Interview with Lauren from Wander Plus!
This past week, I had the pleasure of conversing with the lovely Lauren from Wander Plus. Her inspiring Instagram account is dedicated to sharing photos and experiences of plus-size travelers from all over the world. This girl is amazing, and any introduction I try to write will fall short of her own words.
So, without further ado, here’s her wonderful interview:
1. What was the inspiration/motivation behind your Instagram account, Wander Plus?
The inspiration behind Wander Plus came about after noticing a lack of representation for plus size travelers on various websites and social media outlets. This year I made a promise to stop limiting myself and start traveling more. I became obsessed with various travel blogs, websites, and Instagram accounts.
While viewing images of beautiful mountains, turquoise waters, and flawless fauna stirred up excitement in me, I still somehow felt that I didn’t belong in these places. Why? Because there was never anyone in these photos that looked like me. It was interesting because you’d see one or two [women like me] pop up here and there, but there wouldn’t be anything consistent.
You hear stories all the time of people going away and sitting next to a large woman on the plane, or seeing a beach pic and spotting a big girl in a bikini in the background. But, more often than not, you don’t get to hear that girl’s story about her beach moment. Or what it was like for that large woman to be on the plane taking a long haul flight. Why is that? It seemed unbalanced to me. So, ultimately, I wanted to create a platform for that [woman]. I want Wander Plus to be a place not only for sharing photos, but also for sharing stories of other travelers that look like you or me. A space to inspire and encourage a love for travel whether it be domestic or international. The world is not exclusive to just one type of person, and we need to champion that.
2. Have you always been body positive? If not, how have you overcome any self-confidence issues to become the world adventurer you always wanted to be?
Ha! I’m not a world traveler just yet! But I'm on my way! It’s funny because I feel like I have always been body positive when it came to encouraging others, but it took me some time to also apply that same advocacy to myself. I have been plus size most of my life, and it has been a long journey to loving myself inside and out. I am currently a size 24, but at one point, I was a 26/28, and over the course of a few months dropped down to a 16. At every one of these sizes, I would see beauty but didn’t understand it.
It hasn’t been until the last few years when I’ve really delved into loving myself inside and out. Weight is indeed something that can be changed, but you have to be in a mental space to say “I love this body” regardless of that, and actually believe it. As I started approaching 30, I really began being cognizant of who I was. More often than not, there are deeper issues rooted in negativity towards our bodies. I started exploring that and realized how much I was holding myself back over illogical fears of what others thought about my size. I had to realize that I’m a work in progress, and to be grateful that I am healthy, mobile, and able. There is no reason to set myself back from enjoying this life and what it has to offer. Travel included!
3.There’s a vast community of travel bloggers and Instagramers, but that doesn’t seem to be the case when it comes to plus-size travelers. Why do you think this is? And how would you like to see this change?
On a larger scale, the travel industry’s job is to glamorize destinations. Unfortunately, companies often have issues acknowledging and embracing plus size customers because we are not looked at as “attractive” for new business. When you see ads of beautiful island sands, there aren’t big people laid out with their margarita. When you see stunning mountains, you don’t see someone who is a size 20 in her hiking gear at the top. So, because there isn’t widespread representation, it’s become kind of an unspoken thing that people of size don’t really have these experiences. But it’s not true because they are actually doing these things every day! The vocalization and imagery of these trips are sprinkled around the internet via personal pages and blogs, but they need more eyes, ears, and storytellers. That’s where I think change needs to come in. Building a community around [plus size travel] as many have done for other niches will make a huge difference. Hopefully Wander Plus can help in filling this void.
4. Many plus-size women put off traveling for one reason or another (they want to lose weight, they want to fit into a bikini, they want to get in better shape for the amount of walking required, etc.). What is your response to this? How would you respond to plus-size women who put off traveling because they expect it will lead to challenges or embarrassing situations?
If you are in the process of weight loss and your reward for reaching a goal is a trip to Jamaica, do it! There is nothing wrong with setting goals and meeting them. This is part of what life is about – challenging yourself. No one should be shamed for that.
However, if you’re just sitting around telling yourself you’re not allowed to go somewhere because you look a certain way, this is the wrong approach. Your body is yours. Own it and start living. Nothing is ever going to be what you may currently deem as “perfect,” and you will lose out on a lot of opportunities waiting for it to be.
In regards to those who expect traveling will lead to challenges or embarrassing situations, my suggestion is to do your research. It is no secret that there is an abundance of horror stories surrounding being a plus size traveler. Doing research and understanding guidelines is really important. If you are worried about your flight, check an airline’s website for more info on traveling as a person of size. SeatGuru.com is also a good resource for aircraft specs (i.e. seat width, best seat, worst seat, etc).
In regards to activities, read up on them via sites like TripAdvisor.com or personal blogs. There are traveler photos and reviews of pretty much every activity you can think of, based on destination. From there, you can decide if that will be something for you. If you feel like your overall health will play a large factor in your enjoyment of traveling, that is definitely something to be taken seriously and looked into with a healthcare professional before booking a trip . . . no matter what size you are.
Overall, I maintain that if you have the will, the means, and the ability, take advantage. Don’t put it off. Living is not a right just reserved for some. You are worthy of embracing life, pursue it.
5. How does solo traveling as a plus-size woman differ from traveling with friends or loved ones?
I feel like traveling with friends or loved ones creates a great amount of comfort and security. Solo travel, however, has been one of the most liberating things I have done. Following your own itinerary, meandering as you please, and not having anyone to answer to are definite perks of going solo. More than that, it forces you to be real with yourself and your skills as a traveler. Navigating places alone and possibly getting lost can be frustrating, but the feeling of confidence when you figure it out by yourself is great. You also have way more time to be in your own thoughts and feelings without distraction. In my case, it has put me in a different frame of mind these days where I have more peace and clarity. Being in a different place alone really gave new meaning and appreciation for the world around me.
Facing some of my own body image fears alone helped me conquer them with some much more ease and reward. For example, until May 2015, I hadn’t worn a bathing suit for 20 years. I really wanted to go to Mexico and was terrified of being on the beach. But this was a time when things were really starting to click for me and I said to myself, “Just go! Go alone, get this done!”
So, I booked a solo trip, went to Torrid, purchased two suits and set off to get over this fear. Once I arrived at the resort beach, I was petrified of removing my cover-up. But as I sat in my lounger on the verge of shaking, I noticed something: no one was even looking at me! Everyone around me was wrapped up in playing with their kids or frolicking with their lover. There were 300lb men in speedos, 100lb women with jiggly thighs, 130lb women with gorgeously toned bodies but awful tastes in swimwear . . . and they were all there LIVING their lives. Why the hell wasn’t I?! I took my cover-up off, set my toes in the sand, and walked straight into the water. As soon as I felt the waves, I started crying. I felt like I had won something I’ve been battling for a long time. I don’t think I would have been able to do that if I was with a group of friends.
6. You have a lot of trips planned for this year. Which one are you looking forward to the most? And where do you hope to go next year?
I am most excited about visiting London! London is a place I’ve been fascinated with since I was young and it will be my first taste of Euro travel. As a New Yorker, I always find myself drawn to big cities where there is a lot of diversity and opportunity to engage in art, music and people-watching. I want do some touristy stuff (hello Buckingham Palace!), but I also want to be able to hop around town and really learn more about the people and lifestyle. Your recent post regarding your own trip has given me a lot of info and insight on what to look forward to, so thank you for that! Can’t wait!