I was born with the worst metabolism possible. My body ignored the fact I was dancing three to four hours a day after school and kept me very plump no matter how hard I tried to lose weight. And having yo-yo dieted my whole adult life thus far, I can never seem to keep off the weight I lose and inevitably gain it all back the moment a carb touches my lips. Therefore, I am a "fat traveler," and my "fatness" has made me constantly aware of my size and the unfortunate downsides to adventuring that come along with it.
If I could never take a plane again, I would be happy. Other than my fear of flying (which has somehow still endured through over 50 flights), I always wince at the thought of making people uncomfortable who sit beside me in the narrow seats. While I do actually fit in my designated chair and do not require a second to house my body, I still realize that the fact I am right up against the armrests is an unfortunate downside to my row partners. It truly is an extra effort on my side to ensure that I don't overstep the boundary.
I studied abroad in England for a semester and will never forget how my weight made me feel. While my slim exchange-student friends would waltz away with a multitude of hot guys after a night out at a club, I always ended up walking home alone because not one man would give me a single look all evening. I know your self-worth shouldn't be based on whether people find you attractive, but it was hard to enjoy much of my first time so far away from home when within three weeks of starting my program, all my girlfriends had ended up with a boyfriend and I was never once even asked if I'd like to be bought a drink by a cute British boy.
It's women like me who are hopefully changing the stigma around what a traveler is supposed to look like, because there is no one way to be.
On a trip to Costa Rica, I was roped into a tour that included a hike to volcanoes, hot springs, and waterfalls and a trek through the jungle. The guide failed to mention that it was a very steep incline and actually probably only best for athletic folk to experience. My endurance as a dancer in my teens had disappeared, and I was straining to go more than 30 seconds without needing to stop. About 30 minutes in, the guide told us that anyone who didn't think they could handle it should head back down but was clearly directing the statement at me. A group of rugby players laughed at me as I embarrassingly walked down the mountain and hated myself for the rest of the day.
In my experience, the only way for me to lose weight is to eat a low-carb diet, which makes traveling a living hell. It's nearly impossible to keep up a healthy low-carbohydrate regimen when you are out and about, can't cook your own meals, or are in a place where pasta is life (I'm looking at you, Italy). It's frustrating to be working hard on making your body as healthy as possible but also having an intense battle within yourself to enjoy your life and try the foods of each country you go to. The average-bodied traveler does not have to worry about this because they can be the wanderlust foodie I dream of being and not gain five pounds overnight (like I somehow do the moment I eat bread).
And then there are the other fun things like not being able to buy clothes in most places because you're over a size 10, getting pointed at in the streets of Asia, or having people look really surprised when you say you love to travel (as if a fat person somehow would never have that as a passion). It's already frustrating enough to be a woman who likes to travel and then add in the fact that I'm a fat woman of color and it makes just the perfect combination for ridicule and complications.
But it's women like me who are hopefully changing the stigma around what a traveler is supposed to look like, because there is no one way to be. Curvy adventurers have just as much drive and ambition to widen their worlds (pun not intended). We may take up a bit more space, but we deserve the chance to not have to feel ashamed of ourselves just for being visible in a foreign place. Maybe our goal isn't necessarily to hike all the great mountains of the world (although I know some amazing plus-size women who are crazy-fit and love to hike), or we may fit a bit snugly in our seats on a flight, but at the end of the day, we're just trying to get to our destination so we can be enlightened just as much as the rest of our smaller journeying peers.