On She Goes

Travel 101 for Fat Babes

Yes, there are unique challenges to navigating travel when you’re fat.

Virgie Tovar
Virgie Tovar
May 15, 2017
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When I talk to fat babes about travel there is one word that presides over our conversations: anxiety. What if the seats on the plane are too small? What if I sit next to someone who gives me side-eye for eight hours straight? Am I going to a place where people are going to gawk at me all day long? What if I find a magical secret lagoon and I really need a bathing suit but there is literally nothing in my size in this country? Shouldn’t I wait to lose weight before I travel?

Fat phobia is real, and all of these anxieties have roots in actual lived experiences. I used to think that I didn’t deserve to have the experiences I craved because I am fat. And when I finally did travel, I encountered countries where not one single item of clothing that hung on store racks fit me. I have been to places where there are very few fat people, and the local douche-bros are so filled with confusion-desire that they freak out and start acting like 14-year-olds who don’t know if they want to humiliate me or make out with me. Honestly, it’s shitty, but that’s misogyny, and women all over the world are forced to navigate it.

Yes, there are unique challenges to navigating travel when you’re fat. But there are two important things that fat travelers must remember: those challenges aren’t your fault, and you shouldn’t let those challenges stop you from traveling. Take it from me, someone who has been TWF (traveling while fat) internationally since I was 18 years old. In my years of experience, I’ve learned some lessons that can help my fellow fat babes to see the world.

Virgie Tovar

Have a support plan
If you know that you may sink into a deep place of anxiety right before you travel, make a support plan three to six weeks in advance. This anxiety might look like trying to find reasons to cancel the trip, imagining worst-case scenarios on a loop, or finding yourself unable to pack because you feel debilitated by the idea of leaving. I recommend asking one or two of your chill friends to be your check-in people. Let them know when you’re leaving and respectfully ask them if it’s okay to text or call them in the days leading up to travel. It really helps to know that you can reach out to someone who will talk you through your anxiety. Slow down and give yourself lots of time. Do not avoid preparations, because you may panic and it will exacerbate any preexisting concerns.

Don’t leave packing for the last minute and don’t overpack
Packing can be overwhelming. Fat folks are more likely to have fashion anxiety already (thanks to a lifetime of not being given options by the fashion industry), and packing brings up feelings of scarcity. So, even if you’re not ready to put all your stuff into your suitcase, I recommend writing out what you are taking. This is also a good exercise to really think about what you may need or not need. Write down everything while you’re calm so you don’t have to think on travel day.

Fat phobia is real, and all of these anxieties have roots in actual lived experiences.

After you’ve made your I’m-calm-and-will-write-a-packing-list list, you’ll find that there’s too much stuff on the list. Most people overpack. I never take anything larger than a carry-on suitcase. It’s especially easy for fat babes to get into a scarcity spiral and start packing like you’re never going to see your closet again. Travel is an amazing opportunity to practice amplification—letting the most magical version of yourself out—and centering comfort. Rather than worrying about what you look like, prioritize what your body needs to stay comfortable. If you’re going to be in a hot climate, pack light fabrics, shorts, and tank tops. These are terrifying for fat people because we have been taught to cover up by any means necessary. I remember the first time I went to Thailand, I knew it was going to be 110 degrees every day, but it was so scary to actually pack shorts, tank tops, and T-shirts because I normally use clothes like armor, which is fine in temperate San Francisco, but not fine in Bangkok. If you’re going to a cold climate, pack a winter coat and bring it on the plane (it also acts as a pillow!), pack layered outfits, and don’t fill up your suitcase with sweaters. I pack one pair of underwear and one outfit for each day I am out of town. I roll up—not fold!—each item like I saw on Martha Stewart.

Even if I’m leaving for more than one month, I take only one small carry-on rolling suitcase. You can wash your clothes, and in many climates you can wear some items more than once. Prioritize low-maintenance, fast-drying clothing. For example, panties made from synthetic fabrics dry super fast. Worst-case scenario, you can wash them in the shower or in the sink, set them out to dry, and they’re ready.

Photo by Virgie Tovar

Get your plane questions answered and needs met in advance
I always sit on the aisle; it is the most comfortable seat for me since there’s a little extra room for arm movement and I can get up and stretch easily. Most travel aggregator and airline booking sites let you pick your seat. If you aren’t able to pick during booking, then call the airline before you travel to get your seating needs taken care of and your questions answered. Perhaps you might consider asking: What is the length of the seatbelt? Will I need a seatbelt extender? How wide is the seat, in inches? Do the armrests go up and down? What kind of food and beverage service is there? How much does it cost to upgrade to a seat with more room?

Virgie in Vienna by Virgie Tovar

Take time to decompress
Make a plan just in case something happens that sets you off while you’re abroad and you need some time to chill. It can be as simple as packing your favorite aromatherapy, your favorite tea, a book, a journal, or (if you’re woo like me) a stone like selenite or rose quartz. I always travel with a small bottle of Palo Santo Clearing Spray from Elem (http://www.elembody.com/palo-santo.html). It’s small enough that I can even bring it on flights. I like to spray my room when I arrive to clean out the energy, and I keep it on hand near my bed or in my purse in case I need to “create harmony in the midst of chaos” (literally the copy from the website! So true!). It’s good to have a short, easy ritual so you can feel held and then let go of a hard or overwhelming moment.

Listen to your body’s needs
Don’t have any shame about what your body needs. Listen to those needs. This comes up especially if you’re traveling with people whose bodies have needs different from your own. If you’re too tired to walk, say so. If you’re really ready to go, say so. If you don’t want to do something, say so. This is your trip, too, and you shouldn’t sacrifice your own comfort.

Don’t have any shame about what your body needs. Listen to those needs.

I’ve talked to so many fat people who want to travel but get overwhelmed by the prospect of doing it. (It’s no surprise that many of the above tips are for dealing with anxiety in one way or another.) More importantly, they allow society’s bigotry to convince them they don’t deserve to do what they want with their lives. Well, I call bullshit. I say: don’t wait to travel.

Travel has transformed my life. I wouldn’t know my capacity for wonder if I hadn’t watched turtles hatch in Costa Rica or scaled the Devils Punchbowl in New Zealand or swum naked in the Mediterranean. The globe is magical and unapologetically big. The planet’s beauty has no limit, so why should we?