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Living with diabetes should not prevent you from travelling and enjoying your holiday. However, planning ahead is key to having a enjoying your holiday and being ready for any potential problems that may arise as a result of your diabetes whilst travelling.
It is recommended that you prepare for a trip at least 4 to 6 weeks before you travel, particularly if you are planning on flying with any diabetes medication. Therefore, we have put together this Guide on Travelling with Diabetes (with the help of content from the NHS and Diabetes UK Insurance ) to help you in those preparations.
Diabetes travel insurance
Finding travel insurance for people who have diabetes can be difficult. Most standard travel insurance policies exclude pre-existing medical conditions, including type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Our Travel Insurance can provide travel insurance for diabetes provided that you declare it and any other medical conditions. This means you can travel with complete peace of mind, knowing you are covered for any medical treatment required for your diabetes while you are on holiday.
For travel in Europe, also make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This entitles you to reduced-cost and, sometimes, free medical treatment.
Travelling with diabetes medication
Ensure you have sufficient diabetes medication (preferably double your requirements in case your medication is damaged or lost) for the entire duration of your travel. When travelling with diabetes medication, you should also take a list of your diabetic medications including both the generic and brand names of each, together with their respective dosages. You should keep the list separately from the diabetic medications themselves.
See your GP or diabetes specialist for information on how travel immunisations can affect your condition. For example, vaccines may disrupt your blood glucose control as your body makes antibodies to fight the disease that you’ve been inoculated against.
Carry a diabetes ID (either a card or jewellery) so that if you become unwell, people are aware that you have diabetes.
Before travelling you should find out where you can get supplies of insulin at your destination, in case of emergency. Contact your insulin manufacturer before the trip to ensure your insulin is supplied in your destination country. It is also worth checking that it is sold under the same name. You may have to pay for any insulin obtained locally, so make sure you take your EHIC so you can reclaim the cost when you return to the UK.
If you use insulin to manage your diabetes, it may be worthwhile to talk to your doctor about glucagon. Glucagon is an injection that is used to treat severe low blood glucose, a condition that can cause seizures or a loss of consciousness. If you are travelling to a remote spot that does not have ambulance service, it is important that your travel companion learns how to give glucagon.
Temperature and climate
Temperature can sometimes impact diabetes control. When travelling with diabetes in very hot weather, insulin is absorbed more quickly, so to avoid hypos, you may need to monitor your blood glucose more frequently and adjust diet or diabetes medication accordingly.
If you suffer from numbness in the feet you must be particularly aware of burning risk whilst sunbathing. Similarly, if you are in an extremely cold climate you should take measures to prevent frost bite. Foot infections can spread quickly in diabetics and can lead to serious infections throughout the body.
Altitude, depth and diabetes
When travelling with diabetes at high altitude you will need to monitor yourself. Your diabetes medication should be kept close to hand and should not be allowed to freeze.
High altitude can sometimes affect your diabetes equipment. It can cause insulin to expand and contract, causing air pockets within the cartridge or pen – you may need to do a few air shots to ensure there are no bubbles present before you inject.
If you’re travelling with diabetes and are considering diving you should consult your GP before you go.
Air travel and diabetes
Heightened airport security in recent years means that it’s essential you plan ahead if you have diabetes in order to avoid running into last minute problems. Airport restrictions are subject to change, so you should contact your airline directly or call the Department for Transport’s enquiry line on 0300 330 3000 for updates. Alternatively you can visit the travel and transport pages on the Directgov website.
Take a letter from your doctor or clinic which explains that you have diabetes, the medication you use and all the equipment you need to treat diabetes including insulin, insulin delivery devices, needles, blood glucose monitors, glucose tablets. It would be helpful if the letter explains the need to carry all medications and equipment with you in your hand luggage and to avoid storing it in your luggage in the hold – problems will arise if luggage goes missing or your medication is spoiled. It would also be useful to take a recent prescription with you.
On some airlines, once on board the plane, cabin crew may request that medication be handed over for storage during the flight. Keep all diabetes medication and equipment together in the same bag to avoid anything being mislaid or lost.
Should you have to place insulin in the hold, an airtight container (such as a flask) in the middle of your suitcase would be ideal. Alternatively, if an airtight container isn’t available, wrap in bubble wrap, then in a towel and place in the middle of your suitcase.
If you want to avoid transporting all your diabetes medication you can get your prescription sent to your destination by courier, although this is quite expensive. You would have to get your prescription fulfilled by the pharmacy who would also provide specialist packaging and export administration and courier it to you. Costs for this service will vary for the size of the package and destinations.
If you’re crossing time zones, you may need to alter your diabetes medication regime. Discuss travelling with diabetes with your GP well in advance to allow for any adjustments to be made
Make sure you still eat healthily when abroad. You should be able to choose foods from local menus and still eat a balanced diet.
Plane food: Airlines can provide information on the times of most meals so you can plan your insulin requirements. Cabin crew are usually able to provide extra fruit, crackers or bread rolls.