Traveling with diabetes can be daunting at times. Our first family trip following our daughter’s diagnosis, I felt a little overwhelmed. I was very nervous, trying to think of everything we might need in anticipation of a diabetes emergency. I spent a lot of time double and triple checking all supplies, nervously calling in extra back-up to the pharmacy, and going back over everything we’d need with our endocrinology team. We actually had a big trip scheduled to Disney World the very weekend after she was hospitalized, but had to reschedule it to give ourselves time to get acclimated to life with the diagnosis. A few weeks later, we took the trip and joined our extended family at Disney, as we navigated our first ever vacation managing diabetes.
Now that we’ve been at this for almost three years, I rarely blink when packing for a road trip. I’ve got the routine pretty much down pat and have found some helpful tools and strategies that streamline the process. I thought I’d share some of these tips below. For your convenience, I have also attached a helpful checklist for you at the end of this post that summarizes everything you might need for a fantastic and stress-free trip.
First, let’s talk packing strategies. Here are some overall things to keep in mind when planning a big trip:
- Don’t keep all your supplies in one place. If you happen to lose or forget your bag on your trip, all medical supplies are gone. My worst fear is being away from home without insulin! I always keep back up (especially the insulin and a way to inject it) in different bags, in different places and on different people.
- Have one stocked small bag or backpack that you carry on you at all times that is separate from the rest of your extra supplies. For us, this is the same backpack our daughter takes wherever she goes even when we are not traveling. This keeps our habit built in, reducing the chance of forgetting our daily supplies when we are off of our normal routine. This bag is usually stocked with enough necessary supplies for a day’s outing, including assorted snacks, the emergency glucagon, and the insulin/blood sugar meter supplies.
- Always bring extra back-up of everything. This is a time where you do not want to scrimp on extra supplies. You never know when you may have a pump failure, a lost insulin pen that falls out of your bag, or a dead battery in your blood sugar meter. Anticipate glitches and plan accordingly. I usually bring enough supplies for our normal needs of the trip duration, plus 2-3 extra of every item.
Now, let’s talk about handy bags, cases and accessories that will keep your medical supplies organized. *Affiliate Disclaimer: This may include affiliate links where I get paid a commission for some recommendations. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
1. I prefer carrying a clear bag for some of our supplies to allow better ease through security protocols. Even if you are not flying, bag checks may still be required for entry to theme parks or stadium/concert events. A clear bag allows personnel to scan your items easier, sometimes expediting the security process faster and reducing unwanted confrontations. It also allows me to find things faster. In the event I have to use the emergency glucagon, I prefer not to have to rummage through our bags any longer than necessary. The clear bag I use was an easy purchase off Amazon and I find it has plenty of room for all our supplies and more.
2. To keep insulin cool on trips, we have a handy cooler that charges straight into our car. This way, we don’t even have to worry about stocking ice in a cooler and trying to keep our insulin from getting icy or wet. I then transfer the insulin to a hotel or condo fridge once we reach our destination. Plus, on the ride home, we never worry about having to reload the ice. You can shop this handy cooler right here on Amazon.
3. To keep any insulin pens you are carrying on you for the day, I recommend a Frio. With these handy little accessories, you activate the cooling process by wetting them about 10 minutes before use. They stay cool for 24 hours after wetting and are so much easier than carrying a cooler or ice pack around. These little guys roll up easily and fit in your purse, fanny pack or small bag. You can find the one I use here on Amazon, as well.
4. I’m sure by now, you have an insulin case. But, if you’re in the market for a new one or an extra, this case is one that offers many pockets and zippers to stay organized. I like that there is plenty of room for cotton swabs, lancets, and even a separate pouch for your blood sugar meter/supplies. The only downside to this case is it does not come with a freezer pack. Since I use the Frio, this is not an issue for us. I prefer the extra space and pockets this one has to offer.
Our daughter uses an insulin pump, which interacts with her blood sugar monitor. Therefore, we have to think about all the pieces she needs for possible set and sensor changes while on the trip. I calculate where we are at in the 3-day pump set change and 10-day sensory change cycles. That helps me calculate how many set/sensor changes we will make on the trip. Then, I always add enough supplies for 2-3 more changes of each on top of that.
The most important item of all is, of course, the insulin. We use vials for the pump, but then we always have pens handy by prescription, if need be in case of pump issues. If we don’t have any pens in stock in the fridge, I fill our prescription for them in advance of the trip to bring with us as back-up. Keep in mind that when switching from the pump insulin to pens, you have to have longer-lasting insulin, as well. Since this is not something we use in general with the pump, it could be easy to forget to fill prescriptions for both the fast-acting insulin as well as the long-lasting.
