As our international travel summer plans are kicked to the curb, Americans are now being called to check out what’s in their own backyards. After visiting 38 countries, I’m pumped to be finally embarking on my first ever “Great American Road Trip” and immerse myself in the natural wonders, historic monuments, and local characters that make our country so great.
Historically, African American car journeys have been characterized by decades of discrimination and laws built around limiting Black movement as much as possible. It’s one of the underlying reasons why cross-country road travel wasn’t on my radar as a Black kid growing up in Florida. In fact, my first road trip through multiple states, at 5 years old, was not even in a car but a Greyhound bus! I remember being mesmerized by the trees as we were driving down I-95 from Florida to Connecticut. On one of our few pit stops, I got to devour a Burger King and wear the coveted paper crown. I didn’t pay any attention to the fact we zipped from A to B without taking a breather. To me, I was already living the leisurely life of a king.
After years of personally overcoming travel stereotypes around race and body size abroad, I’m ready to embark on a cross-country adventure without any preconceived notions on how this trip has to play out. Sure, I doubt I’ll be bumping into many plus-size BIPOC on the road, but that’s never stopped me before! This August, I’ll be driving—and hiking—my way through Iowa, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada, California, Utah, and Arizona, hitting up five epic national parks…and maybe a couple of nostalgic burger joints on the way.
Here are my tips for planning a road trip of a lifetime:
1. Find the Right Vehicle
When you’re a big guy and planning to spend several hours driving, your choice of car is fundamental to the all-around enjoyment of the trip. You want to cruise around town in style and comfort, so keep that open-top vintage sports car on the back burner for the time being. Go for a roomy rental, even if traveling solo for a short period. I recommend an SUV crossover car for the road, especially if your itinerary flips between urban and remote areas like mine does.
2. Research Before You Go
Research, research, research! Especially in the midst of a global pandemic with things constantly changing. It is good to know beforehand what you are getting yourself and your family into, so find the best guidebook for your route and download the Roadtrippers app! Also, learning about weight limits and size restrictions prior to booking an activity can save you energy and time in the long run.
Follow and reach out to inclusive travel communities that have already lived out what you’re about to do. Hit up your travel crew on social media and follow fellow plus-size BIPOC explorers for guidance. Outdoor Afro, Fat Girls Hiking, and my site, Chubby Diaries, are great places to start if you’re lacking the inspiration or resources to map out your moves.
3. Condition Your Body for the Journey
I wholeheartedly go against the widespread assumption that chubby people are only interested in cruises. I’m living, breathing proof that there are plus-size travelers who hike, mountain climb, and conquer nature trails. It’s crucial to condition your body for your adventure, at your own pace. It can be as easy as walking 5 minutes around the neighborhood and building up to more rigorous cardio. Trust me, it makes a huge difference when you get there.
4. Invest in BIPOC Culture Everywhere You Can
Travel is all about learning and creating stories, and that starts with conscious and kind conversations with different types of people from all walks of life. I intend to dig into the rich tapestry of America by conversing and connecting with as many people as possible on this journey (observing social distance, of course). It’s oh-so-important to honor our diverse history and culture by frequenting BIPOC-run restaurants, shops, and businesses.
Don’t forget to also look under the radar for alternative historic monuments, landmarks, houses, and museums that go off the typical tourist path and provide insights to another world and perspective you never knew existed.
5. Keep an Open Mind on the Open Road
Road trips can be adventurous, insightful, and tiring. They also come with tons of unexpected challenges and obstacles—so be sure to manage your expectations. Sometimes it is good to just go with the flow. If you are not able to visit everything on the itinerary, it will be fine. Expect the unexpected!
I’m envisioning my summer road trip through the optimistic lens of an empowered and proud chubby guy, going where I’ve never gone before. Yes, that even includes visiting monuments like Mount Rushmore. I want to see and feel it ALL!
Jeff Jenkins is the creator behind ChubbyDiaries.com, an online community for plus-size travelers who are passionate about seeing the world, experiencing new foods, and learning clever hacks along the way. He is also a founding member of the Black Travel Alliance, which aims to support Black content creators around the world and increase their representation in the travel industry, including but not limited to employment, conferences, and media.
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