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Managing Diabetes While Traveling: Essential Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Summer Getaway

Traveling can be an exciting experience, but for individuals with diabetes, it requires careful planning and consideration to ensure this chronic condition stays under control while away from home and regular routine.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is predicting this summer will be one of the busiest travel seasons ever. Experts at Parkland Health are reminding patients of the ways you or a loved one with diabetes can manage your health and wellness while traveling. Whether you’re exploring new cities, relaxing on the beach, or hiking in the mountains, maintaining stable blood sugar levels is essential for a safe and enjoyable trip.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 38.4 million people (11.6% of the U.S. population) have diabetes. Diabetes is a long-term illness that impacts the body’s ability to utilize food as fuel. Food releases glucose, also known as blood sugar, into your bloodstream. Insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, permits blood sugar to enter your cells and provide energy. According to the CDC, if you do not create the proper quantity of insulin, or if your body cannot use it as well as it should, too much blood sugar remains in your system and can eventually cause major health issues like heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss.

“Even though you may be on holiday, diabetes does not take a holiday,” said Misty L. Jones, MPH, RD, LD, CDCES, manager of Global Programs for Diabetes at Parkland.

According to Kristie Adame, RD, LD, CDCES, a Diabetes Care and Education Specialist at Parkland, with careful planning patients with diabetes can still enjoy a getaway this summer. “Most of my patients don’t realize the effects of traveling with diabetes until after the fact,” Adame said. “Patients then realized they weren’t as prepared as they thought they were going into their vacation. Knowing to prepare in advance when traveling is crucial.”

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, here are some essential tips from Parkland experts to ensure smooth sailing:

Plan for healthy coping: Travel preparations can be stressful. It’s crucial to make a plan, focusing on reducing risks, maintaining healthy eating habits, staying active, and adhering to medication schedules. Remember, diabetes doesn’t take a vacation even when you do.

Make informed food choices: Research restaurants in advance to find food options that align with your dietary needs. Consulting with a dietitian, such as those available at Parkland, can provide valuable guidance on making healthy choices and how to indulge sensibly. Focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limit intake of refined carbohydrates, sugary beverages, and processed foods. Proper portion control and mindful eating can help manage your blood sugar levels. Bring snacks you can eat if your blood sugar drops or if you don’t eat meals on time.

Stay mindful of overindulgence: Try to avoid buffets where overindulgence can lead to blood sugar spikes or crashes. Choose balanced meals with more protein and be mindful of sugary drinks. Make sure to always carry your glucose meter, as it's your best tool for monitoring blood sugar levels.

Stay aware of medications: Know how to adjust your medicines for different time zones and eating schedules, or how to get refills if needed. Pack all diabetes-related medications and supplies in your carry-on luggage to avoid issues with lost baggage. Store insulin properly, considering temperature changes during travel.

Be prepared with documentation: Before traveling, obtain a letter from your doctor detailing your condition and medications. Ensure you have an adequate supply of medications and medical supplies, including prescriptions. Familiarize yourself with local laws regarding prescription medications and know where the nearest medical facility is.

Stay active: When taking a long trip, make sure to take breaks to walk around and stretch your legs whether you are traveling by car, boat, or plane. Explore the area by going on walks with your travel companions and look for activities and excursions that will keep you active. This is crucial for managing blood sugar levels and overall health.

Protect your feet: Diabetes can increase the risk of foot injuries and infections. Always wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes and avoid tight footwear. Be cautious with pedicures due to the risk of ingrown toenails and infections, consider painting your own nails instead.

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