Before you leave, prepare to travel safely:
As a traveller, nothing is more valuable than sound medical advice that is specific to you and your destination. A travel health specialist can give you this detail. For any travel abroad, a review of your vaccination status, prescription medications, and personal health needs is necessary.
The recommendations provided will depend on your travel destination, and the complexity of your current medical situation. Staff at the travel clinic can evaluate your risks and provide recommendations on vaccinations that you may require. They also assess the risk of malaria and other diseases, and provide medications and options to help you stay healthy. Be sure to seek advice well in advance of your departure. Six weeks or earlier is best. Remember, a consultation is valuable even if you are leaving sooner.
People who grow up in Canada receive a standard set of childhood vaccines. While it can be difficult to keep these routine vaccines up to date as we age, this step is necessary for travellers. Common childhood illnesses, rarely seen in Canada, may be a big problem in popular holiday destinations. As well, these diseases can be much more serious for an adult. To protect your health, review your vaccination status for tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), and varicella (chicken pox).
Make sure you’ve packed all of your medical essentials. Divide medications and snacks between your carry-on and checked luggage.
Talk to your travel health specialist about which travel vaccines are a good idea for your trip. They might include hepatitis A and B, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, cholera, meningitis and yellow fever. Yellow fever is of special concern. Although it is required for entry into many countries, the vaccine itself has side effects that you should understand before you consent. Your travel health specialist can explain the risks and help you to prevent unwanted side effects. Allow enough time for the vaccination to take effect. Make your appointment at the travel clinic at least six weeks before you leave.
All travellers need travel medical insurance. Buy it before you travel, any time you leave the country. Many people have some form of travel medical coverage through work. It is very important that you check carefully what is covered. Your plan should include coverage for medical conditions you already have, and for injuries or illness that occur while travelling. As well, it should have some form of insurance in case you need to be evacuated. Evacuation insurance should take effect if an existing medical condition suddenly gets worse, as well as in an emergency situation like a car crash. Why is evacuation insurance necessary? Air evacuation flights can cost upwards of $60,000 dollars. Without insurance, you will pay this bill yourself.
Be sure to bring enough testing supplies for the length of your trip, plus extra. Pack them in two separate places if possible. This allows you to test during your trip. It also protects against any lost supplies, delayed baggage, or situations where you may need to test more often, such as when you are sick. Keep a supply of testing materials with you on the plane so you can test during your flight. Carry a logbook with you, and continue to monitor and record your blood glucose.
When travelling across time zones, it can be difficult to maintain your usual routine. If you use insulin, switch to the new time zone schedule as soon as possible after arrival.
Most international flights cross several time zones. This will disrupt your usual 24-hour schedule. Your insulin schedule must be adjusted, as blood glucose can be affected by time, changes in activity and diet, interruptions to usual body rhythm, and sleep. This makes it challenging to keep your blood glucose on target. If you will be crossing more than two time zones, consult your doctor or your diabetes educator about adjusting your meal plan and insulin schedule. If you will cross less than two time zones, here are some tips.
In general, it is easier to adjust oral medications for time zone changes. If the difference is less than three hours, move the time you take your oral medications by an hour and a half. If the time difference is more than three hours, consult with a member of your health care team.
Visit your doctor several weeks before your departure date. This ensures that nothing about your current medical status has changed.
Take identification that will explain your medical condition in case you are unable to do so. Have your doctor write you a letter stating your medical condition, and your need to carry needles and lancets as part of your treatment. You may wish to purchase a MedicAlert (medicalert.ca) bracelet or necklace.
Share with your travel agent the requirements and special needs of travelling with diabetes. This helps your agent to build a travel plan that suits your needs.
Alert the airline crew of your diabetes and whether you use insulin. This will allow them to monitor you for any signs of hypoglycemia. They can often help by waking you for meals and reminding you of modified times to take your medication.
Have your pharmacy prepare a written list of your medications, and the reason why you use them. The list should have the brand and generic names of the medications.
If you have an insulin pump, tell security personnel about it before you are screened. Walk-through and handheld metal detectors may affect the function of the pump. You can ask the screening officer for a physical search in a private location.
Some studies suggest that pumps may not work the same way in flight. This is especially true during takeoff and landing. Ask your pump manufacturer for the current recommendations for flying.
Try to stay active before and during the flight, especially if it is long. For instance, walk around while waiting in the terminal. During the flight, stretching exercises and rotating your ankles help improve circulation and prevent blood clots.
Although you will need to manage your diabetes as you travel, rest assured that with careful planning, adventures are still possible.