Travel with Curves is the first blog I ever came across when searching for plus-size travel writing, and Jen was the first connection I made in the online writing world. Apart from her magnificent writing skills, it was Jen’s insight into the mind and spirit of the plus-size traveler that had me in awe and lead to this wonderful post Jen has written for Weigh Out Wander.
5 Tips for Getting Started as a Plus-Size Traveler
Booking that first big trip as a plus-size traveler often comes with mixed emotions. There’s the exhilaration and euphoria you get from hitting the “reserve now” button for a country you’ve always wanted to visit, but there’s also apprehension.
How will people react to my larger body in the confines of an airplane cabin? What if the seat belt won’t fit? What if I stick out as the only fat person in [insert country here]? What if people stare? What if I’m too big to travel after all?
First off, shut down those irrational, negative thoughts. I know it’s hard to do, especially if you’ve put off traveling because of your weight or size. But, trust me, you’re just as deserving as anyone else bitten by the travel bug. And no, you are not too fat to travel.
I understand because I’ve been there, and here’s what I’ve learned about the mentality behind getting started as a plus-size traveler.
Just Book the Trip Already!
When self-doubt keeps you from fully experiencing life, I’d suggest diving in and kindly telling that self-doubt to eff off.
I had talked about traveling overseas for years, but my own struggles with not only self-doubt, but also a complete lack of self-love kept me from stepping out of my comfort zone. Then, in early 2015, my brother and I started talking about how we’d always wanted to visit London. He had just gone through a nasty breakup and was in dire need of a change of scenery. I don’t know who pressed the issue first, but at some point during that conversation, we were both like, “let’s do this! Now!”
I approached my husband about the three of us taking this spur-of-the-moment trip to the UK, and he was also onboard. Three months later, we were walking the streets of London together – all of us in larger bodies. In fact, body-wise, I was the biggest I’d ever been, before or since. But I didn’t let that stop me.
I’m not saying I wasn’t terrified by the prospect of flying off to another country and presenting myself to the rest of the world as the stereotypical obese American. I absolutely was. But those negative emotions were things I forced myself to deal with because we’d made ourselves a promise. We were going to experience the world, and nothing was going to stop us.
If you’ve been wanting to travel but haven’t done so because you’re plus sized, I highly recommend making that first travel reservation. Forcing yourself to work through the negativity is sometimes the only way you’ll face those emotions. Once you experience that first trip, the next one will be a lot easier.
After booking that trip to your dream destination, you may be tempted to spend the months leading up to your flight crash dieting or exercising excessively to get a suitable “beach body,” or to at least not take up as much space on the plane.
Stop right there. You’re not the fattest person who’s ever traveled. Learning to love your body now is so much more rewarding. It will also put you in a better mental state for your trip.
There are many acts of self-love you can do to get yourself physically prepared for travel. One that I highly recommend is to find a pair of comfortable shoes and start walking in them at least a couple of miles on pavement every week before the trip (to mimic the countless miles you’ll walk while sightseeing).
I failed to do this before going to London, and my feet were not happy. In fact, despite falling in love with travel during that trip, it was the worst pain I have ever been in in my life. We visited the British Museum and I literally hobbled from one bench to the next because I’d brought the wrong shoes. Had I practiced mindful self-care before the trip, this wouldn’t have happened.
A big part of practicing self-care is to listen to your intuition. Eat intuitively, don’t diet. If you know a certain food makes you ill, choose not to have it. Get a reusable bottle so you can stay hydrated both before and during the trip. If those cute shoes give you blisters on a two-mile walk in the park, don’t take them with you on the trip. You don’t want to get sick on the plane or miss a day of exploring because you didn’t listen to your body’s needs.
Your needs and concerns are individual to you, and that goes for any type of traveler, plus-size or not. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead so you can properly address those needs.
Different airlines have different policies for obese travelers. While they’re not always fair, they are easy to find and work around if you do your research in advance. For example, American Airlines requires passengers to purchase an extra seat if their body extends more than 1 inch beyond the armrest. Other policies are a bit vaguer, like United’s policy that you purchase another seat if you can’t put the armrests down without “significantly” encroaching on your neighbor’s space. Whatever that means.
In my experience, even seats in the same row don’t always provide the same amount of space. When we flew to London, I couldn’t buckle the seat belt in my window seat. Also, one of the armrests dug into my hip. When I switched seats with my husband, who had taken the middle seat, I didn’t have either of those problems. My brother, the biggest traveler of the three of us, had no issues at all with the aisle seat.
When traveling alone, it’s not like you can switch seats with a neighbor if you encounter these problems. That’s why I’d suggest booking an aisle seat just in case. You can also check seat dimensions on SeatGuru for a better idea of what to expect.
Dress for Comfort
No matter what size traveler you are, it’s important to dress for comfort, especially when traveling to a new country. Consider the weather, terrain, and any other factors about your destination that can impact your overall comfort. For long-haul flights, yoga pants or leggings are a must. You can then layer up with items depending on your personal style preferences. Also, skip the cute sandals and flip flops in favor of closed-toed flats or sneakers, as airplane cabins can get surprisingly chilly.
While you may get hung up on being as fashionable as possible during your trip, there’s nothing wrong with looking like a tourist! This is especially true when the destination calls for functional clothing like waterproof hiking boots or a three-in-one rain jacket. You’ll enjoy the trip much better if you’re dressed appropriately.
In fact, shopping for travel clothes can become an essential part of your self-love journey. I was ill prepared for that first trip to London, but now that I’m heading off to Ireland and Scotland this month, I’ve given myself plenty of time to invest in clothing that fits right, can stand up to the unpredictable Highland weather, and even looks somewhat stylish.
If you’re prepping for your first big trip, consider adding the following plus-size travel essentials to your wardrobe:
- Leggings and/or yoga pants
- Hiking pants
- A light sweater or cover-up
- Tunics or other long tops (to wear with leggings)
- A good pair of walking/hiking shoes
- A versatile jacket (like a 3-in-1 coat)
- Wrinkle-free tees
Of course, if you’re traveling to a warmer climate, you’ll need to consider the activities you plan to participate in and adjust your essentials’ list accordingly.
Stick to a Carry-On
One of the best ways to reduce travel anxiety is to skip checking any luggage. That isn’t to say anything bad will happen to your checked bags, but the thought of losing your luggage is one less thing you’ll have to worry about.
Before our trip to London, my husband and I each got a carry-on backpack from eBags. The Mother Lode Weekender ended up being big enough for all our clothes, a few packing cubes, a laptop, and toiletries. It’s much bigger than it looks, and it fits perfectly in the airplane cabin.
We did check a small upright suitcase in case we needed to bring home souvenirs, but we sent it through packed with nonessential items for the flight (and items that aren’t allowed through TSA). But anything that would have caused too much anxiety if we’d lost it went into our backpacks.
Especially if you’re a solo traveler, I’d recommend sticking with a carry-on, and preferably a backpack. It’ll be less hassle as you try to navigate your way through unfamiliar territory.
And those are my top five tips for getting started as a plus-size traveler! Book that dream trip already, practice self-care, and get as prepared as you possibly can, both mentally and physically. Once that first trip is behind you, you’ll wonder why you waited so long!
Jennifer McKnight is a freelance writer who makes a living playing with words at odd hours. A plus-size traveler herself, she encourages other women to find their own body positivity and to start living life in the moment. Find out what Jen’s currently up to on Instagram. Also, be sure to check out her travel blog, Travel with Curves.
Did you find any of these tips helpful? Have you made plans for your first trip? Do you have any questions or concerns about plus-size traveling? Let me know in the comments below!