Thursday, June 15, 2017

How I Travel With Medication

Due to the autoimmune disease Crohn’s, I travel with the medication Humira and use the pre-filled pens twice a month. Humira is an injectable biologic (genetically engineered protein) that blocks inflammation and is used for treating a number of autoimmune diseases. Any kind of traveling with this type of medication can be a pain in the butt because it must be stored at 36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit. But having to deal with this inconvenience is not going to keep me from living my life as I choose; and right now, I choose to live my life as a full-time traveler.

I have found one must be creative when traveling with refrigerated medication. Long travel days with layovers and such, or no in-room refrigerators can be frustrating. But I have found many people to be quite understanding and helpful in keeping my medication cooled within range. I have given my medication and gel-packs to complete strangers to store even though I can't monitor the temp. On layovers at airports, I extend the time my medication can travel safely by going to one of the lounges or bars and asking them to freeze gel-packs and refrigerate the pens. If they can, they are more than accommodating. In Barcelona, the hotel freezer quit so my gel-packs were not frozen when I was leaving for a long travel day. I found some ice, loaded zip-lock bags and filled my cooler. We were not flying so the ice was no problem. But what would I have done if we were flying? I would have found a restaurant or bar willing to help prior to takeoff, and once on the plane, I would either ice it down or the airline attendant would have refrigerated it depending on the airline’s restrictions.

It helps to keep an open mind and sense of humor anytime, but becomes even more important when traveling with refrigerated medication. Am I worried about keeping the temperature range? Absolutely not! Otherwise, I'd be a nervous wreck and I wouldn’t travel! I try and have a sense of adventure and look at any glitches as a learning opportunity for future travels. I can’t predict all potential problems and I don’t worry about not always being able to monitor the temps. I trust it will be okay. I’m sure you have a lot of what ifs going through your mind, so let’s cut to the chase, what’s the worst that can happen - if the medication is spoiled, damaged, or lost? If that is ever the case, I know I’ll take charge of the situation and sort it out. Pain in the butt, you bet. But I'm willing to deal with it so I can keep myself healthy and enjoy my traveling lifestyle.

I have been asked by a number of people how I manage traveling with this type of medication, so for those who would like to understand more, read on...

  • Receiving medications: My health insurance allows me to have up to 3 months medication and my mail-order prescription company will send them to me anywhere in the United States. When out of the country, I must travel with whatever medication I may need for the time I’m gone, and fortunately my health insurance allows me to order one vacation override per year. That has covered the number of pens I have needed.
  • Gel packs: Humira is shipped with gel-packs. I always keep a few in a freezer with someone at our home base. These are much easier than traveling with ice because they don't turn to liquid when they melt, and with a good insulated cooler can last for at least 18 hours in the proper temperature range.
  • Monitoring temperature rage: I can monitor the temp by carrying a wireless thermometer. The sensor is kept along with the Humira pens and the small readout device fits easily into a very small compartment in whatever else I may be carrying. It’s also handy to monitor refrigerators before storing my meds. I find most hotel and home refrigerators are not in the correct range for the food even if they are currently storing food! Nevertheless, I adjust the temp and keep an eye on the monitor.
  • Insulated coolers:
    • Thermoelectric Cooler: When driving around North America I use a Koolatron cooler that plugs into a car battery, and has an AC adaptor if necessary for motel rooms without refrigerators. It's an easy way to store medication on long drives - particularly when it is warm outside. I can also add refrigerated or frozen gel-packs for when the car is not running.
    • Insulated Cooler: Polar Bear coolers work well along with 2-4 gel packs.
  • Air travel and airport security: There are strict guidelines for flying with carry-ons but medications are considered essential carry-on items. Even so, every time I fly I check restrictions prior to flying. Any medications or supplements we carry are labeled, and I carry more extensive information regarding prefilled injection pens in case there are any questions. Most of the time I'm asked by security screening personnel to open the cooler so they can insure nothing will leak. I keep each gel-pack in zip-lock bags for this reason even though Polar Bear coolers do not leak, but try explaining that to security! I’d rather not have to open the cooler as it lets the cool air escape and reduces overall storage time, but I have no choice in this matter either. And believe me, I’ve tried!