Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes – Parents: Always Be Prepared

Traveling with DiabetesTraveling with children means planning ahead. It can feel a little more complicated when your child has type 1 diabetes. Families managing diabetes have more to prepare for than the average family.

Kids with type 1 diabetes can do anything other kids can – sleepovers, road trips, or travel abroad. You just need to be ready with a game plan for the what ifs.

Changes in routine and activity can change your child’s blood sugars and therefore insulin needs. Of course, what goes into preparing for a sleepover is different than planning for three weeks in Spain. The first thing to think about is the type trip you’re taking: how remote the location is, how much physical activity there will be, how meals and snack will change, and what the general level of excitement or stress might be. Next, make a list of supplies and contact information you will need on the trip based on the potential scenarios that may come up.

Heading to the beach? Pack a cooler to protect insulin from getting too hot. Headed to the ski slopes? Pack an insulated container to keep your insulin from getting too cold. Heading overseas? Help your child learn a few key phrases in the native language, like “I need sugar/juice.”

It’s also a smart to talk to your child’s diabetes team ahead of time to discuss any additional management plans. Your doctor can provide a letter explaining that diabetes supplies and carb-containing snacks are necessary for your child to carry with them at all times. We hear from families that this is great to have on-hand in case airport security staff aren’t familiar with diabetes. Another important thing about travelling by plane is to bring your supplies in your carry-on bag. Do not leave your supplies in your checked luggage! Flights do not always follow to a predictable schedule and you may need to check a sugar or give insulin while you are still on the plane, even if the flight was only scheduled to last one hour.

A little planning ahead can go a long way. In case of illness or supply issue, bring along doctors, clinics and pharmacies along your travel route. Even if you have a pump, it’s important to know where to find syringes in case your pump stops working. Plug your diabetes team phone number into your phone so you have that available in a pinch (UW Pediatric Diabetes 608-263-6420). Add the UW Pediatric Diabetes website to your favorites on your mobile tablet or phone so you can access frequently asked questions that come up.

As far as what supplies to pack, here’s a general list to get you started. I recommend packing double the supplies you would normal use, just in case things get lost or an unexpected issue comes. Again, if you are flying these items should be packed in a carry-on bag.

  • Insulin and delivery system. Even if your child has a pump or pen, it’s important to bring basic supplies like syringes with you on your trip in case of failure, or other issues.
    • Rapid-acting insulin (novolog, humalog or apidra)
    • Long-acting insulin (lantus or levemir)
    • Syringes
    • Sharps container
    • When relevant: Pen and pen needles; Pump and extra infusion sets and batteries
  • Testing supplies
    • Blood sugar meter (glucometer)
    • Blood sugar test strips
    • Lancets
    • Ketone strips. Check ketones if your child is sick or if you see multiple sugars in a row that are much higher than usual
  • Identification and paperwork
  • Fast acting carbs for low sugars (glucose tabs, juice, etc.)
  • Snacks (complex carbs and proteins)
  • Glucagon kit for extreme lows (consider adding this Glucagon App to your phone for step-by-step instructions in case an emergency)

Once you’re on your travel adventure, consistent monitoring is crucial. Even though finger pokes aren’t fun, it’s important to check your child’s blood sugar more often than usual while you are adjusting to the excitement of travel. Hiking, splashing at a waterpark or exploring a new city on foot may be more activity than children are used to and can affect blood sugar levels. Many families find that amusement parks, with all the added fun and variety of foods, lead to lower blood sugars. Others may find a relaxing vacation lead to higher sugars, with less physical activity than usual. Either way, the key is to be checking the blood sugars and adjusting the insulin regimen based on the new blood sugar trends you see. Finally, changing time zones can also affect timing of insulin regimen. Jet lag can make it hard to identify highs or lows by symptoms alone.

It takes some extra work, but if you have a plan, you can travel anywhere you want. Be prepared: bring extra supplies, bring a list of emergency numbers just in case and of course, bring on the fun!

What’s one thing you always take on vacation with you?

12 comments

  • Jenifer Neumaier

    We don’t travel far, our daughter is only 3, but this seems to sum up a good list of necessities.

  • We still have one in diapers, so we have to take those and wipes. Wipes have become a necessity in our household. I think they are easier on the skin than a wet paper towel.

  • I have been a T1 for many years and a good item for low blood sugars is Fig Newtons (but carry them in a hard container; get crushed in a baggie). If wearing a pump, very important to bring syringes and Lantus in case your pump fails and to have all your basals written down somewhere. I put mine in my phone and on paper in my glucose meter case.

  • I have 2 kids ages 10 and 15. My son has been a Type 1 Diabetic since the age of 6. From diagnosis, we have been encouraging him and telling him that he is no different than any other kid. At age 8 he started playing baseball and practicing for summer track throwing shot put at the same time. He and his older sister made regionals in track that year, both in shot.

    Since then they have both added javelin to their summer track program, and she added discus. They have competed at not only regionals, but nationals as well. My daughter also plays volleyball in the fall while my son plays football. They both do curling in the winter. Come Spring my daughter starts track and we start gearing up for summer track and practicing.

    This year will be our first year flying not only with a diabetic, but the first time ever, as they will both be competeing at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Club Nationals.

    Traveling with a diabetic athlete has been tricky! It’s hard to narrow down just one thing we have learned to not travel without aside from his supplies, but one item is the Frogg type chill towels. It helps keep both athletes cool and also helps keep the insulin from spoiling in the heat (we pack everything in coolers). We carry around 4 towels at least to switch out as needed. We also pack plenty of Gatorade and water to keep everyone hydrated.

    Happy travels!

  • Kristin Mackintosh

    My husband is T1 and we have a son who is almost 3. My husband enjoys talking to my son about his T1 and my son loves to help give daddy his medicine. Even though my son has not been diagnosed w/T1 I love that my husband educates him about it. Who knows maybe one day he will be able to help another kid in his class that has T1.
    We always travel with some back up sugar. Lately my husband’s sugar of choice is a box of raisins.

  • We always have to bring water bottles, snacks, and travel games on our vacations!

  • Plenty of healthy snacks

  • Children’s pain reliever and other medicines, you always need it when you least expect it!

  • Thanks for the great list, Dr. Alli! We got to see you a couple times while our son Evan, with monogenic diabetes, was seeing Dr. MacDonald! Hope you are doing well! Evan is doing great! He’s two now, and still on Glyburide. But for travel away from home we do have to pack all of the insulin and syringes in case of emergency. So thanks for the great tips!

    Shana Johnson

    • Oh, and some things we always take with us: cooler or cooler lunch bag with ice packs to keep meds cool ( we have been in hotel rooms where the little fridges don’t work! so glad we bring the cooler to fill with ice), lots of wipes to clean hands, healthy snacks so if meals are off schedule we can still offer something healthy that won’t throw blood sugars off too much either way, and apple sauce pouches are good for low blood sugars for our two year old who doesn’t love to drink juice yet.

    • Dr. Ali Pollock

      So glad to hear how well things are going for Evan – thanks for adding your experience to the blog comments – it helps a lot! Hope to see you soon.
      Best,
      Dr. Ali Pollock

  • Dr. Ali Pollock

    I’m so glad to hear all the great additional ideas and advice and am delighted to hear that some familiar families are doing so well! It definitely takes a village and I know that there are many families out there reading that are so appreciative of hearing from you in addition to the scoop from the blog!

    If you have more questions you’d like answered, check out our Frequently Asked Questions page – http://uwhealthkids.org/diabetesFAQ – and click the link to “Send another question to our Pediatric Diabetes specialists.” I’d love to get more of YOUR questions answered!