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Traveling With Diabetes

by Kerri Sparling

People with diabetes aren’t known for packing light, and I am no exception. Just leaving the house to grocery shop has me throwing at least my glucose meter, the receiver for my Dexcom continuous glucose monitoring system, and a jar of glucose tablets into my purse.

For longer trips, it has taken me a long time to learn to travel lightly, while still packing smartly. I used to bring a gigantic bag with enough socks and underpants to outfit an army, but I’ve learned to streamline the process in the last few years. As a result, it’s always an exercise in “What did I forget?” Of course, I don’t play the “What did I forget?” game until I’m about to walk out the door, or while I’m on that anxiety-inducing ride to the airport, when I convince myself that I left my cell phone/pump/license/arm/house keys at home and I have to keep checking, repeatedly, to ensure the presence and safety of these items. (The arm is easy to check for, thankfully. I just waggle it around a bit while I search through my bag for the other stuff.)

What trip me up are the health-centric decisions. Whether I’m in Philadelphia for two days or in Dubai for a week, I bring backups of my backups. Three-day trip? Three new infusion sets, three bottles of test strips, a brand-new bottle of insulin, the in-case-of-pump-failure insulin pen, glucose tablets in case of low blood glucose, my glucose meter, and a spare continuous glucose monitor sensor go in the bag.

All this stuff does not a light suitcase make. But have diabetes, will travel, and all it takes is a little extra planning to keep the trip diabetes-friendly…and fun.

Getting ready
Two weeks or so before any trip, I take stock of what I have on hand already, to make sure I leave enough time to pick up any necessary supplies I don’t have, instead of scrambling at the last minute. (Click here for a diabetes travel checklist.)

I also locate the letter I carry from my medical team explaining that I have Type 1 diabetes and that I’m using an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor and am carrying supplies for diabetes in my luggage.

For trips where my husband or a friend are traveling with me, I bring a glucagon injection kit (glucagon is a hormone that causes the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream), in case of severe hypoglycemia (low blood glucose).

I also prefer to have an insulin pen or two in my bag, in case my pump has any issues while I’m on the move. And usually I request a “loaner pump” from my insulin pump company as a backup while I travel. (Many pump companies offer loaner pump programs for traveling; ask your manufacturer!) And I like to confirm that I have enough fast-acting insulin, back-up basal insulin, syringes, and test strips for the trip well ahead of time, in case I need to get new prescriptions from my medical team.

The night before I leave for any trip, I make sure I’m fully packed. That way, any last-minute, “Oh my gosh, I forgot something!” panicky moments can happen in time to find the solution. This includes packing up my medical supplies and making sure they fit into my carry-on bag. My carry-on includes my glucose meter, glucose tablets, a backup pump infusion set, replacement batteries for my meter and pump, a spare continuous glucose sensor, test strips, and any vials of insulin. I keep my spare glucose meter in my checked luggage, but everything else stays with me.

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Also in this article:
Travel Checklist



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