Travelling with Type 1 Diabetes

Bonnie’s Story: Travelling with diabetes has been a big part of my life.

Living with diabetes for 50 years, I can’t say I have turned down many adventures. I have traveled extensively for pleasure and business. It takes some planning, although for me it has been worth every adventure. Living with type 1 diabetes does become second nature.

I have travelled for business and pleasure with family, friends, and on my own. I have traveled by train, planes and automobiles, and sometimes all of these in one day. The last eight years we have wintered in Huatulco, Mexico. One of the big learning experiences I encountered, the first winter I packed all of my medication in my carry-on-bag…..while boarding the flight they may say we will gate check your bag and will be available at your destination. Checked means going into an unheated cargo compartment. Never let anyone take your bag with your medication and do not ever place your medication in your checked suitcase.  When I arrived in Huatulco I had all my medication for a five month stay. In figuring out my requirements, I calculate what I take and then I always add extra.

You may think, I can purchase what I need in Mexico or any other country you are travelling to, you do not want to count on this. Well, I am here to tell you the type of insulin that is used in Canada is not available in Mexico and in checking on a testing machine and test strips for that machine was not available.

My neighbour in Mexico is a doctor and he went to the pharmacy to ask about the medication that I use to see it could be brought into Huatulco from Mexico City. I found out NO it is not available. Traveling to larger centers in Mexico, I also checked on the insulin and test strips, you can at times find test strips, although you can seldom find the testing meters. The moral of the story is always be prepared to have everything with you. If you use an insulin pen make sure the needle is not on the insulin pen while flying as the insulin will leak due to the pressurization on the aircraft.

Dream big!   

Thoughts Become Things– Mike Dooley

Don’t ever think you will not be able to do all the things that you have dreamed of doing because of Type 1 diabetes.

Things that have Worked for Me:

A few things that have worked for me, if you would like to share the things that have worked for you, it would be great to hear from you. Living with diabetes has given me the ability of being a detailed person….not in a bad way.

Spending 23 years working in aviation gave me lots of practice. The first thing aviation taught me, was to check all my diabetic supplies the night before, and double check the flight departure time.

Being prepared has been a good thing for me, allowing the flexibility to enjoy so many things in life. I have noted a few scenarios below. You have to keep in mind the climate you are travelling in as the temperature range is important for you Insulin, glucose meter and test strips.

Everyday Travel Kit – (Goes Everywhere With Me – see picture below)

  • Glucose tablets – I like the Dex 4® dextrose tablets, I have a package in my purse, gym bag, travel bag, beach bag etc. Each tablet has 4 grams of carbohydrates, this way I can treat my low and know exactly what I have taken for carbohydrates.
  • Insulin – I use: NovoRapid® Penfill®, injected with the Novolin-Pen® Junior and Levemir® Penfill®, injected with the Novolin-Pen® 4. Check the amount of insulin remaining in my pen and pack an extra cartridges if needed.
  • Needles for Insulin pens.
  • Glucose meter – I am currently using the ACCU-CHECK® AvivaI really like the size of the screen, the numbers are easy to read, even when you are enjoying a bright sunny day.
  • Test strips – check amount left in the container and pack a second container if needed.
  • Lancet device and extra lancets.
  • Extra battery for glucose meter.
  • Medication(s) if applicable.
  • Snacks – I carry fruit snacks in my purse – they are small and easy to carry.
  • Medical alert bracelet on and additional information card in my wallet.
  • Health card and/or travel insurance card applicable for your health care coverage, in my wallet.

Everyday Travel Kit

Day Trip – Driving:

  • Everyday travel kit (shown above).
  • Pack a lunch and snacks, a small cooler or thermal lunch bag works great.  Depending on the time of year you may need an ice pack.
  • Water, coffee and Juice.
  • I do plan for an unexpected overnight and then you do not have to worry about not having what you need.
  • Extra meter in my overnight case, I take it out of the box and pack it in a plastic bag with an extra lancet device, control solution if applicable to your meter. If it is not the same as the meter you are currently using make sure you have test strips and batteries.

Air Travel with Type 1 Diabetes:

Depending on where you are traveling by air, you may require documentation to carry certain medication(s). Always check on the current visa requirement as things can change.  In most countries you are not permitted to bring a beverage or liquids of a certain size through security. It is very important for all medication to stay in the original container. Do not ever assume you will be able to purchase the medication when you get to your destination. I know they have diabetics everywhere, although for an example, I winter in a foreign country and they do not have either type of insulin that I use.

  • Everyday travel kit (shown above) – I always take extra. Better to be safe than sorry.
  • I pack an extra glucose meter, when it decides to give you an “error” message, you do not want to be looking for another meter.
  • If on an insulin pump you will want to carry a backup pump and extra infusion sets.
  • Unexpected delays can happen, always plan for a possible overnight stay.
  • All medication will be packed in your carry on baggage, under no circumstances will you ever let your carry on bag be taken and stowed away from you. Always explain to the crew member that you have medication in your bag and it has to stay with you. Ensure they are aware It is temperature sensitive to hot and cold. All baggage compartments are not heated and your medication may freeze. The other problem your checked bag may be lost.

Day at the Beach:


  • Everyday travel kit (shown above).
  • Small cooler to hold your insulin, a frozen ice pack or I have found a product that I like called Frio® insulin cooling case
  • If you meter gets to hot or cold it will not work, so you want to make sure it is in the cooler, although not right next to the icepack.
  • Water and snacks for sure. A picnic lunch or a plan of a restaurant at the beach.
  • Beach shoes, I like my Teva’s, they strap on and I can go in the water, hiking or walking on the beach. I’m pretty careful about wearing shoes, I really don’t want an unexpected foot injury.
  • Of course you will want all the other things to protect you from the sun and all the fun things for the beach.

Day on the Boat:

  •  Everything as shown under a day at the beach. I use a water proof bag for my everyday travel kit so if I fall in the water or my bag falls in to the water, everything is still useable.
  • Lets face it being diabetic you need to know when your next meal will be.  Depending on the flexibility that you have with your regime will help you plan what you need to take for your meal(s).
  • Lots of activity, hot weather and heading out for the day with friends is always fun.  A little extra planning will allow you to live an active healthy life.

Extra Notes:

  • Travel insurance for all out of the country travel. Make sure your plan will cover an existing condition.
  • Check what is required for the country you are travelling to in regards to carrying medical supplies with you.
  • Clearing customs – carry a letter from your doctor saying you are diabetic and you will be carrying medication, syringes/needles etc.
  • Always carry medication in the original package. This includes your pills and vitamins.
  • Always remove the needle from your Insulin pen prior to flying as the insulin will leak out of the needle due to the pressurization on the aircraft.
  • At school when I was young the teacher would keep my everyday kit for me.

Travel Safe

Thanks Bonnie

Disclaimer – This website does not provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. All content on type 1 diabetes treatment website is for informational purposes and is the personal experience and opinion of the author. Always seek the advice of a licensed physician with you medical questions and concerns. © 2015

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