In this post
How to travel with a broken leg and have a great time
This is the story of how I broke my leg one day before our one-way flight to Bangkok to start our new life of traveling continuously. I will tell you how it happened and how to travel with a broken leg.
– If you want to leave out the broken leg story, head right to tips, click here!
– Keep reading through the blog post if you curious about the whole mess!
The story of a backpacker traveling with a broken leg through Asia
How did the broken leg happen?
I broke my leg one day before we had to leave for Bangkok to start our adventures around the world while trying to establish an online business to make traveling our life – long-term. If you are interested in how we came to the decision make sure to read our introduction. Let’s say it slightly complicated the whole process.
I will start by explaining what happened. It was one crazy night out! We left our home in The Netherlands at the end of August to visit our families back in Latvia for 3 days before we leave, because, who knows when we will be back in Europe. Kris and I went out with some old friends to enjoy their company and absolutely delicious free drinks!
It happened – I broke my leg
By the time we had to go home we were quite drunk and, as terrible as it sounds, I guess I fell off the stairs. You could not even call those stairs, as they were about 2 steps high. Maybe I slipped, maybe I tripped, but I just found myself on the floor, rushing to get up, not to be embarrassed. One step, two steps … and there it was, I couldn’t even get back to our table as my foot hurt like hell.
I called Kris to my help and didn’t think much of what happened, as it probably was just a twisted ankle as these kind of things happen to me often. Kris’s best friend insisted that we keep partying and that I should stop pretending that it hurts so bad, as I probably was just doing that to get Kris home as we must rise early to get ready for our flight. Oh well…
How did I deal with it?
Next morning. After sleeping for about 2 hours, I woke up with a terrible hangover and realized that “man, this s**t’s serious” as I could not even get up to go to the bathroom. I woke Kris up to carry me to the toilet and as of that moment for the next 4 weeks, our relationship got WAAAAY closer than we ever could have imagined. Kris’s mom suggested that we drive to the emergency room and check out how bad it is. I was still quite drunk and said: “meh, probably a very bad sprain”. Yet at that moment I knew that I haven’t felt such pain ever before.
I got carried to the car, out of the car, into the emergency room and put in the first wheelchair ever in my life. In the emergency room, the first question from the doctor was: “What happened”? And my very elaborated and explanatory answer at that point “I don’t really know, we had a tough night.” After this short conversation, miserable me got pushed in the x-ray room, placed on the table, brought out of the room and back to emergency.
The doctor said in a very calm voice “Broken, 5th metatarsal bone of your right foot, right in the middle.” BOOM! Mirror shatters. First words I got over my lips: “Well, okay, nice to know, I will get going now! Bye!” The doctor probably thought I was loco when I tried to get out of the emergency room and she just kept me in place and started to prepare the materials for a cast.
– I am fine, everything is under control
My ridiculous self was now in action saying, “I don’t need that, I will be just fine, I have a flight to catch, I am heading to Bangkok soon.” Doctor’s face turned a bit pale: “Well, that is going to be a difficult vacation, but take it easy, relax by the pool, the sun will facilitate the healing process.” “No, Miss, you do not understand, it is a one-way ticket and we will be constantly moving and one thing I know for sure, South East Asian countries are not handicapped friendly.”
Right at that point, I started to reconsider all my dumb choices in life. I was in so much pain and so sick because of the hangover that I could not even realize how hard the next month will be, also, I still had so much to do that day, “I’ll worry later”.
– Have to face the reality
I was out of the emergency room. Kris gave me a set of crutches, which now had to be my support, pointing and poking stick, my second leg, my weapon, my best friend (after Kris and Katrina) and my enemy for the following month. I slowly made my way back to the car and back home, as carefully as one on crutches for the first 10 minutes could. Kris helped me to the bathroom, opened all the doors, made sure I am not run over by a car as that would be a cherry on top of this miserableness cake.
