Traveling is stressful, no matter your size. Flying when you’re fat is scary enough, but add on traveling to a foreign country when you’re at the larger end of the plus-size spectrum and your adventure can seem like a daunting task. We reached out to Celeste, who wears a size 5X and is no stranger to traveling abroad, to get her tips for traveling internationally as a fat person. She recounted her trip to Tanzania to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro with the Curvy Kili Crew and shares everything else she’s learned as an airline employee, so you, too, can feel empowered to travel the world—no matter your size!
Written by Celeste Thompson
Traveling can be a stressful ordeal and traveling as a fat person has its own unique set of challenges—especially when you’re traveling to a new country with customs and cultures you aren’t used to. But, with some planning and research, you can make the most of your travel experience, no matter the destination. Read on for my tips below!
1. Do Your Research
This is extremely important: preparation is key—I cannot stress this enough! Research the airline you’ll be flying with and check their “Customer of Size” policy and seat measurements. If you cannot find it on their website, call the airline. This will save you a lot of time and stress when you travel. I can’t always afford to purchase a second seat, so it’s important to know which airline will accommodate you without charging for an additional seat. Another important tip is to connect with other fat travelers on social media—I’ve had luck in Facebook groups. I’ve discovered there are plenty of groups that provide info regarding airlines’ “Customer of Size” policies, best airlines to travel as a fat person, and you can hear first-hand experiences. Another great resource is Seat Guru, where you can check seat measurements and reviews on seats, as well.
2. Arrive at the Airport Early
Especially if you are not purchasing a second seat, it is important that you show up early to the airport. You want to make sure you have enough time to talk to the counter agents about securing a second seat. Once you’ve done your research about the airline’s “Customer of Size” policies, you’ll know you can either request a second seat or, if the flight is sold out, you know the airline can accommodate you on the next available flight where a second seat is available. Because of this, I recommend adding in extra time to your itinerary so you can ensure that you won’t miss out on the excitement at your destination if you need to be put on a different flight.
3. Take Advantage of Pre-Board
I’m aware of my size and I feel more comfortable knowing that I can get to my seat without bumping into people, which is why I always pre-board. If you’re like me and want to be able to pre-board to ease any anxiety about bumping into fellow passengers, just remember to arrive early. A few weeks ago, I was traveling to Alabama and had the unfortunate experience of arriving late. I was the last person to board the plane. On top of that, my seat was all the way in the back. It was impossible not to bump into people’s heads while I walked in the narrow aisle of the plane. Pre-boarding will allow you to find your seat without feeling anxious or pressured. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.
4. Extend the Seatbelt
I used to carry my own seat belt extension for years until I started working in the airline industry in 2007. I was not aware that every aircraft is equipped with seat belt extenders due to FAA regulations! If you do not feel comfortable asking for a seatbelt extension, you can always purchase your own. Check out Amazon—they carry different types of extensions. Safety first!
But also keep in mind, that when you arrive at your international destination, you won’t be traveling in a familiar vehicle and you may want to pack a seatbelt extender for the car. I’m glad I brought mine for the taxis and shuttles I was planning on taking in Tanzania. No matter what, you need a seatbelt and deserve to be just as protected and safe as all of the other travelers.
5. Arrive at Your International Destination—Rebelliously
Don’t let your size be the reason not to explore the world. For a long time, I stopped planning trips outside the U.S. out of fear of discrimination due to my size. However, fat-shaming and discrimination happen everywhere, unfortunately, so the most rebellious act against this is exploring the world, no matter your size. I realized most people in Tanzania were interested in learning where I came from rather than why I was so big. Don’t let your fears keep you from traveling, seeing other cultures, and enjoying life. You will likely encounter people who will stare at you, but people stare no matter what, so don’t be apologetic for who you are!
6. Prepare for the Stares (and the Chairs)
My experience in Tanzania was very positive. Yes, I got those people who stared at me, but prior to arriving, I felt very anxious and nervous because I was told that the locals are not used to seeing people my size. In my head, I created this idea that people were going to be rude to me because of that. While people did stare at me and certainly noticed me, once I reminded myself just how lucky I was to be there, I just shut off all those ideas in my head and focused only on having fun and surrounding myself with this new culture.
During my trip, I did encounter a few logistical issues like how only some restaurants had fat-friendly seats. Most had plastic chairs with armrests. I generally think of myself as a confident fat person until I see one of those chairs. However, I simply requested a different chair and they brought me an armless wooden chair where I sat very comfortably.
7. Enjoy Yourself!
My best piece of advice—do not be afraid to travel and explore. You are part of this world, too. But, when doing your research, think about those scenarios where you might need special accommodations and prepare yourself—both mentally and physically. Besides a car seatbelt extender, I always pack extra clothes in my carry-on bags in case my checked luggage gets lost because it might be very difficult for me to find a store that carries clothing in my size when traveling abroad.
Finally, take photos, post them everywhere, and show the rest of the world that you are a well-traveled fat person. You never know who you might inspire to explore!
Photos provided by Celeste Thompson and Ida Joglar.