Travel Tips for Families with Type 1 Diabetes

Hey there Gluroonians! Today we have an amazing guest post by our friend Erin Poche at Type1Strong, a community dedicated to raising awareness about type 1 diabetes and empowering those of us who live with it. Enjoy!

Family vacations are a time to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy life’s sweet moments, but they can also be stressful when someone has diabetes. Whether heading to a theme park, camping, or traveling internationally, diabetes demands attention.

Everywhere you go, you must carry the necessary supplies, insulin, and treatment for low blood glucose and emergencies. However, with the right amount of planning, packing and research—you can lessen the burden diabetes imposes and lengthen your time in the sun.

Here’s a quick checklist of all the best travel tips for families with type 1 diabetes, so you’ll have the peace of mind you deserve on vacation.

Packing Diabetes Essentials

If you’re a parent to a child with type 1 diabetes (T1D), you’re probably already an expert packer. A day at the park requires insulin in a FRIO® pack, backup insulin pump supplies and plenty of fast-acting carbohydrates for low blood sugar episodes.

If you forget something, you can easily return home to retrieve it. But things become more complicated if you’re in the wilderness, on an airplane, or at a remote destination.

Create a packing checklist you can cross-reference and add to before the big day. It will save you time and energy in the long run. Keep this list handy for corrections and save it to your phone or computer.

Remember: Extra Supplies

A good rule of thumb for packing is to pack what you think you’ll need and then double it. You never know if the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) site or insulin pump tubing might need replacing. Backup insulin and syringes, as well as a backup blood glucose meter, are also a good call.

Here’s a list of supplies to include on your voyage:

Insulin: It’s smart to pack extra insulin vials, pens, and syringes in case of loss or damage.

FRIO cooling case for insulin: If you’re at the ballpark or Epcot, it’s good to know that heat affects insulin and hinders its ability to work correctly. The FRIO cooling case is small enough to fit in coolers and lockers and is designed to keep insulin at the perfect temperature.

Diabetes insulin pump/pen supplies: Packing sufficient pen needles, infusion sets, and insulin delivery systems is crucial, as these items require a prescription and are hard to obtain on the go.

Diabetes continuous glucose monitoring supplies: The same applies to CGM supplies. These can typically be shipped overnight, which can be a pain.

Backup blood glucose meter and syringes: It’s essential to have a backup blood glucose meter, test strips, lancets and syringes in ample supply in case of a pump malfunction or to verify a blood sugar reading if something feels off.

Batteries and chargers: Whether your pump requires batteries or a charging port, it’s vital to always have it with you.

Ketone blood meter or urine strips: If your child becomes ill on the trip and you need to check for ketones quickly, it’s important to be prepared to test for ketones.

Sick day guidelines: No one wants to imagine getting sick on vacation, but unfortunately, it happens, and it’s best to be prepared, as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is always a worry. This serious medical condition requires immediate attention and possible hospitalization.

The crucial guidelines from your diabetes care team provide instructions to battle ketones with the correct insulin dosages and information for testing if your child is vomiting or has a fever.

Important Tip: It’s also good to know where the nearest children’s hospital is in case of an emergency.

Fast-acting glucose: Glucose tablets, gels, or fruit chews are easy to access and treat low blood sugar. If traveling on a plane, always keep a source of fast-acting glucose and vital supplies with you, not in the check-in luggage, in case your bags get lost.

Glucagon emergency kit: The glucagon emergency kit to correct severe hypoglycemia is vital to always have with you. Also, if you’re separated from your child, caregivers should be trained on how to administer the shot.

Sunscreen: Pack sunscreen to prevent sunburns and the damaging rays that can cause skin cancer and heat stroke.

Take care with extreme heat. Intense sun and high temperatures can damage insulin pumps and CGMs for prolonged periods. Be cautious leaving them out in the hot sun for hours.

Water and Snacks: Sometimes, stress can affect blood sugar levels, causing them to rise or drop without warning. Packing an assortment of kid-friendly snacks (fast-acting carbs and low-carb snacks) to manage blood sugar levels is handy, especially as some kids are hungry all day long.

Additionally, make sure your child has plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Individuals with diabetes can sometimes get easily dehydrated, which may result in high blood glucose readings. Having plenty of water and carb-free drinks on hand is a good idea.

Diabetes identification card or bracelet: If you get separated from your child, it’s good for them to have a medical alert bracelet to identify their condition. The card should contain a way to contact you, along with their medical information.

Interesting Tip: One common item to use is the ROAD iD. Many at Gluroo use this on watches as a backup form of identification.

If you want more inspiration, check out another Gluroo post on the ultimate diabetes travel kit.

Plan Wisely

Unfortunately, diabetes prevents the carefree days of flying by the seat of your pants. Before any excursion, doing your homework and paying attention to the details is the best remedy for a successful trip.

Here are a few steps to take to alleviate unwanted stressful situations:

  1. Ensure your prescriptions are current and transferable if you need to access a pharmacy in another city.
  2. Talk with your diabetes management team and plan for more physical exercise on vacation. More vigorous activity can lower blood sugar levels. Some pumps can be set to an exercise mode where they are secreting less insulin.
  3. Call ahead to venues that restrict food and drink. Some events may not allow for food and beverage inside specific auditoriums, but if you place a phone call ahead of time explaining that your child’s bag has lifesaving items, you can save yourself some time.
  4. Prepare for delays, either in traffic or at the airport. Compact games, toys, activities, and extra snacks are lifesavers when traveling with toddlers and small children.

Research Your Destination

Type 1 diabetes can go hiking and exploring just like everyone else while out on their travels, as long as they're adequately prepared.
A photo from Beehive Loop trail in Acadia National Park.

Some theme parks like Disneyland and Disneyworld offer special perks for a child with diabetes. These passes must be obtained before your day at the park. For instance, if your child experiences low blood sugar in line, instead of losing your place, you can go back to the front and not have to wait.

Also, when flying certain airplanes, children with diabetes can board early and carry extra bags for supplies that don’t count as carry-on items. This is one of the best travel tips for families with type 1 diabetes, because it allows everyone to board together and get situated in a calm, stress-free environment before the rest of the plane boards.

Find alternative activities like museums, movie theaters or kid-friendly attractions to limit sun/heat exposure. Furthermore, you can switch plans to get outside in the early hours before the heat takes full effect.

Keep Calm and Carry On

No matter how well you pack and how diligent you plan—there will always be hiccups with diabetes. These challenges are just part of the package.

Try living in the moment. Cherish this age with your kids when they’re young—it’s a beautiful, magical time you won’t get back.

Also, remember that children learn from the examples we set for them. If something doesn’t go according to plan, show them how adaptable and resourceful you can be. Take the highs with the lows as you exhale, smile, and pull them a little closer— it’s all part of the journey.