Enjoying the World as a Plus-size Traveler
World Footprints continues its foundational value of sharing the voices of all travelers and their unique experiences and inspiring stories. Today we walk in the footsteps of a plus-size traveler.
Plus-size travelers face challenges that aren’t generally considered—lack of appropriate accommodations, one-sized fits all robes that don’t fit larger bodies, zipline cables that may not support extra weight and other concerns. Plus-size travelers often find their journeys exceptionally difficult due to shrinking airline seats and lavatories to cramped restaurants, tiny island puddle-jumpers and high off-road vehicles. Owing to their plus-size , bigger people are often looked upon as burdens and lacks support from travel industry too. And thus are anxious and worried when it comes to packing their bags for another trip.
“People need to see more plus-size people traveling so that they can see themselves as the reflection and want to go travel more.”Jeff Jenkins
Jeff Jenkins is the creative mind behind Chubby Diaries, a site dedicated to helping plus-size people travel the world. He joins World Footprints to share his travel experience .
Jeff also suggests how the travel industry can be better accommodating and why weight and size shouldn’t be a barrier to traveling the world.
Through Chubby Diaries, Jeff inspires and educates a community of travelers who are overlooked in the travel space.
Cover photo courtesy of Stop Weight Bias.
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Tonya Fitzpatrick [00:04]
I’m Tonya Fitzpatrick.
Ian Fitzpatrick [00:07]
And I’m Ian Fitzpatrick and this is World Footprints.
Jeff Jenkins [00:12]
I really do think that there’s way more of an emphasis on me being black and American. Like a black American. I think that’s one thing that always sticks out but they’re also just my size, like my weight. It depends on how developed a country is. Where I feel like the less developed or underdeveloped a country is, the more the curiosity of my size comes into play where kids are like staring and they’re like, Hey, who is that guy? Like, I think I get more of that. Then there are times even being in Africa where you being a certain size looks like you are wealthy because they’re like, wow, you never get sick. Like you look this way because you can eat well, meaning that you have money for food. I mean, you don’t have to go to the doctors because, you know, you never get sick. So there are multiple layers to, it just depends on the country I’m in. But a lot of times it definitely comes back down to my ethnicity and my hair.
That’s Jeff Jenkins of the award-winning travel blog, Chubby Diaries. Jeff’s experience as a traveler of size is inspiring a community overlooked in the travel space and educating a broader community of travelers and the industry to respect and accommodate travelers just like him.
Jeff, like so many of our guests, is an avid traveler who is creating an awareness in the travel community for plus-sized travelers. And as he likes to say, Chubby Diaries is authentically redefining what it looks like to travel. Recognized by Lonely Planet as a diversity award winner, Jeff, through Chubby Diaries has created an online community for plus-size travelers who are passionate about seeing the world, experiencing new foods, and learning clever hacks along the way.
Here’s our conversation with Jeff Jenkins.
Jeff Jenkins, thank you so much for joining us on World Footprints today.
I’m so glad to be here.
Hey, so listen, you run a travel blog site called Chubby Diaries. Give us the backstory to Chubby Diaries.
Chubby Diaries was birthed out of me seeing a lack of representation for plus-size people. A lot of times when I get on Instagram or look at magazines, the main people that I would see are just like fit, skinnier people. And it was not until me and my wife went on a trip together and we got on the airplane. I don’t even remember what the conversation was about, like the middle seat or something like that. And I was like, “Hey, you don’t think about that?” And then she’s like, “No, I never think about that.” And it was more so about like there being like a size restriction. So then I started asking her questions like, “Do you think about weight? Like weight restrictions and anything like that?” She was like, “No, never.” And I said, “Oh my gosh. I don’t even think like, wow, I didn’t know that you thought you did not think of this stuff.” And so it got me to just asking a lot of questions and started asking other people who were plus size like, “Hey, are these things that you all think about?” And they were like, yes and so, that’s how Chubby Diaries is formed. I realized there was a need and so I wanted to meet that need.
How long have you been running the website?
Just a little over two years.
Tonya [03:45] Oh, wow!
