I follow you on Instagram and love all the pictures of you living your life. The other day I saw that you were on tour and my happiness turned into me feeling really sad. I just turned 39 and when I was younger I always thought I would travel the world. I guess I always imagined that I would be traveling around the world thin. Now that I’m older I have stopped thinking about losing 100 pounds but it feels like the dream of traveling went away with my dream of being thin. I have heard so many horror stories about larger people traveling and I wanted to ask what you would tell a woman who’s over 35 and over 200 pounds who is on a budget and wants to travel but is scared?
I totally understand your feelings.
Traveling actually is inaccessible for many people. And traveling feels inaccessible for many others.
The culture constructs travel as something that only thin, white, able-bodied, cisgender people with tons of disposable income can — or should — do. And I heavily disagree with that characterization.
Access to travel is racialized, gendered and classed; feelings about body size share those same intersections. So, chances are, if you’ve felt anxiety about body size you are likelier to experience anxiety about travel.
Here are some thoughts I have that I hope will be useful for you:
- Let go of the idea that travel has to be a 5-star, non-stop tour de force.
It’s easy to build up the importance and experience of travel because our culture aggrandizes travel and constructs it as a marker of exclusivity.
I made my first big trip overseas at age 18 because I hated my dorm roommates, wanted to flee everything in my life and I found out that I could transfer my financial aid to a study abroad program in Italy and actually save money.
The experience was overall awesome but also had many, ma-ny weird, complicated, and downright unfortunate moments.
- I spent dozens of hours on buses.
- I got into an epic fight because this dude invited himself on a trip I was taking with my super thin friend, and then confessed his feelings for her to me and I proceeded to feel like a complete loser-failure for like 17 days straight.
- I spent almost all my money on Last Supper replicas I’d bought in front of the Colosseum.
I say all this because I think people feel afraid to fulfill their travel dreams because they’re waiting for that “perfect moment” to pursue the “perfect experience.” I think especially if you’re a fat woman, travel dreams may bring up diet feels — like the idea that you only “deserve” to travel if you’re in a smaller body or that the experience would be “so much better” if you just went on the Beyonce cleanse for like 3 months straight. You need to tell that little diet troll in your head to shut up. Your body is totally fine right now!
Travel will never be perfect — no matter what size or age you are — because travel is part of life! That doesn’t mean it won’t be meaningful and potentially even life-changing.
- There are ways to make travel cheaper.
Yes, travel does requires access to resources, but it doesn’t require the level of resources that people often think it does. Most people think: travel = thousands of dollars. Not the case. For example, I just bought a ticket from San Francisco to two countries in Europe for $681 total via www.kayak.com.
- When using kayak, make sure to check the flexible dates option (+/- 3 days) as 1 or 2 days on either side can save you hundreds of dollars sometimes.
- Plan to depart and return mid-week.
- Buy tickets during off-peak time. Peak season begins in May and goes through the end of summer. There are plenty of off-peak times when destinations are still absolutely stunning and many places actually have off-season pricing that is friendlier to the budget traveler.
- Buy multiple destination tickets and buy packages (flight + hotel through a platform like Priceline). They cost significantly less than buying everything separately.
- Take people up on invitations to visit them — even if they don’t live that far from you. Practice saying yes!
- Look at staying in hostels. Even if you need your own room, there are often private options at hostels for less than the cost of a hotel.
- Finally, travel can mean a lot of different things. Travel can be taking three buses to some little town you’ve never seen. I’ve done that so many times! Sometimes I challenge myself to spend no more than, like, $11 on a new experience. Travel isn’t just taking a big ol’ plane to another continent. We can enjoy the value and spirit of travel — curiosity, resourcefulness, beauty — in small ways that are meaningful.
- Yes, women over 200 pounds, over 35 and who are on a budget do travel.
I know it might seem like you are the only person in the whole world who feels the way you do, but you’re totally not! There’s this really great essay written by Marcy Cruz in Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion about falling in love with traveling as a fat woman in her 30s. She addresses some of the same concerns you raised.
Traveling while fat can sometimes come with challenges, but I truly believe you can manage them. Remember: other people’s bigotry is their problem, not yours. You also don’t need to stress about the fact that you didn’t travel earlier in your life. Like, who cares? It took what it took to get here! There’s no need to feel regret because for as long as you are on this earth you have the opportunity to experience the wonders of this planet. Do it when you’re ready. I believe in you, girl!
Hope this helps.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.