Travel & Diabetes

Having diabetes shouldn’t limit you from seeing new sights or experiencing new adventures.

The idea of travelling to far off destinations, experiencing new climates and new foods – and possibly crossing different time zones – may seem overwhelming if you are living with diabetes.

However, careful planning can help your trip go smoothly.

There are several things to consider before you go.

Your diabetes management and general health. What to pack. Travel insurance. Available food choices. And any special requirements for flying.

Whether you are travelling by plane, train, boat or motor vehicle, within Australia or overseas, here are some tips to help make you travel as safe and hassle-free as possible.

Preparing for your trip

Talk to you Doctor. If you are planning on travelling for an extended period, talk to your Doctor or Diabetes Educator about your travel plans.

This may include a discussion on any vaccinations that you may require and preparing a plan for how to adjust the times and doses of your medications if you are travelling in different time zones.

Carry a doctor’s letter if travelling overseas

Ask your Doctor to write a letter outlining your medical condition, current medications (including dosage and how often you take them) and any equipment and devices that you may need to use for your diabetes (such as blood glucose meter, lancets, insulin pen/syringes and pumps) that you will require and should carry with you at all times.

Take several copies of this letter or have it available on an electronic device, such as smart phone, should you be required to present it at security or medical services.

It may also be important to think about whether the letter may need to be translated into the language of your destination.

Click here to visit the ‘Google Translate’ website.

Medical supplies

Speak to your Doctor or Diabetes Educator about your National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) allowance for supplies.

Estimate what medication, test strips, insulin and syringes you will require for your entire trip and pack more than you think you will need.

Ensure that the date on your supplies does not expire while you are away, as this may also result in some costly out-of-pocket expenses.

If you use an insulin pump, some companies may loan you a pump while you are travelling. Otherwise it is very important to have a backup plan in case the pump fails.

Ensure that you have contact details of relevant manufacturers should you require advice while travelling.

Travel insurance

Make sure your travel insurance covers any pre-existing conditions, and all medical expenses for injury or illness as well as covering for damage and theft of valuables, and any cancellations to flight plans.

Important: Should you become ill, a general insurance policy will not cover you for pre-existing medical conditions.

Click here to visit the ‘Smart Traveller’ website.

Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCA)

The Australian Government has arrangements with a number of countries providing travellers with benefits similar to Medicare.

But these are normally only for emergency treatment arising from your visit and do not replace your need for travel insurance.

Check that the countries you are travelling to have a RHCA with Australia.

Visit: Reciprocal Health Care Agreements

In transit

The airport

Airports should not pose a problem for people living with diabetes.

However, there have been concerns regarding the effects of security screening (x-ray and body scanners) on insulin pumps.

If you are currently using an insulin pump and/or a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device, it is recommended that you contact the manufacturer of the particular pump for advice.

It is also recommended that you contact the airline in regard to using the device on board the aircraft.

Important: Ensure you have supporting documentation confirming your medical condition and need for supplies.

Click here for more information about airport security and insulin pumps.

Equipment & storage

All diabetes equipment is best placed in the seat pocket in front of you. And don’t forget to take your supplies with you when exiting the plane.

Important: Carry all essential equipment and medications in your hand luggage and within reach.

Insulin storage

Insulin vials (pre-filled pens or insulin cartridges) either opened or unopened, generally last for one month when stored at room temperature. Any excess insulin should be kept in the refrigerator.

Storing insulin in your checked-in luggage is not recommended. It risks exposure to freezing temperatures and could damage the insulin, and is not recommended.

Investing in an insulated bag to keep your insulin cool is a good idea. Otherwise contact your airline to discuss storage of insulin for longer trips.

Important: When travelling overseas, insulin needs to be in pharmacy-labelled packaging and stored correctly.

Sharps disposal

Disposing of sharps is also important when travelling.

Some airport/aircraft restrooms and some hotels have complimentary sharps containers, however some do not. Carry a travel-size sharps container with a lid to dispose of your sharps responsibly.

Eating while travelling

While travelling, try to maintain your normal diet and continue monitoring your carbohydrate intake.

Always wait until your meal is in front of you before you have any insulin or oral medications that may cause a hypoglycaemic event.

If there are not enough carbohydrates served with your meal, ask for extra.

Keep some additional carbohydrate snacks on hand that can be used to supplement or replace your meal if necessary.

Important: Ensure you keep hydrated when travelling – and avoid local water in certain countries. Bottled drinking water is best.

Travel insurance

Arrange your travel insurance about three months before departure, both for you and your belongings.

The Australian Government has arrangements with a number of countries providing travellers with benefits similar to Medicare, but these are typically only for acute or emergency care.

Important: Make sure your accident and health cover applies to pre-existing conditions and the places you will visit.

What to pack

When packing your bags for your trip away here are a few things you should consider:

  • Include a small approved sharps container. Many hotels and airports offer a sharps disposal service for your used lancets and syringes
  • Extra batteries for glucometer and pump if required
  • Extra Pens if using insulin or insulin pump, in case your pump stops
  • Estimate what medication, test strips, insulin and syringes you will need for the entire trip and pack more than you think you will need in case of loss or damage
  • If possible, pack a spare meter
  • If you are taking insulin or diabetes tablets, carry some form of quick acting carbohydrate, such as glucose tablets or jelly beans in case of a ‘hypo’ plus some biscuits or dried fruit
  • EXTRA PRECAUTION – Pack clearly written details of your next of kin or family member.

Helpful links

Information sheets

Online courses