Amputee travel tips and gear for more accessible (and enjoyable) trips
Over the years, before kids and with kids, Anthony and I have traveled extensively. We’ve fed kangaroos in Australia, kayaked in the Pacific Northwest’s Salish Sea, and wandered the ruins of Angkor in Cambodia. And I’ve done all that with one leg, and some useful travel gear for amputees.
As an above-the-knee (ATK) amputee, my packing has evolved to account for my limb difference. Every trip and experience has taught me something about what works for me as a woman who travels with a disability. So whether I’m heading to Portugal or RVing around the USA, here’s what I travel with as a lower-limb amputee to make my life and travels easier.
As an ATK amputee, my most important travel gear for amputees isn’t what I pack, but what I wear.
Wherever we go, I wear my leg (except for water activities, then I get around without my leg and use crutches instead). Ottobock Genium prosthetic legs have a computerized knee that helps me have better balance and mobility. Using this prosthesis helps me walk farther and do more. Honestly, I can’t imagine traveling the way we travel without it.
Prosthesis AC wall charger
Around once a week, I charge up my knee’s battery overnight, just like charging a phone. Or, when we know we have a big day coming up, such as a lot of flights or a bunch of walking, I make sure to charge my leg the night before.
Typically, I can go around a week in between charges. My leg’s AC magnetic charger has a charge level indicator. I can connect the charger to my prosthesis and immediately know how much charge the battery has left.
The charger itself contains hardware to deal with different voltages. We carry an adapter kit for if we need a different physical plug for a country’s outlets. We also travel with a compact surge protector. Usually we plug the surge protector into the wall, with an outlet adapter if needed, and plug my charger into the protector block. It gives me extra peace of mind that my prosthesis will charge safely.
When it comes to travel gear for amputees, my charger is a close second to my prosthesis itself. Without the charger, sooner or later my knee’s battery would die. If that happens, my leg goes into a safety mode. In that mode, the leg mostly stays straight and bends only with a lot of effort.
Folding travel crutches
If you saw us at a beach or a water park, you might see Anthony carrying my crutches for me. For example, if I’m going down a water slide with the kids, he comes with me to the top, then carries my crutches all the way back down. When I get out of the water, he’s right there, with my crutches at the ready.
Crutches are among my most important travel gear for amputees. When I’m not wearing my leg, I get around on crutches. Think of it like this: If you wouldn’t wear your shoes to do it, odds are I wouldn’t wear my leg to do it. Getting ready for bed? I take off my leg. Splashing in the ocean, rafting a river, or kayaking a lake? I don’t wear my leg.
Years ago, I found a collapsible pair of crutches. They have held up incredibly well, but after over 15 years, parts are rusting and the metal is wearing away. So as we write this, I just received a new pair of crutches. These folding crutches are incredibly lightweight, and they fold down short and compact. A strap spans each arm cuff, so if I let go of the crutches to use my hands, the crutches would stay on my arms instead of clattering to the floor.
My new crutches are also purple.
After all, if you’ve got to use crutches every day, they might as well be your favorite color.
Since these crutches are new to me, I’m only just really putting them through their paces. I’m planning to take them with us to Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Italy, and Turkey. If they hold up well, I’ll review them and tell you more about their pros and cons. You can check them out here:
When you wear a prosthetic leg, your residual limb fits into a socket on the prosthesis. For my prosthetic leg, a sort of silicone sock goes over my bio leg. On the end of that sock, a thick, ridged steel pin locks my prosthesis to my body. This travel gear for amputees is essential to how my prosthetic leg works and fits.
This liner is a sort of linchpin for my entire prosthetic setup. To be on the safe and comfy side, I wear one liner, and I travel with a spare. Typically, I swap them out every few days, and clean them regularly so they stay comfortable and don’t mess up my skin.
A prosthetic leg has various parts, including socket, knee, and foot. While my leg overall has water resistance similar to a smartphone, I still prefer to avoid water. And it’s best that I don’t get my prosthetic foot wet.
However, sometimes we want to walk along a lake or down to the ocean. And sometimes I like to see the water on my feet. When at a beach or lake, I sometimes wear waterproof socks. I can put both feet in the water without worrying about my prosthetics.
And yes, you can wear these socks on bio feet too, not just a prosthetic!
Honestly, it’s rare that I need to adjust or maintain anything on my leg. My prosthetist and his assistant do a great job setting up my prosthesis. They fit and adjust my leg and foot for better mobility.
Since our family travels all over and gets up to various activities and adventures, I carry a small kit of some simple tools, just in case:
- Allen/hex wrench
- Replacement hex screws
- Duct tape
2 collapsible trekking poles
For a long time, I resisted the idea of using any sort of walking aid. Over the past few years, I’ve recognized the usefulness of hiking poles. Ever since I began using trekking poles, I’ve noticed improvements in my mobility.
Nowadays, I pack two collapsible trekking poles. I use one anytime we are doing extensive walking, such as navigating train stations in Japanese cities. Packing a pair also means that if one pole broke or got lost, I have a backup ready to go.
When we go hiking, I often use both poles. Using two poles on the trail helps me better navigate and stabilize when I’m dealing with elevation changes or getting around rocks or roots. Or, when we were at Angkor in Cambodia, using two poles was a big help when dealing with stone steps and uneven surfaces.
Each trekking pole folds up into three pieces, connected by a cord. Since they pack down so short, it’s easy for me to stash these in my bag or in a car. In our accommodation, I usually have one pole collapsed and stored with my other leg supplies. The other stays ready to go, and I usually prop it on the wall near the front door.
Trekking poles like mine have a metal tip. I cover mine with a rubber foot. It provides better traction for smooth surfaces, such as tile. That means less chance of slipping when going around a store or train station.
Of course, a stick with a metal tip can raise eyebrows at airport security, such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)…
A letter from my prosthetist explains what I need for my mobility and my prosthetic device
I also travel with a letter from my prosthetist, and I have learned what the screening process can look like for me and my prosthesis (such as showing my leg to TSA before the metal detector, so they know I’ll need other screening). For example, if an airport security person is concerned about my trekking poles, I can show evidence that it’s for a medical purpose. Airports are a prime example of when I need to use one of my poles. Since I use a stick to get around, security also sees me using one as I walk.
Typically, I don’t run into many questions about my trekking pole. When I’m asked, I explain that it’s for my mobility. If there are more concerns, my prosthetist letter explains what I travel with, the nature of my medical devices, and why they’re medically necessary.
Duffel bag of prosthetic, leg, and medical supplies (flies free!)
Even though my travel crutches fold down to a smaller size, they’re still longer than what I can fit in my backpack or a carry-on sizing rolling suitcase.
Instead of fitting my leg supplies in with our other luggage, we carry a dedicated “leg bag.” This 30″ long, skinny duffel-style bag has a shoulder strap and carry handles. It carries anything related to my prosthesis. We usually carry it on the plane too, so we don’t have to worry about it being checked or potentially getting lost.
I found this simple duffel online, and it holds everything I need for my prosthetic leg:
- Extra liner
- Folded travel crutches
- Repair kit
- Waterproof sock
What about backup supplies?
When Anthony thinks about backup supplies for my leg, he thinks of that Hulk versus Ironman battle in Avengers: Age of Ultron. A satellite in space shot rockets with replacement parts as Hulk attacked Ironman’s armor.
I do not have a personal satellite that launches prosthesis supplies. I also don’t battle hulks. We’ve never had to urgently replace something significant due to loss or breakage on any of our trips. However, we keep a few backups, just in case:
I travel with 2 leg liners.
I wear one and pack the other in my bag. Typically, I alternate liners each day.
My parents and Anthony’s dad each have a few supplies, such as an extra liner and an extra charger.
If something happened while we were abroad, we could arrange shipping.
My prosthetist’s contact info is in my phone and I can always email him or his office.
Have I needed to? Rarely. Is that info ready if I need that support? Yup. That bit of prep helps me put leg worries out of my mind and instead get on with our travels as a family.
Amputees can pack what they need for peace-of-mind during their travels
I travel full-time. I’m also a lower limb amputee. Besides regular packing, I pack travel gear for amputees that’s specific to my disability. Limb loss presents different challenges for every amputee. What I need as an amputee might vary from what another needs, but I hope this snapshot of what I pack for my mobility helps you make your own decisions and find the resources you need. And if you’ve wondered about traveling as an amputee, I hope my experience helps you see how you can travel the way you want.