Diabetes and vacations

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Find out what you need to know about managing diabetes while on vacation or while your child is away at camp.

Key points

  • Make sure you have all the supplies necessary to manage your child's diabetes while on vacation. Always be prepared in case of an emergency.
  • If your child is going away without you, make sure they are prepared to manage their own care. If your child is young, inform a parent or camp counsellor of your child's condition, and make sure they know how to manage it.

Your child’s diabetes should not discourage you from travelling with your child, even abroad. Careful planning will ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday.

Managing diabetes while on vacation

Here are some tips for managing your child's diabetes while on vacation.

  • Take enough insulin​ and other supplies to last for the entire trip and some to spare. Keep the extra in a separate location from the main supply, in case one of your bags is lost or stolen.
    • Make sure your insulin is protected against extreme hot or cold temperatures to avoid damaging it. Open insulin bottles can be safely stored in a refrigerator or at room temperature for up to one month.
  • If you are boarding a plane, make sure all your supplies are in your carry-on baggage. For international travel, it may help to bring a letter of permission from your doctor explaining the equipment your child needs to have.
  • Wherever you go, always carry some food, together with a good supply of fast-acting sugar to treat “low blood sugar” (hypoglycemia).
  • Plan to monitor blood glucose (sugar) at least four or more times a day, specifically before meals and at bedtime. The routine will differ from the one at home and you will need to know how your child’s blood sugar level is affected so you can make safe adjustments.
  • For active holidays, you may need to reduce your child's insulin. Discuss any change with members of your diabetes team.
  • Take the phone numbers of key members of your diabetes team.
  • Make sure your child wears some form of diabetes identification, such as a MedicAlert bracelet.
  • Be prepared for emergencies. If your child is taking insulin, take the glucagon kit with you, so you can respond to a severe hypoglycemic event if necessary. Also, map out sick-day guidelines and bring ketone testing strips with you.

Time-zone changes

There is no magic formula to help you figure out how to adjust insulin for a time-zone change. Every situation and individual is different. Make sure you know well the time action of the types of insulin your child uses. Gather all the information you can about your flight, including time change and available food (you should bring along extra). Then sit down with your diabetes team to figure out a plan.

Travel insurance

You should obtain travel insurance before every trip. Some diabetes associations offer travel insurance to members. Contact your nearest branch for more information.

Managing diabetes while on wilderness camping trips

Your family may want to go on longer camping trips in the wilderness, where you may be cut off from civilization for a number of days. Or your teen may want to go camping with friends. Before letting them go, you should make sure that they understand the issues involved in being out in the wilderness. They should be committed to doing more, rather than less, blood sugar testing on the trip. You should make every effort to ensure that there is some method of communication with “civilization” if at all possible.

Managing diabetes while in summer camp

For many school-age children and teens, summertime means not only a holiday from school, but also the opportunity to play and spend time with friends at either day camps or overnight residential camps. For children with diabetes the situation is the same. With proper planning they too can enjoy a fun-filled, healthy and safe camp experience.

Preparing for day camp

The preparation for day camps is similar to preparation for a family day out or a day trip at school. Make sure your child has all meals and snacks prepared and packed. With the exception of children who are on a lunchtime injection and are able to administer it themselves, with minor adjustments in timing all insulin injections can be given at home as usual. Similarly, at least three daily blood sugar tests can be performed at home, and blood sugar levels can be monitored by the usual caregiver. Most children should do a pre-lunch sugar check at camp.

Ask camp staff about the levels of activity in which your child may participate. Inform them that your child has diabetes and emphasize the importance of the timing of food intake. Explain the signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia in your child and supply the counsellor with a source of rapid-acting sugar to treat hypoglycemia.

Furthermore, you must explain to the camp staff what to do in the event of severe hypoglycemia. Meeting up with a member of the staff before camp begins, as you would with teachers, is a great way to make sure they are well informed before the hustle and bustle of the first day.

Are overnight camps safe for children with diabetes?

Overnight camps are absolutely safe. Many diabetes organizations have set up camps especially for children with diabetes to provide a happy and safe camping experience and to ensure that the principles of daily diabetes care are followed.

Whenever possible, children and teens with diabetes should have the chance to attend such camps. They are usually staffed by doctors and nurses experienced in the care of children with diabetes. In addition, an experienced dietitian is there to assist the children in meal planning​. The programming staff is accustomed to working with campers with diabetes and develop programs to match the timing of daily diabetes routines.

These camps give children the opportunity to spend several days or weeks with other campers who also have diabetes. Some children learn to give their own injections for the first time under the direction of the camp nurse and with the encouragement of their summer friends. For others, especially those from smaller communities, this may be their first experience of not being the only child with diabetes.

Children are not the only ones who benefit from camp. Many caregivers find comfort in knowing that their child follows their diabetes routines and that the children are in the care of competent staff familiar with the disease. They feel secure in the knowledge that blood sugar checks will be done during the day and overnight as necessary, and that extra snacks will be provided when needed. With such a support system, the children can enjoy the full range of camp experiences, including swimming, boating, hiking, crafts and drama, without the burden of managing their diabetes care alone.

Some children and most teens prefer to go to camps not specifically aimed at those with diabetes. If your child or teen has sufficient knowledge, sense of responsibility, and willingness to monitor the condition, this too can be accommodated by proper planning.

Remember that most children attending camp are more active than usual and have less access to food between meals. As a result, they may require a lower or different insulin dose to avoid hypoglycemic episodes. More frequent blood sugar monitoring will be needed to determine the actual insulin requirement. Whenever possible, choose a camp with a full-time physician and nurse on site who can help deal with diabetes routines and any illness that may occur.

Last updated: September 25th 2017