Traveling with Type 1 Diabetes – Parents: Always Be Prepared
Traveling 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)
- 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
- 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?