I realized that I could walk only a couple of meters before I got tired, wanted to rest my broken foot on the ground or just throw those God damn crutches in the nearest rubbish container. I have always been a very anxious person and a very impatient one as well. At that point, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I will have to be like this for a minim of 4 weeks while traveling. I will have to travel with a broken leg. I felt like a burden to Kris, who will have to carry both backpacks and a major holiday pooper to Katrina, who would be joining us for the first 5 weeks. In the end, it turned out quite fine, considering the unusual situation we were all in.
– The good stuff
- I was provided assistance in all the airports. Free of charge. Without prior notice ( I wasn’t quite planning on breaking a leg the day before our flights). Upon my arrival, I got a wheelchair and was accompanied by a person who took care of me from the moment of arrival until my departure. In all the airports, including Riga, Copenhagen, Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City.
- I and people traveling with me had priority boarding on all the flights. On the flights which were accessible only by a trap, the gates were changed, so they can get me on the airplane with an elevator or some other technical staff vehicle. I could use the wheelchair if I wanted and even use it overnight as we had a night to spend at the Copenhagen airport. Upon my departure, airport assistance personnel ensured that when I arrive there is a person with a wheelchair waiting for us right at the airplane door to take us wherever we need to go next.
Note: It is advisable to arrange wheelchair/handicapped assistance in advance if you know you will need it, thus airports can avoid making sudden gate changes or encountering flight delays.
- People cared for me so well. Kris was the best boyfriend ever, and Katrina was the most patient and helpful friend I could ask for. Kris showered me and took me to the bathroom. He piggybacked me when I got tired. Katrina was carrying my crutches. We were extremely funny to look at. Random people always offered their seats, even elderly, (I felt so embarrassed about that), people helped me up, down, in and out of places.
– My adventurous spirit
- We went on a booze cruise (nop, I do not learn from my mistakes) and the people there were so fascinated about me still going with a broken leg. All the men offered to piggyback me wherever we had to go for a longer time. Everywhere I crutched (*using word crutches instead of word walk) and told my story people were blown away because of my courage to actually keep traveling and experiencing the world. I also got to use the weirdest means of transportation, including, a wheelbarrow.
- You can ride a bicycle with a broken leg! Seriously! When you ride a bicycle, the pressure you would get when walking is taken away. After a couple of weeks when you can rest your foot on the ground you can already use your heel to turn the pedals. It is a great alternative to get around. Also, if you are traveling with someone, consider renting a scooter. Let the person drive you around rather than taking a taxi everywhere, it’s cheaper! Of course, if a motorbike is not an option take a taxi, Uber, Grab as much as you can. Thus, you do not miss out on the sightseeing and great experiences.
– Plan ahead of time
- Do your research! Wherever you are planning to go, either it is visiting ancient ruins, museums, rice paddies or whatever else – make sure that the place is wheelchair accessible. Also that it does not involve many stairs and long walking distances. I managed to easily go on a day tour from Ho Chi Minh City to Mekong Delta, and apart from Kris carrying me on and off boats and a grandma offering me a scooter ride to the boat I was quite fine.
- You get to rest and skip some midday heat viewpoint treks, going shopping, going to buy tickets, asking for directions and any other unnecessary, non-mandatory movements. You have some time to write, read your favorite book and gather enormous amounts of energy for the time when your cast will be off.
– Hospitals in Asia
- Throughout Asia, at least Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia hospitals are very good! If you need to do any check-ups, x-rays or healing progress assessment, fear not, you will be in good hands. It is a strong misconception that people will not be treated or treated poorly. That is not true. In Bangkok, I went to a hospital, which reminded me of Four Seasons or Hilton hotel. I was pampered from head to toe, for a reasonable price, probably the same as it would cost in Europe. Do not be discouraged just because you believe that healthcare around Asia is poor. That is not the case. Go to a private hospital to make sure the experience is even better. I’ve been to so many hospitals in Asia that this topic deserves a whole separate blog post.
