Being Overweight and Traveling
My name is Kelly, and I am overweight-that was not easy to say, and this post was not easy to write. I’m embarrassed about my weight, I don’t ever talk about it to my friends, and I try and avoid the subject with my family. Why? Because I am ashamed I can’t fix this aspect of my life. I do not want to write an entire post about what I’ve experienced being overweight and traveling. But, I feel the need to present my experiences on this much-avoided topic, because I know I am not the only one who feels this way. And, I want to encourage others, no matter what their size, to travel.
Traveling is my passion. But, being overweight and traveling presents a lot of unique challenges and emotions. On one hand, you are traveling, growing, learning more about world, meeting amazing people, learning about history, admiring the beauty around you, and immersing yourself in another culture. But, you’re also learning about yourself, and self-examination is never easy. It’s not easy to be the biggest one in your tour group, lagging behind others in physical activities, worried about cramped quarters, or whether that cute foreign guy will even look at you. I’ve experienced a range of emotions while being fat and traveling. Some more difficult and harder to control than others.
I remember living in Rome. My three-week Europe trip had turned into a three-month trip; my clothes were falling apart, and no matter how many stores I went to, I could not find anything in my size. I would spend hours in different stores searching for something, anything, that was big enough for me. And afterwards, I would drive home and cry in clothes that were littered with holes and sweat stains. I felt disgusted with myself.
When I was in New Zealand I had to ask my group to give me a twenty-minute head start hiking back up to the bus, because I knew I would need more breaks. I didn’t want people to hear my ragged breathing, see me bent over, hands on knees, trying to manage a steady breath. I was embarrassed.
On buses and trains and planes around the world, I huddle in my seat, fearful of moving too much and upsetting the person sitting next to me, leaning all the way over to one side so I would not impede on my neighbor’s seat space. I was constantly on alert, constantly telling myself you’re fat, you’re fat, you’re fat. It was so uncomfortable; I was so ashamed.
Visiting numerous bars and clubs, going out to dinner, and watching some cute guy’s eyes graze right past me, and onto a skinnier girl who wore those gorgeous dresses that I would never be able to pull off. I felt invisible, worthless. I wouldn’t go out drinking with my beautiful, skinny friends, because even though I was happy for them getting attention from all of these hot, foreign guys, I wanted some as well. I’m young I thought, I want to make out with some Italian guy, or dance with that Spanish guy.
Being fat and traveling is hard. Traveling is physically exhausting. When I travel, I find myself tired from walking, needing to sit down or take a lot more rest stops than my peers. Is it this hard for everyone? Sometimes, I would sit out of an activity because it was too challenging. Hike that mountain? No way. Not with all those people watching me. Judging me. I became a slave to what others thought about me and my weight.
I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I’ve never been what you would call skinny. Thankfully, all the way up until college I was an athlete, and worked out a lot. But, in my mind, I was still fat, and still had to lose weight.Even though I was an athlete, I was already developing horrible eating habits. I remember hiding candy wrappers in my room from the time I was a little girl, all the way through college. And I was ashamed when my family members would find them. Frequently, in high school, I would eat cookie dough from the tub over at my friend’s house, and pick up pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to eat after lacrosse practice.
When I got to college, I wanted to make a change. I put myself on a lemonade diet, and worked out twice a day for three hours. And I lost weight, but it wasn’t enough. I still wasn’t happy, not content with myself. And I was being unhealthy.
My sophomore year of college I was going through an emotionally trying time, and I began binge eating. I would eat a whole pizza, or grab two burgers and popcorn and candy bars. I would eat so much I was sick. Whenever I felt anything, I would eat. I would eat, and the food would numb my pain. I would be so stuffed from eating I couldn’t think. My weight shot up: I hated myself.
Then, I went through heartbreak, I picked up a cigarette habit, and stopped eating. My weight dropped back down.
Over my junior and senior year of college, my weight fluctuated and I eventually hit my highest weight at just over 200lbs at the time of my graduation. I worked a full-time job, and graduated early from school. In every aspect of my life, I felt successful, but I couldn’t lose weight. I was still smoking, working out a decent amount, but the weight clung to me.
After college, I quit smoking, went to grad school, and then moved down to St. Augustine, Florida, and my weight held steady. But then, after a horrible school year, watching middle schoolers in detention, I gained more weight.
I left and went to live in Europe for four months, and when I came back to the United States, I moved to Tampa, Florida and began teaching high school English. Teaching was stressful, moving was stressful. Coming home from work I would eat and then lay on the couch until it was time to go to bed. I rarely worked out because I was tired. I was tired all of the time. And I gained weight. I was at my heaviest in March or so of 2016. At the time, I was dating this guy, and we would go out to eat all the time, and go out drinking every weekend. I was 240lbs at my heaviest.
Being overweight and traveling is hard because my passion in life is one that requires me to be physically active, always moving and exploring, subjecting my body to uncomfortable transportation, new food, constantly shifting routine, engaging with new people, the list goes on. And don’t get me wrong, I love traveling. But, I feel restricted in the places that I can go, the things I can do, and the amount of time I can spend in new places.
Nevertheless, I do not believe in giving up on your passions.
So, my weight makes traveling hard. But, I do not have a disability. I do not have food allergies. I do not have severe anxiety. And there are people, who have these things, that still travel, and still love it, because it is their passion. And when you love something as much as I love traveling, things like weight and self-image, and fear and feeling inadequate, and not feeling beautiful or confident, all those things fade into the background. Because when I travel, I feel truly alive; I feel that when I am somewhere traveling, exploring some new place, that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. So, for all of you who are scared of traveling because of your weight, or because of a plethora of other reasons, let me offer you some advice..
#1 Just travel.
If you have even the smallest inkling to see a new place, do it. If you want to visit a new country, go. Do not let fear hold you back. I am scared every time I go somewhere new, or meet someone new. I’m scared of unknown situations, but I do it anyway.
Don’t be scared of going at your own pace. If you can only walk for an hour at a time before needing a rest, then walk for an hour, find a café, order a coffee, and people watch until you feel rested. Or, go back to your hotel and take a nap. Rest in a park, or on a beach. Never feel like you’re not doing enough. This is your trip. There is no right way or wrong way to travel. Just do it.
#2 Know your limits.
In New Zealand, I didn’t go on a 7-hour hike because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the group. I didn’t go on a guided tour of New Zealand where I would be hiking or doing something equally strenuous every day, I picked a tour with a lot of options, that allowed me to tailor my tour to what I wanted to do. Choose a country, choose a tour, choose activities that fit your level of fitness and your desires.
#3 Stop caring about what others think.
This one is a tough one, because we all care what others think. But remember, you are traveling for you. For you to grow and experience something new, the people who you see are on their own journey. They care about you less than you think. And, if someone does say something or does something that upsets you, remember, they’re the ones who have to live with themselves. Don’t ever let someone else’s words or actions dictate how you are going to live your own life.
#4 And last, but certainly not least, learn to love yourself.
Stop the negative talk. Embrace all of the good things about yourself, embrace your shortcomings, embrace your imperfections. When I start to get upset about my weight when I travel, I always stop, and take time to look around me, at the beautiful mountains, at amazing architecture, at whatever is around me at the time, I take a deep breath, and I practice being thankful for who I am, for where I am, and for what I am doing.
Happy travels all!