On the Road with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D)


Wages are up, gas prices are down. That means more of us will be traveling this summer. Travel can be as challenging as it is rewarding, especially for people with T1D.

According to David Kerr, M.D., Director of Research and Innovation at California’s William Sansum Diabetes Center, people with T1D are afflicted with wanderlust. A study he did in conjunction with the Type 1 Diabetes Exchange found that people with T1D are more likely to have a passport and travel abroad than the general population. For people with T1D who plan to travel this summer, he has some suggestions for staying healthy and safe while you’re on the road:


Dr. Kerr recommends that you start with your healthcare provider.

·         Get a letter saying that you have T1D. “It should say that you have T1D and need to carry on your medical supplies, including sharps like syringes, lancets and injection pens. It goes a long way to avoiding a hassle with security,” says Dr. Kerr.

·         If you’re traveling through multiple time zones, ask your doctor for guidance on adjusting your insulin dosing schedule. Dr. Kerr developed on online tool to help. Plug in your destination, travel times, and type of medication and the tool will advise you when to dose and when to check your blood-glucose.

·         Dr. Kerr says it’s especially important for people with long-standing T1D to have their feet checked for neuropathy, as lots of walking or hot sand can result in foot injuries that may escape notice until they become real problems.

Buy some travel insurance that covers pre-existing conditions to make sure costs are covered if you have to disrupt your trip due to illness. “Travel insurance is key,” says Dr. Kerr. “It would be a disaster to fall because of a low, break your leg and get hit with a huge hospital bill.” He also recommends that you research the area you’ll be visiting and identify local hospitals and pharmacies if you need one in an emergency, and learn how to say “I have diabetes” in the local language.


Dr. Kerr says you need to think realistically about what supplies you’ll need to cover the amount of time you’ll be away. That includes

·         Insulin

·         Syringes

·         Injector pens

·         Test Strips

·         Lancets

·         Emergency carbohydrates (glucose pills, juice, snack bars, etc.)

·         Emergency glucagon

·         Equipment including blood glucose meters, CGMs and insulin pumps

·         Copies of prescriptions for medications and devices

·         Keep all of the above, especially your insulin, in a carry-on bag. Medications should all be kept together in a clear plastic bag for screening. Do NOT store insulin or a CGM in checked luggage, which is subject to extreme temperatures in a cargo hold.

·         If you’re using an insulin pump, ask the manufacturer for a loaner to use as a back-up while you’re on the road.


·         Expect to take longer checking through security lines. Tell TSA agents if you’re wearing a pump and ask for a pat-down, rather than going through the scanner.

·         If you are alone, let people around you know that you have T1D so they can get medical help for you in an emergency.  Consider a medical alert bracelet or necklace.

Upon Arrival:

·         Consider renting a room refrigerator to store your insulin.

·         Identify accessible sources of emergency glucose, such as stalls or shops that sell juice, in case of an unexpected low.

·         Make sure to protect yourself from sunburn, digestive issues and dehydration, which can affect your glucose levels. Carry bottled water, sunscreen and an over-the-counter ant-nausea/anti-diarrheal medication.

·         Read menus carefully and be extra vigilant in monitoring your blood sugar. If you don’t know what’s in a local dish, ask so you can adjust your insulin accordingly.

Dr. Kerr says that having T1D should not be a barrier to seeing the world. “Travel allows people with T1D to have personal experiences they may have felt they could never achieve,” he says. “Being able to undertake travel’s challenges makes you appreciate how much you can do. I strongly encourage you to take up the challenge.”