Inclusive Travel Revolution: Exploring the world as a plus-size traveler
The world of travel is a realm of boundless possibilities, where people embark on transformative adventures and connect with cultures far removed from their own. Yet, for plus-size individuals, the experience of traveling can often come with unique challenges and uncertainties.
In a world where travel media often showcases a limited range of body types, Jeff Jenkins, the founder of Chubby Diaries and host of the National Geographic show, Never Say Never, is breaking barriers and promoting inclusivity. In a bid to inspire and empower plus-size travelers, Jeff’s blog and television show shares his own experiences, advocates for accessibility, and challenges industry norms. During a recent interview with World Footprints, Jeff sheds light on the backstory of Chubby Diaries, the challenges faced by plus-size travelers, and the need for change in the travel industry. The following is a summary of that interview. Note: this interview preceded his National Geographic TV show. The full interview with complete transcripts can be found on World Footprints from this link.
Bridging the Gap: The Birth of Chubby Diaries
Chubby Diaries was born out of Jeff Jenkins’ realization that plus-size people lacked representation in the travel world. Jenkins and his wife experienced a moment of reflection during a trip when discussing size restrictions on airplanes. This conversation sparked a series of inquiries into the challenges faced by plus-size individuals while traveling. Jenkins discovered a need for better accommodation and accessibility, leading him to create Chubby Diaries to address these issues head-on.
Making a Difference: Empowering Travelers
Since its inception, Chubby Diaries has been actively working to fill the void in travel media by representing plus-size travelers. Jenkins shares his journey of running the website over the years, highlighting the positive impact the platform has had on the community. Through blog posts, videos, and social media content, Chubby Diaries educates, inspires, and encourages plus-size individuals to embrace their wanderlust and explore the world.
From Mission Trips to a Travel Bug
Jenkins’ passion for travel was ignited long before the creation of Chubby Diaries. He had already been an avid traveler, venturing internationally for over a decade. However, it was a mission trip to Rwanda that solidified his desire to explore the world while making a positive impact. Witnessing the beauty of Rwanda’s landscape and the kindness of its people inspired Jenkins to pursue a career in travel blogging and writing, combining his love for travel with his desire to help others.
Navigating the Complexities of Perception
Jenkins reflects on the complex dynamics of how people perceive him during his travels. He shares the various ways in which his size, race, and hair have attracted curiosity and sparked conversations. While some countries exhibit more curiosity about his size, associating it with wealth or offering respect akin to sumo wrestlers in Japan, others emphasize his ethnicity and hair. Jenkins emphasizes the importance of representation and challenging stereotypes in travel media to create a more inclusive and accepting environment.
Language and Representation: Evolving Perspectives
The interview delves into the importance of language when describing individuals of larger statures. Jenkins sheds light on the evolving perspectives and preferences within the community. While terms like “plus-size” are commonly used, he acknowledges the growing “fat liberation movement” that embraces the word “fat” as a means of destigmatizing it. Jenkins emphasizes the significance of respectful language in the travel industry, ensuring that all individuals feel included, respected, and seen.
Advocating for Change: Addressing Industry Failings
Chubby Diaries has become a platform for addressing the industry’s failings in accommodating plus-size travelers. Jenkins discusses the need for increased accessibility and accommodation in airline policies, hotel amenities such as robes, and excursions. By shedding light on the challenges faced by plus-size travelers, Jeff strives to create awareness and advocate for change within the travel industry. He shares his experiences and urges tour operators, airlines, and media outlets to innovate and adapt to meet the needs of all travelers.
Inspiring Others: Breaking Down Barriers
Jenkins’s passion for empowering others shines through as he encourages individuals who may be hesitant to travel due to their size or perceived limitations. He emphasizes the importance of breaking free from self-imposed barriers and experiencing the rewards of travel. Through his engaging social media content and personal stories, Jenkins aims to motivate individuals to embrace life and pursue their travel dreams, regardless of their size or circumstances.
Looking Ahead: A More Inclusive Future
As the interview comes to a close, Jenkins shares his hopes for a more inclusive travel industry. He highlights the significance of representation for plus-size individuals, as well as for people with disabilities and diverse backgrounds. Jenkins believes that by promoting diversity and breaking away from traditional media stereotypes, the travel industry can tap into an untapped market and create opportunities for all travelers. He emphasizes the importance of destigmatizing size, celebrating differences, and making travel accessible for everyone.
In His Own Words
Jeff Jenkins told us that “people need to see more plus-size people traveling so that they can see themselves as a reflection and want to go travel more.” Through his travel blog Chubby Diaries, Jeff has become a catalyst for positive change, redefining the world of travel as an inclusive and empowering space for all adventurers, regardless of their body size or shape. By addressing the lack of representation for plus-size individuals and advocating for accessibility, he inspires and empowers travelers of all sizes to embark on their journeys.
Side Note: Another guest of World Footprints, actor, stunt trainer Chuck Johnson (my brother), will appear in Episode 2 of Never Say Never. In that episode, Jeff will explore the culture and traditions of Japan with Chuck–a longtime resident of the country. CLICK HERE to listen to our earlier interview with Chuck Johnson.
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Tonya Fitzpatrick, Esq. is co-Founder of World Footprints, a social impact travel storytelling content hub she runs with her husband, Ian, that has been recognized as Best Social Impact Travel Media Company by CEO Monthly. She is an award-winning travel and business journalist, global public speaker, and 3-time TEDx speaker. Tonya regularly shares her insights on career transitions, DEIA in travel and the transformative power of travel to audiences all over the world. Recognized as Black Travel Journalists of the Year—an honor she shares with Ian, Tonya contributes her time and leadership to several boards and commissions in the travel community including SATW, The Explorers Club (DC), North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) and JourneyWoman. Tonya has been appointed to the Maryland Tourism Development Board by Gov. Wes Moore.