Traveling while fat comes with its own set of big ol’ challenges. Like, no skinny person has ever stopped before booking a flight off to some exotic destination to google “am I too fat to fly?” or “will I fit in an airplane seat?” And even if you’re not concerned about the unreasonable tiny-ness of today’s airplane seats, being a fat traveler is a, shall we say, ~unique experience – and traveling as a fat woman? Even more so.
If you’ve ever traveled while fat, you’ve probably stumbled across a few of these already (and if not, there’s so much to look forward to!). Here’s 25 things nobody tells you about traveling as a fat woman!
But OMG, Lia, you’re NOT (that) fat
Fat is a subjective term, but let’s just get this out of the way: I’m fat. We don’t have to attach qualifiers or numbers to it. I don’t need to prove my fat credentials. But if I’m being real, I fall into that irritating black hole where I’m a little too small for plus-sized stores and a little too big for every other store. But like, I weigh closer to 250 than to 200, so I’m picking a side here and I choose to identify myself, happily, as fat.
I can feel some of you well-intended folks out there itching to reassure me about my fatness, but PLEASE, resist the urge to say something like “oh, you’re just curvy!” or “but you carry it so well” or “but you have such a pretty face,” or “you’re not THAT fat” or “you’re not fat, you HAVE fat.”
It’s nice of you to be concerned, but those are things you say to make someone feel better, and there’s nothing to make me feel better about, because there’s nothing wrong with being fat and I don’t even feel mildly bad about it.
Some fabulous fat ladies refer to themselves as curvy, or voluptuous, or Amazonian, or thick, or plus-size, or whatever term they like best: I refer to myself as fat (and also, like, all of the above).
At this point in my life – after wasting a bunch of years struggling against my fatness and battling an eating disorder that nearly killed me – I’ve come to embrace it … and, subsequently, totally get over it: I’m fat, and it’s fine. I’m perfectly happy with my fatness. Oh, and for those of you concerned about my health: it’s also perfectly fine, thank you. Fatness and poor health are not necessarily things that are connected, and I’m in the best shape of my life – much better than when I was thin and dying. But let’s not get into that just now.
Here’s the thing: to me, fat is just a neutral descriptor. Not only am I fat, I’m also tall, and loud, and a traveler, and a hiker, and very practical, and kinda a dime, when I bother to brush my hair or whatever, and married to a gorgeous gingerbeardy dude who also thinks I’m a dime. You get the idea.
Fatness isn’t a defining characteristic of who I am. Frankly, it’s not even a mildly interesting part of who I am. But it’s also not a non-existent characteristic. It does impact my experiences, particularly when travelling (or that time I tried to go surfing and things went terribly).
So I appreciate your concern, but relax! Fat isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing. A totally neutral, whatever thing. It’s not a big deal. Let’s all breathe through the discomfort we’ve had beaten into us by society when it comes to that word, shall we?
I wrote this post to reach out to other fat travelers and badass, adventure-chasing fat women about some of the things nobody tells you about traveling as a fat woman. There’s plenty of fat travel tips, anecdotes, and stories – and I’ve gotten some help from a few other fabulous curvy traveler friends, too!
So sit back, relax, laugh, and share your own stories in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!
Things nobody tells you about traveling as a fat woman
1. Being plus sized and also confident (GASP!) is seen as strange in some places. Some folks just don’t know how to react when you rock a crop top or a bikini and let all of your curves and fabulousness hang out un-apologetically. Repeat after me: that’s their problem. Personally, I enjoy being the first Hot Fat Chick that these people have apparently ever seen in person before. For some reason it makes a lot of folks tell me that I look like Adele, the only other Hot Fat Chick they’ve ever seen, which is completely inaccurate but a nice thought.
2. Depending on the country, you’ll either get hit on more, or way less. Every country has a different body image ideal (almost like they’re completely made-up and constantly changing!). So in some countries, your voluptuous curves will attract cat-calls and pickup lines. In others, they’ll get you angry looks and disapproving glares. Practice your best pissed-off fat lady face (the more chins, the better) and apply it to whichever situation you rubs you the wrong way (in my case, all of them!).
3. Don’t forget to bring a towel. Otherwise you’ll get to experience that ~sexy~ moment when the towel that your hostel/hotel gives you is too small to go around your waist/bust/thigh (seriously, what is this, a washcloth?!) and you have to walk across the entire hostel trying not to flash every single person. There must be some mathematical reason to explain why the further away your room is from the bathroom, the smaller the towel is that they give you. I definitely learned this lesson the hard way (read about my travel regrets). Girl, you gotta bring your own full-sized travel towel. Or even better, do as I do: bring a robe!
4. Your boobs will attract a lot of attention … from other women. Hannah says, “I never expected women to get more excited about my boobs than men. While traveling through Vietnam, I kept getting comments about my “big, sexy” chest. A couple of them even went in for a feel (um, excuse you!) before sadly looking down at their smaller chests. Trust me, ladies, if I could trade I would.” Psst: Hannah has an awesome post called “Fat, tall, tanned, and …beautiful?”
