Mark in Rome - tall traveler problems

We had just begun our bus ride to Peru from Bolivia when the in-trip entertainment began. The young woman in front of me — a tourist — tried to lean her seat back. Only, given the limited leg room, my knees obstructed her from reclining further.

I’m quite tall, 6’6″ and in need of some extra space that wasn’t easy to come by on our travels. This must have been glaringly obvious to the woman as I boarded the bus after her and even asked her boyfriend to lean his seat up so my much-shorter wife could squeeze in behind them. Then, after the woman’s first attempt to lean back, I assumed she must have figured it out — maybe thinking, Whoops, the tall guy behind me doesn’t have any room like the rest of us and I probably just squashed his knees. Sorry. Leg Room

I assumed wrong. Here’s what she must have thought instead:

1) My seat is really, really jammed, but if I just keep thrusting back and squirming like an oversized child, it might just fix it and I can recline in comfort unlike everyone else on board who are aware of how little room all their neighbors have. 


2) Where’s my macadamia nuts on a plate and champagne? And screw this other guy’s comfort, I want to lean back like the first class I’m used to!

For the next three hours her efforts continued, pushing back with all her might, attempting surprise attacks, wriggling and squirming all in vain. You see, bone support is incredibly strong and I’ve developed a golden rule over my years of uncomfortable travel as a tall person, which is: Never give an inch or they’ll take a mile.


Therefore, I will happily sit an entire plane/train/bus ride with one of my knees wedged in a little discomfort than have my limited space reduced any further, causing me to twist uncomfortably for hours. When that does happen, I am forced to turn my long legs one way then the other, eventually ending up in miserable back and hip pain for the duration of the trip.

Thankfully, most fellow travelers are courteous enough to endure a few hours of an upright seat so I don’t have to fold up like a pretzel behind them. Unfortunately, there are those who put up a good fight and I’ve come to enjoy witnessing the struggle. I’ve got to hand it to this woman on the Bolivian bus, as she was the first to ever recruit the help of her partner — who was also tall and clearly saw me squashed in the seat behind them. Their efforts were admirable, yet all that resulted was a loud pop/crack from her seat.

Is it really worth all that, you ask? Shouldn’t you just confront them and ask politely that they cease their efforts in the name of long legs? Sorry, no. At least this was what I thought by my 50th week of bus discomfort in a year of travel.

Khaosan Tokyo Original

Economy flights are usually cramped for everyone, but even more so for tall people. Now airlines have begun charging additional fees for exit row seats, taking away my only affordable option for comfort. This to me is discrimination based on size, or sizeism — yes, that’s a real thing. Given that I am paying the same price as other passengers for far less comfort, it doesn’t quite seem fair. (The same goes for paying far more for clothing, tents and camping gear because I need a tall size and have no say in the matter).

Trains, including sleepers, couldn’t fit my tall frame and finding comfort required constant adjusting that provided little rest. The door of our first hostel door in Japan came up only to my chest. In some ways that was a good thing, as doors and roofs a fraction too short resulted in more bangs to the head — the count for which I lost track of after number 24 occurred somewhere in Russia. That was just in the first two months of our trip! Out there in the world there are now countless door frames and rafters that have endured muttered verbal assaults from yours truly.

TravelShower heads lined up with my nipples, bathroom sinks were closer to my knees than waist, short bed frames kept me bent and balled up all night or had most of my shins and feet dangling in space. Colorful, souvenir llama cardigans didn’t come in my size, courtesy flip flops covered half my feet and one time, in China, I couldn’t even sit down in a tiny toilet stall.

MWJ_5541Don’t get me wrong, I love being tall and I’ll happily grab that plate/book/cookie from the top shelf for you. I just want you to understand some of the discomforts we tall people endure to travel so that next time I’m seated behind you, you might take pity.

As far as the cramped airlines go, I’m not sure if there is already a law in place that requires them to provide exit row seats to tall passengers upon request, as often times I am given one when I ask. But it has become more difficult recently, or has resulted in an awkward conversation with another passenger who paid $150 for a “seat upgrade” that I got for free.

TravelI will note that if you are tall like me and looking to book a flight home to the U.S. from Peru, consider the JetBlue flight out of Lima — as I’ve never been so comfortable in economy class. Crazy amounts of leg room!

Yes, sizeism is probably one of the least concerning forms of discrimination out there — but I tell you what, I would have been crushed if those lovely ladies in Thailand had charged me double the price my wife paid to massage my bigger feet and legs. (That would have brought the price to $18 for a whole hour. Dang, I miss Thailand).

About The Author


Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

2 Responses

  1. Victoria

    Its good to know that you have enjoyed your trip in Peru. I’m sure there will be lots of atdenvures to share and experiences money can’t buy. Just to let you know that your I appreciate your sharings via your website. They have been an encouragement to me as well as a pleasure read ing them. I myself has been preparing and planning to do my 1st bike tour for 3 months already since August 2010. I hope I will have exciting stories and experiences to share as you did. Wish me best of luck! Have a safe flight back home!Joe, The Journeyman cyclist