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May 24, 2011 > Do You Have Vacation or Travel Plans?

Do You Have Vacation or Travel Plans?

Washington Hospital Seminar Offers Tips for Those with Diabetes

Planning to take a vacation this summer? If you have diabetes, you need to plan ahead so you can enjoy the sights or your time with friends and family without any health complications.

"For people with diabetes, traveling can be very challenging," said Sandra Mertesdorf, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital. "You can have a great time, but you have to plan far enough in advance because you need time to make all the necessary arrangements."

She will present "Vacation or Travel Plans? Preparation and Safety Tips for People with Diabetes" on Thursday, June 2, from 7 to 8 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont. The seminar is part of Washington Hospital's free monthly Diabetes Matters education series. Register online at or call (510) 745-6556 for more information.

Mertesdorf will walk participants through the steps needed to fully prepare for the next trip or vacation. She said the first thing to do is develop a travel checklist so you don't forget anything.

"I'll provide participants with a sample checklist so they can see what I'm talking about," she said. "The checklist should include everything you will need for the trip."

She recommends bringing at least twice the amount of diabetes medications and supplies needed for the duration of time you will be traveling. She also suggests bringing an extra meter and insulin pump if you use one.

"With schedule changes, eating differently, an illness or other factors like stress, you may require more medication adjustment than usual," Mertesdorf said. "You just don't know what's going to happen. What if you drop a bottle of insulin? You need to be prepared, particularly if you are leaving the country. Refilling your prescriptions may be very difficult where you are vacationing."

She said it is important to know what services are available at your destination. Find out where the nearest medical facility is and if there is a pharmacy nearby. Are there grocery stores and restaurants, or will you need to bring your own food? These are important issues that need to be considered.

Talk With Your Doctor

Mertesdorf urges people with diabetes to talk to their doctor about their vacation plans. She recommends that diabetes patients get a letter from their doctor that stipulates their medical condition and includes contact information and medication requirements.

It is also important to make transportation arrangements. If you are flying, it's a good idea to contact the airline and advise them you have diabetes. Let them know about any special needs, including dietary needs if your flight offers a meal. Mertesdorf said many airlines offer special meals for people with diabetes. The same is true if you are taking a train or going on a cruise.

"I recommend that people carry all their medications with them," she said. "Don't check them with the rest of your luggage; take them on the flight with you. Also, be sure to check with the Transportation Security Agency about current regulations for travel."

Mertesdorf encourages people with diabetes to take snacks with them so they always have food available and a source of fast-acting sugar such as glucose tablets in case blood sugar levels get too low.

"With the extra physical activity many people do on vacation and the disruption of daily routines you can get into a hypoglycemic situation, she said. "So carry fast-acting glucose tablets or hard candy such as Lifesavers with you just in case."

You also need to plan for the storage of medications and supplies while traveling. For example, you shouldn't leave medications or glucose meters in the trunk of a hot car. Insulin can't be allowed to freeze or get too hot.

Time changes also have to be considered. Mertesdorf said if you plan to cross time zones, you may need to adjust your medication schedule. It is important to work with your healthcare provider to figure out when and how this is done, she said.

Mertesdorf urges travelers to wear a medical bracelet or carry a card that lists their medical condition and medication needs as well as emergency contact information. She also encourages people with diabetes to travel with a companion who is aware you have diabetes and advise friends and family of your travel plans.

"I'm going to leave time for participants to share what has worked for them," she added. "It helps to hear how others have dealt with these challenges."

To find out about other diabetes programs, visit

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