The world is big and yet, when tall people travel, it is often too small. Above a certain body height, there are peculiarities and problems when traveling that only affect tall people.
From how many centimeters this threshold is reached depends on the type of travel and the region. With my height of 208 cm (6’10’’), it was very often relevant. But at least from 195 cm it can be difficult on the road more often and I think for everyone over 190 cm at least some of the experiences below are known.
The tips are based on my experiences traveling to over 40 countries and sharing experiences with other tall travelers. For travelers with an unlimited budget a lot of things will not apply – but who wants to travel like that? Ok. Flying long haul in first class would have something…
Plan for height
- Calculate for a higher budget
Booking knee-saving emergency exits on airplanes and roomier, higher classes on buses and trains cost more money. If the travel budget is on the tighter side, factor in these extra expenses.
- Book early
On airplanes, aisle seats and especially emergency exit seats are limited or booked quickly. If possible, book early and reserve your seat right away. If no emergency exit is available, be sure to check in online before booking your seat to see which other seats fit best. Read more about this in the tips on means of transport. For means of transport with free choice of seats, it is better to be there 30 minutes before train/bus departure than to sit for five hours with your knees next to your ears. Knowing that you have a good seat or that you will get a good seat also increases your anticipation of the trip.
- Take sufficient suitable shoes and clothing with you
Women’s shoes from size 42 and men’s shoes from size 47 are available in probably 180 countries of the world worse than meteorite splinters. In Quito, it took me many hours and shopping centers to find what felt like the only pair of sneakers in size 48 in Ecuador. At least for longer trips outside of Europe and the U.S., I recommend that tall people bring an extra pair of all-around shoes that fit.
For clothing, this is less of a problem, especially if you’re traveling in places where shorts and T-shirts dominate. If more „official“ looks are planned or possible, remember this when packing. It can be difficult in most places in the world to quickly get shirts with extra-long sleeves or pants lengths 36 and longer. Southeast Asia has at least the option to have something suitable tailored at a reasonable price. But from my own experience, you should not expect too much quality. It is better to shop at home before departure. Here is a list of 50 retailers for extra-long clothing and large shoes.
Choose the right means of transport and seats
- When booking a flight, reserve the appropriate seat
Depending on availability, length of flight, and amount of travel budget, an emergency exit seat is the best for tall people. The seats in front of a wall, which usually also must be paid for, also have extra legroom. I prefer the „classic“ emergency exit because then there is also space under the front seat. However, in my experience, depending on the airline and flight duration, the emergency exit seat can cost between 19 euros to 149 euros per flight route extra.
For the emergency exit seat, as for the normal seat, choose the aisle seat whenever possible. The extra space to the aisle is a benefit, even if you often get the beverage and food trolley driven to your shoulder.
Important, especially for longer flights: If an emergency exit is not bookable check on the website Seatguru for the exact seating of the flight. Simply enter the flight number and travel date and you will get the exact seating plan of the flight, supplemented with notes on the advantages and disadvantages of certain seats. I’ve already found emergency exit seats by the window where no front seat interfered (first-class travel at economy fares) or avoided paying for seats whose supposed legroom only appeared in the seating chart on the airline’s website.
- On the plane, ask for the right seat
For probably 90% of the passengers the seat distance does not play a major role, because it fits the legs. Since the disadvantages of size are almost nowhere more obvious to outsiders than when watching tall people walk bent over through the aisle or squeeze laboriously into their seats, a certain pity is often felt. This is the time for the pleading look and the friendly question to the boarding staff about whether a change of seat is possible. Depending on their attitude and the capacity utilization of the aircraft, this is often feasible. I would like to praise KLM, Easyjet, Thai Airways, and Southwest Airlines. Sometimes such a seat change already works when checking in or even at the gate: Just smile and make yourself extra tall, so that the dimensions of the „problem“ are also visible behind the counter and ask.
