Best way to keep a cooler cold

We are moving to Florida from NY in 3 weeks, and driving down. I got a good Igloo cooler and now I’m wondering what is the best ice to use. Should I fill bags with water and freeze, use frozen outlet water, or should I get the blue packs and combine with frozen water. I’ll have insulin in the cooler, and my precious French butter, so I’d appreciate any help you can give. Thanks, HOs.

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I suggest starting with a block or two of ice. A larger block will melt slower than smaller forms.

You can always restock at any gas station or convenience store along the way.

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The best way to keep a cooler cold is really good insulation. My good Yeti cooler is MUCH better than my Igloo and Coleman coolers. You can improve matters substantially. First fold up a quilted moving blanket or a comforter to the size or a bit bigger than the cooler and lay that down with the cooler on top. More blankets and/or comforters wrapped around the cooler. I’m assuming that since you have insulin in the cooler you’ll need access so drape a final layer of blanket/comforter on top that you can move aside. The back seat will be better than the trunk as heat from outside the car will be buffered by the seat and the passenger cabin will be air conditioned.

Don’t open the cooler more than necessary. Keep a separate cooler for drinks and road food. The insulin and the butter are your priority.

Don’t put warm things in the cooler. Everything that goes in should be pre-chilled.

Now we get to ice. Get really cold hard solid ice. Yes water ice all melts at 32F but it makes a difference if it comes out of a rickety old ice fridge at the corner 7-11 at 30F or from a reputable distributor at 20F. Get cold ice.

Block ice will last longer than cube ice but you don’t really care how long the ice lasts - you care about keeping the cooler cold. Block ice and cube ice both melt at 32F. This is why insulation is the most important thing followed by not opening the cooler if you don’t have to. The real benefit of block ice is that the reduced surface area does slow melting so things near the block(s) will stay cold longer. If your cooler is big enough I would put a block at each end and a bed of cubes in the bottom. Wrap your contents so you don’t have to worry about melt water. The butter won’t care but I’d put the insulin in a snaplock container like Lock-n-Lock.

Don’t drain the melt water. Why replace the cold ice water with warm air?

I don’t know what the issues with insulin are so see your pharmacist. If they can sustain real cold I’d put wrapped dry ice at each end (-40F I believe) and otherwise proceed as above. Take the next day’s insulin out of the cold cooler and put it in the day cooler with drinks and road food so it isn’t TOO cold.

Time is the biggest enemy. Here’s what I tell ICW snowbirds going by boat from New England to Florida. GET OUT OF BED. Get up, start coffee (if that is your thing), load the car. Coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner underway. Do NOT make multiple stops. When you stop for fuel that is when you get water, other drinks, etc. Most of my constituency don’t like boating at night (weenies grin) so I get them moving from first light to last light. You might be able to go longer. Every time you have to stop to pee swap drivers. Rest when you aren’t driving. When you stop for the night set up coffee for the morning and meals for the next day. No reason you can’t pretty easily make 700 mile days in daylight this time of year and with a little pressure 1,000. Do as much as you can ahead of time by phone. Don’t spend 30 minutes in front of a hotel counter when you can check-in by phone and spend that 30 minutes in the shower or asleep in bed.

Please remember to check in with us underway. I can’t speak for anyone else but I suspect you have a pretty interesting safety net through New Jersey and Maryland and North Carolina. I’m sure I’ve missed some people.

ETA: I looked it up - dry ice is way too cold for insulin. Stick with water ice. 36F to 46F should be easy to maintain from NY to FL. If you have a remote thermometer for ovens or grills you might stick the probe in with the insulin. Information is power.


. “No reason you can’t pretty easily make 700 mile days in daylight this time of year and with a little pressure 1,000.”

I pack drinks, snacks, food, so we don’t have to make any unnecessary stops. 500 miles a day is about all we’re interested in nowadays. And even That’s pushing it.:slightly_smiling_face:

We all have our thresholds. I assumed 50 mph average for 14 daylight hours. The key is your packed drinks, snacks, food; swapping drivers; stopping only for fuel.

I did back to back thousand mile days from DC to TX back in 1990 on a motorcycle. I’m pretty sure I could not do that again. 700 mile days with two drivers in a car is still in our grasp. Not fun, and not something I’d do for a holiday, but for trying to make miles achievable.

Google Maps and Waze have helped a lot avoiding traffic. Every time I try to outsmart my phone it bites me. Metaphorically.

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@Auspicious 's recs are all sterling. The only thing I can think of to add is to try to anticipate heavy traffic days and routes and avoid them if possible. I recall leaving Paris on a July 31 when every Frenchman was getting on the road for summer holiday. When we arrived at our destination exhausted, our host stared at us and asked what we were thinking to be traveling on that day.

Put everything you can in plastic baggies/containers so you minimize the amound of loose melt sloshing around inside the cooler and potentially seeping into contents.


I am guessing, but don’t want to assume, that you’ll be freezing your butter when you reach your final destination. Yes? If so 'Id probably freeze it before I left NYC so that is starting out as cold as possible.

Where will you be staying for the nights your are on the road? If there is a fridge/freezer would it make sense to move your precious wares overnight to rechill? The transporting and opening the cooler may do more harm than good though. @Auspicious - your thoughts?

Good luck with your trip and move. I’ll be looking for any road-trip food reports.

If I were as concerned as you, I’d buy a specific food cold shipping box. It should come with both the styrofoam box and corrugated cardboard.