Yeah. So I was a high school choir teacher for nine years before I quit thinking I was going to go do ministry work. But I ended up going on a mission trip and when I went to go build gardens in Kogelo, Rwanda, I came back with my friends that were on the trip too, and we were like, Hey, these people need water. And so not being engineers, not knowing how water came out of the ground, we figured out how to do it and we started a water well project. But while we were building those water wells in Rwanda and we went back, I just remember looking out and Rwanda is considered the land of 1000 hills, these beautiful large hills in Rwanda you could just see out. And I remember just saying to myself man and like, wow, I was like, I want to travel the world, help people, and get paid to do it and so that’s even how I even got the thought to go into travel blogging and travel writing.
Wow. So that’s the first time the travel bug really hit you. Was the mission trip to Rwanda?
No, no. The travel bug hit me. I was traveling. I was always the friend who traveled. So I started traveling maybe 16, 17 years ago internationally. But even as a kid, we used to do a lot of domestic trips but internationally, that’s when I went to Japan back in 05 and I caught the travel bug then.
Now you’ve mentioned some of your international travels and this travel bug catching you early through those experiences abroad. Do you think as you reflect upon it, that people have been more interested in you because of your size, your hair, your race? What have you taken away from those experiences in terms of people’s curiosity?
That’s interesting because I’ve asked myself this question a lot. I just got here so it wasn’t until recently that I just grew my hair out over the past couple of years, few years now. I really do think that there’s way more of an emphasis on me being black and American like a black American. I think that’s one thing that always sticks out, but then also just my size, like my weight. It depends on how developed a country is. Where I feel like the less developed or underdeveloped the country is, the more the curiosity of my size comes into play where kids are like staring and they’re like, hey, who is that guy? Like, I think I get more of that. Then there are times even being in Africa where you being a certain size like looks like you are wealthy because they’re like, wow, you never get sick. Like you look this way because you can eat well, meaning that you have money for food and then you don’t have to go to the doctors because you never get sick. So there’s multiple layers to,it just depends on the country I’m in. But a lot of times it definitely comes back down to my ethnicity and my hair.
Now, I know you’ve traveled to Japan and there you’ve been held in slightly different esteem, I’m sure.
Yes, yes, and I remember talking about this in an article I did for I don’t know who I wrote for. I wrote it for somebody and I remember right at the beginning, the first thing I mentioned was I was compared to a sumo wrestler. One of the first times I got to Japan and I was at first taken back by it. And I realized that like sumo wrestlers are athletes in Japan and they get treated with the utmost respect. They have this reverence for sumo wrestlers in Japan. So I was like, hey, I felt honored at that time. Once I learned more about the culture of sumo wrestlers.
So, Jim, I want to ask you about a language. Certainly, there’s been a lot of sensitivity about how we talk to other people, how we address other people, or describe other people. When you know, when we introduced you, we said you’re a plus-size traveler. And I don’t use any F words, as you know, or a little conversation. I’m against F words. But what is the most appropriate way to describe people of a larger stature?
You were so close to what I’ve been hearing lately, and that’s been people of size. I’ve been hearing that one a lot now. There is a fat liberation movement going now where people are like, yeah, I’m fat, let’s just call it what it is. And we’re okay with that to where we’re like destigmatizing the word or disarming the word by just using the word fat. I can tell you when I go to other countries, that’s all they know. They don’t know how to say plus size and they go straight to the fat. I just got an award for Travels Best for Lonely Planet, a couple of weeks ago.
Thank you. It was one of the first in that category. But since they’re not traveling as much and doing a lot of destinations, they decided to do people. And I won their diversity or the Diverse Storyteller Award. The crazy thing is that the Chinese, they have it in so many different translations, and like their different areas, their regions feature the same stories. And so I saw the Chinese version of it, of the story, and they just wrote that like there is no other thing there to tell. I thought it was funny. I did. I thought it was amusing.
You know, when I was in China and as you said that, I saw the symbols that they wrote with because I lived in China for a little bit. When I first moved there, you know, I’m not a size two, not a large person either, but larger than the average Chinese person. I remember being followed around in department stores trying to try on outfits, and they would stand outside of my dressing room and wait for me to come out. And I knew that they followed me either to see if I could fit in the clothing or maybe just out of sheer curiosity. Asian countries are very interesting that way.
Yeah, they definitely are. And I tell people, even in my community, just don’t even expect to travel or shop when you go to these Asian countries, it’s like that for even people who aren’t plus size going to some Asian countries because a medium is an extra-large or the 2X when somebody is in Asian countries. So the sizes are different.
