5 Lessons I Learned From Traveling While Fat

Jason Weiland

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I'm fat, and I’m not ashamed to say it. Yes, I'm on a perpetual diet, but it seems like most of us are always trying to fit the molds that people give us to live in anyway.

Since I recently lost 20 pounds, I sit at around 265, but there was a time not long ago that I was well over 360 lbs. Even at 6 feet tall, that is heavy.

But, in 2011, I did something that many fat people would never think of doing: I traveled by airplane from Tucson, Arizona to Manila, Philippines, and survived to tell about it.

I worried about so many things:

  • Would I be able to make it long distances through airports to my next flight if there are delays?
  • Would I fit in a standard airplane seat?
  • Would I need a seatbelt extender?
  • Would everyone treat me like everyone else, or will they think I am a burden?
  • How will people react to me?

I had heard the horror stories of people being fat-shamed for daring to leave their house, how much more if I dared take up too much of my seat?

As it turns out, I had very little to worry about.

Over the next few years, I traveled back and forth four times, and as the years passed, I got thinner and then fatter again, but I never forgot the lessons I learned from all those airports, airplanes, huge terminals, and shrinking seats.

Lesson 1: Know What You Are Getting Into — Fat Travel Preparation

I was very careful about knowing every detail of my trip before I took it. I knew how big the seats were on each of my flights, if the airline would provide a seatbelt extender or not, if I had a window or aisle, if I would be in the back or the front of the airplane, how long the flights were, and even though I couldn’t plan for the unknown, I tried to find out how far I would have to walk and how much time I would have to walk to other terminals between each flight.

I tried to find out every detail.

On most airlines throughout the world, in order not to have to buy an adjacent or “comfort” seat, you must be able to lower the armrests on both sides. The seats used to be a standard 18”, but as the airlines attempt to fit more people in a smaller area, the seats have gotten smaller.

You must have a seatbelt fastened if you want to fly. If the airline doesn’t have an extender and you need one, you probably will have to take another flight. It’s always best to bring your own.

Most airlines allow you to check-in and get a seat assignment before you travel to the airport. Find out where in the plane you are sitting, and if you have a window or aisle. Stay away from middle seats.

Find out all you can learn about connections. You don’t want to be hurdling through the airport trying to get to your gate if your flight is delayed.

My travel wasn’t problem-free, but nothing affected me that I wasn’t prepared for.

What You Should Do: Preparation

  1. Plan everything to the minute detail if possible. Leave nothing to chance.
  2. Find out how big your seat is by using SeatGuru to check your flight. If you think you will need a comfort seat, call the airline directly and set it up.
  3. As a precaution, always bring your own seatbelt extender. Don’t risk not having one or suffering an insensitive flight attendant making a big show of providing it. Amazon sells them for about $15.00 (and they ship internationally if you aren’t in the U.S.). Make sure the extender is TSA Approved.
  4. Check-in online and get your seat assignment early or get to the airport early. Most airlines say a few hours, but if you are fat, give it a lot more time.
  5. Find out as much as you can about connecting flights. When you are booking flights, choose connections that give you more than enough time to walk through huge airports, even if your flight runs late

Lesson 2: Be Comfortable in Your Clothes

One of the huge mistakes I made on that first international trip was I wore clothes that were so uncomfortable, I was miserable the whole way. I was pinched, squeezed, poked, chafed, irritated, and cooked by the clothes I was wearing.

One of the issues was that I was trying to dress up to fit in, so people wouldn’t notice how fat I was. Yes, it’s important not to look homeless, but don’t sacrifice comfort for high fashion.

What You Should Do: Clothing

  1. Pick clothing that is cool, stretchy, doesn’t pinch or bind, fits well, is breathable, moisture-wicking, and curbs odor. For now, check out SmarterTravel.com’s list of clothing options.
  2. Dress in layers. You don’t want to be stuck in a hot taxi in a wool sweater or a cold airplane in a T-shirt and shorts. I always remember that I sweat, and with sweat comes odor, so I make sure to take precautions.

