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Living Well

Tips for Business Travelers with Diabetes

Last updated: Oct 05, 2015

Business travel is usually a bother: time-zone changes, airplane food, and the temptation to stray from a healthy diet at business lunches and dinners are just some of the foibles.

For people with diabetes, business travel can be even more of a hassle: packing medical supplies, finding healthy food and sticking to that one glass of wine at cocktail receptions and dinners add extra work to a working trip.  It can also be awkward to explain to colleagues why you may not want to try the tiramisu or to ask for special accommodations if, for example, lunch is ordered in.

The stresses of business travel can’t be avoided, but they can be lessened with some know-how and planning.

“When patients travel on business, I advise them to take a copy of their medical records and their physician’s office number in case an urgent issue arises,” said Margaret Eckler, RD, of Summit Medical Group’s Diabetes Live Well Program.  “It’s also a good idea to locate a local pharmacy near where you will be staying.

Airplane Travel

Air travelers with diabetes have to take extra precautions to deal with issues that may come up during a flight.

  • Many flights today do not offer inflight meals.  Pack portable, low carbohydrate snacks.  Some good choices are individually-wrapped string cheese, a container of yoghurt, or an apple cored and filled with peanut butter.  Individual servings of nut butters are convenient and increasingly available.
  • If your flight does have a meal service, call ahead and order a healthy option.  Often, a vegetarian meal is a good choice if it isn’t too high in carbs.
  • Wear comfortable shoes that are not too tight and slip off easily so your feet can have some breathing room.
  • Stay hydrated.  When the drinks cart comes around, order water or seltzer with a squeeze of lemon or lime.  This is important because airplanes have dry air that can dehydrate you.  It’s also good to have a healthy go-to drink so that you’re not tempted to have a drink on the plane.
  • But if you do have that drink, make it one light beer instead of hard alcohol.

Hotels

If possible, choose a hotel with room service, and ask to see a menu in advance of traveling.

  • The best room-service foods to order are steamed vegetables, a bean-based dish or a salad with grilled chicken and dressing on the side.
  • Beware the complementary breakfast!  These are often carb-loaded: muffins, biscuits and white toast.  Stick to eggs, whole wheat toast and fruit.  Better yet, find out what the hotel breakfast options are before you go and bring your own snacks to eat instead of hotel fare if the breakfast offerings are unhealthy for you.
  • If you travel regularly to a specific destination, try to develop a relationship with one hotel so the staff is ready for your arrival and can accommodate you as best they can.
  • Be sure your room has a refrigerator for storing insulin.
  • Locate the nearest urgent care.

International Travel

Language is the biggest obstacle to international travel for diabetics. Learn key phrases in a foreign language, so you can ask for help if you need it.

  • Concierges and managers at foreign hotels generally speak English.  Email the hotel manager in advance and make the arrangements you need to be comfortable during your stay.  Requests can include having the name of a local doctor on hand.
  • If drinking the local water is an issue, ask that your room be stocked in advance with bottled water so you can stay hydrated.  Many people skirt the potable water issue by drinking beer with meals, but this isn’t a good option for diabetics.

Business entertainment

Colleagues, especially clients, with whom you are meeting will want to wine-and-dine you—or at least take you to lunch or order lunch in.  The key here is giving them an ample notice so they can make restaurant and catering choices that are appropriate for you.  

  • Mention your needs in an email or phone call. Don’t just say, “By the way, I’m a diabetic.”  Most people will not understand your nutritional needs.  Be specific.  While this may seem like you are being demanding, it actually more considerate to give some notice and less stressful for whomever you are visiting to be able to plan ahead.
  • Honesty is the best policy.  Don’t skirt around the reasons why you don’t want to split a bottle of wine or meet for breakfast at the local pastry shop.  Be simple and clear.  “It would be great to do that, but I’m on a restricted diet because I’m diabetic.”

Medications

  • Take your diabetes medicines and your blood testing supplies with you in a carry-on bag that you keep with you in the cabin. Never put them in your checked baggage.
  • Don't count on buying extra supplies when you're traveling, especially if you're going to another country. Different countries use different kinds of diabetes medicines

“Some people travel with a letter from the doctor stating they have to carry diabetes-related supplies,” says Eckler. “I also advise people to bring double the amount they think they will need.”

Consult Your Heath Care Professional

You should consider talking to your doctor or other health care professional about how to adjust your medicines, especially your insulin, if you have an itinerary that will be a lot different from your normal routine. Let your health provider know if your trip will take you across several time zones, if you will be in a place with very different temperatures, or if you will have a lot more or a lot less physical activity than normal.

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