How to Travel with Insulin

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I have had the opportunity to travel all around the world. I’ve been to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and all over the U.S. Su and I love to travel. Traveling became more interesting when I found out that I am a type 1 diabetic. As a result, I’ve had to change the way I travel slightly to accommodate insulin that needs to stay cool.

Traveling to the African Bush was what prompted me to look for a better insulin cooling solution.

Learning how to travel with insulin

When I was first diagnosed, I was on a family tip in Florida. Needless to say, I had to add a few things to my luggage. I had several glass vials of insulin, syringes, two glucagon kits, and all the supplies needed for injections and blood sugar testing. I also carried a binder to keep a log of everything I ate, how much insulin I injected, and all my meter readings. I had a whole duffle bag dedicated just to my medication and supplies. On top of that, I needed to carry some sort of cooling apparatus to keep my insulin and glucagon alive. It was a lot of stuff to travel with.

A better-ish bag

When I got home, I started my search for a better way to carry everything I needed. There had to be a better way. Also, as a new diabetic, I wasn’t sure how much of the stuff I was prescribed I would need on a day-to-day basis.
I went on Amazon and found a somewhat large ice pack cooled bag. The company is no longer selling these from what I can gather. But here is the old listing on Amazon. It sounded great. It promised up to 13 hours of cool temperatures in up to 100 degree heat. In reality, it probably lasted more like 5-6, which is still good. I travelled with that bag on cruises, to Alaska, camping, etc. It worked well, but there was always the possibility of not finding a way to freeze my ice pack. I needed something better.

Enter the Frio Bags

How to travel with insulin, Frio pouch to keep everything cool.
One of my original Frio pouches that I have had since 2013

When it came to international travel to destinations where a freezer, or even refrigeration was not guaranteed, I had to find something else. Enter Frio cases.
My mom bought a couple of these for me as a gift after finding them online. I thought they were a neat idea, but didn’t realize how great they were until we were faced with going to the middle of no where in Ethiopia.
They work by using some high absorption silica type material that absorbs water and holds it in the outer lining of the bag.

Frio Bags on Amazon

In Africa, it kept my medication cool and safe. The puffy nature of the bag also act as padding around the vials or pens. They have lived up to their promise. They keep my insulin cool and are easy to carry around. I don’t have to constantly worry about if my next stop will have the ability to freeze an ice pack. When I fly, I don’t have to alert the TSA that I have an ice pack (I still let them know I have medication).

Dozens of airports around the world without an issue

Since carrying the Frio bags, I haven’t had a single issue with Airport security or any security at any facility. Since the water evaporates rather than turning from a solid to a liquid, I haven’t had an issues in areas that have liquid restrictions. When I first started using the Frio Bags, I had two of the small bags. That worked great for trips of about two weeks (I never want to end a trip on my last vial or pen just in case something happens like the time I broke a vial of Lantus in Jordan).

The frio bag is essential when trying to figure out how to travel with insulin
The Frio Small bag can hold two pens or two vials. Though, things will get a little snug if you let the bag soak up too much water.

More Storage

When Su and I decided that we were going to spend 3 weeks in New Zealand, I knew I needed to find something to carry more insulin pens. That’s where the large wallet comes in. With large wallet and my 2 small bags, I could carry 9-10+ pens. More than enough. Also, having more than 1 Frio meant that I was also able to keep my spare insulin in another carry-on bag while we were traveling just in case something got lost or stolen.

The frio bag is essential when trying to figure out how to travel with insulin
When they are dried out, they weigh very little and don’t take up much space at all.

The bags work great for traveling. You can fill them up before leaving home and not have to worry about them for over a week. Mine have lasted even longer than that without the need to top them off. When I was in Africa for 8 days, my two small pouches lasted the entire time plus the 18+ hour flights without the need to waste potable water filling them up again.

Filling up the Frio Bags

When it’s time to fill them up, I just plug the sink and let them sit in some water for a while, or I use a bowl or some other container to let them soak. When they are brand new, they will soak up enough water to use them in a few minutes. But as they get older, the soaking time gets longer. I will sometimes let them go for a half hour or longer. But they still work great.

The Frio Bag getting inflated and filled with water
To “fill” them up, I use a bowl or some other container with water and let them soak for a while.
The frio bag is essential when trying to figure out how to travel with insulin
The Frio Large Wallet all filled up and ready to keep my insulin cool.

A bag to hold the bags

In the years since become diabetic, I’ve learned a lot about how to travel with insulin. For a long time I carried around the Frio bags in my larger, Medi-cooler bag. But the more I traveled with insulin, the more I realized what a waste of space that big bag was. It was tough to fit into my carry-on. So I went on a search to find a better way to take my insulin with me.
What I found was the ChillMed Bag. This thing has been awesome. It fits very well into my laptop bag that I carry on flights. I put it in a backpack when we go to theme parks or on hikes.

My chillmed bag is essential when trying to figure out how to travel with insulin
The front is an opaque, breathable mesh that allows the evaporative cooling of the Frio pouches to work their magic.

The front of the bag has a breathable mesh that allows the Frio pouches to continue to evaporate out the water and keep my insulin cool. It’s just the right size. The front holds my Small Frio bag, while the back has room for a meter, needles, syringes, alcohol pads…. whatever I need, all while not feeling bulky.

My chillmed bag had extra room to carry essentials
ChillMed Bag with a Frio Small.

Getting through airport security

Since getting and using the Frio bags, I haven’t yet had an issue getting through security at an airport. I’ve had them with me flying through Sacramento, LAX, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Sea-Tac, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Amman, Addis-Ababa, Aukland, Christchurch, Taipei, and Phnom Penh airports to name a few. I send all of my insulin through the X-ray machine. One note, I never put any insulin in my checked bags. I always have it with me in my laptop bag. Sometimes that means I am carrying quite a bit of insulin and no one has looked twice at it.

How to handle insulin at your destination

Sometimes traveling can cause some anxiety for diabetics. There are always questions like, “will there be a fridge in my room?”, or “will I have the ability to freeze an ice pack?” I remember several times getting to a hotel that specifically said it had a refrigerator and not finding one. Or finding a fridge that didn’t work… or froze things. It used to give me a lot of grief. But now I don’t really worry about it having bags that keep everything at the right temperature. One great thing about the Frio bags is that they actually can insulate your insulin from getting too cold. I got in the habit of putting my insulin in the fridge inside of a one of the Frio pouches. It has saved my insulin from freezing in a hotel fridge many times.

Hopefully this has been helpful. There are so many other things I could write, but I don’t know what of that would be helpful. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments and I can hopefully answer them.

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