Now, one of the things about your blog is that you’ve had a chance to touch on issues, almost advocacy issues that speak to things that have to change in the travel industry. We’ve heard the stories about airline policies and, you know, things like that. What have been some of the issues and some of the challenges that you’ve dealt with that you feel have to be brought forth in order to help improve everyone’s consciousness about this, whether it’s from travel suppliers to just travelers that you even mentioned your wife and some of the things that she didn’t even think about?
I will start there first. I love the fact that I get the opportunity of actually just bringing it to people’s forefront like people just didn’t know about it. Like they don’t think about it. Like it’s just… like this is how everybody does it, right? And it’s like, no, it’s not. And so with that, I would say us continue to talk about the lack of accessibility and accommodations of plus-sized people. As we all know that we’re all in this global pandemic right now and travel is being hit hard. The one thing that I’m even trying to show people is that statistically, Americans, people all over the world actually are getting bigger. There’s just statistically happening even a lot of the excursions and like the way that they are measuring the dimensions have been from more so like early 1900s and so on and not like this time. Now re-measuring stuff, figuring out innovative ways to accommodate so that more people can do it. And the reason I even brought up the pandemic wasn’t saying that we were getting hit hard is because there actually is. I did an individual study with people from our audience and 86% of the people, the question was; “If you went to a place and they met your needs and everything was accessible, would you take an extra trip?” And 86% of them said “Yes!” And so that just shows you right there that there’s money to be made in the travel industry and it’s the whole market of people who are not actually being tapped into and so the more that we can like work on the excursions because I think the excursions would be something that you can work on quickly because sometimes it’s the plane. I know the plane still have regulations and things like that and you almost have to go to court to just get some of those things changed. But even if people get on the train or the planes, sometimes they’re just stuck to doing just walking around. Because some of these excursions don’t actually fit them. And so I really do believe that if tour operators found ways to make zip lines hold more weight, which they can. I watched the TV show and it was about Burke, the stuff that grows on trees and they chop that off and those things can weigh over a ton and they use zip lines to take them from the top of the hill down to a truck. And I’m like, Well, we’re not as big as these Burke like these things. So I’m like, I know that there are ways to accommodate for plus size people. And so we just have to be innovative and get out of some of our old practices and also just out of the stigma of like who these people are, because at the end of the day, like, we’re human. And I met with Zach and he was kind of mentoring me. We went to get drinks and he sat there he’s an older man in his seventies. He sat there and started crying right in front of me, got very emotional and like tears started coming out and he said, “Jeff, I want you to know this…” He said, “This whole time I’ve been traveling all over the world, my company would take me here, take me there, I’m always on planes and I would see a plus-size person get on a plane, and all I kept thinking about was myself and how uncomfortable I probably could be being on this plane. And not once did I ever think about how uncomfortable the plus-size person would be.” And he said that tore him up inside. And I would say that he was like, Yeah, I was like, “shame on you.” Or I wasn’t even thinking of people as humans at some point. And so I thought that was really impactful and the more I keep sharing these stories, the more I keep trying to tell people like I’m not here to promote obesity. My biggest thing is to get people out there to live life now! Like, if you’re trying to get to your ideal weight size, that could take you years from now. And do you just sit there and not do anything? So I’m trying to get people where they’re at, talk to them where they’re at, and say, “Hey, you can do this.” And then I’m going to work as hard as I can to get these brands and the rest of the industry to jump on and make things more accommodating for you and accessible for you.
This is the award-winning World Footprints podcast with Ian and Tonya Fitzpatrick. World Footprints connects you to the world through powerful storytelling that uncovers the full narrative of our cultural and human experiences. Travel deeper by visiting our website WorldFootprints.com and make sure you sign up for our newsletter and receive a special gift we have just for subscribers.
Here’s more of our conversation with award-winning travel blogger Jeff Jenkins of Chubby Diaries. Jeff brings fresh perspectives about travelers of size to help make travel more accommodating for plus-sized people.
I want to ask you specifically, we all knew and know that the airlines are well behind the eight-ball when it comes to accessibility for many people.
