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Guide to Diabetes

Travelling Abroad? - Plan Ahead

Having diabetes does not prevent travelling by aeroplane, boat or car. You can travel anywhere in the world whenever you want to go. However winter ski holidays, short breaks, long haul flights and exotic summer holidays all need to be planned carefully if you have diabetes. Having diabetes means that you will have to make extra preparation before you jet away. This section gives you advice on the preparations you should make and what you should do, what to avoid and how to store your insulin whilst on holiday.


Your Medication

Ensure that you obtain a letter from your GP or diabetes team, stating that you have diabetes and require your medication to be taken on board flights. Carry your hypo treatment.  Don’t put insulin with in your checked in luggage as the aeroplane hold temperature can get very low and may damage it.


You should have the necessary vaccinations required for your destination, it is best to have these as early as possible before you go as they may upset your diabetes control for a short time. Ask your travel agent, GP or diabetes team for advice. 

Aeroplane meals

Some airlines offer “special diabetic meals” It is actually better to avoid them because they can be low in carbohydrate- caterers often don’t realise that balance is the main thing not cutting down on carbohydrate. If you need insulin make sure you take it on board. 

Insurance- Does your health insurance cover diabetes emergencies?

Insurance is vital when travelling aboard to cover medical services and equipment.
Medical attention is officially free or reduced cost emergency treatment is available in all EU countries providing that you have got your E111 certificate (available from your Post Office or DSS office or any GP) before you go to prove you’re eligible for treatment. However treatment under this scheme may not be adequate for your diabetes. A holiday insurance package that does not exclude pre-existing illness should be obtained. Check with your travel agent and insurance company.

Airport Security

Due to recent increases in airport security, you are no longer allowed to carry sharp objects such as knives or scissors in your hand luggage. It is important that you have identification or a letter from your diabetes team or GP confirming your diabetes as you will need to let check in staff know in order for you to carry needles and syringes in your hand luggage.


Have extra carbohydrate snacks at hand if you need them or in case of delays.  Make sure you have your hypo treatment at hand.

Customs and Excise

You are not required by law to declare your insulin or other equipment. To prevent unnecessary confusion it is a good idea to carry an ID card that states that you have diabetes and what treatments you are on. (Take a copy of your repeat prescription) For some counties you will also need a letter from you diabetes team or GP as an ID card/tag is not always sufficient.


Climate Changes Hot/Cold 

Consider the climate you are travelling to. A very hot or old climate may affect the accuracy of your blood glucose strips (if using).

If you are travelling to a warmer climate you should:

hot climate
  • Monitor your blood glucose levels. A warm climate can lower blood sugar and you may need to reduce your insulin/tablets.

  • Insulin may be absorbed faster in warmer climates so regular monitoring is especially important in order to avoid hypoglycaemia.
  • Some blood glucose testing strips may over-read in very hot weather
  • Invest in a good cool bag to keep your insulin cool out of direct sunlight

If you are travelling to a cooler climate you should:

cold weather
  • Not let your Insulin freeze, as insulin that has been frozen is useless. (aeroplane baggage area)
  • Some blood glucose strips will under read in cold weather 


Changes to your treatment

You may need to adjust your insulin/ tablets, as your lifestyle will change, you may be doing more activities, changing your food and alcohol intake as well as climate changes. You will find that this will affect your blood sugars and you may need to adjust your treatment particularly if you are on insulin. Please ask your Diabetes Team if you need help with the adjustment of medication or if you have any queries

Top tips on travelling and insulin storage

It is important to find out what types and strengths of insulin are available in other countries in case of emergencies. Speak to your diabetes team about insulin availability. 

  • Take twice as much insulin, syringes or pens and pen needles, you think you will need.This must all be carried in you hand luggage so that it arrives with you. (You could also give some supplies to your travelling companion)
  • Don’t put insulin with in your checked in luggage as the aeroplane hold temperature can get very low and may damage it.
  • Insulin should be kept out of direct sunlight and kept cool invest in a  Cooler bags or find cool storage on your arrival (hotel fridge)
  • Insulin should not be allowed to freeze as this will make it less effective.
  • Have extra carbohydrate snacks available if you need them and in case of emergencies or delays.
  • Carry your hypoglycaemia treatment with you too

Time Zone Changes 

Time zone clocks

If you are crossing time zones, ask for specific advice from your diabetes team before you leave also ask if you need help with the adjustment of your medication.

  • When crossing time zones keep your meal and insulin/medications to your watch time and change your watch on arrival and when you arrive back home.
  • When travelling West, ie America, the day is longer and you may need more insulin/tablets/food.
  • When travelling East, ie Europe, India, Africa, the day is shorter and you may need less insulin/tablets/food.
  • When travelling try to be flexible, particularly if you are flying and don’t aim for perfect control.


holiday Tummy

Have a first aid kit for unexpected illness. You should discuss managing sickness and diarrhoea with your diabetes team before travelling. As a precaution, only drink bottled water, avoid salads and be careful about the hygiene level of restaurants.

If you are taken ill on holiday NEVER stop taking your insulin or tablets even if you cannot take solid food. Remember to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and NEVER stop taking your diabetes medication. If sickness and or diarrhoea persist seek medical advise. See our section on During Illness and feeling unwell for more details.


Holiday Check List

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