Along with the insulin pens come the needles. I always pack enough pen tip needles for an ample supply, in case we were without a pump during the trip. We also always carry a few syringes in case we need to just pull the insulin from the vials and inject them manually. Finally, don’t forget the alcohol wipes for any use with needles, whether during set/sensor changes or injections.
And, speaking of needles, we also pack portable Sharps containers to discard any needles safely. We usually always have one in our car whether traveling or not. But, for our trips, I pack a couple of smaller Sharps containers that are easy to fit into a small bag. If you are looking for portable ways to discard your needles, here are some ideas below:
Blood Sugar Testing Supplies
The blood sugar kit usually always comes with us wherever we go, as well. I always check each test strip container to make sure we’re not running close to empty on them and then, I throw in some extra test strips and lancets. I also pack a few cotton rounds for our daughter to wipe any excess blood from her fingers, as well as the alcohol wipes to sanitize. I do throw in a couple of ketone stips just to be prepared, even though we’ve thankfully never had to deal with ketones. In the event that our meter goes out or the batteries die, I usually pack a back up meter, as well. Then, the lancing device: I can’t even count how many times we have had a lancing device malfunction on us either while on a trip or just in our supplies we carry daily. Did you know you can buy these separately to have as back up? I like to stock up on these, since they seem to die more frequently than the meters, and are much cheaper than buying a whole new blood sugar meter kit. You can find the one I tend to order off Amazon below. I also included a link to the above-mentioned cotton rounds that we find handy. Our daughter likes to cut these in half to provide just the right size and extend the life cycle of her supply.
Supplies for Treating Lows
Almost as equally important as the insulin, is the emergency glucagon shot or nasal spray. We have a couple of each, so I tend to bring at least two along and keep them in separate places. We also go overboard on the glucose tabs. These are our life-line when we’re doing a lot of walking, especially at theme parks. We find that our daughter goes low more often on vacations than in her regular routine because of all the activity. I pack several tubes for her to carry in her pockets and our bags, so she can pop them in her mouth and stay on-the-go.
I also never go light on snacks. My husband thinks I pack way too much food, but in our family with picky eaters, digestive issues and diabetes, I like to have access to plenty of options that work for us. Some convenient snacks that I recommend are protein bars and shakes (that don’t require refrigeration). Our daughter loves the Atkins products, which also help provide her with a complete mix of vitamins and nutrients, while maintaining steady blood sugars. I also carry plenty of water bottles and crystal light packets for my daughter to always have as sugar-free drink options. Then, I like to carry the mini on-the-go packets of peanut butter (with plastic utensils) or prepackaged peanut butter crackers. My family loves their peanut butter, so this is a great snack for level blood sugars.
Paperwork and Medical IDs
In our almost three years with diabetes, we have never come across any issues with security or medical accommodations, thankfully. However, I still like to stay prepared and carry medical paperwork just in case there is ever any question. There are four things I always like to bring on our trips:
- A copy of the letter from our doctor that describes our daughter’s diagnosis and condition. This serves as proof of her medical condition in case it is ever warranted.
- A copy of the American Disabilties Act (ADA) contact info and guidelines that provide information on the laws pertaining to diabetes. This is one I keep handy just in case we ever had a run in with staff at a public facility that would not allow entry with necessary snacks or medical supplies. (Yes, I am THAT type of mom that will point out exactly what laws they are breaking and what grounds I have for a lawsuit against them if they do not comply). You can find the link to print here: http://main.diabetes.org/dorg/PDFs/Advocacy/Discrimination/factsheet-diabetesdiscriminationandpublicplacesandgovernmentprograms.pdf
- Some form of medical alert ID as an instant alert to paramedics in case of emergency. Our daughter is at the age where she resists wearing a bracelet, because she doesn’t like to call attention to her diabetes. We usually don’t make her wear it since we are close by her on trips, but I still like to bring it along just in case.
- Our endocrinologist’s contact information, just in case we needed to call in an emergency prescription. Our endo’s number is already in my cell phone favorites, but I like to have it written on paper as an added back-up.
Now that I’ve run through the packing list, provided below is a summary of the whole checklist for your added convenience. **Disclaimer: This checklist should NOT be substituted for consulting your licensed medical professional. Please check with your diabetes care team to make sure you have everything you need for travel. This list is simply what works best for me and my family, and is not intended as professional medical advice. Click here for a PDF version: