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TRAVELING WITH INSULIN: How to keep it cool

TRAVELING WITH INSULIN

How to keep it cool!

As we saw in our previous articles, traveling with diabetes does require a little bit of preplanning, especially when you’re carrying diabetes supplies with you. And it gets even trickier when traveling with insulin. But nothing too complicated at all!

Whether you’re using insulin for type 2 diabetes or for type 1 diabetes, our following tips for traveling will insulin concern you. We’ll go together over the following points (click and jump to any part):

Insulin storage rules

Traveling with insulin (short travels)

Traveling with insulin (long travels)

Insulin travel coolers reviews

How to make your own insulin cooling bag

Fridge Surfing, travelers with insulin around the World

Flying with insulin

Free monthly diabetes & travel e-Magazine

Before we enter the subject, don’t forget to check your diabetes travel insurance policy and to download your diabetes travel letter!


INSULIN STORAGE RULES:
REMINDER!

If, like me, you have an insulin-dependent diabetes, type 2 or type 1 indifferently, you’re most likely already aware of the basic insulin storage rules. But before you travel with insulin, make sure you remember how to store insulin properly!

INSULIN STORAGE TEMPERATURE

The general rule is that insulin that is not in use, whether it’s contained in pens, vials or cartridges, should be stored in your refrigerator (between 2°C and 8°C / between 35.6°F and 46.4°F).

Insulin storage temperature is between:

2°C and 8°C

35.6°F and 46.4°F

I say “general” because there are always a few exceptions to the rule. Although insulin drug manufacturers seems to all share the same insulin storage chart, some insulins might have a slightly different storage specificity. Double check with the patient notice of your own insulin brand just to be sure!.

CAN INSULIN FREEZE?

YES! Insulin can freeze. And that’s not good. Do not use frozen insulin, even after thawing. The mere fact that it froze has probably broken your insulin. It will be much less effective, if not completely useless.

So, if you’re traveling with insulin in very cold places where you think it could freeze, never leave it alone. Keep it on you, close to your body, inside the interior pocket of your jacket for example. Your body warmth should be enough to forbid freezing. 

HOW LONG CAN YOU KEEP INSULIN OUT OF THE REFRIGERATOR?

According to diabetes drug manufacturers, open insulin (the one that you’re using right now) can be kept out of the fridge for 28 days. But reality is not that strict… If you still have some after 28 days, you can actually push up to 30, 32, or even more. That’s only if you’ve been very careful to keep your insulin away from high temperatures (over 25°C / 77°F).

CAN INSULIN GO BAD?

YES! Insulin can go bad. Especially if exposed to high temperatures and direct sunlight.

While traveling with insulin, be careful not to expose it to temperatures over 25°C / 77°F for a long time.

As a general tip, always keep your insulin in the shade! Do not leave it in the car on a sunny day, do not store it near the cooker, and do not leave it in your leather bag in the sun on the beach… 

But don’t get too stressed about it neither. It’s mostly common-sense practice. You won’t destroy your insulin simply by walking one hour under a strong Mexican sun at 35°C / 95°F. But if you do it every day, or for an entire full day, you should definitely use an insulin cooler bag! 

CLOUDY INSULIN HAS GONE BAD

You most probably will be able to see by yourself if your insulin has gone bad. If you notice any changes of aspect (cloudy, lumpy…), your insulin has probably gone bad. 

And unfortunately, you’ll rapidly notice if your insulin has gone bad: your blood sugars won’t go down that easily! If you have any doubts, throw away your current insulin, and get a new pen or vial freshly out of your storage fridge.

INSULIN EXPIRATION

It might sound silly to say it, but before packing all of your diabetes supplies for your travel, have you checked your insulin expiration date? It’s generally written on the insulin box. Make sure all the insulin you’re packing will be good for the whole length of your trip!

Usually, when you buy insulin, its expiration date is about a year ahead.

And now that you’ve mastered in general insulin storage rules, let’s complicate it a little bit and deal with insulin storage while traveling!


TRAVELING WITH INSULIN
FOR LESS THAN A MONTH

That’s the easy case! As seen above, your in-use insulin pens, vials, or cartridges, can be kept out of the fridge for about a month. So, if you’re traveling with insulin for less than a month, all you’ll need are some common sense good practices to keep it at room temperature.

