Mary Ellen Phipps

Mary Ellen Phipps

Mary Ellen Phipps, the founder of Milk & Honey Nutrition, is a diabetes dietitian (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) renowned for combining her knowledge of diabetes and culinary expertise into easy-to-follow recipes and articles!

Traveling with diabetes: Some surprising tips you may not think about

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 Traveling with diabetes: Some surprising tips you may not think about

One of the key things to managing diabetes well is staying consistent in your daily routines… and when you’re traveling with diabetes, life is anything but consistent right?!

Traveling with diabetes can be very overwhelming, but traveling with diabetes doesn’t have to be super scary. You should definitely chat with your doctor and other healthcare providers and get their recommendations and tips before traveling, but also make sure to keep reading for some not so common recommendations that you may not get on a handout from your doctor.

Expert tips for traveling with diabetes

I’m giving you my tips after living (and traveling) with diabetes for almost 28 years… AND I’ve interviewed some of my favorite dietitians for their tips as well!

 Traveling with diabetes: Some surprising tips you may not think about

Common diabetes travel recommendations

Some of the more common recommendations when traveling with diabetes that you’ll see on almost any handout include:

  • Pack lots of snacks
  • Bring extra low blood sugar treatments
  • Wear a medical ID
  • Stay hydrated
  • Bring extra diabetes supplies
  • Use ice packs and coolers

Pack lots and lots of snacks. (Some of my favorite 15g carb pre-packaged snacks are the Health Warrior Chia Bars. They don’t melt, they’re low in refined sugar so you don’t crash and they can supply a steady stream of energy over a period of time. And they fit perfectly in any bag or pocket. If I’m on a more active trip and my activity level is going to be higher than normal, I like to snack on these to help keep my blood sugars sustained and not drop low.)

Bring double the amount of low blood sugar treatments you think you’ll need. Some great travel friendly ideas for people traveling with diabetes include: dried fruit, honey packets, glucose gel, glucose tablets, and juice boxes. My personal favorite is applesauce pouches.

Pack and wear your medical ID. This one goes without saying, but make sure there is a way for people to know you are diabetic if you are unable to communicate and get separated from the people you’re traveling with.

Stay hydrated. Whether you’re flying on an airplane or just trying to prevent yourself from making too many stops on a road trip, we all tend to get dehydrated when we travel.

Bring extras of EVERYTHING (test strips, CGM monitors, insulin, medications, pump supplies, lancets, syringes, etc.) I always advise people to plan as if you’re going to be gone for a week longer than you actually are. And while that most likely won’t happen, you never know what supplies might stop working or get lost.

Bring ice packs for medications if needed. (See below for more information on this.)

Surprising things to consider when traveling with diabetes

And now that we’ve covered some of the more common recommendations, what about those tips and things you may not think about when it comes to traveling with diabetes? Like, did you know you are allowed an extra carryon bag for medical supplies on most airlines?? Keep reading for more traveling with diabetes tips like this…

Flying on an airplane with diabetes

Air travel in general can be stressful, especially with all the rules now around how many bags you can bring, etc. As we mentioned above, check with your airline about whether or not you can bring a separate carry on bag for your supplies and consider these additional tips:

Kylee Pedrosa, registered dietitian and diabetes coach at kyleepedrosanutrition.com had these tips to share:

  • Apply for TSA Precheck if you are planning on flying. It makes getting through airport security with all your supplies so much easier.
  • Most airlines allow you to bring an additional carryon for medical supplies (be sure to verify with your airline). Pack your supplies in a bag small enough to fit under the seat so there is no chance of your bag being checked due to limited overhead space.
  • Staying hydrated while traveling is important, especially when you have diabetes. Bring an empty reusable water bottle in your carryon and refill at the water fountain after airport security. Refill your water bottle during your trip and carry it with you while sightseeing.
  • Most hotels will bring a mini-fridge on request to your room to store your insulin and snacks.
  • Jean LaMantia, registered dietitian at JeanLaMantia.com says it’s always a good idea to remember to place your diabetes supplies in a carryon bag, NOT in your checked luggage.
  • But, Sylvia White warns, “I always recommend they divide supplies if possible between two carryon bags. I had a kid who did study abroad and all his supplies were in his backpack which got stolen. It was awful trying to get supplies and insulin to him.”

Staying in a hotel

But be careful, Sylvia Thomas White, registered dietitian and diabetes educator at ParentingDiabetes.com reminded me it’s important to be careful when using the mini fridge at a hotel: “Be careful about where you place the insulin in the mini fridge. I always put it towards the bottom instead of top because I’ve seen it freeze and ruin.”

