The traditional travel industry is hard-wired to exclude bigger bodies from the vacation narrative, and we’re not encouraged to roam around the world freely like "normal-sized" people are.
With useful travel information out there being both scarce and scattered, plus-sized people often don’t take the plunge to hop on a plane and get out there. The paranoia and fear of potentially not fitting in the plane aisle, breaking a beach chair or being stared or laughed at, is simply too hard to stomach.
While traveling as a bigger person does throw up some challenges, my experiences as a plus-sized explorer have been life-enriching, meaningful, and incredibly fun! I feel privileged to share my knowledge from an empowered perspective in the hope I’ll inspire the plus-sized community to be seen – and celebrated – when they go abroad.
So, from one plus-sized person to another, here's the lowdown on what it’s like to be a chubby traveler.
Meet more people like Jeff who are making travel possible for everyone: Best in Travel 2021
People will call you out on your size – constantly
Commenting on someone’s size is generally not as taboo as openly identifying a person by their race/sexuality/age from the get-go. I’ve been addressed by complete strange waiters as "big fella" in restaurants in the company of slimmer friends who were spoken to more formally, as sir/madam. You become used to the long, oftentimes suspicious side-eye stares when sight-seeing in crowds. At best, people are surprised to see you walking around in the first place. At worst, they don’t think you should be taking up (their) space. On planes, being plus-sized automatically makes you an undesirable aisle buddy candidate, and it’s hard to ignore the sighs of relief when you pass someone in the aisle.
It’s not all doom-and-gloom though. It’s always good to remember that "fat" connotations are subjective, and there are multiple symbols and meanings for bigger-boned in different cultures. In Japan, I was mistaken to be a sumo-wrestler by strangers – something I assumed had negative connotations. However, later when I learned that sumo wrestlers are revered cultural icons in the country, I was no longer offended.
Being a plus-sized male abroad is a truly unique experience
In general, body-positive affirmations tend to favor the female body. Curvy, full-figured "thick" etc.. are (great) alternative adjectives that push for plus-sized bodies to be celebrated, not slandered. However, as a plus-sized male, my physical prowess is often read as threatening, scary, and generally as something to fear if it’s close to you.
You become acutely aware of this difference in foreign countries where they’ll happily accept larger ladies, such as in the Caribbean or many countries in Africa, but do not reserve the same judgment for the chubbier male, where being muscular, lean and agile are still considered the physical signifiers of masculinity.
This combination is particularly toxic as it feeds the inaccurate assumption that plus-sized males can’t participate in moderate to high-level activities like a "normal" person can. I often joke to people that I’m like a "chubby unicorn," because I’ve hiked, skied, climbed and kayaked my way through half the globe, much to many people’s disbelief. Sharing the photos and stories with the world is my way of normalizing the plus-sized globetrotter, and positioning the bigger (male) body as a powerful and positive force, instead of a lazy yet threatening one.
Getting from A to B is a challenge
Plus-sized plane politics is a minefield, and one "normal" sized people are privileged not to have to deal with when they travel. The physical design of a plane, particularly with budget airlines, are not built with plus-sized travelers in mind. The anxious race for the window seat is not to bask in the fluffy-cloud views, it’s so we can sit in some form of peace and comfort with one less restrictive armrest to fight with!
Airlines such as Southwest, have really shown up for the larger-sized travel community, with inclusive policies that don’t make you pay out of pocket because you’re bigger than some. They will give you an additional seat for free if there is a spare seat available. Seat belt extensions – a true game-changer for plus-sized travelers – are widely offered by all airlines as well.
It’s important to note that things don’t get easier when you’re on the ground. Outside the United States, being plus-sized is not (always) the standard and everything seems to shrink, making logistics extremely difficult – from moving around in toy-sized tuk-tuks to finding a bed to fit your frame in a boutique hotel.
Plan ahead to avoid surprises
The tourism industry is still getting its head around the notion of inclusive travel and every country is on a different timeline, so pre-trip research and setting your expectations is crucial for plus-sized travelers planning a vacation.
Certain activities, such as zip-lining and parachuting are size and weight-sensitive. So it’s crucial to know beforehand to save yourself from a potentially humiliating or disappointing escapade. Ask questions and review every activity requirement with your travel provider before your trip.
Other “light” activities such as spontaneous shopping trips are also a big no-no for us. So make sure you pack your bathing suit because you’ll be hard-pressed finding one on the beach shop promenade. That being said, I’ve found some incredible tailors in South Africa, who’ve decked me out in incredible outfits made to measure.
Chubby people have the right to travel too!
Take it from me, a plus-sized traveler who’s visited over 40 countries, none of the above should deter you from discovering the world on your terms – without shame, prejudice or fear. Enjoying the world in the body you’re in now, regardless of your weight journey, is a beautiful and therapeutic way to celebrate all the amazing things our bodies can do. It re-aligns your focus, gets you moving, and thrusts you out of your comfort zone in the most organic and pleasurable way.
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