5. You’re gonna get stared at. Nothing turns heads, apparently, like having a body with fat on it and also doing completely unexciting things like walking down the street or buying groceries. If you look different from what people are used to, the stares will come. Call it human nature: there’s rudeness errwhere.
6. People will make really uncomfortable statements about your appetite. Like “YOU EAT SO MUCH” as you’re enjoying your completely normal-sized plate of regular food. Or just a subtle “you look like you enjoy food”. Why, yes, as a person who is alive, I do enjoy eating. Whether you’re feasting or snacking, eating in a public place is apparently an excuse for rude people to make obnoxious and unwanted comments. Keep on living and keep on feasting.
7. People will volunteer suggestions for places to eat without you having to ask. I actually love this one. What an awesome fat perk. Like, yes, I WOULD like to know the best local spot to eat a giant donut at midnight, thank you for randomly volunteering that fact! (Ahem: Bob’s Donuts in San Francisco). TBH, this is a huge benefit to traveling while fat.
8. In some places, EVERYTHING is much smaller. Like a carnival funhouse, or Alice in Wonderland. Imagine our surprise when we got off the plane in France and everything looked like it had shrunk. Why are the roads so tiny? Does ANYONE fit into this shower? What is this, a country for ants?! It took us a lot of getting used to (and uh, we may have accidentally definitely busted a headlight on our rental car trying to navigate one of the ridiculously skinny roads. And then got our car stuck in a castle).
In places like these, there’s no avoiding it: you’re going to feel like a bull in a china shop the entire time. Just buy travel insurance in case you actually break something (oops).
9. If you’re fat and also hella active, you’ll get some skeptical looks. Like people don’t believe you that you’re capable of a physical activity. News flash: being fat doesn’t disqualify you from being a badass rock climber/hiker/skydiver/white water rafter/runner/powerlifter/anything. Own it like the boss that you are and enjoy the look of shock on their faces.
10. Some adventure activities actually have weight restrictions. And you can’t just throw your deuces up and ignore them. I once saw a 225 lb maximum on a zipline tour in South America. I had to pay extra when I went skydiving to accommodate my above-200lbs-ness.
Here’s the thing: do NOT try to play coy and act like you don’t weigh what you weigh: this is an actual safety issue. It’s also why I sid-eye these kinds of activities hard (that, and I’m a huge f***king scaredy cat). Like, OK you say this is safe, but is it fat girl safe?
Thankfully, the only time I had an issue arise, my harness and rope worked just fine as I dangled 200 feet in the air on a waterfall crying my ass off for 30 minutes while someone came to my rescue. Like I said, scaredy cat. But don’t play, y’all! Weight is just a number. Be honest and don’t take the risk.
11. There’s a secret to looking attractive while doing physical activity and I don’t know what it is. Some people seem to glow while hiking or running. They bound across the ground like gazelles, shaking their glossy hair out as they go, like real-life commercials for bladder control pills or erectile disfunction or whatever.
Then there’s me. Red faced and sweaty, heffalumping across the ground like a buffalo on a mission. I love hiking – and running, as long as it’s 65 degrees and cloudy outside – but damn, do I look hideous while doing it. What’s your secret, beautiful active people?!
Here is my advice: if you’re gonna take a cute selfie, do it BEFORE your hike, run, bike ride, etc. Nobody will ever know!
12. There’s also a secret to looking attractive in the heat, and I also don’t know what it is. I’m not sure if this is a fat thing, or just a losing the genetic lottery thing. But as soon as it’s over 80 degrees, it’s over. There’s no point in looking cute. It’s not going to happen.
Like, my hair somehow forgets what the physical properties of hair (and gravity) are. All of my clothes start to stick to my skin like when you try to get dressed as soon as you’re out of the shower but you’re still kinda wet (ugh, the worst feeling ever). And my makeup starts sliding down my face on a crash-course for my neck. Now you know why I live in chilly Northern California, y’all.
13. Clothing markets in Asian countries are like a fun form of torture. Karen says, “They only ever have one size. One size?! How convenient. You have the ONE SIZE that fits my cat, my skinny friends, and/or my baby cousin. One size is like that dress that you had in 7th grade that you promised yourself that you’d fit into ~one day~ and held onto for the next 25 years. That day isn’t here and it’s not worth becoming the Hulk in the middle of a crowded market.”
14. Souvenir shops everywhere don’t have your size. It doesn’t matter if you’re shopping for a bathing suit coverup in Mexico or a pair of those cute printed elephant pants in Bali: they don’t have your size. I hope you like magnets and postcards, because clothing souvenirs that fit fat girls are not a thing. Important footnote: you can sometimes circumvent this by buying men’s clothing, which is also how my husband and I ended up with matching Peruvian Alpaca sweaters.
16. Get used to conversations like this:
Are you [insert exotic nationality]?
