Health: Going away on vacation with your good ol’ friend diabetes

By Debbie Bell/Health Department, Published:

It is definitely that time of the year with summer in full swing with vacationers hitting the roads and the airways making their way to relaxing destinations. Whether you are backpacking through Europe or sun bathing on the beach, you can go anywhere and participate in anything by planning ahead to handle your diabetes.  

Let’s be honest, travel itself can be stressful without the increased worry associated with managing your condition when your daily routine is completely altered and you are far, far from home.

There are several things to consider before you begin mentally packing: how long will you be gone, you will need more diabetes supplies for a two-week trek than for one, is your destination rustic or lush, having access to electricity and refrigeration may determine the type of food you will eat which could differ from your normal fare, and finally will you be participating in more or less physical activity than usual, this could alter the efficacy of your current insulin regimen. 

A visit to your family doctor prior to your vacation could prove most beneficial.  Acquiring a letter regarding your diabetes and a prescription listing all of your medications can be extremely helpful during travel and while vacationing especially if a medical emergency occurs.  The letter should primarily explain what you need to do to control your diabetes such as, take diabetes pills or insulin shots.

However, the more information that can be included regarding your healthcare the better. Do you have allergies to food or medication?  Are there any other health conditions you have in addition to your diabetes?   

A prescription should be specific for insulin, syringes, diabetes pills and all other medications you are currently taking. You should plan on having more than enough diabetes supplies to last through the trip.

Your mode of travel matters, so again plan ahead. After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, air travel has become more cumbersome for those requiring medication and blood sugar testing supplies.  According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “passengers are permitted to board airplanes with insulin, syringes, insulin pumps, liquids which include water, juice, or liquid nutrition, and all diabetes related medication, equipment, and supplies.”

The American Diabetes Association’s website at has created an Air Travel Tip Sheet to make assist in your preparations.  Some of the tips included are:

> Arrive at the airport 2-3 hours prior to flight.

> Review TSA’s website for travel updates at

Whenever possible, bring prescription labels for medication and medical devices (while not required by TSA, making them available will make the security process go more quickly).

> Pack medications in a separate clear, sealable bag. Bags that are placed in your carry-on luggage need to be removed and separated from your other belongings for screening.

> Keep a quick-acting source of glucose to treat low blood glucose as well as an easy-to-carry snack such as a nutrition bar. Contact your local diabetes educator for a list of acceptable snack options.

> Carry or wear medical identification and carry contact information for your physician, including your acquired letter and prescription.

> Pack extra supplies! It is always better to have too much than not enough.

The Franklin County Health Department, as part of Essential Public Health Service 3, is to inform, educate, and empower people about health issues, provides diabetes education classes and medical nutrition therapy services to assist you in your healthcare management and diabetes planning needs. Visit for more information.

Safe travels!

Debbie Bell is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with the Franklin County Health Department, 851 East-West Connector.  

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