- Better avoid long bus rides
Intercity transport outside Europe and North America is not designed for travelers over 180 cm and with every centimeter, it becomes more uncomfortable. In South America, sitting on single seats in normal buses is completely impossible for me and there is no way to avoid investing in tickets for buses of higher classes. The tip to book two seats for more legroom sounds good but usually fails because of the feasibility. Trying to block a supposedly empty seat in an overcrowded bus is neither fun nor friendly.
When it comes to sleeping compartments in trains, the good intention will also fail again due to reality. From 195 cm in height no more comfortable sleeping is possible. If it should be a sleeping car, then make sure that the beds have no „hard“ limit at the foot end and in any case choose the lower bed. My attempts in a Thai train to get into the much too small upper sleeper bed caused a lot of joy in the whole carriage until someone took pity and swapped his lower bed with me. Again, an advantage of the high attention, which large ones enjoy when traveling in many countries. More on this is below.
Finding suitable accommodations
- Hotel beds – Buy One, Get Two
The tall guy’s worry about falling out of a 90cm wide single bed is only surpassed by the one about kicking out the footboard while sleeping. Both are to be prevented. Therefore, when booking in advance, whenever possible, book a double room for single use and, if necessary, check the pictures of the beds on the internet to make sure that they are without a footboard. If in doubt whether everything fits, a friendly mail to the hotel can also do miracles.
When booking at short notice on site, you should ask to be shown the rooms in case of doubt. Unfortunately, there has only been one hotel, the Taj Hotel in Delhi, where I was given a bed extension at the foot of the bed without being asked. What a service!
- Camping? Think big!
One thing in advance: I am not a camper and will not become one. But one thing is certain for me after my few experiences in a tent and a camper. Think big! From 10 meters in length of the camper and 210 cm in interior height, it can be a lot of fun.
Make the most of the high level of attention
- From 200 cm better learn to love traveling as a colorful elephant
What would happen if a colorful elephant suddenly walked through the pedestrian zone here? Almost everyone will stop, draw others‘ attention to the elephant, take photos, and make comments. As soon as you realize that for quite a lot of people in the world, it might be the first time to see someone with a body height of 2 meters and more, a comparable behavior is completely understandable.
IIn every country the attention can be different: India lacks any Central European sense of distance, and the attention can be intimidating. In the rest of Asia, outward restraint tends to prevail, but the glancing, giggling, and whispering is ubiquitous. In South America, outside of the Andean countries, it’s not a big deal, but in North America, the question of whether you play basketball comes up several times a day.
Curiosity and the benevolent interest associated with have in my experience many advantages: It facilitates enormously to get easily on contact and creates immediately a topic of conversation.
- Know the basic vocabulary for tall people in the local language
„I am xxx cm/inch tall“, „I play/do not play basketball“ (tip: always say you play), „My family is also this tall“ and the inevitable „Yes, I am tall“ in the local language and you are already half integrated. The few vocabulary words are worthwhile at least for those who are traveling longer in a language area.
- Smile or sit down
In those regular, recurring moments when attention is simply exhausting, just think of the colorful elephant and smile. Should it reach the point where it’s just annoying, just sit down.
Special travel risks for tall people
- Low-hanging fans
Fans deserve a warning of their own, as they once cost me a tuft of hair in Thailand (caught in one of the fans on the ceiling of market stalls that work like vacuum cleaners) and almost in Belize once the fingertips if the ceiling fan had sharp edges. Note: Before waving look at what rotates above you..
- Heavy head bangs
Hitting your head is the classic problem of tall people. But the danger increases significantly when traveling to countries with smaller average sizes and it can be really painful. Medieval to ancient sights, built for the 160 cm body sizes, are just as much an extra challenge as catacombs and caves. If you have doubts about whether you fit in, it is better to read online the experience reports of others to better assess whether it is still fun or possibly ends in claustrophobia. I did such a check of pictures and reports intensively before going to the ATM cave in Belize and luckily when inside I fitted in and enjoyed the time immensely.
- Tuk-Tuks, Pick-Ups and Mopeds
As a tall person never forget that the higher center of gravity or wrongly dimensioned seat, can knock you off quickly from the moped or pick-up.
There are certainly many more tips to make traveling easier as a tall or large person. Please feel free to write them to us or leave them as comments below.