Going Home for the Holidays

Having family come home for the holidays is one set of challenges. But to me, traveling to them seems like even more of a quest. I’m going to put a few questions out there, and hopefully you can give us the benefit of your experience and wisdoms about traveling with diabetes in the holiday season.


The Trip Itself
First of all, there’s the trip itself. If you’re on a plane, you can’t take more than 3 ounces of liquid through security now. (In my opinion, this is one of the most ridiculous restrictions in the so-called “War on Terror.”) So you may be limited to drinking what the airline will give you, or what you can buy once you’ve made it through security.

Also, flights may be delayed or canceled. You may find yourself stuck in an airport for long stretches. How can you maintain your self-care in this kind of situation?

Many airlines no longer provide meals, and what they do provide may not match your meal plan or desires. So you really have to bring your own. What do you bring on airplanes to eat and be comfortable?

Auto travel has a similar set of problems. Most of the roadside food is not very tasty or healthy. Again, you may have to bring your own. Or are there some healthy places and ways to eat that you have found?

Whether you’re traveling by plane, train, or automobile, you may be sitting for long periods of time. Long stretches without moving can cause problems with circulation and deprive you of normal exercise. Those of us who have to urinate frequently may have problems if the flight is bumpy or we’re afraid to ask our traveling companions to stop the car too often.

Of course, having health issues means packing extra supplies—medicines, monitoring equipment, extra batteries for insulin pumps or blood glucose meters. Some of these could cause problems with the security screenings. Have any of you had those difficulties?

Happy Landings
When you get where you’re going, things can get harder. If you’re in a motel, there won’t be much refrigerator space. A lot of the little things you take for granted will not have come with you. What kinds of supplies have you forgotten, and what’s important to remember?

You may be eating out frequently. You may have learned how to eat well at places you know—what they serve that fits into your meal plan, for example. At new places, you may have to be more careful.

Eating with family can be trickier, because there’s an emotional component to the food choices. Relatives’ feelings may be hurt if you don’t eat what they prepared. How do you cope with these situations?

For all of these difficulties, spending the holidays with family is well worth the effort. Hopefully, it’s a feast of love, not just a feast of food. Family members and friends can be some of the best sources of strength you can find. So enjoy them and let us know how you’re doing.

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  • zoebear

    I just got off a plane last night from a 4 day trip that lasted 13 days. The screeners at the airport could care about about insulin or syringes. They were very worried about the airpiort wheelchair I was using as my arthritis makes me unable right now to walk between terminals. They of course worried about my shoes and cane and loose fitting clothing. Different airpiorts do things differently. New Orleans is very solicitous of yur comfort. Dallas/Fort Worth is a huge pain as they often do not have someone who can assist you so that you do not miss your flight but yesterday alth the guy moaned ‘oh god’ constantly I made my flight. people who can walk fine will be ok. There is an advantage in daytime travel. Water or juice or soda or milk is usally available. there are pizza huts, wendy’s mcdonalds, taco bell, popeyes, and sit down restaurants inside the security areas. bending your dietary requirements and being flexible about meal times is essential. carry on emergency carbohydrates as no more meals and very little sold on board
    I just go before and after the flight and stay a little dehydrated until at my destination. remember that caffeine is a diuretic. Ask for a seat belt extender if needed. other travelers are willing to help stow bags or let you go first if you ask or even appear to need help. plan ahead and tip the porters and chat pleasantly and you will be amazed at how easily you can manage. Airlines now offer various services like wheelchairs even using on line ticket bookings. Tell the gate personnel you need whatever and they usually can get whatever you need. but be prepared to have to buy or tip people well if you need assistance. Also insulin is ok off of refrigeration for 30 days once the bottle is opened. Pack enough underwear and clothes for changing temperaures. New Orleans was 70s and then 20s in my two week visit. So have fun and enjoy the trip!

  • Anonymous

    I travel frequently, and being flexible is very important. When flying I make sure I arrive at the airport early enough to have time to eat if neccessary. My carry on bag contains my insulin pump supplies and food.
    I have them plainly marked and have never had a problem with security. I put my insulin in the original container, and place it in the little sandwich bag until I clear security then put it back in my carry on. I purchase a beverage after clearing security.
    Drinks are usually available on the plane, but snacks may not be. They do provide orange juice if you sugar drops. Try to schedule so you have time between flights to eat and get a drink, allow at least an hour.
    I just returned from the other coast a 7 hour trip each way. I had to change my schedule to the flight schedule, but did not
    have any problems.

  • Marcia

    As a type 2 on Byetta, I have not had any problems with my frozen gel packs. I keep food in a mesh grocery bag–glucose tablets too. Security can see through the mesh bag, before it goes on the conveyor belt.

    I am allergic to caffeine so finding soda is not easy. Sprite has citrus and I can’t do that either. So far, the longest flight has been 2 hours since the liquid restrictions. Before that, I would have 6 bottles of Pepsi no caffeine diet soda in 24 oz plastic bottles in my carry on, and 2 in the mesh bag.

    Flying out of PHL recently, I sat outside security and finished my soda, knowing I would not be able to find caffeine free on the other side. I watched Security let the children ahead of me take their opened cans of Coke through the line! Snacks–glucose tablets work for me with some fresh fruit and maybe a yogurt cup.

  • BetterCell

    David, I am surprised that no-one has corrected
    the statement by zoebear, “Also insulin is ok off of refrigeration for 30 days once the bottle is opened.”
    The statement is misleading, since an opened vial of insulin is omly good for 28 Days, unless one is using Levemir, which is good for 42 Days.
    Misleading Health Information applied to Diabetes is dangerous and should have been “picked up” by the Moderator or you, David.

  • Tara Dairman, Web Editor

    According to the American Diabetes Association, “Insulin kept at room temperature will last approximately one (1) month.” However, it is important to read the insert that comes with your insulin (or any medicine) and take note of any specific instructions that may apply to its storage. For instance, as BetterCell mentioned, insulin detemir (brand name Levemir) can be stored at room temperature for 42 days.

  • BetterCell

    Tara Dairman it is the Manufacturer of the Insulin (Lilly/Novo-Nordisk/Sanofi-Aventis who knows the EXACT formulation and Bio-availability of the product(Insulin) rather than a “top-heavy” political organization like ADA which does not represent all the interests of those with T1DM or IRD(aka Type 2 Diabetes) that should be “listened” to since it were those Manufacturers who professionally and legally had to get the approval from the FDA which states, that an opened vial of Insulin is only good for 28 Days. I think and know that the Manufacturer has more knowledge about their product than the American Diabetes association.

  • Jan Chait

    I don’t believe insulin is good one day and totally unusable the next. Degradation occurs slowly. I know of several people who use insulin beyond the 28-day “expiration” date with no problems. I think it’s more important to (1) take more insulin, medication and supplies than needed on your journey for “just in case” and (2) if the insulin you use isn’t working well–despite however many days it’s been open–open a new vial and and give that a try.

  • bberry


    I have traveled to 11 different countries and never have a problem.

    Normally I took insulin (Lantus) from a vial that needed to be keep cool.

    On long flights I asked for ice and put the ice around gel paks to keep the insulin cool.

    I switched to the insulin pen for both Lantus and Novalog.

    I have been very pleased with the results.

    Using the pen(s) have provided me much greater flexibility in BG levels and activity.

    To make my life simpler, I am going on a pump and can’t wait.