KEEPING INSULIN AT ROOM TEMPERATURE

If you’re traveling with insulin supplies for less than a month, you will only need to keep your insulin at room temperature (between 10°C and 25°C / 50°F and 77°F). That means you’ll only have to take specific precautions when traveling to very hot or very cold destinations.

PROTECTING INSULIN AGAINST HIGH HEAT

While traveling with insulin, be careful not to expose it to temperatures over 25°C / 77°F for a long time.

As a general tip, always keep your insulin in the shade! Do not leave it in the car on a sunny day, do not store it near the cooker, and do not leave it in your leather bag in the sun on the beach… 

But don’t get too stressed about it neither. It’s mostly common-sense practice. You won’t destroy your insulin simply by walking one hour under a strong Mexican sun at 35°C / 95°F. But if you do it every day all day long, you should consider using an insulin cooler bag. In that case, something like a Frio Insulin Cooling Case would be enough, easy to use, and would do a great job!

FRIO INSULIN COOLING CASE

Frio insulin Cooling case

“The FRIO® Insulin Cooling Case is a reusable evaporative cooler whose cooling properties do not come from an icepack – or anything that needs refrigeration. Its cooling properties come from the evaporation of water. When activated, it keeps its low temperature for a minimum of two days, even in temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit”

www.frioinsulincoolingcase.com

Frio bags are very easy to use. I always carry the Frio Duo Insulin Cooling case when traveling with insulin. I use it for my in-use insulin pens when I’m going to spend a day under high heat. It works great and its very practical: all you need to make it work is some fresh water (no electricity nor ice!).

They provide different sizes and formats adapted to both insulin pens and vials. And the prices are quite reasonable (22-30$). Check it out here!

PROTECTING INSULIN AGAINST EXTREME COLD

Insulin can freeze if exposed to extremely cold temperatures. And frozen insulin is good for your trash! If you’re traveling to extremely cold weather destinations, you’ll have to protection your insulin against the cold.

We’re talking extremely cold here! It means if it is constantly under 0°C / 32°F, don’t leave your insulin outside all day and night. Keep your insulin inside the house, at room temperature.

And if you go outside by extremely cold weather, simply keep your insulin close to your body, in the interior pocket of your jacket for example. Your body warmth will do the job and prevent your insulin from freezing!


TRAVELING WITH INSULIN FOR MORE THAN A MONTH

If you’re traveling with insulin supplies for more than a month, you’ll probably need a more complex equipment. Indeed, you’ll need to be able to constantly keep your stocks of insulin at fridge temperature (between 2°C and 8°C / 35.6°F and 46.4°F).

You’ll need to find the equipment and the organisation you’re the most comfortable with. It’s a personal decision and really depends you and on the type of travel you’re planning.

INSULIN TRAVEL COOLERS REVIEWS

Insulin travel coolers can be a good solution to keep your insulin cool while traveling. Be careful though: you’ll need to choose one that keeps your insulin stocks at fridge temperature! And there are not that many…

Most of them will keep it only at room temperature, like the Frio Insulin Cooling case. It works great for you in-use insulin, but is NOT adapted to your stocks of insulin that need to be stored at fridge temperature.

Unfortunately, insulin travel coolers that keeps your insulin at fridge temperature are a bit more expensive. Here’s a selection of those we found were the most efficient:

MEDICOOL INSULIN PROTECTOR

Medicool insulin protector
Click to access website

Temperature: fridge temperature

Duration: up to 16 hours

Price: around 30$

Pros: comes with 2 refreezeable cooler packs/ well adapted to short trips / Provides pockets for syringes and alcohol swabs / high quality material / affordable price

Cons: small capacity for vials (2) / not adapted to insulin pens / not adapted to long trips / a bit too bulky / need a freezer to use the cold packs

MEDI-FRIDGE

Medi-fridge
Click to access website

MediFridge is a true mini-fridge invented by a Type 1 diabetic Doctor and specially designed for people traveling with insulin. 

