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Diabetes and Travel

Travelling can be stressful for anyone. Travelling with a child with diabetes can add additional pressType 1 diabetes and travelure: If my child has a low blood sugar, will we have access to a suitable low treatment? What if we run out of diabetes supplies? What if we run into problems at the airport? Will they let me bring juice on board the plane? Can I bring syringes on board? What if my child gets sick while we are away and blood sugars are out of control?
Tasks that you may worry about at home seem more daunting when your routine is altered and you’re in an unfamiliar place. Even tasks that are second-nature at home may seem intimidating away from home.

The good news is that with a little advance planning and preparation, a trip away from home can be enjoyable and relatively stress-free. I (Michelle) have travelled with my son (who has diabetes) on more than one occasion, and have had great experiences with minimal diabetes-related issues. Planning is key. 

Here are some tips to smooth your path when travelling with the Diabetes Dragon:

Before You Go:

  • Plan ahead. Anticipate what you and your child may need by imagining a typical day of travel, as well as a typical day at your destination.
  • Visit your child’s doctor well in advance of your trip. Discuss your vacation plans with your health care team to work out a plan that is individualized for your family. Blood glucose levels can be affected by the change in activity levels, as well as by the increased level of excitement/stress that your child may experience, so you may want to consult your doctor for advice on adjusting insulin doses.
  • If you are traveling across more than 4 times zones, provide your diabetes nurse educator with your travel itinerary so that your child’s insulin dose can be adjusted for travel. Send this information at least 2 weeks before your departure date.
  • Ask your child’s doctor for a travel letter saying that your child has diabetes and requires insulin. It’s also wise to get an updated prescription for insulin and other diabetes supplies in case of an emergency. Insulin supplies that you can easily access at home may require a prescription in other countries.
  • If you are travelling to a country where the timing of meals is different (for example, supper is eaten much later), you may see your dietician to change the meal plan to work with local customs.
  • Share your itinerary with friends or family members both at home and at your destination (if applicable). Leave copies of important documents (prescriptions, doctor’s letters, contact information for doctor and pump company) with someone at home in case of emergency.
  • For sleep-away/summer camp and related events, make any special accommodations for your child well in advance. Speak to camp counsellors, coaches, relatives, friends ahead of time to be sure you and/or your child will have enough support wherever you go. If you’re not comfortable with the level of support, consider changing your plans. Diabetes camps (for kids, or for your whole family) are available in most provinces and are a great opportunity for your child to be part of a community of kids who “get it” (with medical staff present for your peace of mind). Check with your child’s diabetes health care team or the Canadian Diabetes Association for information about available camp opportunities.
  • Buying Health Insurance for out-of-country travel is a very wise move. Make sure the policy will cover diabetes-related sickness or emergency. If your health care policy does not cover diabetes, consider buying travel insurance through contacts established by Diabetes Canada (formerly the Canadian Diabetes Association).
  • Make a plan for the treatment of moderate or severe low blood glucose. Get a prescription for a Glucagon Emergency Kit, and carry it with you on your travels. (For more information on the use of Glucagon, see  Basics/Severe Lows/Glucagon.)
  • Check your stock of diabetes supplies at least 2 weeks before you travel. This will give you time to order sufficient supplies for your trip if needed, so you are not scrambling at the last minute. You may also find it helpful to make sure you have enough supplies at home to cover your first week (or more) after your trip, to prevent urgent need to restock in your first few (often chaotic) days after your return home.
  • If your child wears an insulin pump, and if you are travelling by air and thus will be subject to airport security screening, consult the pump company to see whether your pump can safely be exposed to x-ray equipment.
  • Check with a travel vaccination specialist to see if your child has all the relevant vaccinations for your destination. This is particularly important if you are visiting a developing country.
  • Check travel advisories for your destination before you go. Knowing about potential delays may help you avoid stressful situations. If you know there is a high likelihood of delays, you may choose to pack differently, or change your plans altogether.
  • If your child wears an insulin pump, the Alberta Children’s Hospital offers two handouts which may be helpful:
  1. Coming Off Your Insulin Pump” outlines how to transition back to injections for the duration of your trip in case you experience irresolvable problems with your child’s pump.
  2. Children with Type 1 Diabetes on Insulin Pump Therapy: Guidelines for Emergency Room Management” is a document you can give to medical professionals away from home who may be unfamiliar with insulin pump therapy, to guide them in their treatment should you need to seek medical attention during your travels.
  • Your pump company may offer a “loaner” pump that you may choose to take with you in case you experience irresolvable pump difficulties while travelling.

Other Travel Resources:

  • International Travel Clinic (Alberta Health Services) located in Calgary, Alberta, offers travel-related health advice and travel vaccines. Similar travel clinics exist in Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and in other provinces... contact your local provincial health authority for more information.
  • Travel and Tourism Canada / Voyage et Tourisme is a Government of Canada website which offers a wide range of travel information, including trip planning, travel advisories, news bulletins, country information, passports/VISA’s, Tips on Travelling with Children and FAQ on Medical Matters.

Comments? Feel free to Contact Us.

The above information was significantly modified with permission from The Alberta Children’s Hospital Diabetes Clinic information handouts.

The above information was reviewed for content accuracy by clinical staff of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Diabetes Clinic.

This material has been developed from sources that we believe are accurate, however, as the field of medicine (in particular as it applies to diabetes) is rapidly evolving, the information should not be relied upon, as it is designed for informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of medical advice, instruction and/or treatment. If you have specific questions, please consult your doctor or appropriate health care professional.

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