Packing for a trip can be overwhelming. From what outfits to pack, to toiletries, to carry-on items, it’s easy to forget something and can be hard to get it all to fit.
Throw diabetes supplies into the mix and you might want to throw your hands up right there. You don’t have to worry, because I’ve got all of the tips you need right here!
Here’s everything that’s on my diabetes packing checklist:
- Pump cartridges (enough for 2x length of trip)
- Pump sites (for 2-3x length of trip, since pump sites easily rip out & I’m clumsy)
- Back-up dexcom sensor
- Back-up dexcom transmitter (if mine is nearing the end of its life)
- Alcohol swabs
- Skin-tac or other skin adhesive
- Extra meter (I take it out of the pouch to save space)
- Glucometer and pump batteries
- Test strips
- Extra poker/lancing device
- Extra lancets (I do a lancet change the day I leave to save space)
- Syringes (I usually bring 5-10, more if it’s an extended trip)
- Rapid acting insulin (3-4x length of trip)
- Long acting insulin (3x length of trip)
As a general rule, I usually pack enough diabetes pump supplies for 2x the length of my trip, plus enough back-up long acting insulin for 3x the length of my trip. By carrying back-up long acting insulin, and packing a reasonably small amount syringes (knowing that in a pinch I could reuse them) I am able to keep my bag of supplies as small as possible.
How much insulin to bring?
In a given day, I typically use around 30-40 units of rapid acting insulin in my pump. If I generously anticipate using 50 units a day, for a 5 day trip I would need 250 units (or 2.5mL). I always bring extra in case there’s a broken vial, a lost vial, one that goes bad in the heat, etc. For a trip lasting this long, I would probably bring 9mL. Each regular vial of insulin is 10mL, so one bottle may be enought for a shorter trip. I would still bring an extra in case something bad happens to one of the vials.
Even if you are on a pump, you should bring long acting insulin in case your pump breaks or you drop it in the ocean in Mexico like I did! I calculate my Lantus needed for the trip in a similar way. If you’re on a pump, a good starting off point for how much Lantus you need each day is to total up your basal rate for the day. I usually have to add a few units. So for me, I need around 15-20 units of Lantus per day. So for a 5 day trip, I’ll anticipate using around 100 units. Again, even though 300 units should me more than enough if my pump breaks and we get stranded there, I would bring 2 pens of Lantus.
When I travel, I prefer to travel with smaller bottles of insulin so I can split them up and decrease my chances of losing or ruining such a large volume of insulin. Even if you use an insulin pump, your doctor can write for a prescription for insulin pens or pen cartridges which each have 300 units (3mL) of insulin in them.
Split supplies between bags
If you are traveling with a partner or carrying more than one bag, always have supplies in both bags in case one gets lost or stolen. I am always very aware of my bag because it has all of my supplies in it, but I usually keep rapid and long acting insulin and a few syringes in my husband’s bag just in case.
Never put medical supplies in checked baggage. You don’t want to risk it getting lost or delayed and you don’t know what sort of heat or exposure the bag may get.
You might be able to bring an extra carry on bag with medical supplies! I actually didn’t know this was a thing until I read an article from Leah at theinsulintype.com about flying with diabetes. Some airlines allow an extra carry on bag as long as it meets the standard size requirements and only has medical supplies in it. You can check out her article if you want to learn more about which airlines allow this.
I am a minimalist packer and I hate carrying bags, but if you are tight on packing you may be able to bring an extra bag onto the plane for your supplies. If the flight team makes any sort of announcement before the flight about cabin space being tight or asking people to volunteer to check their bags you can go up to the counter and let them know that you have a carry on bag with medical supplies that needs to be with you at all times. They may let you board first or save a spot for your bag in the cabin.
I usually put all of my supplies in a separate pouch or bag at the very bottom of my carry on. This way if someone sneaks my bag open to steal something, they won’t get my supplies.
To store insulin, Frio makes a great insulated case that will keep insulin at the appropriate temperature for more than 24 hours. I was a little worried taking this through security since it is soaked in water to make the cooling beads puff up, but I have never had any issues. The brand is awesome because they make different sizes for longer trips vs. day trips.
Doctor’s note and prescriptions
I always travel with doctor’s prescriptions for rapid and long acting insulin. Having a paper copy with you will save you a lot of hassle if you find yourself in a situation with no insulin. Most pharmacies in other countries will also accept these paper prescriptions. You might think I’m crazy for doing this next thing: taking this another step, I also scanned my paper prescriptions onto the computer and have them saved online. So if I ever find myself in another city or country with none of my stuff, no insulin, and no paper prescriptions, if I could get to a computer, I could at least have the prescriptions to get my insulin. I hope if that ever happens, I would at least still have some money…
It’s definitely never come to that, but it’s good to be prepared versus standing there in a foreign country with no insulin and no plan.
It’s also a good idea to carry a doctor’s note. In all of my travels, I have never actually had to use mine, but a few people that I know were able to get out of a sticky situation with it. It’s usually issues with security that people have needed the letters for. We all know how stressful going through airport security with medical supplies can be, so it’s nice to have that extra security of a doctor’s letter to rely on if you have any issues.
One recommendation that I have heard, but do not do personally, is to have the doctor’s letter translated into the language of the place you are visiting. For me this seems a little sketchy, because how would you check to make sure it says the right thing? And everywhere we’ve gone, even if English is not the predominant language, there is always someone who speaks English. If you do decide to translate it, don’t just plug it into Google translate. Find a person to translate it who you know will be reliable.
Here’s what my doctor’s letter includes:
- My doctor’s name and that I am under their care
- That I have diabetes and I must carry medical supplies on my person
- Possible supplies listed: including syringes, insulin, insulin pump supplies, glucagon, juice or snacks for low blood sugar
- That my insulin pump may not go through x-ray or millimeter wave machines but can be hand wanded or given a pat-down
The more you travel, the more you will get comfortable with knowing what and how much to pack. Good luck and happy travels!