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Traveling With Refrigerated Medications

For many people, holiday plans include some kind of travel. In addition to the ordinary stress and chaos of travel, many of us with rheumatoid arthritis also need to figure out how to travel with medications that need to be refrigerated, like injectable biologic medications. If you need to travel with refrigerated medications this holiday season, you should be sure to speak to your doctor or nurse for the best advice on transporting your medication.

But if you are still feeling nervous after that – never fear! I have traveled all over the United States and to China, Australia, and Spain with my Enbrel safely in tow! Based on my personal experiences, I’d like to offer some tips for traveling with medications that need to be refrigerated.

THE TRAVEL COOLER: The first thing you will need is a little insulated travel cooler for keeping your medication cold while you are traveling. If you don’t already have one of these, see if your medication offers a support program that can send you one for free. Make sure the cooler is insulated enough to keep ice from melting for several hours.


In your travel cooler you should pack as many doses of your medication as you will need for your trip, a frozen ice pack, and extra ziplock bags, which I’ll explain more about in a minute. You may also find it useful to include the box or container that your medication comes in with your name and prescription information, so that you won’t have any trouble proving that the medication is prescribed to you should the need arise. This has never happened to me but I figure better safe than sorry! You can also pack a travel-sized sharps container separately, though I usually just keep used syringes in my travel cooler for proper disposal when I get home.

AIR TRAVEL: If your travel plans include flying on an airplane, the most important thing to remember is that you need to carry your refrigerated medications onto the plane with you. The baggage compartment gets extremely cold while the plane is in flight and your medication may freeze and become ruined if you place it in your checked luggage.

When you go through security you should know that the official TSA policy allows you to bring medically necessary liquids, associated supplies such as syringes or auto-injectors, and ice packs to keep the liquids at the proper temperature. Passengers are requested to separate the medication container from their other belongings at the security checkpoint, though I have forgotten to do this on several occasions and it didn’t seem to be a problem. Sometimes the medication container requires an additional screening, as ice packs appear pretty solid on the x-ray screen, so they often want to take a look inside the container. In all the traveling I have done with my Enbrel, I have never had trouble getting my medication through security. But if you are still concerned or have additional questions about getting through security, you can always call TSA Cares at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling.

For flights longer than a few hours, particularly international flights, your ice pack may not be sufficient to keep your medication cold for the entire flight. When this is the case I generally tell a flight attendant about my medication as soon as I board the plane. Usually the flight attendant is able to provide you with additional ice later in the flight – which is what those extra ziplock bags in your travel cooler are for! Sometimes the flight attendant is even able to put the medication in the airplane’s refrigerator. If they are able to do that, make sure your container is labeled with your name and contact information. I usually attach my boarding pass as well so the flight attendant will remember where I am sitting. Above all make sure you don’t leave your medication on the plane!

FRIDGES AWAY FROM HOME: If you are staying with family for the holidays, you should have no problem gaining access to a fridge to store your medication once you arrive. If you are staying in a hotel room, many have mini-fridges that you can use to keep your medication cold. It’s even ok to put your medication in a mini-bar fridge – you won’t be charged so long as you don’t touch anything else. With hotel room fridges, it is important to make sure the fridge is adjusted properly, cold enough but not too cold. You should also beware of fridges that turn off when you leave the room, because in some countries it is standard practice to turn the power to a hotel room off when the room is not occupied. I saw this in China.

If there is no refrigerator in your hotel room, the fridge turns off when you leave, or you need to check out of your room but leave your luggage for the day, just let the front desk know that you have medication that needs to be refrigerated. They should be able to accommodate you. If you are travelling internationally and there is a language barrier, you may want to request to see the fridge so you can make sure your medication will be safe.

WHEN THERE’S NO FRIDGE: It’s actually completely possible to travel with refrigerated medication even if you won’t have access to a fridge on your trip. Just as perishable food can be kept fresh in an ice chest, you can use ice to preserve your medication. The key is making sure you don’t run out of ice, so you need to check on your medication ever few hours to see if you need additional ice. While this may seem like a lot of work, remember that you only need to do this until it’s time to take your dose, so you probably won’t have to worry about it for the whole trip.  Luckily, all kinds of businesses use ice – from coffee shops to gas stations to bars to hotels. In my experience, you can ask to have a small ziplock bag filled with ice almost anywhere. I always offer to pay for the ice, but most times employees will happily give you a cup of ice if you tell them you need it to keep your medication cold. Remember that ice inevitably melts, so you may want to double-bag your ice or put your medication in a separate ziplock bag to prevent leaking.

I know all this may seem a bit overwhelming, but with a little advance planning and attentiveness you can still travel the world even if you need to take medication that needs to be refrigerated. And knowing that your medication is properly taken care of is one less holiday stressor!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • PamelaP
    3 years ago

    I have just started Embrel and take my second dose tomorrow (3/31). I’m worried because I leave 4/2 for a cruise 4/3-6 and then it’s due again on 4/7. And I will be on the way home. I doubt there will be a frig in the cruise cabin. I know I can rig something but here (finally) is my question. How do you know how much crushed ice to use so that it’ll stay cold but not freeze???? Thanks so much for your time. I’m new to RA diagnosis (8/2015) but already to Embrel trying meds.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    3 years ago

    Hi Pamela ~

    In this case, I would speak with the cruise company, explain the situation, and ask if they can accommodate your medical needs. There will certainly be a refrigerator on board the ship somewhere – perhaps even in the infirmary? – and they should be able to accommodate you. Having the crew store it in a refrigerator would probably allow you to enjoy your vacation more than having to constantly check to see that your ice hasn’t melted. Because if you do end up using ice, the worry is less that the Enbrel will freeze and more that you’ll need to make sure that there is always enough ice so it stays cold enough.

    Best of luck and enjoy your vacation!

    ~Mariah~

  • LostCreekLady
    4 years ago

    I found that the small insulated cooler that Embrel provides with their Travel pack fits neatly inside a waterproof ‘Otter’ box (you have to tuck it in a bit, but if fits.) We traveled for a week from Wyoming to Ca (including several days in Yellowstone), camping the entire way. We kept the Otter box in a small ice chest, covered in crushed ice. I kept a small thermometer inside the Otter box and the meds kept a perfect temperature the entire time and stayed completely dry. (this was in the middle of a heat wave, too!)

  • Valerie Collina
    5 years ago

    Thank you for your article. I found it very helpful when planning a trip from Sydney to the UK last year although I was actually taking medicated eye drops. Since these were specifically made up for me by a hospital and were meant to be kept at 4 degrees Celsius I was quite anxious about travelling with them until I read your article. I would just like to add that as many of the motels in the UK don’t have fridges in the rooms we booked Bed and Breakfasts for most of our accommodation. I gave them some advance warning and found the hosts very helpful. I kept the medication in sealed bags to allay any fears of contamination. It is worth checking whether any rented apartments have a freezer for the gel packs as some only have a bar fridge without a freezer. Ice was available at the service stations however.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks for the extra tips, Valerie!

  • Leslie Rott moderator
    5 years ago

    Glad you found this post helpful. Traveling with medications can be stressful, but can be done.

  • Sue Meehan
    5 years ago

    Hi there, I just wanted to say thank you for this article. It’s really informative and reassuring. My partner has psoriatic arthritis and we are travelling soon for the first time with the medication. We have a few different international and internal flights and trying to find information on keeping the medication cool has been hard. Thanks so much for this. We’ve been really concerned about it and this has really helped to lift our worries.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi Sue! So glad you found this post helpful! And so glad you are still getting to travel! With a little advanced planning it is still totally possible! Best of luck to you!

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