Traveling with an Injury: What I Learned Traveling with a Mostly-Broken Ankle

broken and fixed ankle xray

This post on traveling with an injury was submitted by Chaia.

In the fall of 2015 I was at the tail end of planning a trip to Hawaii for that upcoming New Years. It was my first time going to the Big Island and I had my spreadsheet and packing list ready! It would be full 2 weeks of visiting with my husband’s family, star gazing, snorkeling, and drinking all the coffee.

In October, I broke my ankle during a roller derby practice. I had a trimalleolar fracture with dislocation and needed surgery (and some hardware) to put everything back together.

broken and fixed ankle xray, traveling with an injury
Left: very broken ankle; Right: ankle after surgery

After surgery, I spent 4 weeks in a cast, 4 weeks partial weight bearing in a walking boot and had just started walking with full weight, in an air cast, when we were leaving on our trip. My bones were healed but I was far from being back to my full function. I had minimal range of motion, swelling, and pain every time I walked.

Despite this, I was stubbornly determined to have a good time in Hawaii. Here are some things I learned while traveling with an injury.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. These suggestions are based purely on personal experience. Before traveling while injured, always get clearance from your doctor.

1. Expect everything to take more time than you think.

Plan on extra time to get to the airport, to get to your plane, to get on and off the plane. Being injured doesn’t mean you can’t do things, but it does mean you have to take your time. Don’t stress out about it, everything will still be there when you get there. I had a hard time coming to terms with this because I am usually up and going all the time.

2. Get the right gear, aka walking assistants.

Everyone who has ever used crutches knows that they are evil. If you are able to be at least partially weight bearing, travel with a foldable cane instead of crutches. I bought this cane from Amazon (and they come in fun colors).

A foldable cane can be carried with you everywhere and can fit under your seat on planes. Going through airport security with it was simple. They traded my cane for a wooden cane so they could send mine though the x-ray machine and I could still walk through the metal detector. Everyone was really understanding about the whole process.

hiking with my cane in Hawaii
Hiking with my cane. Can you tell I like purple?

Bonus Tip: If you’re not able to be full weight bearing, a knee scooter is more compact and manageable than a wheelchair and most of them can fold down to fit in an overhead compartment. A lot of places have knee scooters that you can rent, or they’re available online. When I was in a cast, I tried to find one to rent locally but winters in Alaska are slippery and leg injuries are common so they all been lent out already. I ended up buying this one. In my opinion, they are worth the money to avoid the aforementioned evil crutches.

Disclaimer #2: Traveling in a cast is generally NOT recommended, especially if you’re going to fly because of the increased pressure and swelling. If you are thinking about flying in a cast, definitely talk to your doctor first.

3. Ask for help.

Being injured is hard enough. Don’t make things harder on yourself by insisting you can do everything on your own. There are people all over the place that are open and willing to be your support, if they know you need it. Have you always wanted to ride in one of those airport golf carts? This is the perfect excuse to take advantage of it.

4. Pack differently.

I am going to suggest something that goes against everything this website stands for: Check your bag. A backpack is extra weight on your already stressed body; dragging a wheeled bag behind you takes effort and a hand that you might not have with an injury. When we went to Hawaii, I was just beginning my minimalist packing methods so I just transferred everything I was planning on putting in my backpack into a small roller bag and checked it. Checking your bag means having to wait for it, but the trade off is that those long walks through the airport don’t feel even longer.

5. Remember to loosen or take off any support devices when you’re on the plane.

Walking boots, air casts, braces of any kind, will all start to feel way too tight when you reach 30,000ft and the air pressure drops. I found out the hard way how painful it is if you forget. The feeling of my air cast expanding and squeezing the life out of my ankle had me in tears before I realized what was happening. Be smarter than I was.

6. Compression socks.

I cannot express how important compression socks are for traveling if you have a lower leg injury. The way extremities swell on planes becomes much worse if that extremity is recently injured. Compression socks are the best way to combat that. Do yourself a favor and get at least one pair for your trip. I am a big fan of Pro Compression socks. They’re spendy, but they have regular sales (Buy 2 Get 3 Free) on their official site.

>> Check out our travel socks guide for more info on compression socks.

Vim & Vigr worn by Caroline
Vim & Vigr cotton compression socks worn by Caroline.

7. Make peace with the idea that you won’t be able to do everything.

There are going to be “must do” items on your list that your injury will not allow you to do. I was bummed I couldn’t hike and camp in Volcano National Park. But instead we drove Chain of Craters Road and spent time in Volcano town, which ended up being one of my favorite days of the trip.

8. Remember to enjoy things!

It’s easy to focus on the suck, all the things you can’t do, or all the things you’re missing out on. But you’re still on vacation! Have fun and enjoy the things you can do. And add the things you couldn’t do to your list for your next visit.

P.S. You might also enjoy our posts on packing for Hawaii in summer and actual injuries from heavy luggage.

About the Author: Chaia lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with her husband and furry pack of dogs and cats. She is a non-creative and doesn’t have a blog or social media page to follow but she can be found on Facebook for chats.

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traveling with an injury
traveling while injured

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