5 Tips for Traveling with Diabetes
It’s always awesome to see a new city, try new things, including experiencing new foods. Who wouldn’t be down to try some authentic Italian tiramisu or pizza in Rome, duck confit with pommes frites in Paris, or a seafood paella in Barcelona? Unfortunately, when you’re diabetic, especially type 2, diabetes doesn’t stay home while you go on vacation and you have to be just as vigilant, if not more, about keeping your blood sugar in check while you’re away. On vacation, you’re not likely to keep track of how many carbohydrates and refined sugars food has, and why would you want to? That totally kills the “vacation” mood, right? Look, I’m not going to tell you to not have a margarita or that decadent slice of chocolate mousse cake, however, I will give you some tips on how to enjoy those things without increasing your blood sugar to hyperglycemic levels.
1. Consult with your doctor
This should be the first thing you do as you prepare for your trip. Even if this tip seems like a no-brainer, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what to do if your blood sugar gets too high while you’re away. Your primary care doctor, endocrinologist, or diabetes educator won’t be on vacation with you, so it’s pertinent to know how much insulin you should take in the event your blood sugar raises to levels higher than normal.
Also, keep the contact information of your doctor and any other essential members of your diabetes care team and consider wearing a diabetic ID bracelet just in case you have an emergency.
2. Know TSA Rules about bringing diabetic supplies through airport security
I’ve had no issues going through TSA checkpoints with my medication, including my insulin pen and needles. Prior to going through the metal detectors, I alert the TSA officers that I’m carrying diabetic medicine and I’ve only had my bags subjected to additional screening only once. Normally, passengers aren’t allowed to bring liquids or gels over 3.4 ounces through security, but exceptions are made for diabetic travelers per the TSA website.
3. Bring extra supplies and test your blood sugar often
Bring extra everything -- insulin, lancets, meters (if possible), test strips -- whatever you take on a daily basis, bring more of that. On my last vacation, I took an extra 7 days worth of everything, with the exception of my glucose meter. I didn’t think I’d really need all of that extra medication, but it’s better to be prepared just in the case of an emergency. I kept mine in an insulin cooler pouch I purchased off Amazon. Below is a picture of a pouch that looks very similar to mine.
Test your blood sugar often too. For example, if you usually test your blood sugar twice a day, once when you wake up to measure fasting blood sugar and again before bed, bump that up to 3-4 times per day. Measure your fasting blood glucose levels, once after your mid-day meal, another time after dinner and/or exercise, and one more time before bed. Because you’ll be deviating from your usual meal plan, you’ll want to keep track of how foreign foods affect your blood sugar. Also, if these new foods have a positive effect on your blood glucose levels, you can remake those dishes at home and incorporate them into your diet. Win-win!
4. Exercise often, especially after dinner
This shouldn’t be too hard because I assume you’ll be walking the majority of the time while seeing new sites at your destination. Walking has a profound effect on blood sugar. Whenever I travel, I cover as much ground on foot as possible and don’t use public transportation unless I have to -- probably because my feet have been aching from walking. The last time I visited Paris, I walked nearly everywhere. I remember walking from the Champs-Élysées to the Eiffel Tower and back to Opera. I stopped at different restaurants, cafes, and shops and weaved through the alleyways to take me off the beaten path. Hours later, not only had I seen some of the best parts of the city but I considered it to be a good sightseeing workout.
5. Share dishes or desserts if possible
Depending on where you go, the portion sizes may be bigger than what you’re used to at home. In my experience, appetizer and dessert portions are small and no bigger than the size of my hand. However, main courses vary. Pasta and rice-based dishes usually have more than the recommended serving of carbs for diabetics. So, if possible, ask for half a serving or share with the person with you. Psst..I’m not going to tell you to stay away from the dinner bread servers bring after you sit down. What I will tell you is to keep it to one or two slices of bread, any bread, including garlic bread.
Traveling with diabetes isn’t inconvenient or that much different than managing it at home. It’s all about remembering when to take your medication, taking it consistently, and knowing when you need to take extra medication. At the end of the day, have fun, enjoy your vacation and all of the culinary discoveries visiting a new city provides.