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A Diabetes Survival Guide to Summer Road Trips

Written by:  Meredith Liss, MA, RD, CDN, CDE
Fit4D Nutrition Coach

Packing for a summer road trip? Don’t forget to take your diabetes care routine, along with your new bathing suit and sunglasses. Proper planning can help  make managing diabetes on the road much easier .

Traveling by car gives you flexibility.  When you’re in the driver’s seat, you can decide:

  • Departure time: before or after a meal?
  • Where to stop: is it for a scenic view or for a specific restaurant that features healthy options?
  • When to stop: is it time to check your blood glucose, use the restroom or eat?
  • What snacks to bring for the ride: no need to rely on chips from the gas station’s mini mart if you plan ahead and pack smart snacks.

The key to successful traveling is careful planning.

Before you hit the road, here are a few planning tips:

  • Know where to get medical care if needed away from home.
  • Wear medical identification stating that you have diabetes and take a letter from your healthcare provider stating your diagnoses and list of medications.
  • Bring prescriptions for medications and diabetes supplies (and remember to pack more than you need).
  • Have a list of emergency contacts.
  • If you use insulin, pack a glucagon emergency kit.
  • Pack non-perishable snacks.
  • Bring glucose tablets or gels if you are on a medication than may cause low blood glucose.
  • Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Check your blood glucose before driving to avoid lows behind the wheel.
  • Download food and exercise apps to your smartphone before your trip so you won’t have to lug around  books or stop at an internet café (read further for great apps to use while  traveling).

Diabetes supplies

It’s better to be safe than sorry.  Be prepared for unexpected delays or problems by bringing twice the amount of diabetes supplies you would normally need for the duration of your trip. You’ve got room in your car, and don’t have to worry about extra fees for checking luggage at the airport or getting through security.

It may be easier to bring medications in their original prescription bottles instead of counting out pills just for your trip. Have syringes, insulin vials and insulin delivery systems clearly marked with the identifying pharmaceutical label.  Bringing extra prescriptions for your medications and supplies is a good idea in case of an emergency.  Pack extra batteries for your glucose meter, and consider bringing an extra meter.

Avoid storing insulin in the glove compartment, in direct sunlight, or trunk of your car since it can lose strength when stored in hot temperatures. Keep any extra insulin cool by packing it in an insulated bag with refrigerated gel packs. It’s important to know that once you open a vial of insulin it will be good for about 30 days.

Monitoring your blood glucose

Since you will be out of your normal routine, don’t forget to monitor blood glucose frequently. Your excitement for the trip, change in eating pattern and activity level all can affect your blood glucose.

Healthy eating on the road

Map it out. If you choose to stop for a meal, check the road map for rest stop locations and restaurant options along your route. Research restaurant websites for nutrition information, and know a variety of restaurants that work for your diabetes meal plan (most chain and fast food restaurants post nutrition information on their websites).  In addition, check out to seek out healthy dining options at various restaurants in you desired location.  Several smartphone applications can also help you find restaurants and nutrition information such as GoMeals, an iPhone app designed for people living with diabetes. If you are concerned about eating at a particular time, make reservations at pre-selected restaurants at your destination to avoid delayed meals.

If you count carbohydrates at home, use your knowledge to estimate the carbohydrate content of unknown foods. For example, if you know that 1 cup of rice contains about 45 grams of carbohydrate, you can apply this knowledge to an unfamiliar starchy side dish such as quinoa or barley.

Bring snacks for the ride and your destination. Some non-perishable snack ideas are: dried fruit, nuts, seeds, granola bars, fruit cups, crackers, peanut butter, or trail mix. If you are concerned about the high calorie content of some of these snacks, you can measure out small portions and pack in zip lock bags to ration throughout the trip. Bring a cooler for anything that may spoil such as sandwiches, fruit, or cut up vegetables.

If you take insulin or medications that can cause low blood glucose, always have juice, regular soda, glucose tablets or gels on hand.

Staying active on the road and throughout your trip

Vacation is an excellent time to be active outdoors. Depending on your destination, you may be able to hike, jog, swim, kayak, bike or take a walking tour.

Take advantage of rest stops, and give yourself time to stretch and walk around. Maybe there will be a quaint town to explore, or a beautiful hiking trail to tackle on your way to your final destination.

Choose a hotel with a gym or pool to ensure you are able to keep up with your typical physical activity regimen.  If your hotel does not have a gym or you are staying with friends, get creative! Bring elastic fitness bands to replicate your usual strength training routine.

If you are a smartphone user, take advantage of exercise-oriented apps such as Nike Training Club (for iPhone), Body Fitness (for iPhone and for Android), or IFitness (for Blackberry).

Wear comfortable shoes

Comfortable shoes are essential for an enjoyable vacation so break in new shoes at home before the trip.  Bring at least two pairs of shoes in case one gets wet.

Always protect your feet by wearing shoes.  Be careful not to walk barefoot, especially on hot pavement by pools and hot sand on beaches. Be sure to check your feet daily since foot blisters and sores from all your extra walking may go unnoticed if you don’t.

Learn from your trip

Traveling is a learning experience.  Not only do you expose yourself to new sights and activities at your vacation destination, but you can learn how to manage your diabetes in new and different situations. What you learn on one trip can be applied to the next. Take notes during the trip and keep track of what worked well for your blood glucose management and what you might do differently next time.  Happy travels!

Resources for more information

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