Diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from seeing the world. It’s true that you have a little more to think about than your average traveler, but don’t let this put you off — careful planning is key to making sure your trip goes smoothly. Here are five things you can do to stay healthy on holiday and keep your diabetes under control.
Keep medical documents with you, and let people know you have diabetes
A doctor’s letter
Make an appointment with your doctor once you’ve decided where you’re going on holiday. They can give you appropriate advice and they’ll also be able to write a letter. This letter should state your condition, list your prescribed medication and equipment, and provide contact details for your diabetes consultant. Not only is the letter useful to have while going through airport security and customs, but it’s also helpful to have on you in case you’re taken ill while you’re away. Carry it with you at all times, especially if you’re prone to hypoglycaemic attacks.
Prescriptions provide proof that your medicine is essential, which can save time if someone doesn’t know much about diabetes, so bring them with you and keep them close to hand. It’s worth researching what your medication is called in your destination, because it may have a different name than the one you use in your home country. Glucose levels may be measured differently, too, so a conversion table will come in handy.
A copy of your insurance policy
Travel insurance is important for everyone, but it’s especially vital when you have a condition like diabetes. Medical costs and emergency repatriation (in the most extreme cases) are expensive — the right insurance ensures these are paid for should you need them. Always tell your insurance company about your diabetes, otherwise any claims you make could be invalidated.
Pack a complete kit in your hand luggage
You’ll need to keep a supply of needles, injection pens, sensors, pumps, spare batteries, ketone test strips, tablets, and insulin, plus a coolbag to keep the insulin at the right temperature. Keep everything in clearly labelled and in its original packaging, and make sure you have the appropriate prescriptions within easy reach.
Remember: Different airlines have different rules. Look them up well in advance to be on the safe side.
Stock up on snacks
It’s normally possible to eat a balanced diet when you’re diabetic and away from home, but it never hurts to have snacks available if you need them. Cookies, crackers, cereal bars, chips and fruit buns all have good levels of starchy carbohydrates and are generally allowed to be taken into another country, or try some new snack ideas if you fancy a change.
Some airlines offer a diabetic meal, and if not then the standard one is normally the best choice. Either way, it’s unlikely to contain the amount of carbohydrates you need, which is why snacks are so important. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, feel free to sample the local cuisine — just make sure your carbohydrate intake remains at the right level for you.
Check the weather
The temperature can have an effect on your diabetes and the way your body deals with it, which is something to bear in mind when booking your trip.
How temperature can affect insulin
Hot weather can damage insulin. It may go grainy, or if it’s already grainy then it may turn cloudy. Keep it in a coolbag or refrigerator whenever you can.
How temperature affects your body
- Warmer temperatures: Long periods of sun exposure can increase your blood glucose levels and lead to exhaustion, even if your diabetes is unaffected. Additionally, your meter may not be as accurate in warmer temperatures.
- Colder temperatures: Your body will use up more energy trying to keep warm, which increases the risk of hypoglycaemic attacks.
- Poor circulation or neuropathy mean you’re less likely to feel extreme temperatures, which increases the risk of frostbite or sunburn, particularly in your feet. Protect yourself with thermal clothing or a high SPF respectively.
Maintain your usual routine
Keep your routine the same and you’ll find it much easier to adjust when you’re travelling to and from your destination. Take double the amount of supplies you’d normally need, just in case, and find out where you can get supplies of insulin while you’re away. Doing this will give you peace of mind and allow you to enjoy your holiday worry-free.