By October 3, 2005 Read More →

Tips For The Tushie-Challenged

It seems that every day there’s a new study on how fat Americans are becoming. I typically notice these studies as I wolf down my Big Mac, large fries and Coke (yes, I know I am overweight, but I’m not one of those large people who think they can make it all better by ordering a Diet Coke!).

It’s true: As we get older, our bodies tend to get bigger, but the spaces we must fit into somehow get smaller. What’s the overweight traveler to do?

Recently, I sat down with Brandi Chokas, a travel agent with a large travel agency in Phoenix, to discuss what tushie-challenged* travelers can do to make their trips more comfortable. Between us, we tip the scales at … Oh, never mind. Let’s just say we know what we’re talking about. So sit back in your Barcalounger, grab that Whopper and take a look at what we came up with.

Air travel

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Go off-peak. Try to fly off-season or at slow times during the day. If you’re really overweight, there’s a good chance you’ll need a second seat. On a less-than-full plane, you won’t have to pay for it.
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Board early. Pre-boarding is not just for screaming kids and million milers. If you need time to board and stow your stuff, better to board while the plane is still empty: You won’t be thumping people with your hips or blocking the aisle. That’s much better for you — and for your fellow passengers.
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Take the window. If you are overweight, you will do yourself and your seatmates a favor by taking the window seat. If you sit on the aisle, you’ll be in the way of the beverage cart and passers-by, and you’ll make it hard for your seatmates to get to the lavatory. Plus, every time you get up, your tushie will be in the face of the person across the aisle — and they hate that!
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Avoid the exit row. Exit rows tend to be narrower than regular rows, and the armrests tend to be stationary. Cramped seating can cause poor circulation and maybe even a deep vein thrombosis. Opt instead for a seat at the back of the plane. Most people avoid the back rows when they can, so you have a better chance of having a vacant middle seat next to you.
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Suck up. Make friends with the flight attendants before the flight orientation. If you let them know in advance that you’ll need a seat-belt extender, they’ll give you one discreetly; if you don’t, they’re apt to make a big fuss about it during the cabin safety check. Besides, it’s a good thing to have the flight attendants on your side from the start; they’ll treat you better throughout the flight.
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Call for a cart. If you are trying to make a tight connection, ask the flight attendant if she can arrange for a cart to meet you at the gate. Overweight people often have bad backs and bad knees, so the transit between gates can be brutal. As an added bonus, passengers arriving at the gate by cart are almost always allowed to pre-board.

Car rentals

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Go cruisin’. Not on a boat, but in a Chrysler PT Cruiser. This car has the most tummy room on the road and is available at all Thrifty Car Rental and some Alamo locations. You will need to make a special request, and it may cost a bit more, but when the alternative is a Yugo, you’ll find the money is well spent. Other belly-friendly cars are the Ford Taurus and the new Ford 500. Any van will do, but most Dodge cars and trucks will hit the belly wrong. If you cannot find the car you want at the airport, check out the local car dealerships. Many have a thriving rental business and will be more than happy to pick you up at the airport, provided it is relatively nearby.
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BYOE. Your own extender, that is. You cannot assume that the rental agency will have a seat-belt extender for you. They are not required to have one, and Johnny Law is not gonna buy the “I-am-overweight-and-the-seat-belt-doesn’t-fit” excuse. Especially in Texas, outside Dallas — the bastards!
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Talk to your doctor. Being overweight or obese can be a handicap. Ask your doctor if you qualify for a “Handicapped” placard; if you do, take it with you. It will come in handy if your knees or back act up on the road. As an added bonus, handicapped travelers get better parking at many attractions.

Hotels

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Get the right room. Ask for a handicapped-accessible room. They are designed for wheelchairs, but they are excellent for overweight people as well. The toilets are higher off the floor, there are grab rails to assist you, the showers and tubs are wider, and the rooms tend to be a little larger to allow for wheelchair navigation.
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Get the right bed. Most hotels buy firm mattresses, which can aggravate back problems for some overweight guests. If you are one of them, ask for a bed with extra foam on the mattress. If one is not available, ask for as many pillows as the hotel will give you, then make your own little pillow-top.
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Get bubbly. Traveling, especially traveling for business, is no walk in the park. Seek out hotels that have a Jacuzzi, either in the guest room or in the health center. When your back and knees start to feel a little achy, head for the warm water and bubbles.
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Call ahead. Let the hotel know your issues in advance and see what they can do for you. Request a big room close to the elevator, inquire about special-diet offerings in the restaurant – maybe even request a water bed. It’s rare, but some hotels do have water beds and will put them up on request, although usually not for a one-night stay.

General tips

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Bus tours. Like airplanes, buses come in different configurations. Call ahead and let the company know your needs. They may have some tricks to make you more comfortable. For example, when Brandi was in Hawaii recently, the driver of the tour bus noticed that the handicapped seat she was using wasn’t really adequate for her size. While Brandi was enjoying a luau, he returned to the garage and brought a differently configured bus so that she would be more comfortable.
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Expect more difficulty abroad. Few foreign countries cater to overweight travelers. The exception is Italy, whose own citizens tend to carry a little girth themselves; everywhere else, people tend to run smaller. You will want to do a lot of research before booking your trip. Call the hotel and ask the dimensions of the tub and toilet. Call the car company and ask what foreign cars they carry. (Remember, a car built in the United States is a “foreign” car in another country.) Take open-air buses whenever possible; they tend to have better configurations and larger seats. As for restaurants – well, you are on your own!
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The last word. CRUISE! A cruise vacation has everything an overweight person needs. The showers and restrooms are good-sized, and the toilets are high enough. You get excellent meals, and if you speak with the wait staff early on, they can have an armless chair waiting for you every night. Cruise ships also have gyms, pools, exercise classes and Jacuzzis, should the urge to work out come upon you.

Whew! It sounds like a chore just to plan a trip to Detroit — but it doesn’t have to be if you communicate with your travel suppliers. Don’t be ashamed of your weight; you can’t hide it, so just wear it proudly. If you are using a travel agent, print out this column and ask that your preferences be noted in the company’s database. That way, the next time you head off on some trip, your “extra baggage” won’t get in the way of having a good time.

* Disclaimer: The term “tushie” is not in my own vocabulary. It is entirely attributed to the colorful life and language of Brandi Chokas!

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