I'm Travelling Internationally While Fat & These Are The Things I Googled

I have a conspiracy theory that 2017 has been moving at lightening speed because the universe wants to rush me through the last year of my twenties. I’ll be 30 in January and I’m excited to be able talk about my “twenties” as if they’re a spirited, but troubled ex. But I’m even more excited for a 10-day trip to Spain to ring in the new year and celebrate this milestone in my life.
However, I’m also racked with anxiety about my vacation. For starters, it’s going to be my first time abroad. After years of lip service to the idea, 30 seems like the perfect age to scratch international travel off of my bucket list. But to complicate my first time jitters, I’m also going to be travelling outside for the country for the first time as a plus-sized person. Travelling domestically while fat is its own pain in the ass, but now I have a whole new set of factors to consider. In addition to navigating language barriers and cultural differences, I’ve been trying to figure out how my body is going to be received in this new place.
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So like any normal person racked with fear about something, I went to a knowledgeable source to arm myself with information: Google. I’ve ended up down many an online rabbit hole trying to prepare myself for this experience. And I think my search history — and the reasons I searched for these specific things — says more about what it’s like to be plus-sized than I ever intended to.
illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Plus-sized clothing stores
Like many people, I like to shop when I travel. I’m also notorious for forgetting essential articles of clothing and purchasing more while traveling. I can usually navigate this problem in the United States, with a knowledge of what retailers carry things I can wear. However, I’m not likely to be able to breeze into any storefront abroad and find something that fits. As it turns out, there are a couple of dedicated plus-sized shops, especially in Madrid. Stores like Mango and El Corte Ingles also have plus-sized clothing lines. But I’ll still be sure to triple check my packed bag.
illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Seat size on all of my flights
The first leg of my trip to Spain is the flight from New York to Dublin, Ireland. It’ll be the longest flight I’ve ever taken. With the exception of two first class flights I’ve taken, there is no such thing as a comfortable airplane seat for me. But I've pretty much mastered the fleets of domestic airlines: I'll pass on Southwest's two free checked bags because it's more of a pain to deal with their cattle style boarding and smaller, 17-inch seats. Delta and United Airlines are my go to airlines. And if I get really lucky, Jet Blue will get me to my destination. I had no such knowledge of the international planes I'll be taking, but I can rest a little easier knowing that I’ll be bearably uncomfortable for over eight hours, the seats on my flight are comparable to those on Delta.
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illustrated by Louisa Cannell.
Table spacing and seating at restaurants
Before I even booked my flight to Spain, I had grabbed some recommendations on places to eat and hang out while there. Then I remembered my experience that my Midwestern self had dining out on the East Coast for the first time. I was surprised to find that many of the local restaurants were trying to maximise the number of patrons they could fit into one space by significantly limiting the amount of space between the tables. It can get pretty tricky when you have more body to squeeze between dining parties, so I wanted to know what I was in for ahead of time. I was pleasantly surprised — after scouring photos posted by reviewers on Google — to find that most of the placed I'm interested in will do just fine. Bodega Biarritz in Barcelona has a bar set up and Ovejas Negras in Seville has big tables and chairs with no arms!
illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Bed build at Airbnbs
I’m travelling with my best friend, and we’ll be sharing a bed in at least one of the cities we’re visiting. One particularly late night search had me zooming in on pictures posted by previous guests at the Madrid Airbnb where we’ll be staying. I was checking out the bed frames to see how sturdy they looked. Unfortunately I couldn't really tell because of the bedding and this isn't exactly the kind of things hosts can change on a whim. On the flip side, a bed would have to be pretty flimsy to not support me so rather than cause a fuss about it to the hosts, I'll take my chances. This is one of the things I don't have to worry about at a hotel.
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illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Average size of women
I wanted to know if I was going to stick out like a sore thumb for being both plus and Black. I am. The average woman in Spain is about a size 6, 10 sizes smaller than me. 67% of the women in the United States wear above a size 14, so plus-sized people are not outliers.
illustrated by Isabel Castillo Guijarro.
The stories of real women like me
There are some concerns that generic information from Google simply won’t address. So I started to look for firsthand experiences of other plus women who have traveled to Spain. I didn’t find a lot. Most of the articles about traveling while fat are focused solely on flying — mainly because this is the part of traveling where the actual amount of space that you take up is so paramount and can be traumatic for people who take up a little bit more. I also found plus-sized travel bloggers to be super helpful. But ultimately, I ended up just messaging a fellow fat friend of mine who made the voyage and she assured me that I would have a great time! I'll be sure to let you know about my adventures when I return.
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