Travel XL: A Curvy/Plus-Size Guide

When you are curvy, plus-sized, thick or whatever you consider yourself to be, travel when you are larger than what is deemed “straight-sized” or “standard-sized” carries its own set of guidelines. I’m not talking about the unspoken “rules” that we seem to adopt when navigating the world. You know the ones I mean, take up as little space as possible, suck it all in, try not to stand out, don’t eat the same things as the “thin” people in your group….etc. I’m talking about the things that ensure YOU enjoy your travels, that YOU are comfortable, safe and participating in all the things that you can and want to participate in.

For those who may not know, I am “plus-sized”. While the average US woman wears a size 14/16, this is still considered to be above “average”. Katie on the other hand, is curvy but not at all plus size. Together, we have faced our own share of challenges during travel. Along the way we have picked up on some tricks and tips to make sure that you are as comfortable as possible.

  • Airplanes

    • Let’s face it, seats are getting smaller, leg room is shrinking and more seats are being crammed into each row. This is uncomfortable for everyone, however it is  an even tighter fit for us curvy or plus-sized travelers. So, what can you do?
      • Travel with a friend!

        Traveling with a friend will allow you to choose seats together. You can raise the arm rest between you and not have to worry about touching your neighbor with your soft and supple thighs or hips.

      • Choose a window seat.

        There will be a little extra space in the window seat where you can lean against the wall or  window, giving you just a few extra inches. This can mean a more comfortable ride. Note: If you are on a long flight, you may want to avoid this seat if you aren’t comfortable asking someone to let you out to go to the restroom.

      • Choose the aisle seat.

        The aisle seat will allow you a little extra space for your shoulders. However, you will want to be sure that you can “tuck” yourself in a bit so that the service cart can easily make it down the aisle. This seat will provide you with a bit more ability to stretch your legs out.

      • Dress in layers

Layers are truly your BFF here. No matter how cold it is, I wear a short sleeve or sleeveless shirt with a lightweight sweater or long sleeve shirt over it. I also tuck a light scarf in my carry-on and carry my coat/jacket as well. Airplanes can have a tendency to be either very cold or very warm. For those of us who run warm or maybe carry around our own extra insulation, being able to remove a layer or two so we aren’t dripping sweat or radiating too much heat onto our neighbor is a must.

      • Keep an open mind and a friendly attitude.

When you are plus-sized, you navigate the world with this idea that you must be apologetic for existing. I’m not sure where this comes from exactly, but I’m acutely aware of this constant thought in my mind, even though no one has ever been directly unkind regarding my size and travel. Most people I have encountered are very understanding, kind, friendly and accommodating.

One time, while flying from California to Ohio I was seated next to a man roughly my age. The seats were close as the plane was fairly small and we only had two seats to a row. I was trying to make myself smaller, huddling against the window, attempting to take up as little room as possible so that I didn’t invade his space. He raised the arm rest between us and said that I didn’t have to try to shove myself against the window. He wanted me to comfortable too. Through our conversation that was ignited by his simple act of kindness, I found out he was flying home too and that his wife often complains that on airplanes she always feels like she is invading other people’s space by just being in her seat. He said that he always hoped that his wife would be seated next to someone who wouldn’t allow her to try to take up less space than she needed. 

      • Use the extender!

If you need it, use it. Your safety and life depend on it. If anyone stares, screw them!

      • Get the Emergency Row seat!

More leg room! Be sure you can open the door if you have to. Note: The armrests often do not go up in this row.

      • Arrive EARLY!

Do not try to run through the airport to catch your flight. Allow enough time between connections so you are’t running from gate to gate and hit the restroom before you board!! Broom closet sized restrooms are a PAIN!

      • Choose a size-friendly airline!

Some airlines are more friendly for curvy/plus-sized travelers. A little research into the seat size, cabin space and availability of “comfort seats”, as well as additional costs can make a huge difference in your travel experience.

  • Pack accordingly!

    • Clothing – The long and short of it.

      • Sometimes luggage is lost. Know your size in your destination’s standard sizing and if need be, keep an extra outfit in your carry-on. If your luggage is lost and you are in a country where it will be hard to find your size, you don’t want to be stuck wearing the same outfit day in and day out.
      • Let’s be honest, plus-sized and curvy clothing takes up more space. It just does. This can mean that minimalist packing can still mean a large checked bag. If you can manage to fit it all into a carry-on, this often doesn’t leave much space for souvenirs. If you need the checked luggage, use it. The important thing is that you are comfortable at all times!
        • Use a compression bag/sack to fit it all in!
        • Plan outfits that are interchangeable so that you can create multiple looks with fewer pieces.
        • Pack extra undergarments and socks!
        • Pants, Leggings, Tights and POWDER (or ointments) are your friends. Lots of walking, heat and friction will happen even in the coldest climates. Be prepared.
        • Wear what makes you feel your best, confident and comfortable!
        • Wear that bathing suit! – If you are going where a bathing suit will be appropriate, then wear it and don’t apologize for it!
        • Bring a towel. Seriously. The ones they provide often do not cover your whole body.
  • Destinations

    • Not all destinations are “plus-size friendly”. You will be looked at, stared at and possibly snickered and pointed at. Ignore them.
      • Asia will not have your clothing size in most shops. “One Size” means will fit size 0 – 6 USA most easily. (Believe me, I lived in Japan.)
      • Many countries in Europe do not have a large population who are “plus-sized”. Or, the definition of “plus-size” stops just short of where you sit and suddenly you are classified as “super plus” and will not find your size in any standard stores.
    • On the flip side of that, many countries are very plus size friendly! They celebrate it as an indication of beauty, success and wealth. You will likely get hit on more in these countries.
  • Be comfortable in your own skin!

This is tricky, we know. We are programmed to care what others think and to seek out the affirmation of others. Try not to care.

  • Do not hide in photos!

Don’t worry about what angle is best, what lighting is best etc. Enjoy yourself and photograph everything and everyone! In years to come you will care less what you looked like and hold dear the memories that arise from the images.

  • Research the adventures you want to experience.

Is there a weight restriction? A size requirement? Know these things going in and be honest about your size or weight when needed. This can be a safety issue!

  • If you want to do it, do it!

Do not shy away from activities just because it is not something people expect a person of larger size to do. If you want to hike a mountain, do it. If you want to take a bicycle tour, do it!

So there you have it, some of our tips to navigating travel when curvy/plus-sized. There are many more, I’m sure. However, these are some of the things that we have learned and that I have experienced first-hand through my travels. All in all, leave your apprehension at airport check-in, arrive prepared and set yourself up for success. Ultimately you are in control of your enjoyment. You can allow your fear to hold you back, or you can figure out a way to travel on your terms!

“Keep your heart open, a suitcase packed and wander often, for the world is wide and adventure awaits.” ~ Emylee

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