In addition to your typical packing rituals, take extra time to sort medications and doctor’s paperwork. There is nothing quite as annoying as having to dig through a pile of medications while on a cramped flight. Shelby divides her pills into snack-sized zip-top bags and labels each “breakfast” or “dinner.” If she’s going to be on a plane when she needs to take her morning pills, she throws one of the “breakfast” bags into her purse. The she stores the bags with her suitcase when she gets home, and they are ready to be filled for the next trip. A suitcase with lots of pockets can also help with organization. For pens and vials, you might want to consider a FRIO Insulin Cooling Pouch (affiliate link). I’ve never personally used one, but the reviews are good. Keeping my medical-related items organized eases my stress.
2. Eat before you go
Wake up earlier and take time to cook or stop for a healthful, blood sugar stabilizing meal before your trip. Personally, I like to get to the airport and through security early, then relax at a good restaurant near my gate. Double-check, online, what dining establishments are offered in the airport and when they open/close, otherwise you might be left with a choice between Cinnabon or McDonald’s! Look for places that serve eggs, fresh fruit, and whole grain breads that will keep your glucose levels steady for a longer period of time. Restaurants like Panera Bread offer excellent choices.
3. Grab snacks for the plane ride
You can’t bring food through security but, once you get to your gate, there will be shops that offer snacks. You’ll need to weed out the junk food, like candy bars and chips, but better choices are usually available. Alison C. Berg, PhD and Registered Dietician Nutritionist at the University of Georgia suggests pre-packaged granola or protein bars that fit into your diabetic meal plan.
“Look for bars that provide at least 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber with your carbs,” says Berg. This will prevent blood sugar spikes. What if you are literally having to run to your gate and have to skip shopping? (True story, by the way.) “In the air, choose the peanuts for a snack.” Peanuts are filled with nutrients, fiber, and protein. I’ve learned that, if you are nice and explain your condition, most flight attendants will gladly slip you a few extra packs.
4. Drink water
Granted, it’s a complete pain to use the restroom on a plane. The lines, cramped space, and horribly timed turbulence make for a “less than pleasant” experience. However, it’s way too easy to get dehydrated while traveling, which results in high glucose numbers, followed by further worsened dehydration. Take every opportunity to hydrate in the air and on the ground even though bathroom visits may be inconvenient. When the flight attendant rolls the cart around, Berg suggests opting for regular or sparkling water. I like to order fresh lemon with sparkling water or tomato juice, which is great for a little extra nutrition (be careful if you’re watching sodium, though). As an added bonus, staying hydrated and frequently having to get up greatly reduces the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and Pulmonary Embolism (PE).
5. Plan before eating out
You can definitely enjoy eating at unique restaurants at your destination, just do a little nutrition research first.
“Fast food restaurants with at least 20 locations must provide nutrition information for all menu items to customers,” said Berg. “Use this information to see the carb counts of your favorite foods.” I usually find myself at mom and pop joints that don’t offer nutrition information, so what then? “Choose what I call single food items, i.e. steak, fish, or chicken that come with sides. These tend to be lower in carbohydrates than mixed dishes like sandwiches, burritos, and pastas,” said Berg. Just make sure your sides aren’t mashed potatoes and mac & cheese!
6. Incorporate exercise
It’s doubtful you’ll hit the gym while on your trip. Good for you if you seek out a hotel with a fitness center and have that discipline, though! Don’t pass up everyday opportunities for a little movement such as parking far away from the door, walking whenever you can, taking a five-minute stretch break, jogging up the stairs, or fitting in a little light yoga. These are super easy, quick ways to get the blood flowing. Exercise improves blood sugar levels and helps manage stress.
7. Indulge in a spa treatment
If you have a spare hour, dash to the nearest spa. Higher-end hotels have pretty decent spas that offer 30 to 60 minute massages. Some airports even offer neck massages. Massage reduces stress, increases blood flow, and has been proven to improve blood sugar control. So this isn’t an indulgence, it’s completely necessary! You now have a legitimate excuse for a spa day. (You’re welcome.)
8. Consider life simplifying gadgets
My continuous glucose monitor, or CGM, changed my life and decreased travel hassle. Balancing a pouch and a tube of strips in your lap is challenging. Let’s not even get into the sanitary issues of pricking your finger on a dirty plane and disposing of bloody tissues. It’s tempting to skip blood glucose checks, leading to uncorrected levels that cause more than a hiccup. A Dexcom CGM sensor (affiliate link) can be worn for an entire week, only needing a couple of calibrations here and there. Keep in mind these devices have a few minute delay on reading, but will indicate which direction things are heading. It can be a game changer on a long flight or during never-ending business meetings.
If you travel a lot, you will become more comfortable and skilled every time you hit the road. You’ll discover your own methods and tricks that will make travel not only easier, but fun. Diabetes is tricky, but don’t let it hold you back. If you’re able to see the world while you work, enjoy it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karyn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic who has been educating herself about health and wellness for 14 years. She has been an Emergency Medical Technician for 5 years and is now studying to become a Health and Wellness Specialist. Her aspiration in life is to bring helpful information to those seeking to be as healthy as they can be.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice. Always discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes with your doctor first.