8 Essential Packing Tips Every Traveler with Diabetes Should Know

Packing Diabetes in Your Carry On

I am a professional packer. Whether I’m away for two days or two weeks, I’ve developed a system that helps me cram a lot of stuff into the confines of a carry on.  That’s no small feat, especially since I’m always traveling with diabetes supplies. And with the summer travel season upon us, it’s a great time to compare traveling with diabetes tips and tricks on how we fit the necessities for our needy pancreases into a carry on bag. 

Bring glucose tabs.  Traveling with glucose tabs is easiest because they are light weight, can get through airport security screenings without any trouble, and won’t melt or spoil in the heat or cold.  (Also, if they spill in your bag, they are easier to clean up than … say, juice.) You can keep a tube of tabs in your backpack or purse and a jar in your carry on. 

Learn to military roll your clothes.  I know this doesn’t sound like diabetes-related advice, but the more you pack with precision, the more stuff you can fit into your carry on.  (Lifehacker has a great video to show you how to roll your clothes.)  If rolling them seems confusing, try employing packing cubesfor keeping your things organized. 

Bring – and WEAR – a medical ID.  Especially if you’re traveling alone, definitely wear medical ID jewelry while on the road.  (I wear mine every day because I’m both used to it and also pretty damn paranoid.)  Today’s medical IDs are fashionable and nice looking, so adding it to your wardrobe on the regular is easier than in the past.  But fashion preferences aside, a medical ID can speak for you when you might not be able to speak for yourself, so err on the side of caution and wear one. 

Have a bag dedicated to diabetes supplies.  Grab a spare packing cube, or camping bag, and .  I like to keep my medical supplies in a bright orange bag (similar to this one) so that I can find it quickly in my suitcase.  Keeping my diabetes supplies separate from my toiletries also helps prevent shampoo or moisturizer from getting into my pump supplies.  Also, it makes it easier for me to spot-check and make sure I have everything I need, without having to pick through a bigger bag of toiletries.

Make an actual list.  I keep an index card with my diabetes supplies written on it and I use it to confirm that I have everything I need when I’m packing.  I always bring the same things:  insulin bottle, insulin pen, insulin pump infusion sets, cartridges, needle to fill cartridges, medical tape, backup test strips, insulin pen needle caps, spare lancets, spare CGM sensor (if I’m on the road for several days), and my non-diabetes related medical supplies.  A quick glance at this list helps me grab what I need and prevents me from bringing stuff I don’t need.

Have necessary info at the ready.  In keeping with that index card list, I also keep a photo on my phone of my most current pump settings.  You never know when you may need to have that information handy, and if you’re like me and you don’t know your basal rates off-hand, photographic evidence is a good idea.  Same goes for having contact information for your medical team in your phone, as well as an emergency contact (In Case of Emergency, or ICE) number. 

Bring back ups.  This is good advice for both diabetes-related stuff and run-of-the-mill stuff.  Always bring extras of things you may need.  If you wear an insulin pump, get a prescription for a long acting insulin pen and keep it in your supply bag while traveling, just in case your pump gets the hiccups and you need to go back to shots for a few days.  (And bring extra socks and underwear because it’s always nice to have a spare pair. So says everyone’s grandmother.)

Look into a loaner pump.  This goes along with having a back up.  If you’re taking a longer trip and the idea of bouncing back to MDI makes you feel uncomfortable, connect with your insulin pump manufacturer to see if they can hook you up with a loaner pump.  Most pump companies will send you a loaner for travel (you send it back when you’ve returned from your trip). 

But most importantly? HAVE FUN.  (“And be safe,” she whispers in her mom voice.)  With a little planning, packing with diabetes can be streamlined to minimize trouble and maximize fun.

Kerri Sparling
Kerri Sparling

Kerri Sparling has been living with type 1 diabetes since 1986 and writes the diabetes blog www.SixUntilMe.com. She believes in diabetes advocacy, patient empowerment, and strong coffee. Kerri lives in Rhode Island with her husband, her daughter, and an unfortunate army of cats.

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Capt Kewley
Capt Kewley
6 years ago

I travel a lot. I like this list, and there’s stuff on it that I’ll use — good ideas here, that are new to me. The one suggestion I’d make is that, instead of (or, I suppose, in addition to) glucose tabs, try Skittles. I put 16 Skittles in a pill pouch – basically a 1″x1″ ziploc bag. Each one of those has enough glucose to recover from a low, but not so much that I’ll eat too much and then go high. Skittles don’t melt like m&ms do. They last forever, and the small baggies fit easily into corners… Read more »

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