Step out with confidence with this plus-sized guide to walking tours

written by Annette Richmond September 21, 2023
a Black woman smiling on a tram in Lisbon, Portugal

Here are five tried-and-tested tips from Annette Richmond that every plus-size traveller should keep in mind for a walking tour.

I recently visited one of the hilliest cities in the world, Lisbon, Portugal, with Intrepid and was reminded that it’s okay to ask for what I need to enjoy myself and feel comfortable while travelling. Something that can often prevent plus-sized travellers from joining group tours is accessibility and the amount of walking required, especially in Europe

There were times I decided to stay in and rest because I had to make my comfort a priority, even if that meant that my trip looked a little different than other members of my group. I didn’t see everything, but I never felt like I missed out. After exploring Portugal’s castles, medieval villages and vineyards for eight days, mostly on foot, I wanted to compile my tips into a plus-size guide for walking tours. 

Pack all walking essentials in your carry-on 

My first tip is to pack your essentials: at least two lightweight outfits in your carry-on and – most importantly – a pair of sneakers that are comfortable for walking. Luggage getting lost or delayed is a terrible way to start your trip. It can be even more stressful for plus-size people who may not have the clothing sizes they need in the country they’re visiting. 

I also like to pack all my underwear and toiletries in my carry-on. With walking tours especially, I want to be ready to enjoy my trip without worrying about not having certain items and having to buy them. So, you’ll also find a refillable water bottle, a portable fan, a universal travel adapter, a power strip and an umbrella or rain jacket in my carry-on

Advocate for yourself

Ask yourself some questions to get the most out of your trip. Is this your first active tour in a while? Are you nervous about the length of the walking tour? Are you staying in a hotel without an elevator and nervous about the stairs? Having an honest conversation with yourself will help you understand how to advocate for yourself while travelling. 

Intrepid offers a physical rating for all of its trips to give you an idea of how demanding they will be. The Premium Portugal tour is rated two out of five. Intrepid also does a great job of explaining if the trip is right for you, but it’s okay to ask questions. You can use the live chat feature on the website to ask questions ahead of time or check in with your leader when you arrive. It’s important to make your trip leader aware of your limitations and help them understand what can make the trip more accessible for you. 

Because I was clear about my boundaries, our trip leader, where possible, would point out accessible shortcuts to get to some of the highest points in the city. If I hadn’t asked or advocated for myself, I never would have found out about the elevator in the Pingo Doce grocery store that will get you to a stunning viewpoint that’s a short walk from the São Jorge Castle.

Having an honest conversation with yourself will help you understand how to advocate for yourself while travelling. 

It’s okay to use public transport, taxis and rideshares

On a walking tour in Portugal, you can expect plenty of cobblestone streets and steep inclines. It’s okay to take a bus or taxi instead of walking or to opt out of things when you’ve reached your limit. 

I often asked our trip leader about walking distances between stops and mentioned that I would be open to taking a taxi to meet up with the group if I needed a break.

I’d head out with the group on the walking tour but allow myself to take a break, return to the hotel or take a taxi to the next stop when needed. I had to recognize that I hadn’t been as active in a while and needed to take breaks to ensure my endurance. 

In Lisbon, I was excited to try the trams around the city, so I took advantage of them when I needed to take it easier. It was a fun way to explore, and I saw some lovely views.

Some of the places you visit might be wheelchair accessible. Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal, is on the top of a hill, so they offer a bus for those with mobility issues. It can be helpful to find out about these details from your itinerary in advance so you know what’s in store, or you can ask your trip leader for inside tips! 

a group of travellers on a boat on lake
Being open and vulnerable helped me bond with my group and create a solid dynamic between us.

Listen to your body

A couple of years ago, an eight-hour hike through Petra on Intrepid’s Premium Jordan trip helped me learn how to listen to my body. Before we began that hike, I spoke with the trip leader and explained I didn’t want to push myself too far to keep up and would ask for anything I needed: water, a break, some elusive shade.

I’m an avid solo traveller, but visiting Portugal with a group meant I put listening to my body into practice, which often required switching up the pace. There were one or two early morning walks scheduled when I needed to sleep in and rest my body, so I did. 

Opting out of activities or doing things at your own pace is okay. I met up with local friends for dinner one night instead of dining with the group. Remember, this is your trip, and even though you’re with a group, you’ll enjoy the experience more if you listen to yourself. As long as you’re on the bus before the group moves on to the next destination, it’s fine. 

Share your experiences

It’s important to normalise travelling as a plus-size person, especially when travelling as part of a group. Being open and vulnerable about my struggles and successes helped me bond with my group and create a solid dynamic between us.

Sometimes, after a day of walking, I’d want to hire a taxi or Uber to get me to that night’s activity. A fellow traveller was healing from a foot injury, so we were able to ride together and check in on each other throughout the trip.

Travel looks different for everybody; part of that realisation is that these trips aren’t one size fits all. You may have to make minor adjustments to make it more accessible and enjoyable. After your trip, share that feedback with Intrepid so they can learn how you made the trip work better for you. 

Annette travelled as a guest of Intrepid on the Premium Portugal trip. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @fromannettewithlove.

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