Temperature: fridge temperature

Duration: works on battery and/or power

Price: around 80$

Pros: adapted for insulin pens and vials / bigger capacity ( 6 vials – 2 pens) / high quality / well-adapted for short trips

Cons: quite bulky / high price / requires energy to work / not adapted for big stocks of insulin

ALLCAMP INSULIN TRAVEL COOLER

Insulin travel cooler
Click to access website

Temperature: fridge temperatureDuration: up to 24 hours

Price: around 25$

Pros: good capacity (5-6 insulin pens) / easy to use / low-price / good quality / adapted to longer travels

Cons: needs gel ice packs to work (included)

PORTABLE INSULIN COOLER DISON

Portable insulin cooler dison
Click to access website

Temperature: fridge temperature
Duration: 6 to 8 hours on battery / power / vehicle power
Price: around 120$
Pros: ideal for road trips / easy to use / good quality
Cons: high price / small capacity / quite bulky

INSULIN COOLING BAG: MAKE YOUR OWN!

If the above prices scare you away, or if you need an insulin travel cooler more adapted to your personal needs, you can also decide to make your own one! Depending on your personal needs and tastes, it can cost you as little as 10$.

All you’ll need to make your own insulin cooler bag a good insulated cooling bag, some ice, ice packs or gels, and a thermometer:

INSULATED COOLING BAG

To pack your stocks of insulin that need to stay refrigerated while traveling, the first thing you need is a good insulated cooling bag. Nothing crazy, any regular cooling bag that you use to pack your picnic will do it.

The good point is you get to choose the size that can go from as small as 100mL to more than 10L. Enough to pack insulin vials or pens for years of travel! And you get to choose its colours as well as its ergonomics (are you more shoulder bag or backpack?).

Prices will range from as little as 5$ to around 30$ for the biggest ones. You’ll find them anywhere online or at your regular supermarket.

Insulin cooling bag
Get your own insulated cooling bag!

ICE, ICE PACKS OR ICE GELS

To keep your insulin cold while traveling, you’ll need to add some ice, bottles of ice, ice packs or ice gels in your insulated cooling bag. It’s really your own choice as to what you prefer using.

Regular ice: you can get it from pretty much any supermarket anywhere in the world for really cheap. If you ask nicely, any restaurant/bar/coffee shop would be happy to refill your bag with free ice cubes.

Ice bottles: fill any plastic bottle with water and freeze it. It’s free! But you’ll need access to a freezer every 24 hours to re-freeze your water.

Ice packs and gels: they’re reusable! And not very expensive. But you’ll need to have access to a freezer at least every 24 hours to reactivate them!

ISOLATE YOUR INSULIN FROM THE ICE!

You want your insulin to stay cool, not to freeze! It’s important that you keep it isolated from the ice inside your cooling bag. I usually put a dry towel around my insulin pens, and wrap it in a plastic bag. That way, my insulin won’t get wet nor in direct contact with the ice.

THERMOMETER

This is optional, but if you want to check the temperature inside your insulin cooling bag, I’d recommend you use a thermometer. That way, you’ll know exactly when the temperature inside your bag is rising up, and will be able to control it by adding some more fresh ice.

Get a waterproof thermometer, as it will get humid inside your bag! Or directly go for the top-of-the-top: MedAngel ONE Bluetooth thermometer.

MedAngle ONE Bluetooth thermometer

MedAngel insulin thermometer
Click to access website

MedAngel is a wireless thermometer and app for iPhone and Android specially designed to monitor the temperature of medication. Its sensors constantly measures the temperature inside your insulin cooling bag and communicates with your phone to alarm you when the temperature is getting outside of the defined range.

The only downside is its price: 49,90$. But if you’re often traveling with insulin, it’s an efficient investment for you comfort and tranquility.


FRIDGE SURFING
TRAVELERS WITH INSULIN AROUND THE WORLD

Some of us can have a hard time refrigerating our insulin while traveling, especially for stays that go over a month. We take off with a backpack, we’re not really sure where we’re going to end up sleeping, if there will be a refrigerator available, and/or we change accommodation from one day to the next… Sometimes, we’re really going to need to store our insulin pens or cartridges in a refrigerator while we freely go about our business. 

Sweet Trip is bringing volunteer insulin hosts together with travelers in search of a refrigerator.

Fridge Surfing is FREE. It’s SIMPLE. And it can do one heck of a lot of good!


FLYING WITH INSULIN

Ok! Now that you’ve packed your insulin, you’re almost set! But before departure, you might want to check some points about flying with insulin… Lucky you, we’ve written two articles on the subject!

Should you pack your insulin in your carry-on or checked baggage?

Can your insulin cooler bag get through airport security?

What about insulin pumps at airport security checks?

How to inject insulin on the plane?

It’s all answered in these articles:


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