A guide to travelling with diabetes.

There are now around 5 million people living with diabetes in the UK. That is around 1 in every 14 people. The chances are you may be living with diabetes, or you have a family member, friend or colleague that is affected.

Diabetes of any type is a complex condition that requires 24/7, 365 days per year, round the clock self-management. It can be exhausting but whilst we can’t take a holiday from our diabetes, we can still take a holiday.

Travelling with diabetes means that we have more to think about before embarking on our journey. Being prepared well in advance of travel is key to a safe, healthy and happy experience.

Here is our guidance on how to plan for that long-awaited trip, whether to hot and sunny climates, or cool countries for chill-out time, by air, sea, rail or road, we hope this information will support you as you embark on your next adventure.


Woman Standing Beside Train

First up, when you’ve decided on your destination and your method of travel, check your airline or other operators’ website for specific guidelines for people living with diabetes, as you may need to complete forms ahead of your journey.

Check for specific health guidelines for the country that you are visiting. You can do this via https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Discuss your plans with your diabetes healthcare provider. It is important to be clear on any adjustments you might need to make to insulin injections, insulin pump or oral medications, especially when managing time zone differences. 

Consider the length of your trip and whether you will need insulin, oral medications or equipment to ensure you cover the planned trip allowing for unforeseen eventualities. It might be best to take 2-3 times more medication than you think you need plus spares/back-ups of devices or manual equipment. Discussing this with your healthcare professional will help you decide what you need.

It is advisable to check the insulin supply in your destination country if travelling abroad so that you know where you can obtain additional supplies in an emergency. You can usually find this information out from your insulin manufacturer’s website or by calling their helpline.

You’ll need a letter from your GP or diabetes healthcare provider saying that you have diabetes, detailing your medications and the medical equipment/supplies that you need to carry.

Taking a copy of a prescription is also a good idea in case you need further supplies whilst you’re away from home.

It is also helpful to download a medical device awareness card from the Civil Aviation Authority to support your doctor’s letter. This might help smooth the passage a little especially through airport security as it sets out the rules on screening if you’re using wearable devices https://bit.ly/CAAmdac

Some airports may provide lanyards for people with hidden disabilities. This helps them to identify those that might need some additional support or help as they travel through the airport. It may be worth contacting a customer support team at an airport you're travelling to, to ask whether they provide such lanyards.

Don’t forget your travel insurance! Whilst we hope your trip is safe and uneventful, it is important to ensure that you have adequate insurance to cover pre-existing medical conditions. In this post-covid19 world, it is also important to ask whether the insurance covers you for this whilst you’re travelling.

Time Differences

Airplane Cabin

Time differences can have an impact on diabetes management and control. You may need to adjust your insulin. This is something that you will have discussed in your pre-travel appointment with your diabetes healthcare provider including your travel details and local time on arrival in country of destination.

It is important to remember that when crossing different time zones, you may need to change settings manually on some insulin pumps. Smart phones should update date and time automatically, but if you’re using a FreeStyle Libre reader, you may need to adjust the time manually.

Always check the specific advice for your technology with the manufacturer before travel.  

If travelling to a hot country, it’s important to know that heat can damage your insulin and prevent it from working properly. To avoid this, carry your insulin in a coolbag and store it in your accommodation’s fridge but don’t let it freeze.

If travelling to a cold country, it’s important to know that insulin can freeze in extreme temperatures and can’t be used if it has been frozen. So, if you’re travelling to an extremely cold country, make sure you keep your insulin at room temperature by carrying it in a warm place.

Your Travel Checklist 

For your convenience, we have put together a DIABETES Travellers Checklist. This covers the essential points and will help you plan for a safe and enjoyable travel experience. It is great for recording important information and fits neatly into your purse, wallet or passport holder. REQUEST YOUR CARD NOW

image of the printed checklist

Hand Luggage

You should carry all your diabetes medication, equipment, and supplies in your hand luggage. Insulin should not be put in hold baggage where it could become damaged by the cold environment or lost. Sensors and device spares should also not be put in hold baggage as they can be damaged by hold baggage x-rays.

It is advisable to split medications between different bags in case of loss of luggage. If travelling with a partner, you may be able to distribute across their luggage too. The key is to be prepared for any eventuality, delay or loss. Don’t forget plenty of hypo treatments, snacks and your diabetes identification.

Airport Security 

Airport Security

Your GP or diabetes healthcare provider’s letter should clearly state all the medications that you are taking, as well as any essential equipment, devices, or sharps that you need. Your airline may request this information and you may also need to show it as you pass through airport security. Don’t forget there are limits on how much liquid you can take in hand luggage, although this is currently under review.

It is advisable to let the security officer know that you are wearing diabetes technology and carrying medication before you place your bags through a scanner, or walk through a scanner yourself. 

Don’t forget to download the Medical Device Awareness card from the Civil Aviation Authority which may be helpful when passing through security. It clearly sets out guidance for the security officer. You should not be asked to remove a medical device from your body for screening purposes and you can request an alternative method of screening, such as a ‘pat-down’. 

If you have an Insulin Pump or are using CGM or flash glucose monitor devices, it is sensible to visit the manufacturer’s website before travelling for advice on your specific device/s as not all diabetes technology can go through airport security checks safely. These items can be used during travel by using Bluetooth and ensuring your phone is on airplane mode.

Maintain Healthy Habits

Whilst travelling, you should maintain healthy eating and drinking habits but be aware that the types of foods you usually eat may not be readily available. Ensuring that you have plenty of snacks to top up with is essential whilst in transit. Check travel guides and online resources for dietary information at your destination.

If you are likely to be more active whilst on holiday, monitor your blood glucose levels and adjust diet/insulin in response to this.

Living with diabetes doesn’t mean that you’re more prone to travel-related illness, but the consequences can be more serious if it impacts on blood glucose control. For instance, vomiting can lead to low blood glucose levels and fever can lead to high blood glucose levels. Practice good food and water hygiene and follow sick day rules if necessary.

If travelling alone, you may wish to tell someone at your destination (ie. your hotel) that you have diabetes, in case you become unwell. Remember to wear or carry your diabetes identification.

Remember your suncream, even on more difficult and less obvious parts of the body, like backs of hands, ankles, necks etc., and avoid over exposure of sun. Especially, take care of your feet if you have neuropathy. Sunbathing can impact insulin absorption, which may increase the risk of hypos and hypers. You may need to monitor blood glucose levels more frequently and be ready to adjust your diet and/or insulin dosage.

Skiing Lesson

In cold weather, insulin absorption can be slower at first and then can increase as you get warmer through the day. This can cause hypos, as can being too cold and shivering when your body will be using more energy to stay warm. It might be helpful to wear layers of clothing, so that you can put on and take off as necessary. You may need to monitor blood glucose levels more frequently and be ready to adjust your diet and/or insulin dosage. If you are going somewhere extremely cold, then don’t forget to check the manufacturers advice for blood glucose monitors and devices.

Most importantly, when you’re travelling and/or on holiday, you want to be able to enjoy yourself. By remembering your usual routines and preparing with as much information as possible ahead of your departure time, you should have a safe and exciting time away from home.

We hope you have a safe and enjoyable time away on holiday. 

Your Travel Checklist 

For your convenience, we have put together a DIABETES Travellers Checklist. This covers the essential points and will help you plan for a safe and enjoyable travel experience. It is great for recording important information and fits neatly into your purse, wallet or passport holder. REQUEST YOUR CARD NOW

image of the printed checklist

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