Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fearless Flying: Oh, The Places You'll Go! - Part 1

Growing up, I loved Dr Suess and my favorite book was Oh, The Places You'll Go! I can now see why. I love to travel. I have earned the nickname “Dora” from my friends because of my constant traveling and exploring the world, backpack included. Traveling is good for the soul. It builds your character, opens your mind and teaches you to be more tolerant of the world. Every time I get on a plane, bus or train to head off on one of my adventures, I am breaking stereotypes and defying the odds. I say this because I am a plus size traveler at a size 26/28. People “my size” are not supposed to have pleasant, happy traveling experiences. Well, according to the stereotypes, anyway.

You see all the time on media outlets; how plus size people are blamed for uncomfortable traveling. Southwest Airlines has been known to screen people at the gate and if they deem you too large to fit in a seat, they will ask you to purchase a second seat. They will even remove you from a flight, especially if the flight is full.  I have seen such hateful comments and arguments on traveling with plus size travelers. We have become the scapegoats for an industry that is constantly removing seats or decreasing the size of their seats in order to get more people on a flight.

Me in Hong Kong, China
For me, these negative portrayals of plus size travelers never deterred me from my journey around the world. As a kid, I grew up in a housing project in Queens, New York City, right near the airport. So planes flew overhead frequently. My dad would always look out the window when planes passed our building overhead and he’d tell me how there is such a big world out there to explore. I’d like to think I got my traveling bug from my dad. People in my neighborhood rarely ventured out of the “hood” and used to think that traveling to another borough was a big deal. I wanted to be different. I wanted to see the world I read about so often in books. And I was not about to let anything stop me from doing so.

I started my travels early, at the age of 7. My mom enrolled me in a not-so-known program back then in the 70’s called The Fresh Air Fund. Basically, inner city kids ages 7-11 got the opportunity to stay with a family outside of the city in a rural or suburban area. How my mom let me go, I do not know.  But I am grateful that she did.  I remember being in Penn Station on my way to stay with my host family.  My mom clutched my hand tightly as we walked to the train track. As I let go to get on the train, she told me to let my host family know that if anything happened to me, she was going to show up there quick. I didn’t doubt that – Puerto Rican mothers are no joke. Despite that, I was so excited to be going on what I called “my first adventure”. My first family lived in Hartford, Connecticut. They were rich and lived in a huge sprawling mansion. It was definitely something I had not seen nor experienced ever before. I had my own bedroom, my own maid and they even had their own park and pool in the backyard.

Me in Venice, Italy
The next summer, I stayed with a family in the country in Vermont, where it was so clean that I walked barefoot everywhere.  I picked blueberries from the bushes, spent time reading while sitting on a large rock on a stream that ran on the side of their house and saw a chicken get its head cut off (dinner!). The father was a woodworker and farmer. It amazed me how he supported his family off the land and through the work he did with his hands. I can still close my eyes and smell the freshly baked blueberry pies that his wife would make. Fresh Air Fund was such a great experience for me. It allowed me to see places I would not have seen on my own as a kid and it let me become a part of other families and ways of life.

Me shopping in Rome like a local, lol
I think that every time I travel, I take a little piece of that place and that experience with me. It helps me learn and grow. It forces me to challenge myself because I am not in my comfort zone. This is important especially when you’re plus size. I used to be very sensitive when people stared at me. But over time, I grew accustomed to it. I learned that while I cannot control how others act, I can control how I let it affect me.  Traveling stretches my limits and has made me develop an appreciation for the world and for my comfy bed at home.

And I want that experience for everyone, no matter what their size. I love that feeling I get when I am walking down a street in a foreign land and I think to myself, wow, I’m really here. Traveling has strengthened my soul. It empowers me because I am proving with every trip I take, that I can do it at my size.

Next week in Part 2 of this blog series, I will list tips on traveling as a plus size person so that we can all have that experience and be explorers in our own right.

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

Me in Mexico City on a Tequila farm, lol

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