Traveling While Fat, or Tall: A Tale of Not Fitting in Southeast Asia

Team Hazard Kayaking at Sea Cave in Krabi - Thailand
Some of the coolest things to do require being in good physical shape. Some fat people are in good shape, some are not. We started this journey in the 'not' category. The trick is to be smart about your abilities. Don't be afraid to try things that push your limits, but some activities may not be right for you at this point in time. Talk to your guides, discuss options and ask for help if you need it.

If you’re fat, or tall, or both, you’re going to face some interesting challenges while traveling in Southeast Asia, but don’t let that deter you. The inconveniences of traveling plus size are minor compared to the rewards of adventuring through this region. However, there are some things you should be aware of.

It starts with packing. You have to take all of your clothing with you. There’s no, If I need it I’ll buy it when I get there. Of course, depending on your size you might get lucky. Tim and I have both found a tank top or t-shirt to fit in areas that cater to tourists, but outside of that, they just don’t have our size. And big pants or shorts? Forget it.

So when you watch those people demonstrate packing everything in one small bag, just know that you’re probably not going to pull that off, no matter how light you pack. Not only do you have to take everything with you, but your clothes are bigger than theirs are from the get-go. A medium-sized bag is fine – we highly recommend one with wheels.

Then there’s the airplane. If you need the seatbelt extender, ask for it with confidence and show no shame. So you’re big. Don’t apologize, just be who you are. But do be polite and try not to squish the skinny person sitting next to you.

Enjoy the street food! Let’s face it, for most of us, part of the reason we’re fat is that we really enjoy food. So we’re certainly not going to miss out on tasty meals and snacks, especially when they’re sold on the side of the road at a price that’s super easy on the pocketbook.

But be warned, the seating at most of these places is little plastic stools just above knee-high, or at best, slightly flimsy plastic chairs. Don’t worry – they’ll hold you. If there’s any doubt, the vendors will happily stack two stools or chairs together, or find you a sturdier chair. We’ve found people here to be very matter-of-fact about it. You’re big – you need more support. No judgment, just facts.

If you’re tall, doorways, awnings and umbrellas will be out to get you.

At 5’7″ (170cm), I’m about the tallest that people in SE Asia plan for, so I don’t tend to bump my head or run into things. Tim, on the other hand, at 6′ (182cm) tall, is frequently ducking through doorways, under tarps and dodging architecture that just doesn’t take someone of his height into account. We have pictures of multiple doorways that are shorter than him. Watch your head.

Some of the coolest things to do require being in good physical shape. Some fat people are in good shape, some are not. We started this journey in the ‘not’ category. The trick is to be smart about your abilities. Don’t be afraid to try things that push your limits, but some activities may not be right for you at this point in time.

Talk to your guides, discuss options and ask for help if you need it. I did a great job in the kayak during the first half of the sea cave trip in Thailand, but when the current shifted and we had to paddle against it, I didn’t have the stamina. The lead guide switched to my boat and we got back fine. It was a great adventure.

There was another time when a combination of Tim’s blindness, our fitness level and a much steeper trail than we were expecting made us decide to abandon the hike to a certain village on Flores. No shame. We just weren’t ready for it.

And never let your fear of how you look in shorts or a bathing suit stop you from having fun. Just do your thing and you’ll find most people don’t care. The ones that do aren’t worth your spit.

Team Hazard Rides Again

Sometimes your size will draw attention, but it’s usually curiosity or surprise. Roll with it, laugh about it, don’t take offense; we have yet to have someone say something with nasty intent. Being both fat and tall, Tim gets most of this attention.

One time in Indonesia we got in an elevator and this older guy, who barely came up to my shoulder, took a long, slow look up at Tim and said, “You’re big.” Tim laughed, and shrugged. Then we all laughed. What else was there to say? It was true.

Just go. Don’t let your size hold you back or delay you one more second. Southeast Asia can handle you. No one fits everywhere all the time, and you’ll come back with some of the best stories. Experience. Live. Be happy.

Someone you know probably needs to hear this. Be sure to share it on Facebook, or wherever they hang out.

And don’t miss out on all of our other Travel Advice. No matter how experienced of a traveler you are, there’s some good stuff there.

