Before You Travel with T1D

Pre-Travel Tips for families traveling with the diabetes dragon

Michelle MacPhee, Diabetes-Mom
Creator/Co-founder of Waltzing the Dragon

Travelling can be stressful for anyone. Travelling with a child with diabetes can add additional worry: 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 airport security? Will they let me bring juice on board the plane? What if my child gets sick while we are away and blood sugars are out of control?

But with a little advance planning and prep, you can prevent common pitfalls and have a great, stress-free time away from home. I have travelled with my son, who has type 1 diabetes, on many occasions and have had great experiences, with minimal diabetes-related issues.

Here are some of the things that I did before our family left home, to smooth our path when travelling with the Diabetes Dragon:

What Can I Do Before We Travel?

  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • If you are travelling to a country where the timing of meals is different (for example, supper is eaten much later), you may want to contact your dietician to change the meal plan to work with local customs.

Expect the best but plan for the worst.

  • 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.
  • Buying Health Insurance for out-of-country travel is a wise move. Make sure the policy will cover diabetes-related sickness or emergency.

There will probably be some lows along the way.

  • 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. More info on using 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.

Sleep-Away Camp

  • For summer camp / sleep-away camp / a vacation at the grandparents... 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 Canada's D-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 Diabetes Canada for information about available d-camp opportunities.

For a smaller group experience on adventure trips with camp leaders who have type 1 diabetes themselves, I Challenge Diabetes offers some great opportunities in a number of provinces. Although they are not staffed with medical professionals, the camp leaders have first aid training, as well as extensive knowledge about + first hand experience with diabetes care and how to prevent and/or deal with diabetes-related emergencies. Here's more information directly from I Challenge Diabetes.


Tip from the Trenches

I could never convince my son to go to D-camp; he's an introvert who loves to be at home with his family. Then when he was 12 he went on a weekend camping/rafting trip with ICD in a small group and had an awesome experience, he came back a changed kid! He had fun with the physical activities, tried rafting for the first time and loved it, connected with the camp leaders, gained independence from his hovering parents, and came home with with more spring in his step, plus a new awareness that he is not alone with T1D - there is a whole community out there facing the same challenges that he does. Our family highly recommends ICD adventures.  ~Michelle

If Your Child Wears an Insulin Pump...

  • 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.
  • 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 outside your country of warranty.
  • The Alberta Children’s Hospital offers two handouts which may be helpful for pumpers when they travel. We suggest printing them off before you go and carrying them with you during your travels.
Children with T1D on Insulin Pump Therapy: Emergency Room Guidelines (from AB Children's Hospital)

Diabetes Aside...

  • 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.

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.