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Travel Q&A: Helpful Tips from Our Community

1. What are must-have or essential items when you travel? 

Jim Wilkes: Make sure to have a second liner [for your prosthesis] and the appropriate number of socks with you. I suggest carrying crutches if you are an above-knee or below-knee amputee. Also, any lotions or creams that you might need. Make sure to pack those in your luggage based on TSA requirements.

If you need a shower stool, I suggest getting a small collapsible stool as many European countries [often] do not have such devices. You can email the hotels prior to arrival to see if they can accommodate you. Also, if you need to use chargers in foreign countries, you should pack a small power strip.

Jim Wilkes

Photo of Jim Wilkes

Taushima ‘Shima’ Nixson: I have a stuffed penguin that I take on every trip and a unicorn blanket for the cold airplanes and airports. I also must be sure to pack all my chargers (C-leg, Willow Wood vacuum pump, etc.), extension cord, and a good book for the trip.

Shima Nixson

Photo credit Ray Alvarez

2. What is the most stressful or difficult part of traveling for you?

Jim: Not being prepared with your needed documents/information can be a challenge if you don’t keep them in a central place.

Shima: TSA!! I never know what to expect from airport security officers. Sometimes it’s quick and they get me through in 2 minutes, but sometimes it takes 30 minutes. Every airport is different, and every officer is different. I have not experienced two officers who were the same yet and I’ve been an amputee for 11 years.

3. How do you minimize stress while traveling?

Jim: Give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to be.

Shima: This is where penguin has his time to shine, he is my coping mechanism. Hopefully me sharing this will help someone else who may experience travel anxiety. It’s honestly stressful to go through airport security not knowing what to expect. There’s no shame in it.

Another thing is not knowing how far of a walk it will be to the gate. Usually, the accessible stations are so busy it’s over an hour waiting for assistance. So, since I’m able to walk long distances I try to arrive early enough that I can take breaks if I need to.

4. Is there a particular airline(s) you prefer based off your experiences?

Shima: American Airlines or Delta!!! These are my top two choices only because they typically make sure to move my seat closer to the front of the cabin without me having to ask. It’s just a small courtesy that I like. Also, with Southwest Airlines I always preboard and sit in the first seat. I love that I have so much extra leg room.

5. Do you have any tips for navigating the airport?

Jim: The biggest tip I have is if you are an above-knee or below-knee amputee to wear shorts. Also take a compression legging for your sound leg if needed.

Shima: If you are unfamiliar with the airport, definitely arrive early. I would suggest looking at a map of the airport or taking a photo before arriving. If you are unable to walk long distances, I would suggest getting help from a family member/friend or airport wheelchair assistance. Typically, they are very nice, and will assist you quickly and efficiently (they also know all the short cuts). By viewing the map ahead of time, you can always check to see if the airport has a train station to help you get to the gates faster and you can save some energy. Two major airports where I always take the train are Atlanta (ATL) and Miami (MIA). Even if you don’t have TSA Precheck, you are able to skip the line by getting in the wheelchair line. Even if you can walk, that line is for you [as they’re ’likely to be able to support your needs should they arise.]’

6. How do you navigate airport security?

Shima: I always wear shorts to the airport. As I mentioned earlier, I have never experienced an airport security officer who does clearance the same. Just to make it easier on them and to keep myself from a bad experience I wear shorts to make sure my prostheses are visible. I also never remove my shoes and I always point to the top of my sockets to show how high my prostheses go. I try to help the officer as much as possible because they may have never screened an amputee before. If you are familiar with the process, try to help to make the process smoother for yourself.

7. What locations have you visited that have felt accessible or inaccessible?

Shima: I just recently traveled to Washington, DC and I will say Ronald Regan Washington National Airport (DCA) was such a great experience. The airport is very accessible, and it was one of the smoothest airport security experiences I have ever encountered. Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) is huge, and I did not find it accessible at all. I had to do a lot of walking and they currently don’t have a tram.

8. Are there any accessibility resources you use to help build your itinerary?

Jim: I use TripIt to keep my itinerary in one location, with addresses and confirmations.

*Amputee Coalition has partnered with Wheel the World, an online travel booking platform exclusively geared towards travelers with accessibility needs. When booking you can filter by accessibility features and reserve an experience tailored to you.

9. Is there a place that you especially loved visiting and why?

Jim: I travel everywhere – Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Hungary, France, and many more. I rode my bike 90 miles a week before our biking trip to Italy. My wife and I were riding 33 miles a day, over 200 miles in 6 days.

Shima: I traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the accessibility and the assistance they provided felt like luxury. I really enjoyed that trip, they were so overly kind and they provided such a great experience. The island itself isn’t as accessible due to the hills and mountains, but the airport experience was definitely 10/10 highly recommend.

10. How has travel improved your life or benefited you personally?

Jim: Travel allows you the ability to see the beauty of our world. The more active you are the better outlook you will have. It has been proven that if you are active, you will have better physical and mental health.

Shima: I have gained so much more independence from being able to travel. I have experienced a whole new world outside of my rural town that I am from in North Carolina. Once I gained the confidence that I needed to walk through the airport and through airport security, nothing could stop me from living the life I always dreamed of. If you have never traveled, you should try to . Get over your fear once and you’ll be able to see a world you never imagined!

Jim Wilkes is a Certified Lead Advocate, Certified Peer Visitor, and lives with an above-knee amputation. Taushima Nixson, MSPO, CTRS, is a licensed clinical orthotic resident and bilateral above and below-knee amputee.