When you last heard from this one-legged cowboy, I was getting ready to ship out to Thailand as Global Mobility Ambassador for Penta Prosthetics. If you’re not familiar with Penta, they provide devices and components to amputee organizations in over 15 countries. The months have ticked by, and it took some planning, but my family and I made it! Along the way, I learned a lot about traveling overseas as an amputee.
Book Your Flight, Drop the Dead Weight, and Get Your Passport
I’m the kind who believes in putting your money where your mouth is, so the first thing I did was book three tickets for my wife, son and I to Thailand. This was a big deal for me—it kinda made the whole thing real. Once those tickets were booked, I’d be damned if I was gonna let almost $3,000 dollars in airfare go to waste.
That was the easy part. Determining what to take on the journey was harder. Because of the airlines’ luggage limits (one checked bag up to 50 lbs, plus a carry-on), you have to strip it down to the essentials. For me, that means an extra leg (mainly for showers and anticipated beach trips), three liners, three sleeves, a few pairs of jeans and shorts, some slip-on sandals, a second pair of cowboy boots, two dress shirts, and a bunch of t-shirts. For me, it was also essential to bring a laptop, tablet, two phones, a carton of my favorite smokes, and a book of crossword puzzles.
One of the most arduous parts of traveling outside of the US is getting your passport. It’s a good idea to start the process early. The State Department’s official passport site provides all the information you need on that score. If you’re getting a new passport, you have to produce your birth certificate, Social Security card, and a few pictures, and you can anticipate receiving your passport four to six weeks later.
Unfortunately, I was inundated with settling some other affairs and didn’t apply for our passports in time to receive them by mail. Instead we had to show up in person at the passport office in Los Angeles, less than 72 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. In addition to producing all the documents listed above, we had to show our confirmed flight itinerary and then pay a whopping fee to have our passports expedited. The grand total was a little over $700. After putting cash on the barrel, we were told to come back the next afternoon to pick up our passports. Everything was ready when we got there.
By the way, if you’re a single parent traveling with a child, you will have to provide documented proof that both parents are aware the kid is leaving the country. This is a preventive measure to ensure that one parent can’t abscond with the child and take them overseas without the other parent’s knowledge.
Flying With a Prosthesis
I was anxious about how my prosthetic leg would handle the 19-hour trip to Thailand, which included 15 hours in the air and a four-hour layover in Hong Kong. When booking your flight, I suggest you explore available seating options, as some provide more leg room than others. I was lucky enough to reserve seating with ample space, as I anticipated having to remove my prosthesis at some point during the journey. Surprisingly, I was very comfortable the entire trip and didn’t need to remove my leg. Perhaps I shouldn’t have worried so much; I often wear my prosthesis for 12 hours at a stretch at home.
If you’re not used to walking long distances in your prosthetic, it’s a good idea to get in shape and build up your stamina ahead of time. We had to do a lot of walking to reach our gate at the Los Angeles airport and then to change planes in Hong Kong.
Arriving and Getting Settled
After watching many videos and doing other research about the Land of Smiles, I chose the city of Pattaya as our first destination. Known worldwide as a party place, Pattaya has over a thousand hostels, hotels, and guesthouses to choose from.
Before we could make the 90-mile drive to our destination, we had to acquire our visa at the Bangkok airport. The thought of acquiring a visa was a bit intimidating to me, but the process was simple. We were asked a few questions about the length of our stay, what we would be doing in Thailand, and where we were headed first. After the harmless interrogation, our passport books were stamped, giving us 45 days to explore the country. We were also given brief instructions about how to extend our visa through the Thai Immigration Office when the 45 days expire.
I highly recommend connecting with folks who have “boots on the ground” before you leave the US. In my case, Penta put me in touch with a great guy, Kacha Mahadumrongkul (he prefers to be called Shogun), a Thai-American who assists me as an interpreter of both Thai culture and language. He and other expats I’ve met since arriving have proven invaluable as we navigate and settle into our new home. If you are of an adventurous nature, don’t be too concerned about picking the perfect accommodations right off the bat. Take a day or two to get your bearings. That will help you find a place that suits your specific needs.
We started out at a resort called the Atlantis, because of its proximity to the beach and the huge pool that I knew my boy would enjoy. It has been a great place to start our experience.
Getting Around as an Amputee
We landed in Bangkok at 11 AM, after leaving L.A. a day and a half prior. We arrived during the tail end of the wet season, and exiting the airport, it was hot, sticky and our ears rang with a cacophony of sounds we had never heard—the Thai language.
If you’re traveling to a non-English-speaking country, I’d strongly suggest that you learn a few basic phrases before you leave home—at least enough to get you from the airport to your hotel. Download a translation app and keep it close. Not as many Thais speak English as we had been led to believe, so the app really came in handy. It helped us navigate to the baggage claim to pick up our bags; to the currency exchange window to convert our dollars into baht; and to the bus stop for our two-hour jaunt to Pattaya. We opted to take the$4 bus ride (that’s right, $4 for a two hour trip!) so we could concentrate on the sights exiting Bangkok, instead of trying to navigate unfamiliar roads. The bus ride was quite nice, and folks definitely were curious about meeting a Black farang family—especially a cowboy and his 6’3” wife. Everyone was friendly. By the time we reached our resort, we had collected about six phone numbers from folk telling us to feel free to call them if we needed anything.
Here are a few other tips we’ve picked up since we got here. First, make it a priority to get a SIM card for your phone, to ensure you have access to the local cellular network. Second, find out what ride-sharing apps are prevalent at your destination and download them right away. One of the first apps we downloaded was BOLT, which is the Uber of Thailand. Finally—and this is especially important for lower-limb amputees—be prepared to do quite a bit of walking. Here in Thailand (and in many other international locations) there are many crooked, broken, and treacherous walkways. There are also a million folk on scooters, which makes walking hazardous whether or not you’re on a prosthetic leg.
Focusing on the Mission
I’ve set a personal goal of helping 100 Thai amputees in my first year as Global Mobility Ambassador. November will be spent continuing to explore the country and connecting with amputees, healthcare providers, and creative professionals. I will be sharing my testimony that the adventure of life is only just beginning after losing a limb via my latest creative project, “ASCENSION: Moving On & Moving Up Post-Amputation.” I’m happy and thrilled to be here and looking forward to making an impact. Remember—be courageous!
To follow Mr. Q’s journey and support his mission on behalf of Penta, visit www.heismrq.com.