Hi, my name is Yaser.
Me and my partner Linda had long thought about taking a year off to travel the world – see the sights and experience the cultures. We had been living in London for a couple of years but had been discussing moving back to our home country (Sweden) and we quickly realised that that was the golden opportunity. Unhindered by jobs or apartments we were going to fulfil our dreams.
We planned it for months, spent countless hours looking at maps, imagining far away places and deciding where to go and what to skip.
3 months before the flight would take off disaster struck: I was diagnosed with diabetes type 1.
World travel with type 1 diabetes?
My story probably isn’t that much different from anyone else’s. Gradually I started drinking more and more water with the resulting nature calls. When it got so bad that I downed half a liter of water but still felt thirsty I realised something was wrong and at an age of over 30 years I was diagnosed. The following visits to healthcare specialists and doctors where as many as they are boring but one thing kept going through our minds the entire ordeal: “Will we still be able to fulfil our dream?”.
My doctor was clear on the subject: If I could learn to manage my diabetes during the 3 months I had left before our flight would take off, she saw no reason why I shouldn’t go on the trip.
“Just remember to keep the insulin cool – you will get quite a lot of it and it may be rather expensive to get hold of more”. The first part of our trip was to be a safari through southern parts of Africa – in August.
We quickly checked. Temperatures of about 40 degrees celsius were not uncommon. How would we ever make it? Maybe we should skip that part and then only live in hotels with a mini-fridge? We had already spent quite a bit of money on the safari and were not ready to give up on it quite yet.
Keeping insulin temperature in check: MedAngel
We talked to the organisers and they told us that they would keep a cooling bag for the cook to keep some food chilled. That seemed to be our way out. We started experimenting with our own smaller cooling bag and some ice and quickly discovered that measuring the temperature is a real problem. Since we wanted to keep a close eye on the temperature this would mean opening it up quite often to check, which would let hot air in and make the ice melt faster.
My partner did some googling to try and find a remote thermometer. We had already realised that some wireless solution would fit our needs best since we expected not to have direct access to the chef’s cooler at all times.
Thus we found MedAngel – a thermometer built specifically for the purpose of measuring insulin temperature. It works via bluetooth and an app. In the app you can specify which insulin you are storing (more than one kind can be added) and it will automatically set the temperature range.
Whenever we started the app we got a measurement and most of the time we got not only the current value but also a graph of the temperatures that it had measured since last the app was opened. Sometimes the graph had gaps in it – I’m not sure why but there might have been some condition we missed (Linda and Yaser started their journey in summer 2017 and used an early version of the app).
How to keep insulin cool on a safari
With the MedAngel we could start experimenting for real. We discovered that covering the insulin pens with ice made it too cool rather quickly and we came up with a two cooling bag solution. A smaller cooling bag contained the insulin and was placed in the larger cooling bag. The larger cooling bag was then filled with ice (making sure that it completely surrounded the smaller one).
This seemed to do the job well enough! Sometimes the temperature would drop a bit below 2 degrees and sometimes it would get a bit too warm (typically after opening it all up), but never for any extended period of time, since we had the possibility to see the temperature at all time.
This solution, placed in an even larger cooling box belonging to the chef, was what kept my insulin safe for 3 weeks travelling through Southern Africa.
We experienced outside temperatures ranging from 5 degrees celsius in the night to at least 40 degrees celsius during the day.
MedAngel proved to be invaluable. Whenever we had any suspicion that the temperature was wrong we could easily check it and adjust accordingly.
In addition to the MedAngel that was placed with my unopened stash of insulin we also bought a second one to keep together with the insulin currently in use. Thanks to a FRIO bag we bought, the insulin should be kept at room temperature. With the second MedAngel I could ensure that was the case.
Travelling with insulin: Hotel refrigerators, airplanes and lots of ice
The rest of the trip we had access to fridges – in my mind that would be the easy part. Turns out some hotels mini-fridges really aren’t that cold and some are too cold. Some lesser quality hotels didn’t have a fridge in the room but we were able to keep the insulin in the kitchen. Through all of this I could always rely on being able to measure the temperature effortlessly. I should point out that the Bluetooth solution of the MedAngel does have a reach limit so when the insulin was kept in the kitchen of the hotel, I had to politely knock and ask if I could just do a quick measurement.
I should mention a quick note about flying with insulin. Since we didn’t want the insulin to get warm during the flights, we used the cooling bag solution when flying as well.In most countries, a cooling bag filled with melting ice was just waved through the security check. In the countries where it wasn’t, showing the doctors note about having to carry insulin was enough to convince the staff that all was in order.
The only problem we had with the thermometers was that in the end they started becoming unreachable at times. When encasing something in melting ice as often as we did there is bound to be some leakage. After finding the thermometer in water a couple of times, we started putting it in a plastic bag. Even so it became wet at times and I suspect that is the reason why, at the end of the trip, the thermometers had become a bit harder to use although it never failed us outright.
In the end, the supply of insulin I got before starting the trip, lasted the entire 180 days trip through 18 different countries, from the freezing winds of Seoul (-18 degrees celsius) and to the Kalahari desert (+40 degrees celsius).
I do not think that would have been possible without MedAngel.
When Yaser got diagnosed just a few months before the big trip, his partner Linda learned everything about what it means to live with diabetes alongside in the same short amount of time. She was also the one who researched how to organize a round the world trip with a year supply of insulin and reached out to us. They received two MedAngel sensors from us for free in agreement that they would give us their feedback on the product and we could share their experience here. All photo credit Linda Nordström.