Lesson 3: You are the Bigger Person in More Ways Than One, Be Nice!

I’ve gotten my share of dirty looks, but no one has ever shamed me to my face, mostly because I am an intimidating beast. But, I am also always the nicest person on the airplane.

Travel is difficult. Imagine you were in your seatmates’ shoes, and you found out you would sweat for 6 hours next to a 400-pound man. Make it easier for them. Smile. Exchange pleasantries. Buy them a drink. Hand out candy. Whatever you can do to show that you appreciate their understanding.

Don’t let your privilege show. “Oh, I shouldn’t have to be nice. No one is nice to me!” No, you don’t have to, but how much effort does it take to show some empathy and be a good human being?

What You Should Do: Be Nice!

  1. It doesn’t take that much effort to be nice to the people traveling with you. Even if they don’t think you are any trouble, you never know how many friends you will make.

Lesson 4: Pick a Fat-Friendly Destination

My trip to the Philippines wasn’t a vacation, I was moving here, and maybe if I had been going to sit on a beach, I would have picked a place that was more fat-friendly. If you are going to travel for pleasure, I suggest you pick a destination where the people are less likely to make a big deal about fat people, like Samoa, or parts of Africa. Even Europe is more forgiving than places like Asia (Japan and Korea especially) most of the time.

Smarter Travel suggests picking a fat-friendly travel agent to make arrangements for you:

Abundant Travel founder Tony Harrell is a former national board member of NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance), so he gets it.” — SmarterTravel.com

What You Should Do: Pick a Fat-Friendly Destination

  1. Know where you are going and pick a place where plus-size is a plus! Pick the right travel agent and be aware of the hotels you will be staying in — the room could be on the top floor with no elevator, or the bathroom could be too small for your girth. Check ahead of time.

Lesson 5: Travel with Friends

First of all, you should be able to travel wherever and however you wish. Just know that you are not the only fat person who ever wanted to travel. Head over to Jeff Jenkins’s blog, ChubbyDiaries.com for some inspiration:

“I consider myself a seasoned traveler, but I’ve gotten my fair share of questions about whether I’ll be physically fit enough to make it up that volcano in Guatemala or be able to ride on that horse in Belize. Last year, I started a new venture — a travel blog that helps chubby people travel around the world.“ — Jeff Jenkins

Other fat-positive traveler blogs include Ragen Chastain’s Dances With Fat and Kath Read’s Fat Heffalump.

There are a lot of us out there who feel the pull of travel and decide to break the Instagram molds and start seeing the world.

How about traveling alone as a fat woman? Does it scare you? The double-pronged issue can be solved by finding a travel partner and look no further than Fat Girls Traveling on Facebook. Also, check out their Instagram account.

All chubby travelers regardless of sex are welcome at other Facebook groups, like Fat Forward or Flying While Fat.

What You Should Do: Go with a Friend

  1. There is nothing wrong with solo travel while fat, but if you want a partner, try to arrange it ahead of time. Take a friend or make a friend online and take them with you.
  2. By all means, it’s fine to be traveling alone or even with a friend! Don’t let anyone tell you different!

Need Some Inspiration and Motivation to Travel While Fat?

Despite what Instagram is telling you, fat people are traveling and doing all the things that skinny people do. We are fat, not dead.

Check out Plus Size Travel Bloggers & Influencers You Should Follow on Chubstr.com if you don’t believe me.

A little extra preparation and time at the airport, making sure we are comfortable in body and mind, or making sure we have a friend along if we need it, can go a long way towards getting rid of the fears you have about taking your big, beautiful self out into the world and seeing what the planet has to offer.

I’ll see you there!

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Writer and advocate interested in mental health, health, family, culture, creativity, and success.

Los Angeles, CA
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