Team Hazard

Old, fat and disabled and traveling the world anyway. Join Trina and Tim as they wander around the planet bringing you honest stories about the people and places they encounter.

View all posts


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Just came back from thailand. Yes they are upfront about it but never rude. My problem was with foreign tourists. They would point, giggle, and act like i was a disease. Made my trip hell at sometimes. Once was speaking to a inquisitive child and the mother pulled them away hastily. But please visit Phuket, the people there are delightful!

    • Yeah, you can’t do much about rude foreigners. I would call these people ugly tourists, but that’s not right anywhere. They’re just ugly people.

  • Thank you for this post. I am very overweight but have booked a trip to Thailand, and a few days ago my weight issues suddenly became a new anxiety for my trip. You can guess what I googled that led me here. I really appreciate this post. I have a few months before I go and I am hoping to get some physical fitness improvements before I go so I can have some adventures.

    • I am so happy this helped and I’m glad you’re going ahead with your grand adventure. You’re going to have a great time.

      Thailand is pretty easy for size issues. They’re very accustomed to western tourists and ready to accommodate. In tourist areas you might even find some t-shirts and such in your size.

      Getting in a little better shape will serve you well (for strength and endurance) for some activities. I will say that I totally wore myself out on a kayak trip and was exhausted for several days. It was a lot of fun, but paddling back against the current was challenging.

      Also, there are a certain number of temples that either have a lot of stairs to get to them, or are inside of caves. If you’re like me (bad at climbing), you might appreciate having a hiking stick. Doesn’t need to be fancy, but it can give you a little extra assurance on challenging terrain.

      I hope you have a wonderful trip. Feel free to come back and let us know how it went.

  • What a great post, I love how honest you are. It’s refreshing.

    I’m so glad nothing holds you back, we could all do with a bit of that spirit, thank you for sharing x

  • I LOVE the candor of your blog, and your writing is quite engaging (a rarity, I’ve noticed – not that I’m going to win a Pulitzer, but still…) There’s nothing I like better than down-to-earth folks writing down-to-earth things. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • well i had a great chuckle over the two chairs together…this happened to me in hanoi….however the lady made such a big production about it…everyone was staring at me….then swallowing my humuliation…i just started laughing…like what else could i do….thanks for the article…..cheers

    • I can just imagine the scene! It’s great that you were able to find the humor in it. We find that’s generally the best way to deal with it, and most people will be with you. Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Glad you enjoyed the article.

  • What a great, honest article. I’m pretty average sized and had issues in Asia with clothes. I wouldn’t ever think of some of these things as challenges. It’s great that you’re able to share this perspective because there are so many people who can relate to it.

  • I burst into laughter when reading the line that the guy said ‘you’re big!’ Pointing something out as if you don’t know. Great tips! Nothing should hold you back seeing the world. Know your physical limitations and roll with it! Great read thank you

  • My husband is 6’4″ and he has some of the same issues that you surface here. His shoulders don’t fit into a standard airplane seat, his size 12 shoes take up most of a carry-on and let’s not even talk about taking a cave tour.

    • Oh, yeah. There were doors that Tim literally couldn’t walk through without bending over, and not just an inch or two short. I wonder which of our husbands has hit their head more? 😉

  • I love this article! So unapologetic. I also love how matter of fact everyone in Southeast Asia is about it. The guy and the elevator and the two chairs! As someone who’s really small in every sense of the word (I’m only 4’11) I can’t even imagine what that must be like!

    • Ah, as someone of smaller stature I assume you have different challenges, but equal understanding. And yeah, we don’t believe anyone should have to apologize for who they are. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

  • I really really love this post – especially the matter of factliness of putting two chairs together for you 😉 Also – how awesome is your tagline?!

    • Thanks. Glad you like our tagline, and the post. We’re hoping to inspire normal people, not just the fit and photogenic ones. 😉

    • Thanks. Glad you like it! We’re in West Africa now and it’s just the opposite – not hard to find things to fit at all. We’re in the mid-range as far as size here. We love SEA, but our size definitely created some comedy, and challenges.

Join Me!


Follow Me

Free E-Book!

How to Save Money for Travel –

on Almost ANY Budget! 

Free eBook - Cover shot

Click HERE

to get your FREE e-book.