I usually suggest to my patients that they start early in the season when planning summer travel. Whether you are going on a quick overnight trip or a two week holiday abroad, being prepared is the best advice for success. I want to offer some general travel tips as well as those specific to patients with diabetes. No matter what your budget or time frame, a summer getaway can refresh the mind and body!
General travel tips:
- Start by researching regions of interest and make it a joint decision when traveling with others. You do not have to plan out all of the specifics, but being prepared will eliminate headaches. Trip expectations should be reasonable and shared so no one is disappointed.
- When staying local, or on an overnight car trip, make sure to stop every 2-3 hours for a quick stretch. Walk around for about 10-15 minutes. Pack nutritious snacks or sandwiches if you decide not to stop for meals.
- When flying, make sure you pack a functional kit containing products for a safe trip. Look for small packaging which is now easier to find in most chain stores. Your kit should include sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30, bug spray, 1% cortisone cream, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content, antacid and anti-diarrheal medication for upset stomachs and motion sickness products. Also include lubricating eye drops, cough drops, Tylenol or Advil products for aches and pains or fever, anti-biotic ointment, anti-histamine for allergies and a digital thermometer. It should not require a large amount of carry on space and you will be well prepared. Remember, if you are traveling close to home you can always grab these products as needed if you run out.
- On the plane, consider wiping down your immediate area with a disposable antiseptic cloth or wipe. Bring ear plugs or silencing head phones as well as an eye mask which may help you sleep. Consider buying a blanket/pillow kit to stay comfortable and for you to keep.
- You should stay hydrated when on the plane and try to stick to plain water. Alcoholic beverages and tomato juice (sodium) will increase dehydration. Carry snacks in case airline food is unavailable. Keep exposed skin moisturized with white unscented lotion or cream since flying can cause dehydration. Get up and move around every hour. Do stretches in your seat. Wear support hose if you have a history of blood clots or swelling.
- When traveling abroad, check for information about which vaccinations and medications are needed – well in advance. Check CDC.gov or The World Health Organization for specific country guidelines. If you have disabilities, check ahead to see how you can get around without difficulty.
- When you arrive and are organized, search for the hotel fitness center or pool. Always stay active – even when traveling. Many chains now furnish fitness centers for their guests. Many people are active on trips but you should have a back up plan for inclement weather. Try bowling or the ice arena instead of a movie day. If your motel or hotel does not offer a fitness center try to use resistance bands which are light and easy to pack. Use water bottles as weights and walk the long corridors or take the stairs. Bring a jump rope or use a sturdy chair to do push ups or step ups. Check to see if your fitness center chain has a free pass to a local facility. Many hotels/motels offer a day or week pass to a local gym or Y center. Use gymticket.com to find a local gym. Local gyms may offer day passes at reduced rates. Find area parks with walking trails or bicycle rentals. Plan a day at the zoo or museum which requires walking. Find a walking tour to research the area. Consider an amusement park which makes you stay active. Plan a walk on the beach before you sit down to read a book. Bring pool shoes and sandals to keep feet safe, dry and covered. Try to include a 15 minute walk after dinner. Remember NOT to take an exercise break since it has so many positive benefits including: lowers blood pressure and blood sugar, lowers insulin resistance, supports bone health, immune system, and muscle tone and boosts circulation along with a positive sense of well being and quality of life.
- Pack clothing with a purpose. Think about SPF shirts or pants which may be more expensive, but are protective and may help prevent sun burn. Pack walking shoes which have been broken in and socks with extra cushioning. Always wear sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat. Pack exercise clothing that is easy to wash and dry. Pack shoes which can give you extra support on cobblestone streets or in buildings with multiple flights of stairs. Understand local customs before you pack shorts or sleeveless tops. Pack a wrap or sweater which will cover shoulders. You may need something to cover your head outside this country for religious reasons.
- Wear your seat belt in a taxi, car or bus. Stay seated when moving in a vehicle. Pack a small umbrella for inclement weather.
- Use antiseptic wipes on surfaces in hotel rooms – especially TV remotes and light switches.
- Try not to touch or rub your eyes, nose or mouth since all germs are introduced here. Cover any open wounds with a dressing or band-aid.
- Consider your eating choices: try local fare, which may include heavy grain breads with nuts and seeds. Local spices contain antioxidants. Try to keep fiber intake to 25-30 grams a day to keep your digestion regular. Stay hydrated. When abroad be careful about raw fruits, vegetables, fountain drinks mixed with local water and tap water. If you are uncertain, eat only fruits and vegetables with skins that can be peeled and drink water from sealed bottles. Use bottled water for brushing your teeth. Stick to well cooked foods. Watch out for local street food carts. Always make time for breakfast – even when you have an early morning planned. Grab crackers and cheese or fruit and an egg but do not skip breakfast; skipping breakfast only leads to worse choices later in the day. Carry “100 Calorie” snack bags – especially for a sweet tooth craving. Watch out for “all you can eat breakfast buffets”. Ask for substitutions when served fatty sauces and gravies, although some foreign countries do not honor these requests. Split main courses or eat 2 appetizers as a main course. Choose bean soup or minestrone. Try everything in moderation.
Specific diabetes traveling tips:
- Carry all medications, meter and insulin supplies with you at all times.
- Talk to your physician about insulin requirements when changing time zones.
- Have a written plan on physician letter head if you get sick. Be in touch with the US consulate if you need a physician in a foreign country who speaks English.
- Wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace. Have proper identification in your wallet. Keep a list of medication names, dosages and purpose in your wallet. Have an emergency contact in your phone.
- If abroad, bring enough U-100 syringes, since many other countries carry only U-40 or U-80 syringes which – will change the amount of insulin.
- Carry a small sharps disposal container.
- Have extra written prescriptions or use chain drug stores if traveling in the US.
- Take enough medication for one extra week in this country and two extra weeks if abroad.
- Check ahead and know what your health insurance will cover in another state or country.
- Carry glucose tablets and snacks at all times to correct and prevent hypoglycemia.
- Carry a Frio insulin cooler or container with ice to keep insulin from getting hot.
- Carry a glucagon kit and urine ketone testing kit if you have type 1 diabetes or are prone to forming ketones.
Summer is around the corner. Start planning your trip today because before you know it, fall will be here again. Enjoy!
NOTE: Consult your doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.