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10 replies
Weighty Issue
piperlynn
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Hi All,
I’m graduating from College in the spring and my best friend and I are planning a backpacking trip through Europe (Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland)
I’m really concerned about her weight, though. I have heard some awful stories about overweight Americans traveling in Europe.
She’s pretty sensitive about the issue, but I know it’s on her mind and I want to calm her fears. She really needs to learn to not let her weight be a barrier. But, at the same time, I’d rather go somewhere else if people are going to be rude to her the whole time.

What about the physicality of traveling through Europe? We plan on traveling by train—2nd class— Are the seats roomy? etc..

I really want this trip to work out for her..she needs to feel like she can do things and not have to worry about her size.

Thanks!

oldlady
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I don’t think anyone will be impolite directly to your friend, so she shouldn’t have a problem. I’m pretty fluent in French and I have an ADD-type problem that prevents me from screening out conversation. I hear absolutely every word that anyone in the area says, and I’ve heard a few snide comments about "fat Americans" — most frequently from the local sidewalk cafe set in Switzerland. It’s clear that these folks don’t think I can hear (much less understand) what they’re saying. My husband isn’t exactly fat, but he’s a BIG guy.

Physically, 2nd class train seats are slightly bigger and more comfortable than the coach seats on most airplanes. Couchettes on overnight trains are pretty small, so I’d either avoid overnight trains or spring for better sleeping accomodations. 1st class is VERY comfortable — usually about 1 and 1/2 times the cost of 2nd class.

The biggest physical problem will be getting around and hauling your stuff. You’ll do WAY, WAY more walking than you do in the US and you’ll walk up and down lots of steps (between train platforms, to 2nd, 3rd & 4th floor lodging, the subway, many tourist attractions). You’ll even climb lots of steps while toting your pack or suitcase. Getting onto trains can be a climbing exercise from the lower platforms.

If your friend can handle the 7+ hour plane trip and is in physical shape to handle the walking, climbing, hauling, then go for it.

naiade
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I traveled through Europe, including all the places that you listed for three months in 2002. I wear a size 24 (~300lbs) and didn’t have any serious problems because of my weight. I will admit that I can be a little oblivious sometimes, so if someone gave me a weird glance at some point I wouldn’t have noticed. I think that most of the stories about “fat, obnoxious Americans traveling in Europe” have more to do with the way that people act while they are traveling. As long as you are a courteous visitor most Europeans are not going to have a problem with you.

As oldlady said, the train seats in 2nd class are larger than coach airline seats so if your friend can deal with that it shouldn’t be a problem. Also, most of the times there are extra seats on train so she won’t necessarily have to sit next to anyone. As for overnight sleeping accommodations on the train, I have used both first and second class. While first class is more comfortable, this is true for everyone. I usually tried to get a lower bunk in a sleeper because I am paranoid about my weight too. I did get stuck with the upper bunk sometimes, but didn’t have any problems with that either.

Traveling is physically exerting, especially if you are on a budget and walk everywhere like I did. I ended up losing about 25lbs over the course of the trip even though I was eating whatever I wanted. It seems like every castle in Europe is at the highest point in town. I was just made sure I drank a lot of water and would take a rest on the way up if I needed it.

I enjoyed my trip immensely. You and your friend should just go and have a good time. Best of luck.

starsong81
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I am getting ready for my third trip to Europe. On my last trip, I backpacked Europe for 2 months with a friend of mine who weighs about 250 lbs. As far as the way she was treated…well, more often than not we found that she got more positive attention than I did(I am average height/weight). Especially in Eastern Europe, Italy, Greece, and Spain….the men absolutely LOVED her. As for the seats on trains…we never had any problem with her being uncomfortable.

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I would definitely make sure that yor friend is up for all of the walking. Perhaps a few monts ahead of time, the two of you can start a walking program to get ready. I’m an avid walker and the hour long walks I do around my neighborhood don’t get me even close to ready for all the walking I do on trips. Also, all of the standing in museums, etc, really wears me out. Make sure both of you have sensible shoes.

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I dont think she’ll run into anymore problems than she has here. Europe may be healthy for her though with all the walking and stairs shes bound to loose some weight. Dont take that comment the wrong way though. Everytime I have been to Europe I have lost at least 10 pounds. I really dont think it will be an issue besides her slowing you down with frequent stops etc. Hope it all works out!

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First of all, it’s not the case that everyone in Europe looks like they just stepped out of a fashion show, even in Paris. I think people sometimes have an exaggerated idea about that.

The main concern, as others have said, should be preparing for a high-intensity level of walking, including up and down numerous stairs and carrying things while doing so. To do everything you want to do, you’ll probably be walking/standing/climbing for about 12 hours or so per day. You can do less, but that means you won’t see as much.

And she will probably want to have at least two pairs of different, comfortable shoes.

anna24
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Hi, im very anxious about the stamina, im quite fat and i kept postponing this trip for ages but i cant wait no longer and i have only 1 month left (oktober) since i take off for milan. I thought of starting to walk 30 minutes a day for the whole oktober, do you think will that do? i know im going to walk for 1-2 hours when on trip but cant do otherwise, i have poor physical condition right now and as said b4, i cant go on for ever postponing this trip.

(im going solo to italy, from milan down to rome stopping at venice, firenze, piza )

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Anna24… I would push yourself a little harder and try walking around an hour a day or more before you go on your Trip. From the places you listed you will be walking more than 2 hours a day. Pisa is not a very walk intensive town. Rome however is where I did the majority of my walking with the Vatican, and all the other sights and museums you will be walking more than two hours a day. Venice as well is a fairly walk intensive town (minus the gondola rides). I cant comment on Milan as I have not been there. Hope this helps.

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Anne24: Get good shoes and wear them to do as much walking as possible before you go. In Rome and Florence especially, you will be standing (in museums, in lines, in St. Peter’s, in the subway, on buses) most of the time that you aren’t walking. Standing is as hard as walking.

I think you’ll be fine and have a great time, just go at your own pace and carry as little stuff with you as possible. When you get tired, find a cafe and have a leisurely coke or cup of coffee — no one will rush you to leave the table, people watching can be fun and you might meet interesting people. Look at taking hop on/hop off bus tour in each city. Guide books, umbrellas, extra sweaters and jackets, camera equipment, first aid kits get heavy and they just add to the physical problems of walking and standing. Don’t go sight-seeing with your luggage or pack if you can avoid it and keep the stuff in your day pack to a minimum.

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Anna, you won’t get thin in a month or two, but it’s perfectly possible to get into great walking shape without even that much effort. If you can possibly spare the time, try walking two or three hours per day. Every time you can get in another 10-minute walk, go for it. On the weekends, try to walk for five hours or so per day. Try to find as many hills as possible. All this walking will be a good investment of time, because your trip will be so much more enjoyable if your stamina is high.