Are you fat? Do you like to travel? Do you feel like many travel articles intentionally avoid discussing topics that are relevant to your experience?
As a fat traveler, I’m often anxious before departing on a trip — for a myriad of reasons. In my head I’m already being booted off public transportation, stared and/or laughed at by others, or stranded with nothing to wear because I didn’t prepare. Most travel prep articles, while helpful, don’t help me (or don’t help me enough). But after years of experience, talking with experts in the body acceptance community, and a bit of research, I want to help you plan your trip.
Some of these may seem obvious, but I find it easiest to list everything I need to alleviate any pre-departure anxiety. Here are my top 5 prep tips for fat travelers:
Read the news media about the country in which you are traveling.” — Frannie Zellman, traveler, author, and activist who writes and edits work on fat-related issues
A quick Google search can help so much. I’ve spent an entire evening Googling “Fat discrimination in Europe.” Keep in mind that any horror stories you find are often more available because they’re newsworthy. Most people don’t care about the mundane.
“Read, read, read whatever you can,” adds Frannie. “And talk to people, especially women, especially fat women.”
Which leads to my next tip…
I think it’s especially important to let other fat people know that we CAN travel and have a good time. We don’t have to wait until we are ‘thin enough.’ We can travel in the bodies we have. Personally, I feel more comfortable if I know something about a place before I visit, particularly if I know someone my size who has been there. — Lee K, traveler and English teacher from the U.S. living in Korea
And we’re lucky. Because now there’s so much more information than there used to be.
“Once I started traveling around Korea and other Asian countries [in 2008], I used websites like Lonely Planet, JourneyWoman, and Visit Korea,” adds Lee. “None of those had fat-specific information. When I started reading Ragen Chastain’s blog Dances With Fat and Kath Read’s Fat Heffalump, I read posts and followed links to articles about the challenges fat people face when going on planes and visiting amusement parks. I read about seat-belt extenders, buying two seats, renting mobility scooters, and facing rudeness from strangers for daring to travel while fat. Now that I follow those blogs and belong to […] Fat Forward, I can find a lot more fat-specific travel information than I could six years ago.”
Talking to others who’ve traveled (and continue to travel) can help alleviate anxiety. For an upcoming backpacking trip I have planned, I found myself worrying about the size and weight capacities of European overnight train couchettes. I turned to the fat travel community and was promptly put at ease.
For some of us, the anxieties associated with being fat in public and, by extension, traveling while fat force us to completely avoid even planning a trip. But interacting with other fat travelers and hearing about their experiences can prepare you for your own.
For some folks, traveling while fat is no big deal […] For others, it can be pretty terrifying. It depends a bit on what you’ve gone through in your life, how much stigma you’ve experienced, and what kind of emotional toolbelt you’ve developed to deal with it. For those in the latter camp, deciding to travel is a Big Deal and it helps to know that others in bodies like theirs have not only survived but had really amazing times on their own adventures. — Stacy Bias
It may seem like a cheesy suggestion, but I find that looking at travel photos (of anyone of any size, though especially fat travelers) helps to inspire me to go.
Read articles from fat bloggers about their travel experiences. Remind yourself that it has been and can be done.
If nothing else works, again turn to the fat traveler community, and ask them to help encourage you. “Having a support system to cheer you on, validate your feelings, comfort you if things go awry, and celebrate your successes is pretty invaluable,” adds Stacy.
Depending on where you’re going and assuming you have room, bring enough clothing for your whole trip plus at least a day’s extra. Unlike thin people, it can be difficult for us to find clothing in our sizes in regular malls and stores.
Don’t be afraid to opt for comfort over style (although there’s plenty you can do that is both comfortable and stylish). I wear leggings almost everywhere I go (under dresses, with long shirts), and for a two-week trip will pack four or five pairs, just to be on the safe side. Many stores make comfortable walking shoes in wide sizes. Avenue is my particular favorite.
If you’re going somewhere hot or think you’ll be walking more than usual, bring baby powder and hydrocortisone ointment. These are great for preventing and then alleviating chafed skin. Also, if it’s hot and you prefer dresses, buy a pair of bike shorts to wear under them.
For many of us, this is the most difficult step.
You deserve to travel. You deserve to learn and explore. You deserve to have fun and have a life.
The above steps can help you get to this point, but when it comes down to it, this is all you. And I know you can do it.
There will always be “What ifs” about what might happen or who might say what to you, but this is true for so many other marginalized groups of people. Someone may be rude, but you’ll likely never see that person again. And that’s the beauty of travel.
Push past the not-so-great experiences in search of the great ones.
Go, see, adventure. Go anyway. Just go.