Shelf stable low blood sugar options

Tabitha Odom, registered dietitian at OdomRD.com recommends always being prepared with shelf stable options in the event of hypoglycemia. “One thing I always tell people is to keep packets of gel icing or honey in their glovebox or carry-on incase they get stranded unexpectedly and have a low blood sugar. It’s something that stays good forever versus packing food that will spoil.”

Taking medications

Since you’re not always guaranteed to have a place to wash your hands before testing your blood sugar or injecting medications, Ashley Munro, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at AshleyMunroRD.com recommends, “Take wet wipes for cleaning your hands before checking blood sugar.”

 Traveling with diabetes: Some surprising tips you may not think about

Changing time zones with diabetes

If you’re traveling internationally or even just jumping over a few time zones, there are some additional things to consider:

  • Susan E. Adams, registered dietitian and professor at LaSalle University, has a great tip: “Depending on where you are traveling….have a card written out in the language of the country you are visiting concerning info on you or your loved one’s diabetes.”
  • Casey Seiden MS RD CDE, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator adds “If changing time zones, be sure to adjust the timing of your insulin to avoid stacking or hypoglycemia. Might be a good idea to discuss with your doctor or diabetes educator ahead of time if the dose needs to be adjusted as you acclimate to a new time zone.”
  • Sylvia Thomas White, registered dietitian and diabetes educator at ParentingDiabetes.com also recommends talking with your doctor… “talk to your doctor if you will be traveling through large time zone changes about how to adjust long acting insulin or when to change the time on your insulin pump for different basal rates”

 Traveling with diabetes: Some surprising tips you may not think about… This is most (but not all) of what I have to pack for my diabetes for a weekend (2 1/2 days) trip. Chia bars, CGM change, pump supplies, low BG treatments, insulin, emergency syringes, alcohol swabs, skin tac, emergency long acting insulin, and a glucagon. Not pictured: even more snacks and low BG treatments, ice packs, an ice chest, and my medical ID. This is most (but not all) of what I have to pack for my diabetes for a weekend (2 1/2 days) trip. Energy bars, CGM change, pump supplies, low BG treatments, insulin, emergency syringes, alcohol swabs, skin tac, emergency long acting insulin, and a glucagon. Not pictured: even more snacks and low BG treatments, ice packs, an ice chest, and my medical ID.

Changes in routine

Travel often means a big change in routine, usually a good deal more or less activity and meals can often be larger as well. Both of these changes can cause large fluctuations in blood sugars. Chloe Paddison, registered dietitian at CureativeNutrition.com had these tips:

  • My biggest concern for my clients with diabetes (1 & 2) is the change of routine when someone is traveling-People are more prone to skip meals or go too long without eating and therefore eat larger meals, which can both cause fluctuations in blood sugar. It is important to strategize with your dietitian/diabetes educator on a method for staying on a relatively consistent schedule. Maybe setting phone alarms, and “taking inventory of the day” to have a plan for accessible snacks in between meals.
  • Find a way to fit some form of exercise in once a day – hotel gym, walking, etc. to help regulate blood sugar while out of the normal routine with potentially more larger meals.

If your trip will involve a lot more walking or sitting than normal, Suzanne Henson, MS, RD, at The University of Alabama recommends, “my patients use friction block for their feet (Band Aid and Gold Bond carry the product) so shoes don’t rub when feet swell, etc.”

Do you have any tips of your own to share? Let me know in a comment!

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3 Responses

  1. These are great tips! We traveled a couple years ago and had the bomb squad called and my daughter patted down twice!!! Seriously! Her hands were clean, but after handling insulin regularly her bag with all her extra insulin/supplies was flagged as well. She has her bracelet on and the airport security were super gracious but they had to follow protocol.

    The problem: insulin has glycerin in it, which is also a possible ingredient in a bomb. (The TSA schooled us). So if a drop has ever spilled there’s a possibility of traces of insulin (glycerin) as well. Once we were cleared and finally home, e took every thing out of the bag and wiped it down with Clorox wipes. She’s flown since then and not one incident.

    All that to say, my mom tip, wipe down your bag(s) that hooks your insulin.

  2. I have been flagged at the airport before too. The bomb residue test came up positive due to the perfume or lotion I was wearing. The TSA people said the scents can react from time to time. I am now very careful, since I know I usually have my hands swabbed since wearing an insulin pump, to not wear perfumed products when traveling.

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