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Planning the Picture Perfect Vacation
By Sally E. Smith

It’s that time of the year again…. Cabin fever is giving way to spring fever, and thoughts turn to your next vacation. Perhaps you’re getting a nice chunk of change for your tax refund, or maybe you’re looking forward to the government rebate checks that are scheduled to go out over the next few months. Either is a nice nest egg for a great vacation.

It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of going to the same place every year; this year, why not switch things up, take a step outside of your comfort zone, and travel to a new destination? Whether warm, tropical breezes soothe your soul, the culture and arts of a big city rev your engine, or the pristine wilderness of the mountains makes your heart soar, the possibilities are endless.

First of all, we live in a culture that tells us that we don’t measure up to society’s ideals of beauty. It’s hard to look in the mirror and appreciate our beauty when we see few examples of plus-size beauty around us. (Thankfully, MiB’s gorgeous plus-size models are an exception to the rule!)

When making travel arrangements as plus-size and supersize women, it can be tempting to avoid uncertainty and potential embarrassment and instead put on the brakes. Before you do, remember that there are two keys to a successful journey: the knowledge that you deserve to be treated well, and a bit of research. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way.

Airplanes: There’s no arguing that, when it comes to size, airline policies are discriminatory. Southwest, for example, makes supersize people buy two seats, but will refund the cost of the second seat if there’s an empty seat on the flight. My experience is that, if I’m flying with an average-sized person on an airline that uses pre-assigned seating, I can get away with one seat. I always ask for a seat belt extender and a pre-boarding pass; that way, I don’t have to squeeze past rows filled with passengers and luggage. I also make sure that I’m not assigned a bulkhead seat (the armrests don’t go up). If you have to switch planes and need help getting from one gate to the next, make sure to ask well ahead of time for a wheelchair that will accommodate you (and then confirm when you check in for your flight).

As difficult as it might be, we owe it to ourselves to heal our wounded body image and self-esteem. Once we’ve made that commitment, there are plenty of resources available to help us in our journey, from excellent books on body image to online discussion boards to support groups. Once we begin to appreciate our uniqueness and beauty, we can more clearly see what we have to offer others and what potential partners have to offer us. From there, the possibilities for love and romance can blossom.

Cruise Ships: Accommodations on cruise ships vary wildly, so it’s important to get the 411 on the exact ship you’re considering booking. Two critical factors are the width of the bathroom door, and the cabin’s shower size and type of enclosure (shower curtains are best). Ensure that you’ll be seated at a table (rather than a booth) for meals, and that you’ll have an armless chair. It’s also a good idea to request a cabin near the elevator. As the ship sets sail, you’ll be required to participate in a lifeboat safety drill. The lifejackets are laughably small, so it’s important to ask ahead of time for a lifejacket that will fit – and where you can find it should there be an emergency evacuation.

When it comes to cruise excursions, participation is often a function of mobility level and the type of tour. You may need to pass on those that involve getting into a dinghy, but you may find that tour operators will happily accommodate special needs. For example, I was able to ride in a helicopter that landed on an Alaskan glacier without paying extra (helicopters have weight limits) because I was willing to be flexible and go at the end of the day, when the pilot didn’t have a full passenger load.

Hotels: In booking a hotel room, it’s important that you communicate any accommodations you will need. For supersize women, it’s often advantageous to book a wheelchair accessible room, as the bathroom tends to be more spacious and the shower more accessible. Yet it’s important to ask before you make your reservation, because some wheelchair accessible rooms aren’t size-friendly.

There are three parts to my hotel regimen. I always ask for a room near the elevator, I always ask for more pillows, and, if I’m staying for more than two nights, I always bring along a handheld showerhead and hose and ask engineering to install it in the shower. I also remember to tip generously!

Clothing: Regardless of your destination, it’s important that you have the clothing that fits your needs. Comfortable, breathable cotton is perfect for air travel, while a cruise gives you the freedom to wear crop pants or breezy dresses during the day and a wonderful excuse to dress up for dinner each evening. Even if you don’t think you’ll have the courage to take a dip in the pool, go ahead and pack a swimsuit and cover-up. You just may be inspired to take the plunge. Versatile layers work best in cooler climes, and a good pair of walking shoes are a must-have. The only consistent thing about the weather is its unpredictability, so pack a sweater if you’re going to the tropics and a short-sleeved tee or tank if you’ll be in Alaska. Unlike our thinner sisters, we don’t have the luxury of being able to run out and buy an item we need, so it’s best to be prepared. Speaking of which, if you’re traveling by air, remember to pack a change of clothes in your carry-on. That way, you’ll be covered if your luggage arrives after you do, or if your flight is delayed and you have to spend a night - without your suitcase - at an airport hotel. (Been there. Done that. Not fun.)

Wherever you choose to vacation, you’ll have a much better time if you acknowledge any special needs you have, let go of any shame you feel, and ask to be accommodated. Because we don’t yet live in a society that routinely accommodates our needs, we sometimes have to educate the people from whom we seek help. But, with bit of patience and a friendly smile, you’ll soon be enjoying those sunny beaches, bustling city streets, mountain vistas, or whatever other destination beckons you.

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