Last month I made shared some things on Traveling Moms about a subject I have come to know-the art of traveling on crutches when you are on your own.
Over the years, I’ve traveled a lot with a wide variety of broken body parts, and never thought a thing about it as I had always had someone with me. It’s amazing how invaluable the help of a 5 year old can be when you have a broken arm or broken ankle but recently after a knee replacement surgery I found myself all on my own when I traveled half way across the country only a few weeks after a total knee replacement. I suddenly discovered that when it’s just you and the crutches and the cross-body bag and the luggage, it makes for an entirely different kind of travel experience. Whether you’ve just had surgery or experienced some other life event that is keeping you from having fully functioning body parts, here are a few tips I picked up along the way that might help you navigate on your own when adventure calls your name and staying at home is not an option
Know Before You Go
I am not a planner by any stretch of the imagination but for this trip, I made sure I did my homework and one of the first things I did was to go online to check for my airline’s and airport’s policies on assistance while flying. Once I had studied those I decided to go a step further and call my airline. It was the best decision I ever made. By talking to someone I was able to explain my particular needs and see what options I had available to me. My airline was great about making sure I was on a direct flight both ways as well as seating me in a bulkhead seat where I had as much legroom as possible. A majority of airlines as well as airports have their policies for traveling while needing assistance right on their website but as I quickly discovered, taking the time to talk to someone really went a long way. Also if you have the option of upgrading to first class, it can be a lifesaver in circumstances like these.
TIP: If you run into problems or have questions at the last minute, or once you’re on your way, Twitter is your best friend. Most airlines and hotels have someone on Twitter able to answer your questions within minutes of you asking.
The Art Of Packing
Even if you’re used to traveling with a carry-on bag only, this is one time when checking your bag means one less thing to worry about. Most airports have curbside check-in for your luggage now, which means your bag is on its’ way before you ever step inside of the airport. For me I found a cross-body bag was much easier to carry than the backpack and purse that I normally use. It had room for all of my essentials as well as my computer and camera while giving me the freedom to walk without it banging into my crutches. When you’re packing if you’re still recovering don’t forget to bring your ice pack, heating pad and any other items that you may need. If you do forget something, Amazon Prime can have it to your hotel the next day.
TIP: When I checked in my bag, my airline tagged my suitcase with a priority tag to make sure it came off the plane first so I didn’t have to wait. If it’s not offered to you, be sure to ask.
Getting To The Airport And Beyond
When I travel, more often than not I drive myself to the airport but this time being only a few weeks post-op and having a knee barely functioning, a two-hour drive was out of the question. With no family or friends available to drive me, I opted for our local airport shuttle although I did look into other options such as Uber and Lyft, but in the end this was the best option for my situation. What’s more, I realized that it wasn’t just about getting myself to the airport, but also planning for transportation once I arrived. I was fortunate enough to have someone meet me there but whether it’s a hotel shuttle, public transportation, or a rental car, it’s all something that needs to be planned out well in advance. With crutches, gone were the days of grabbing the luggage and figuring it out once I was there. A little preplanning goes a long way.
TIP: If you’re taking a shuttle to get to the airport, get on at the very first stop. That way you’ll be able to have your choice of a seat that best meets your needs.
Everything Will Take Longer
Being on crutches means you’re going to need extra time than what you’re used to. From dropping your luggage, to TSA, to getting to the gate, you just need to take a deep breath and resign yourself to the fact that slow and steady wins the race. Know ahead of time that not all airports are created equally and while some are easily managed, there are those like San Francisco International that are so big that they can be difficult to get through even when you’re not on crutches. I also cannot say enough for the kindness shown to me by the TSA agents, no matter where I was. They were gracious, courteous and helpful in every way. When they saw me struggling on my crutches, they went and got me a wheelchair and would not take “No” for an answer. I also knew that now that I had metal in my body, I would need extra screening and they went out of their way to make me feel comfortable throughout the process, always taking my feelings into account.
TIP: Most people will go out of their way to help you so you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of spare $1 bills on hand. From the people helping you with your luggage, to the person pushing your wheelchair if you’re using one, a smile, a “Thank You” and a tip can go a long way.
Location, Location, Location
While I was good about checking the airport and the airlines for information on how to manage, the one thing I didn’t think to do ahead of time was contact the hotel to let them know my situation. As I very quickly learned, one phone call would have meant that I would have had a bathroom with an accessible shower instead of a tub, a room that was close to the convention center where all the meetings were held instead of at the end of the hall in a building that felt like it was the next state over, and prearranged for an ECV (electric scooter or Electric Convenience Vehicle), which were complimentary in the resort we were staying in. Luckily, the last resort we stayed at already knew that I was on crutches and made sure I was in a room on the bottom level as there was no elevator in the Bed and Breakfast we were staying in.
TIP: Many hotels, especially the larger resorts, have wheelchairs that you can borrow throughout your stay that are free or available for a very nominal fee.
Listen To Your Body
Traveling can be exhausting under the best of conditions but doing it on crutches on your own only weeks after surgery can leave you hurting in all sorts of unexpected places. While a night of bowling and touring Cowboy Stadium might seem like a great idea the first day, by day three, your body will be hating you for it so make sure you plan accordingly and pace yourself! While you may want to do it all, see it all and take in every moment, be honest with yourself and your limitations. People will understand if you don’t stay until the end of the party or if you need to beg off an afternoon of shopping. Give yourself and your body permission to rest as needed. You’ll be happy you did.
TIP: Make sure before venturing out, especially on a plane right after surgery that you’ve checked with your doctor ahead of time. Listen to any advice he might have and if he says unfortunately that it’s best to stay home there’s a reason for it.
Pay It Forward
One thing I’ve learned from traveling alone on crutches is that a little kindness goes a long way. The next time you travel hold a door open for someone, help with a bag, offer your seat, buy someone a Starbucks, help somebody get their belongings into the overhead storage bin or help take them down, and mostly, look for those in need or those who just seem like they’ve had a hard day and see if they could use a hand. Not only will you brighten their day, but you’ll brighten your own even more.