The Art of Traveling Tall

There’s something about being able to stretch my legs out as far as I want and realize that they are fully supported by a padded surface underneath that makes me content. Sometimes I cross them at my ankles, sometimes I do not. But without a doubt, it’s one hundred times better than the fetal position the lower half of my body automatically contorts to on a hostel bed or homestay couch.

This is because there is sometimes a very large disadvantage to being taller than your country’s native.

Any traveling experience has its ups, downs, and in-betweens. Clearly the ups tip the scale or the majority of all travelers and I would not continually journey the way we do. While I’d like to say that I always use the time I spend dwelling on past instances on the positives, that would be a lie and this isn’t a passage about lies. It’s also not about a heightened traveler’s complaints. Nor is it a modern day interpretation of Gulliver’s Travels. Instead, it’s more of an explanation why my six foot four inch frame  – at times – would be the opposite of what some term “a blessing in disguise”.

When you hit the road I promise you that, if you were as tall as me, you’d sacrifice your ability to dunk a basketball and replace it with the ability to remain on a bus in a seated posture that does not require you to jab your knees at an awkward angle into the unlucky stranger who will deal with those knees for the next six hours. And there is no “disguising” height. That’s also a promise.

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Living in Asia is a small feat in itself if you are on the taller end of the yardstick. I’ve walked into a classroom full of confused Japanese students with blood streaming from the forehead after an attempt to walk out of a room at standard speed backfired when the door frame failed to fit my height requirements and instead chose to leave its mark on my skull.

Did I realize the gash, decide to ignore it, and choose to enter the class like the hard core teacher I am? Not quite. My head had just become so accustomed to these daily beatings that I was no longer fazed.

My top five foreign places to bash my face, in no particular order: exiting subways, kindergartens, bathrooms in bars, entering a McDonald’s Playland, and any glass door (you can’t see it, you can’t feel it right?). So let it be said, the door frame’s overhang is my enemy.

While living in Chile, I spent some time with a host family. They were fantastic people and took the greatest care of me, so I can forgive their decision to provide me with their 16 year-old daughter’s former bed to sleep on. I’m used to my ankles hanging off my bed’s edge, but when my upper calves start hanging over, something must be done.

Rather than waking up every morning having to massage blood into my lifeless lower limbs, I chose to tuck an extra sheet into the bed’s end and stretch that across the room into a closed desk drawer. My host family was under the impression that this American still used his free time to build and play in forts, but REM sleep was finally achieved and things were good.

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Backpacking through South America also allowed me to realize further leg-related discrimination. Because of their country’s smaller stature, Peruvians are seemingly not that into leg room. So every backseat taxi ride, domestic air flight, SUV jungle vehicle, or cramped bus brings with it minimal space for these chicken legs and possible blood clots for future fun.

More than anything,  I receive a constant inquiry from local strangers about my height – how I acquired such a thing, exact dimensions, and suggestions on how they could also reach my elevated point of view. Apart from recommending a steady dose of green vegetables and 12 glasses of milk a day, there is no choice but to smile and politely provide the information requested.

While waiting to cross a busy road, the corner of my eye will often catch a group of giggling teenagers measuring themselves to my back. It is no coincidence that I have the phrase “so tall” in my limited vocabulary of Chinese, Japanese, and Spanish.

But it’s not all bad. I get a great view of scalps, particularly in crowded areas, so I am very well aware of who’s dyeing blond and who’s not using enough dandruff shampoo. I am also now able to convert inches to centimeters so I can accurately give out my vertical digits, thus proving that height does educate. And while a passing glance or gasp upward from an older Taiwanese gentleman does not equate to an Argentinian beauty acknowledging my body’s resistance to gravity, it’s always good to be noticed.

So if you’re considered “tall” and planning on crossing some borders anytime soon, I suggest a brief investigation on your destination’s average height and its documented ability to deal with those with extra inches.

Just be prepared to let your new friends know how the weather is up here.

Photos by: avlxyz, D. Keith Robinson

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