Nope, just American.
Are you sure? Because I have never seen an American girl with ~curves like you have.
Karen says, “is this a pickup line? Because I can tell you from experience that there are plenty of other fat people in America. I highly doubt you’ve never seen one before. Why is this a thing?!”
17. Think a bike tour sounds like a fun, relaxing way to see a new city? Think again. Were you imagining yourself cheerfully re-enacting a scene from Vicky Christina Barcelona? I wish. Instead, welcome to that awkward moment when you realize that your booty has betrayed you and it will NOT fit on the teeny tiny bike seat. While you play slip-n-slide with the world’s tiniest bike seat, you’ll probably get insulted by some random dude in Bogota who assumes you don’t speak Spanish and can’t understand that he’s making fun of you while you struggle-bus. Repeat after me: callate tu boca, hijueputa!
So maybe that got a bit specific, but my point still stands: rental bikes, particularly the kind used in bike tours, were not made with fat chicks in mind. I’ll take a walking tour instead, please!
18. Chub rub wear & tear is an inevitable fact of traveling as a fat woman. You know how your jeans always rip in that one stupid spot between your thighs? Yes, ladies, I’m talking about the chub rub hole. It’s been the nemesis of all of my favorite pairs of pants for my entire life.
I’m the kind of girl who refuses to throw a good pair of pants away just because they have a chub-rub rip. So before my year long backpacking trip I actually sewed patches on where I knew they’d eventually wear through. My leggings and jeans lasted much longer thanks to 2 extra layers of fabric on each leg! If you’ve got a trip coming up and you know you’ll be doing a ton of walking, get handy with the sewing machine and throw on some extra fabric.
19. Chafing is also an inevitable fact of traveling while fat. You’re gonna chafe at some point on your travels. Whether it’s from a wet bathing suit, a pair of shorts that keeps riding up, or that f**king bike tour, be prepared. Carry a body-glide stick at all times, and get yourself a pair of comfy bike shorts like these (they even have pockets!) to wear under your cutest dresses and skirts! Your thighs will thank you.
Or, you can just full on embrace it with this adorable Chub Rub Club iron-on patch. How cute is that?
20. Avoid top bunks when staying in a hostel. This isn’t even just a plus size travel thing, top bunks are generally just terrifying.
21. The bigger you are, the more uncomfortable public transportation becomes. Whether it’s airplanes, busses, collectivos, or moto-taxis, there is an inverse ratio between your size and how much you’re going to hate getting from point A to point B on a budget.
Rule of thumb: if your trip will take longer than an hour or 2, it’s probably worth it to pay extra for a little bit of comfort. Especially if that means you get to have A/C or an extra 3 inches of legroom.
Oh, and don’t worry about whoever’s lucky enough to sit next to you. Fat is squishy AF. They’ll be fine. But if they get an attitude, just passive-aggressively give them one of these with a giant bow on it. D**k.
22. If you’re worried about being too fat to fly, ask for a seat-belt extender and book a double seat. Your comfort and peace of mind is worth the investment, particularly if it’s a long flight. Whenever you can, fly Southwest Airlines, who has a “Customers of Size” policy that lets you book 2 seats and then request a refund after your flight (reason #828682 why Southwest Airlines is my favorite airline EVER).
And don’t worry: nobody is going to weigh you like you’re f**king luggage, unless you’re flying from Uzbekistan or Samoa, apparently. To see an airline’s policies regarding extra space needs, look for a page on their website addressing “customers with special needs” or similar.
23. Do not skimp on your shoes for traveling! Those cheap flats from H&M may look cute, but you know they’re going to fall apart after about 10 minutes of walking on cobblestones.
As fat women, our feet have the task of carrying ALL of our gorgeousness, and they need to be treated like the valuable chariots of glory they are. So don’t give them blisters from too-tight shoes made of poor materials, or POS cheap soles that will wear through long before you’re worn out.
My favorite super cute, well-made, up-for-anything travel shoes are the Capri Sandals from Teva, and anything from VivoBarefoot (just be sure to give your feet and calves some time to adjust to barefoot style shoes before your trip).
24. You are the only one who knows your own mobility limitations and abilities, so speak up! Whether it’s hiking the Inca Trail or just hiking up the stairs, if you’re worried about your ability to do something, ask beforehand. “Is there any way our room can be on the first floor?” or “does this tour require me to walk the entire time?” or “does this hike have places to rest?” are all totally reasonable questions to ask.
Don’t feel like you have to keep quiet and suffer. Advocate for yourself and don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions before you book something.
25. Just so you know: you’re fabulous, beautiful, powerful, and amazing. I guess this isn’t technically a tip, but I just wanted to make sure you knew. Go out and chase your wanderlust across the globe, you incredible adventuress. You’re a mountain of strength and you radiate confidence and bad-assery with every step you take on this earth. You’re f**king rad and don’t you forget it.
Do you have a tip for your fellow plus size travel divas? Leave a comment below!
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