The container should be the proper size for the quantity of materials…not too big or small. Pack it with the frozen chem packs and or dry ice. Seal it and don’t open it. Bring it inside at night. This should more than meet your needs.

Thanks @Auspicious for the detailed, thoughtful answer! I got the Igloo because I really can’t see spending for the Yeti when this is likely a one time use. The igloo got good reviews -we will see. i have no idea where we will be stopping overnight, but I plan to make the reservations on line from the car. We are planning to try to make this a fun trip, maybe staying in some places we have never been. We will see, but i will check in!!!

There is merit to this idea, especially if Gwenn lingers in pretty places like Harper’s Ferry WV or Charleston SC. The issue is reliability of the fridge at the stops. The insulin is the driving need. My source was

36F to 46F is not that hard to maintain with ice in a cooler. The butter will be fine. The key is knowing what the temp in there is. A remote thermometer would be great. Any thermometer is fine as long as you remember to check it every time you look. Without other information I’d shoot for staying in the range of 36F and 40F for some margin for warming up, but watch carefully for getting too cold. Apparently freezing insulin is bad. I suspect without knowing that the 36F to 46F already has some margin but we don’t know if that’s true and if true we don’t know how big the margin is. I’d still talk to a trusted pharmacist.

Remember (thermodynamics, heat transfer) that there is a state change. A lot of energy needs to come out to get from liquid to solid. This means liquid at freezing temp is different from solid at freezing temp. Check with that pharmacist about what the freezing temp of insulin is. It probably is not 32F (organic chemistry).

Don’t leave the cooler in a hot car during the day if you stop for a day. @MsBean’s idea of using a fridge at your stops does have merit. HOWEVER, I would not do that in a hotel. Aside from not being sure about temperature, I’ve moved mini-bar/snacks out of a hotel fridge and had housekeeping put all my stuff out on the floor and reload their stuff inside. Better I think to leave your cooler on the floor of the room in air conditioning and leave the mini-bar fridge alone. Hotel ice machines are usually pretty good.

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There is a difference between a hotel room minibar and a motel room fridge. The latter is specifically there to be used as a fridge. In the case of the former, some hotels even have pressure-sensitive spots so you are automatically charged if you take something out.

And, yes, I specifically said “hotel” for one and “motel” for the other.

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Sure, and in my experience while mini-bars are most common in hotels, mini-fridges are now common in both hotels and motels. I too have seen mini-bars that charge on removal of items.

If I recall correctly the original derivation of “motel” came from “motor hotel,” a place you could park in front of your room. While there certainly is some additional characterization I have stayed in some truly lovely motels and some ahem disappointing hotels.

In Gwenn’s case with medical supplies I’d stick with the cooler and use a room mini-fridge for road food and drinks. She and others might make different choices.

My warped sense of humor would likely lead to one of these for the cooler:

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For the ice, to start, freeze store bought bottles of water. 16 oz, Liter, Gallon size bottles. Use the smaller bottles or ones that melt to drink. Depending upon size of cooler, line bottom with frozen water bottles. Pack with a few bottles of ice mixed in. Top with more water bottles


Yes, it was. My dad loved that!! I remember our road trips to Florida in the 60s. Stop and pull up to a motel - there was always a room, and park in front of your door. They always had a place for breakfast too.


And huge ice machines! I remember my brother almost choking (what I thought was) to death on one of those ice cubes.

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We have done the NY to Miami drive a few times this summer. Stopping in Durham, about the 11 hour mark. We bought a freezer that plugs into the car, it was expensive but worth it. And we could set the temperature which is probably important when transporting medication. With a full freezer i still had butter to bring and a a few other things that ‘could’ defrost. I froze the butter as suggested, I packed the most precious things inside one of those silver cooling bags with a blue ice and put that in the cooler with other ice packs… I felt as thought that was a cooler in a cooler. The hotel refrigerator wasn’t cool enough . If you think about the 200 you will spend on the freezer and cost it into your move, it may not be as much has you think, 2 dinners out to save you worry? I also wrapped the cooler in a blanket. Where are you going in FLorida? Another advantage of the freezer is that Florida ( south florida) is always hot, and if you run errands a freezer/refrigerator in the car allows you to run errands after you buy ice cream at the supermarket.

Good Luck, and if you are moving to the Miami area I am happy to suggest a few good places to eat or shop.


How many days is that, 3-4? I’d book the first few nights in advance and look for a room with kitchenette that might have a full size fridge and the ability to re-freeze any ice packs or water bottles. I’m on vacation right now and have had 2 full size fridges so far, one at a quaint independent inn on the CA coast, tonight I have a ‘1 bedroom’ at an Element hotel in OR, the nice little kitchenette even has a dishwasher! Or if you do Air B&B, get a whole house/apt - in the past I’ve found some cute cottages or mother-in-law apts with (reasonably) full kitchens.


I was considering that - it plugged into the car power but was told you have to be very careful about the voltage because it can cause a fire, so I chickened out.

Thanks. But i am moving to Palm Coast. I see some places in St. Augustine and Daytona that might be good.

I had suggested Harper’s Ferry WV as a stop - I still do. A possibly better stop is Falling Waters WV (not to be confused with Frank Lloyd Wright Falling Water house near Pittsburgh). It’s right on 81, 40 minutes from Harper’s Ferry if you take a lay day. Among other things they have this source of inspiration

Here is a discussion from a food industry group (bunch of Bourdain fan-boys). Warning - some of the language is mildly salty.

If you come down 95 from NY rather than 81 it’s pretty far West. It all depends on where in NY you’re starting.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold