Travel tips for people with limb differences

The right preparation can take out a lot of stress and make your journeys much more enjoyable.
The right preparation can take out a lot of stress and make your journeys much more enjoyable.

The Globetrotting Microprocessor Knee

I just came back from Nigeria. Another destination that is not often visited and normally doesn’t make it into the top ten of go-to places of fellow globetrotters or the travel trends of the year recommendations of the leading guide books. But visiting these far-flung places has its own charm. And brings its own rewards.


Traveling off the beaten track can be tricky and needs a bit of preparation, especially if you are an amputee. Even more so if you are lucky enough to use a high-tech microprocessor knee or other fancy gear. Some of these challenges seem intimidating and keep people with limb differences from traveling. 


As I am often being asked about travel tips and travel-related life hacks, let me share some of them. I hope they inspire you to ignore your worries and explore this beautiful planet of ours.



My Personal Travel Style

But before I get into the actual tips, I would like to share a bit of background information about how I normally travel. This will help you understand my choices when it comes to travel preparations and how I deal with the challenges. As many of you probably already know, I like to travel with little luggage, I enjoy public transport and prefer being on foot to almost any other mode of transport. This has implications for the way I prepare myself and how I take care of my residual limb, my socket and the prosthesis while on the road. In addition, I am often on business trips in Asia and Africa, again mostly off the beaten track and in remote areas. While these troops are easier to plan, they come with their own implications for the way I prepare and how I travel when I am in the country.


So here are my tips. Many of them are based on my own experiences from over a decade of traveling extensively in over a dozen countries on four continents. Other tips are from my prosthetist, from other amputees and support organisations. Have a look at them and see what suits your needs and fits your travel style. Use the ones that makes sense to you and skip the ones that do not resonate with you.



Travel Tips and Life Hacks

A Few Weeks Before The Trip

(And right away I must confess that I do not do any of the following points, but I know from conversations with others that these prep points are standard for many amputees).


Clarify whether the following documents are helpful or even necessary for your journey. And if yes, make sure you apply for them way in advance, you have them up to date and you carry them in a way that you can easily reach them when necessary.


Prosthesis passport: Basically a stamped and signed document you can get from your prosthetist. It states that you are an amputee, explains your need for a prosthetic limb, often lists the very model you are using, including the serial number and other identifiers. This can be helpful when passing through security at airports. 


Supporting letter from your doctor or hospital: This is another stamped and signed document explaining your situation. If used in combination with your prosthesis passport this can make things much easier when passing through security at the airport, especially for items that are not listed in your prosthesis passport (covers, spare parts etc.). 


A letter from your doctor or prosthetist regarding additional equipment: If you need special tools, sprays or similar aids or travel with special equipment like a sports prosthesis in your carry-on luggage make sure you have these listed and explained in the above-mentioned letter.


Help with boarding/early boarding at the airport: Almost all airlines offer early or assisted boarding for people with disabilities. Make use of these opportunities if you have the feeling they help you and take stress out of the journey. Do not hesitate to ask for assistance. Airline staff are generally very helpful and often go out of their way to make sure you feel comfortable. If you are not sure what the airline can offer, ring them up in advance and find out. 


For traveling within/to the US, it might be worth registering with the Transport Safety Authority (TSA): In theory this should make things easier when passing through security. Experiences from fellow amputees are mixed. Some say it really helped, others report that is doesn’t change a thing. The Amputee Coalition has good information about the registration process here


For longer flights, train or bus journeys, think about how comfortable you are sitting for extended periods of time (and often in pretty uncomfortable seats). Think about taking an additional pillows or other items you can use to add additional cushioning to the seat and support the prosthesis in an ideal position. Try them out in advance.


Consider taking crutches in case you want to remove the prosthesis during a long flight, train or bus trip.



Directly before the Trip

Fully charge the prosthesis. Hardly anything catches more attention from the airport security personnel than a beeping and blinking electronic device that set off the metal detector. Hardly anything makes fellow passengers on a plane more nervous than a beeping sound from underneath a layer of cloths worn by the person in the neighboring seat. Trust me, you will attract more attention than you asked for. 


Take all necessary chargers (and adapters for the sockets of the country you are traveling to) in your hand luggage. If you have an unexpected lay-over or miss a connecting flight, you want to make sure you can charge your leg. 


If there is an app for your prosthetic device, make sure you install it, have the device paired and tested. Putting a high-end leg or other prosthetic limb in hibernation mode can help saving batteries and increases the chances you still have power when reaching your destination.


I always take udder cream and calendula lotion with me on longer flights, This helps me to prevent  chafe marks and sore or open spots on the residual limb as a result of extended periods of sitting.



During The Trip Itself

Voltage fluctuations are a real problem in many African and Asian countries. Especially if the power comes back after a power failure or if you are in an area with scheduled load shedding. Ask at the hotel if there are sockets with surge protection. Maybe they have some protected power outlets where their own computers are connected. There may also be a UPS unit where the prosthesis can be charged.


During the rainy season, suddenly flooded streets can be a real problem. I always have a waterproof kayaking bag with me. It is small enough to fit in any backpack. If you need it, just step into it with your prosthetic leg, pull it up to your knee/thigh, cross a flooded road, take it off and pack it up again and go on. Not particularly chic but a simple solution that has always worked for me.



What I always have with me when I travel

Allen key

Udder cream and lotion

Blister plaster

Gaffer tape/duct tape

Spare valve for the shaft

Second sealing lip for the liner

Cut-out parts of an old liner (to compensate for volume fluctuations)



What Were Your Experiences?

So far, a few ideas from me. I hope you find them useful. And if you have any additional tips and tricks, I would love to hear about them.



Post by Bjoern Eser, the creator of The Active Amputee.