You know, even someone, I’m 5’4 and it’s uncomfortable for me, you know, an airline seat. So we already knew that. I didn’t even think about zip lines until you mentioned it. But what are some of the other industry failings for plus-sized travelers right now? Hotel rooms? I mean…
Speaking of hotels, I think like the rooms for the most part are fine unless you go to like some European places and even some Asian places to where there’s like super small bathrooms. But I definitely know if you look around, you can find like larger bathrooms, but you just have to do your research. And that’s what I usually tell my audience when it comes down to like bathrooms but robes, like if you go to a nicer hotel and it’s that one-size fit of robe, I can tell you now, I can’t fit any of those robes. I have never been able to fit any of those robes. I’ve been a big guy my whole life, so even when I played football like it was, I just never could fit these robes. So and I always challenge this and I say this and I’ve said it a couple of times to multiple hotel brands like, “Hey, do you all know if you all just added a couple of extra, like larger-sized robes to your end?” What’s the word for…
Yeah, inventory. If you add it to your inventory, if a plus-size person is there in the hotel, I’m like, “Hey, I would like to get one of your robes” people would flock to that hotel to just stay at that hotel because they know that you all had robes in their size and that’s just a few extra dollars.
The price of the robe that you pay for already, there’s that. Oh, and then just media I would say, just even the travel media, the only people that you do see are these fit, a lot of times white people and like there’s no larger bodies. Or even average size, by like what average size and actually isn’t a plus size. But the quote-unquote average Joe body, there’s not just these like super physique, where in the bikinis, half-naked kind of pictures. I really do think that that’s the image that has been going around in the industry for a long time and I really do feel like there should be representation not just for plus-sized people, for other people who have any disabilities and things like that as well. Because we’re here! Like we’re the people that are traveling.
You mentioned that you’ve played football and so you’ve just been used to being who you are, and your size has advantaged you in some areas like I could never play football as a defensive lineman, but speaking to just going after life and you have an adventurous spirit and that’s never seemed to hold you back, what would you say to someone who looks at their life and says, “I don’t think I can do this right now or I’m not comfortable traveling because of how I think others might look at me and perceive me?” What would you say to that person?
That’s always a hard question, a lot of times get out of your own head. That’s all I can really say when it comes down to it. And I love the fact that like Instagram and even when I do these videos, it’s so much better to just show people than it is to tell them because there are so many times, oh, you all don’t know how many times. It wasn’t even just plus-size people but I thought my niche at one point was going to be like black travel. But there were so many people in that category already that I was like, nah I’m gonna go to something else. I know that more black people are traveling around the world now because of Instagram. People are now being able to see themselves represented, see themselves going to Bali, going to Thailand, going to China, going to Europe, going to South America, and now in Africa. Now they’re seeing themselves there and like, “Oh okay, that’s what he did!” “Okay, he came back, he’s okay, he’s not dead.” Like, some people really have those fears about even just doing that. So even for me, getting on planes, just showing people that I’m on the plane, “Hey, I’m on the plane, look at the seat, look how it looks like it’s not that bad, like I’m in economy, it’s not that bad!” And if you do it right and you get your own seat and things like that, I always… I get like tips and tricks when it comes down to economy flying or if you just want to go sit in economy plus or sit in a first-class, that’s also a great thing. I’m now teaching plus-size people how to use their credit card points because the target audience that I have, their household medium is over $51,000. So they do have credit cards and I was like, well, “Hey, use your credit cards to upgrade your seat!” And that really does help as well to make to bring that cost down but to be able to show people does so much better than me just using my words a lot of times.
I’m glad, Jeff, that, you know, you’ve not let any perceived limitations that you have hold you back from traveling. But we know other people do and, you know, whether it’s their physical stature or physical limitations, you know, they will hold themselves back from traveling. So thank you for what you’re doing and showing that travel is a privilege that we can all enjoy. Really, it’s a right.
I wanted to mention that even in that I realize and I’ve done so much introspection, I’ve been like really just thinking so much, I realize that the destination like beats out all my fears or anxiety that I might have about how I’m getting there. Like me going to Japan or me sitting at the beach and in Thailand. Oh, my gosh! Like I have that in my brain like, “Yes, I’d rather do that!” So, hey, if I got to put myself in an uncomfortable position for however long, 7-8 hours on this plane, I’m going to do it because I know the reward is going to be great and so I think that also helps too. So keep that in mind too, you all. The destination sometimes can be your biggest win and that’s the thing that gets you the motivator to get you there.