– Giving the crutches away
- Lastly, the most pleasant moment of my broken leg backpacking experience was the chance to get rid of the crutches, when I did not need them anymore. We went to a public hospital in Hanoi and asked if it is possible to donate the crutches to someone in need.
- We were taken to a lady from a low-income family, broken knee and a cast from heel to hip. I gave her my crutches and then I burst into tears because a little kindness goes a long way. Our only wish is to be able to help all those hundreds of people in the orthopaedic clinic if we had the chance. Hopefully, the lady will give the crutches to someone in need after she’s back on her feet. If you happen to have crutches or a wheelchair you do not need anymore, I encourage you to do the same and help those in need!
The not so pleasant aspects:
- If you have a fresh, serious bone fracture and a full cast, your limb will be swelling. Even more on long-haul flights. Before you leave your doctor – obtain a permission “Fit to fly”. Some air carries will require this document to ensure your safety. (It is to do with your blood circulation and the possibility of forming a blood clot and subsequently, you dying). It is also related to avoiding making an emergency landing in case that happens. Emergency landings cost a lot.
- Keep your leg elevated as often as you can. When you sleep, put a pillow under your leg. While sitting put it on a chair. In Asia, it is considered rude to lift your feet off the ground and putting them as high as possible, but people will understand. Don’t worry!
- RAIN IS YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE AND ENEMY, AND THE SAME ARE TILE FLOORS! It will be slippery, when it is raining or if the surface is wet! Crutches will be slippery on everything that is wet, because of the rubber coating. I cannot stress enough how bad it is if you are somewhere outside and it starts to rain. Or if the floor is wet when you go to the bathroom. The same applies to taking a shower and trying to get out of it. I fell about 4 times. It was so bad that I thought I had broken the same bone again, oh, it was damn painful.
- Somehow I also managed to bruise my chin and knee when I fell at the airport. Finally, I almost shattered the glass shower door while trying to get out. At one point, I just gave up on even going anywhere if it was or had been raining. To be honest, slipping, tripping and almost falling due to wet surfaces, to my mind was the worst thing! Every time I went somewhere I tested the surface before making a single step! Better safe than sorry (an attitude which I should have practised in the first place).
– Getting around
- Let’s be frank – it is way harder to get around if you are alone than if you have someone to help you out all the time. Also, getting around in Asia, which is very handicap unfriendly is challenging. Pavements are non-existent or bumpy, so most of the time you have to drive from a place to place. Markets or similar places are crowded, thus short walks will be made extremely difficult. Take it easy and you will be fine.
- You cannot go swimming, even though all those Thailand / Malaysia / Indonesia beaches are calling your name. If fiberglass casts are available you can try and get one. Then you’ll be free to enjoy all the beach fun, including snorkelling. Unfortunately, fiberglass casts are available only in the biggest cities, like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh city etc. Also, those casts will be way more expensive. I could still go to the fish spa and relax my healthy leg with a 50% discount!!!
– The fitness of your body and mind
- To be honest, everything really depends on how strong and fit you are. You have to be able to carry your whole body weight on your arms all the time. Reminds us of a friend who was running on crutches and playing football. Meanwhile, some people would be tied to their house and not look further. You really have to assess your strength and abilities. However, never push yourself into something that seems like too much as you do not need unnecessary struggle and pain.
- At the beginning, my hands were sore and covered with blisters. My neck was so stiff and shoulders so tense all the time. Tying boxing straps around the wrists did not help much. Finally, probably a useless advice – it gets better and you get used to it with time.
Last tip. Perhaps the most important one as well. Travel insurance is a must! I did not have a travel insurance when I broke my leg because it happened ONE day before the start of the trip, but I wish I had it. During our travels I visited several hospitals around Asia and a good travel insurance would have helped me so much. I highly recommend World Nomads, it is a great travel insurance long and short term. Perfect communication and recognized coverage.
Remember, from the day you break a bone, think of every next day as a day closer to you being well again.
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