The Problem

It is time that the full scope of Type 1 diabetes is acknowledged, which includes millions of adults who are too frequently misdiagnosed as having Type 2 diabetes, an altogether different disease.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes: Melitta’s Best Tips

I love to travel!  I got the travel bug from my mother; I had the good fortune to travel with her to many places (New Zealand, Africa, Turkey, Chile, Mexico, Canada, plus lots of the USA) before she departed this Earth.  Traveling with Type 1 diabetes is a challenge, but by being prepared (yes, I was a Girl Scout) it can be less challenging, and of course lots of fun.  Note that I wear an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor; that influences my tips.

(1) Make a packing list
I have a basic packing list on my computer, which I adapt for the needs of each trip.  List ALL of your needed diabetes supplies.  Like Santa:  make a list and check it twice!  I love a packing list!  Not only do my packing lists includes what clothes, shoes, and gear I will need, they also include all of my diabetes supplies.  I start with a core packing list and adapt it for the specific length and environment of each trip.   

(2) Like NASA, always have a backup plan in case things go wrong.  Have your backup supplies (lots!), and know that your devices may fail!
My insulin pump failed while on a remote island in the Bahamas.  I always carry both long and short acting insulin, plus syringes, so I just switched from my dead pump to MDI (multiple daily injections).  Some people like to carry an extra pump as backup—me, I like “old school” MDI.  While traveling in Bhutan, I accidentally dropped my testing kit without knowing it.  When I discovered the loss, after a moment of panic, I calmed myself by reminding myself that I had a backup bag with everything I needed.  Luckily, through the efforts of some fabulous Bhutanese guides, I was reunited with my primary kit. 

(3) Take your diabetes supplies in your carryon luggage—do not check it!
Luggage gets lost and things get stolen.

(4) Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
You never know when your bags will get lost by the airlines, a purse snatcher will grab your bag, or when you will just lose something along the route.  So, split your supplies into multiple bags.  If you have a travel partner, have your partner carry some of your supplies.  If you are traveling solo, split your supplies between several bags.  Carry an extra glucose monitor, and remember spare batteries for all your devices.

(5) Get trip insurance (for some trips)
For most of my trips out of the country, and for some USA travel to remote locations, I get trip insurance.  Get coverage that offers medical evacuation and connection with local English-speaking doctors.  I use Travelguard—I still have never made a claim or used it, but it gives me and those with whom I am traveling peace of mind. 

(6) Wear a medical alert bracelet and carry a medical alert card in your wallet
For me this is something I do every day but on vacation it is even more important.  If you are unable to speak for yourself, these can be your voice in an emergency. 

(7) Carry lots of hypo treatments + things to fuel exercise
I carry lots of glucose tabs to treat lows, plus dried fruit and Gu packets to fuel my exercise (I prefer to set a temp basal for exercise, but sometimes you need fuel).  I also always carry glucagon—in 23+ years of diabetes, I still haven’t needed to use glucagon, but I still always carry it just in case.

(8) Be prepared to assist fellow travelers who have diabetes
When I was in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, the sister of a woman with diabetes approached me in the resort dining room.  She saw my Dexcom on the back of my arm, and let me know that her sister had forgotten her insulin, and only had a little bit left in her insulin pump.  Since I carry lots of insulin, we were able to refill the woman’s pump.  I now have a beautiful custom necklace, courtesy of the PWD’s grateful sister, for that simple act of helping another PWD.

(9) In areas with lots of pickpockets, carry your daily supplies in a slash-proof security bag
I like PacSafe and Travelon security bags—I wear the bag crossbody.  This allows peace of mind in areas with lots of pickpockets such as Paris, or where theft is a concern.

(10) Have a note from your doctor, translated into the local language if you are traveling to a non-English speaking country
The letter should state that you have Type 1 diabetes, and include descriptions of everything you carry—insulin pump, CGM, extra insulin, syringes, glucagon kit.  The letter can help you get through security checkpoints, and not just at airports, but say at border crossings.

(11) Get necessary vaccinations for where you are going in the world

(12) Consider the food and water supply
If the local water supply is not potable, use bottled water or have a way to purify your water.

(13) Carry the medications that you may need
I carry Cipro, Pepto Bismol tablets, and anti-diarrheal medication.  Also, I find that I often catch a cold when traveling, so I carry the cold medications that I prefer (Sudafed and nasal spray don’t affect my BGs).

(14) If traveling by plane, consider wearing compression socks
These help with circulation, and help you avoid swelling of the ankles.  Also, move around!  I like to do yoga poses on the plane to help my circulation and to stay as comfortable as possible.

(15) Consider Global Entry or TSA Pre-check
I have Global Entry—it gives me TSA pre-check (easier to get through airport security) and makes it much easier to get back through US Border Control.

Most importantly, travel!  See the world and expand your horizons.  Have fun, life is an adventure!


  1. Rick's number 16 - carry double - including 2 meters. I speak from experience on the meters.