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Traveling with an Injury: One Traveler’s Lessons

Traveling with an Injury: One Traveler's Lessons

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Your trip is booked, outfits are planned, all you need to do now is pack your bags and you are ready to go. Then the unthinkable happens…you get injured.

Whether that be a sprained ankle, broken bones, or torn ligament, what do you do?

Nobody wants to cancel their holiday – you’ve put a lot of time and effort into planning it, you’ve spent money that you probably won’t be able to get back, and you’re excited to travel to a new destination. 

I reached out to the Her Packing List community to see if anyone had any experience traveling with an injury. Chaia volunteered to share her experience and some tips she picked up when she was flying with a fractured ankle to Hawaii.

Chaia’s insights into traveling with an injury

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 a 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 a 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 my 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 through 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 had all been lent out already. 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 healthcare professional 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.

Here at HPL, we love a carry-on-only bag. If you do too, but you’re worried about carrying one through the airport with your injury, there are some great carry-on options with wheels. Some of our favs are:

My Handbag Packing Masterclass is the perfect tool to simplify your packing process and fit everything into your carry-on.

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

Walking boots, air casts, and 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 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.

Navigating the airport with a sprained ankle

Traveling with an injury. Two images side by side. A women waiting to get her passport checked in a wheelchair and a women being pushed through the airport in a wheelchair
Navigating the airport in a wheelchair

Like Chaia said, a top tip for navigating the airport with an injury is to give yourself TIME

You are going to take longer than usual to get around and you won’t be able to run to catch a last-minute plane. Rather, save yourself the stress and get to the airport half an hour earlier than usual.

Once at the airport, make a stop at the airline desk and let them know that you have an injury. In most cases, the airline will be happy to help you. They’ll organize a wheelchair and a wheelchair assistant for you and will be able to take you (and in some cases your travel companions too) through a fast line for security. 

You’ll also be able to board the plane first.

If you don’t take the wheelchair option and you’re wearing a boot, you may have to remove your boot to walk through security. This is difficult to do standing up and holds up the line meaning lots of dirty looks from other passengers.

When you report your injury, the airline will also make a note and have someone waiting for you at your destination or layover to help you get where you need to be. This is especially helpful if you have a tight layover and are worried about missing it with your decreased mobility. 

Once the airline knows about your injury, they will be able to look out for you, offer you guidance, and make the process a whole lot easier.

It doesn’t matter how severe your injury is, if you are offered a wheelchair service, take it. Standing for long periods of time on your injury will only make it worse. 

To ensure there is a wheelchair available for you to use, you can call the airline ahead of your flight to let them know about your injury, and that you will be needing a wheelchair service.

Flying with an injury

Flying with a sprained ankle or injury may be uncomfortable. There is already swelling and now with the increase in altitude, that swelling is only going to get worse.

If you have a long flight try to get some elevation for your injury and use an ice pack on the injured area. You can bring an ice pack on a plane if it is frozen solid at the security checkpoint.

This isn’t always feasible. 

To be safe, make sure your ice pack is only 100mls in volume and follows the airport’s restrictions for liquids. You can bring multiple ice packs if you need them as long as they all fit into your clear quart-sized liquids bag. However, this may limit the amount of other toiletries you can bring.

Like Chaia mentioned, compression socks are going to be your best friend. They are great for an injury in general and will really help with comfort on a flight.

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

About Chaia: 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.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Alex says

    This page was fantastic! I recently broke my ankle and have a birthday trip planned out of the country. I have been so anxious about it but your words have given me a little peace ♥️

  2. Ryan Davis says

    What was yours and your Doctors concern for blood clots? I broke my Tibia by my ankle 4 1/2 weeks ago i will be in a boot when i fly and think about getting a battery operated leg compressing machine.

  3. CR says

    I broke my leg and the PT said I need a letter from the doctor saying I have hardware in my ankle for TSA. I noted this wasn’t mentioned; however, the other tips are quite helpful and I look forward to using them.

    • Brooke says

      Good point, CR. And it’s really making me think right now… because I have screws in my knee but have never had any stoppages or issues at any screenings from it.

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