careful packing will minimise the risk of hassles along the way.
- Half of your diabetes supplies, including:
- medications (insulin)
- lancets and needles/syringes
- pump consumables
- blood glucose and ketone strips
- blood glucose meter kit
- insulin pen
- glucagon kit, if required.
- Keep medications and strips in their original packaging and carry only in the bag of the person with diabetes.
- Clearly labelled prescriptions for all medications with your name, the name and type of medication and doctor’s contact details.
- If you use a pump, carry back-up insulin pens/syringes in case of pump failure. You could also talk to your insulin pump company for the possibility of a loan insulin pump as back-up.
- Your NDSS card and Medicare card.
- Several copies of your letter from your doctor, as outlined in Step 1.
- A hypo kit with glucose tablets or jelly beans and emergency food rations such as biscuits and muesli bars.
- Manuals for your blood glucose monitor and insulin pump.
- Your travel insurance company’s contact details. Travel insurance companies often have 24-hour assistance lines which you can contact from anywhere in the world. They may help you access medical care in an emergency.
- Contact details of the Australian Embassy/Consulate in the countries you are visiting as they’ll have a doctor attached to them. The 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra can also be contacted for assistance from anywhere in the world on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.
- The other half of your diabetes supplies, including insulin. According to the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, the temperature in the cargo hold of a plane is kept the same as the temperature in the cabin, meaning you can store insulin in your checked-in suitcase.
- A spare blood glucose monitor, insulin pen or pump is advisable if possible.
- Appropriately fitting shoes – remember to ‘wear in’ any new shoes before you go.
- A small first aid kit.
- A small sharps container, available from your pharmacy or Diabetes WA.
Regardless of whether you choose to wear one at home or not, wearing a Medic Alert bracelet, wristband or necklace is highly recommended while travelling. Engraved with your details and medical condition, the Medic Alert symbol is internationally recognised and travelling with one could save your life in an emergency.
Step 7 – Fly away
On the day of your trip, arrange to arrive early to avoid rushing or long queues – particularly if security is likely to take time checking your hand luggage.
The general stress of travelling, as well as a change in routine, may impact your blood glucose levels (BGLs) so test more than you would normally.
Bec is a Credentialled Diabetes Educator at Diabetes WA.