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Traveling While Fat: Tips From a Fat Eating Disorder Therapist

Updated: Jul 15


Traveling to a new place can be such an amazing experience, but it can also be stressful when you live in a larger body. There are many aspects of travel that our thin friends and family don’t have to think about or take into consideration. As a fat woman, I know firsthand how  incredibly frustrating it can be to plan a trip with a group of friends or family only to discover that something wasn’t designed with your body in mind. You deserve to travel, and there are many ways to navigate some of the challenges that arise when traveling while fat. Planning ahead can make a world of difference in easing some of the stress associated with travel.

 

If you are flying to your destination, you can research different airlines’ seat dimensions and extra seat policies. For example, Southwest has a Customer of Size policy which allows you to obtain a second seat at no additional cost. This is a great option for more personal space and comfort without having to pay more. If you’re able to, you can purchase the second seat ahead of time and be reimbursed after the flight. To do this, purchase both seats in your name, and for the second seat put “XS” as your middle name which will let Southwest know that the purchase was indeed for an extra seat. If it’s not feasible to purchase a second seat in advance, you can also request it at the ticket counter or gate, and they will help you get a second reserved seat. This will allow you to pre-board so you have time to get settled before the crowds board the plane. If Southwest is not an option, JetBlue has larger seats than other airlines as well as added legroom. Additionally,  airlines will list the size of their seats and policies concerning second seats. This is often referred to as “customer of size” or “special seating arrangements.” Some airlines will require the purchase of a second seat.

 

On the day of your flight, dress comfortably and bring comfort items in your carry-on such as a book, headphones, or neck pillow - anything that will make the flight more pleasant! I recommend getting to the airport early if you can, to allow plenty of time to figure out a second seat, go through security, use the bathroom, and get to your gate. If you aren’t able to obtain a second seat, ask the gate agents if a seat with extra room or a seat next to an empty seat is available. Sometimes airline seat belts are too short, and seat belt extenders are available to you. You can request one from the flight attendant as you board or once you are seated. I know it can feel embarrassing to ask for one, but you deserve safety and comfort when traveling by plane. You are a paying customer and have just as much right to be on that plane as every other passenger.

 

 

When booking a place to stay, consider the sleeping arrangements and chairs in the rental. Are the bunk beds sturdy or designed for children? Is the seating flimsy or do the chairs have arms? These are important things to consider when deciding what place is going to be most comfortable to stay at. I once stayed at a cabin that had the worst chairs with arms, and my hips were bruised by the end of the weekend from squeezing into the chair. The next time I went there, I brought my own camping chair that I knew was comfortable and supportive of my body. If someone else is making the arrangements, ask to see photos of the set-ups or express your concerns. Oftentimes these things are not on thin folk’s radar, but as soon as you bring it up to friends and family, they will be helpful and understanding. I recently traveled with a group of friends and was sharing a room that contained a children’s bunk bed, and when I saw that, I explained that I was not confident that the top bunk would support my body. This hadn’t occurred to anyone, but when I mentioned it they immediately relocated where I’d be sleeping. Additionally, the towels in hotels and rentals are often teeny tiny. Because of this, I always bring with me an XL Turkish towel that fits my body and that folds up and doesn’t take up a ton of space in my luggage.

 

If you want to do an excursion or activity, research in advance if there are any weight limits. There is nothing worse than getting excited about trying something new on vacation and showing up only to be told there’s a weight limit and you won’t be able to do it. Activities such as boat rentals, horseback riding, ziplining, parasailing, amusement park rides, and water slides can have weight limits. This can vary from place to place, and some activities are more weight inclusive than others. Many times a weight limit or seat dimensions will be listed on the company’s website, and, if not, you can call or email to ask specifically about the activity that you’re interested in. This way you know exactly what to expect and can plan alternative activities that are safe and comfortable for your body. In addition to researching activities, it’s often helpful to look at pictures of seating in restaurants or call ahead and ask for your reservation to be seated in a different area so that you aren’t stuck trying to squeeze into an uncomfortable booth. If you show up to a restaurant and are assigned to a booth, it’s okay to speak up and request to be seated elsewhere. You deserve comfort and ease while dining and trying a new place to eat.

 

Communicate to the people that you’re traveling with about what options are available to you and any concerns you may have. When planning an upcoming trip, my cousin suggested ziplining as an option. My heart sank because without even looking at the website, I knew that this likely would not be an option for me. When I mentioned that the weight limit might be prohibitive for me, several others spoke up that they’re afraid of heights and didn’t want to go anyway. While some from my group may still go ziplining, I’m planning an alternative option to enjoy the outdoors in a way that’s safe, comfortable, and enjoyable for my body. I know that not every person in your life will be super empathetic and understanding, but remember that you have just as much right to enjoy your trip, and it’s important to express what you need from your travel companions.

 

If all of this planning and research feels overwhelming, try connecting with other fat folks about their experiences traveling, on flights, and doing different activities. “Flying While Fat” is a great group on Facebook where people post about their body size, what airline seats were comfortable, and any helpful policy they utilized. “Traveling While Plus Size!” is another great Facebook group to connect with others about excursions, weight limits, and ideas for things that are accessible to different body sizes. “Disney Parks & Travel for Plus Sized Guests” is a Facebook group that discusses which Disney rides and attractions are accessible and tips about other types of locations as well.

 

As much as research and preparation can be helpful, there might still be surprises and subsequent grief that comes with travel. Make space for your grief. There may be activities or things that are inaccessible for your body. While planning around this and knowing in advance can ease the blow, it still really sucks. It’s okay to feel upset, angry, frustrated, disappointed, or any number of feelings around this. It’s infuriating that spaces aren’t built to accommodate all size bodies, and it can be devastating to miss out on an activity that you were looking forward to. Allow space for all emotions by letting yourself feel and express it, journal about it, or talk to a supportive friend, family member, or therapist. Remember, just because something is built with a limit does not mean that your body needs to change. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your body.  You deserve access to all activities, are allowed to take up space, and are allowed to enjoy traveling - and I hope you do!




Kait Vanderlaan is an eating disorder therapist near me in Newtown, PA and is a certified intuitive eating specialst

Eating Disorder Therapist

Beyond Therapy & Nutrition Center



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