I’m a short girl. I’m 5’2,” which used to be a constant source of sensitivity when I was younger. I always wanted to be one of those statuesque models who strutted the runway. Being shorter seemed a lot less exciting and I often felt looked over because of my height. Even now, sometimes I hate that I have to head to the children’s section in order to find jeans that fit me, and I’m often seen as being much younger than I actually am because I’m small.
It’s also affected me on my travels. When I first began traveling, I didn’t think anything of it. I was more enamored with what I was seeing rather than how I looked. In Europe, it wasn’t much of a problem. I would get some comments from my new Italian friends and was stopped plenty of times from heading into bars because people deemed I was too young, but other than that, I mostly traveled in a group so it wasn’t that big of a deal.
Things started to change when I began traveling solo. For the first time, I realized how big of a world it was—and how being tiny could compromise my safety. I wasn’t really afraid of traveling by myself, but I knew that I would be an easy target if something was to go wrong. Being petite wasn’t an asset. I began to be extra careful when I was on the road by myself because I knew that looking young and being small didn’t help me.
I remember one time I was staying in a hotel in Central America alone. I was waiting to get back to the United States, and had looked forward to a night in with Latin American TV and a hot bath. I woke up from a nap to hear a knock on my door. For some reason, in the pit of my stomach I felt strangely about the person standing outside my room. I peeked through the blinds to see a middle-aged man standing there. He wasn’t wearing a hotel uniform, only street clothes, and I hadn’t seen him before.
For some reason, I knew it wasn’t smart to open my door. He waited there for another two minutes or so and didn’t knock again. I double checked to make sure my door was locked. I’m not sure what would have happened if I would have answered the door, but I know that I couldn’t have defended myself if it was something bad—I’m just too tiny.
I didn’t want to let being small stop me from seeing the world, though. I knew hiking Machu Picchu would be harder for me than it would be for some of my friends that I was traveling with—especially when carrying a bag. But I gained muscle and worked hard, and I was the first girl to finish our Inca Trail hike. “Small but spicy” has become my nickname recently after hiking in the mountains in Thailand, and I keep the description proudly. It’s an empowering feeling knowing that I’ve managed to do things a lot bigger and stronger people have—even sometimes if it’s harder for me.
Growing up small taught me that I would have to think about my safety and try harder physically to do some of the things I’ve wanted to do. But I’m not going to let that stop me from seeing the world and experiencing the life I want to live. I would encourage other girls to go ahead and do the things they want to do—no matter what their size.
Have you had physical limitations on your travels? How so?