Traveling while fat comes with its own set of challenges. 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 unique experience — and traveling as a fat woman is even more so.
Fat is a subjective term, so 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. I’m fat.
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.
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: 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.
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 married to a gorgeous gingerbeardy dude who thinks I’m a total 10. You get the idea.
Fatness isn’t even a mildly interesting part of who I am. But it’s not a non-existent characteristic. It does impact my experiences, particularly when traveling.
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 are 25 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 unapologetically. Repeat after me: That’s their problem. Personally, I enjoy being the first Hot Fat Chick that these people have apparently ever seen. 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!). 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 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. 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.”
5. You’re gonna get stared at.
Nothing turns heads 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 everywhere.
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. Yes, I would like to know the best local spot to eat a giant doughnut at midnight, thank you for randomly volunteering that fact!
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? In places like these, there’s no avoiding it: You’re going to feel like a bull in a china shop the entire time.
9. If you’re fat and also hella active, you’ll get some sceptical looks.
People don’t believe that you’re capable of a physical activity. News flash: Being fat doesn’t disqualify you from being a badass rock climber/hiker/skydiver/whitewater 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 225lb maximum on a zip line 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 side-eye these kinds of activities hard. Okay, 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 until someone came to my rescue. 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.
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?!
12. There’s a secret to looking attractive in the heat, and I 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.
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 kind of wet. And my makeup starts sliding down my face. That’s why I live in chilly Northern California.
13. Clothing markets in Asian countries are like a fun form of torture.
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.
15. 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.
– Just American.
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.
16. 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 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. Repeat after me: Callate tu boca, hijueputa!
17. 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 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.
18. 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 to wear under your cutest dresses and skirts! Your thighs will thank you.
19. Avoid top bunks when staying in a hostel.
This isn’t even just a plus size travel thing, top bunks are generally just terrifying.
20. The bigger you are, the more uncomfortable public transportation becomes.
Whether it’s airplanes, busses, collectivos, or moto-taxis, there is a direct 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 paying 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.
21. 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 are 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.
22. 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. Don’t give them blisters from too-tight shoes made of poor materials, or crappy cheap soles that will wear through long before you’re worn out.
23. 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.
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.
This piece originally appeared on Practical Wanderlust and is republished here with permission.