Absolutely! Before we let you go, we have a couple of questions. And one is, you know, we’re both travel journalists.
How have you adjusted to this mandatory pause we’re experiencing? Because I’m dying. I’m just I’ll be honest, I’m dying.
I don’t think this is on video or you all won’t see it on video, but I’m like shaking my head right now and smiling because it has been one little rollercoaster ride after the next and honestly, I wasn’t… I haven’t been trying to think about it. I’ve just been trying to stay productive. But every time I think about it, I was like, oh, like it really affects me and it’s like, hey, what kind of content do I put out since I’m not doing as much traveling as before? So now it’s honestly pushing some boundaries of my creativity and what I do and finding other ways to still be able to talk to my audience and be able to continue to engage with them. But it’s still a lot. It’s hard. It’s definitely hard!
Now, one of those ways I understand you are engaging with your audience is with the podcast. Tell us About that.
It’s coming up!
Yeah, it’s coming up. So we’re going to start with these IG Lives, Instagram Lives, and I’m going to record them on Instagram Lives and then make them into podcasts. But we’re calling them Chubby Diaries Inspires or Inspire, #Inspire2021 and it’s all about prepping people and getting people prepared for 2021 in business with blogging, travel journalism, a lot of other things. Being creative and things like that, so I’m trying to make sure that I am doing my due diligence of being able to invest in the people and the people that I’m bringing on, I know for a fact for heavy hitters and they are going to be dropping some gems and knowledge to prep people for 2021.
We’ll make sure we get a link so we can include that on your show page. Last question before we close out. If you could choose anyone to sit next to on a long-haul flight, past or present, who would that be and why?
You know what, man? You, me, you just met earlier today. I really do think I can sit there with Gary Vaynerchuk right now and this season like if right now, if I had to jump on a plane and do that long haul, it would probably be Gary right now because I want to meet with him right now.
Just make sure there’s no children nearby.
Right, right! He’s classy. He knows how to turn it off so, hey, maybe!
Oh, well, Jeff, thank you so much for joining us for sharing. We look forward to your insights and your podcast and certainly continuing our conversation.
Thank you all so much. Thank you for having me.
Our pleasure. One of the things I love about what we’re doing with World Footprints is the conversations that we are creating. As a traveler, I would not have thought for a moment about some of the issues that someone like Jeff and other plus-sized travelers experience during their travels. It really took me a back to think about even zip-lining, which is something we have done. You know, I didn’t even think that the weight of the zip line would be of concern to other travelers.
I appreciate what Jeff is doing with his blog, Chubby Diaries, and embracing this mantra of plus-sized travelers being able to embrace the world and not looking at them as any different than any other travelers. But I appreciate how he’s helping everyone understand and appreciate some of the issues and concerns that people like him and other plus-size travelers face. And it’s just one of these things just that, you know when you start to have a consciousness about something, it helps you look at the world a lot differently. And I certainly will look at the world a lot differently because of the conversation we had with Jeff, and I really appreciate what he’s shared with us. And so like with anything, we can only grow and learn and take heed from those who are experiencing things that we may not necessarily know about, but certainly should appreciate that other people are having a much different experience out there when it comes to travel.
Right. And, you know, as you mentioned, looking at the world and other travelers very differently and I think part of that difference is also looking at people with a greater sense of compassion and empathy, which I think is very key to the travel community.
In closing, we’d like to leave you with these words from Neale Donald Walsch, a contemporary spiritual writer, and speaker. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” That is one of my favorite quotes, so let that sit with you for a second. We’re Tonya and Ian Fitzpatrick, and we are so honored that you chose to take this adventure with us. Thank you for spending time and allowing us to connect you to the world through the stories we share on World Footprints.
Announcer 1 [28:33]
This World Footprints podcast with Ian and Tonya Fitzpatrick is a production of World Footprints LLC, Silver Spring, Maryland. The multi award-winning podcast is available on worldfootprints.com and on audio platforms worldwide including iHeartRadio, Public Radio Exchange, iTunes and Stitcher. Connect with the world one story at a time with World Footprints. Visit worldfootprints.com to enjoy more podcasts and explore hundreds of articles from international travel writers and be sure to subscribe to the newsletter. World Footprints is a trademark of World Footprint LLC which retains all rights to the World Footprints portfolio including worldfootprints.com and this podcast.