Jeff Jenkins dreamed of becoming a travel blogger.
However, when he scoured social media, magazines, and websites for inspiration, Jenkins noticed that there were very few bloggers who looked like him.
Two years ago, he decided to pave his own way by building a brand that would give advice and a voice to other people who might be reluctant to travel because of their weight.
“My mission is to redefine what it looks like to travel and what it means to have marginalized groups represented in travel space. My specialty, or sector of it, is plus size travel. In America alone there are 128 million people who are considered overweight and obese, “Jenkins, 34, told the Austin American-Statesman who is part of the USA TODAY Network. “I’m not here to promote obesity, but I want people to live now. With such a large market out there and brands still not making things accessible, I feel like there’s a void in the industry. “
Jenkins of Austin, Texas founded the website ChubbyDiaries.com and quickly attracted a national following of people who wanted his open and optimistic outlook. He now has more than 20,000 followers on his Instagram account @chubbydiaries_ and was featured in articles in the New York Times on Travel + Leisure.
We recently had a chat with him about everything from his life as an influencer to traveling after a pandemic.
How did you get into travel logging?
I wanted to be able to set my own hours and get into entrepreneurship. I did a water well project with friends in Rwanda and I am not an engineer. I didn’t know how water came out of the ground, but when I learned how to do it and be in Rwanda, I thought I would like to go around the world, help people and get paid to do it. From there this first thought came.
What first steps did you take?
First I had to commit to it, that was the main thing. I started looking up everything about blogging. I started taking courses just to learn. Even in two years, I will finally be able to know how to consistently make money from what I do.
You grew up in Orlando and your father was a chef at Disney World. Did you travel a lot as a child?
I’ve definitely done some trips, but it wasn’t until I was 20 and out of the house that I got on my first plane.
What are some of your favorite places that you have visited now?
Japan is without a doubt my favorite international country. The first time I got on a plane was a trip to Japan. To be there, the culture and tradition and the food is just amazing. My favorite city is New York City from all over the world. There’s something about New York’s energy and the bright lights and the people. And I love Spain, I love Italy and Indonesia.
Which other place would you like to visit?
Antarctic. It’s now at the top of that list. Heard there is no noise there and the silence is loud enough you can hear your heartbeat.
How often were you out and about before the pandemic?
I was gone three weeks a month. My wife was able to do some of the trips with me, but not all. But she’s super introverted so getting out of the house (for her) is great sometimes for me.
How has the pandemic affected your career?
At first I thought it was near the end, but luckily I made a business accelerator called DivInc for minority and women-owned companies. Staying in it and learning more about the business, about panning, that helped me a lot. Even during this pandemic, I grew in audience and recognition and as a thought leader, but that was because I had to turn and dedicate myself more to food blogging compared to before. But international travel just stopped at this point.
Did you go on domestic or international travel during the pandemic?
My first trip was in July. We did this great road trip – North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and all the way to Montana. We have to go to Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park and the Grand Tetons. That triggered everything and I’ve been on the road ever since. I went to Disney World in Orlando to visit my family and see what Disney World was doing and how they are protecting people. And I’ve been to Louisville and Memphis.
Opening day at Disney World:Small crowds, short lines, social distancing, and COVID-19 merch
How were you received as a black travel blogger?
When people see me a lot, they don’t just see my size. You also see black. I think that in representing as a whole it helps me to do what I am doing in the field that I am in. I stand up for black creators and am also one of the founding members of the Black Travel Alliance. Our mission is empowerment and accountability in the travel industry.
What is it like to see the success of ChubbyDiaries.com?
It’s gorgeous and gorgeous at the same time. I was a school teacher before and am always in this place: “You can’t have that, that’s someone else’s life.” Knowing that I have set goals, hit my path and really dreamed big and seeing the dreams and those goals come true is all a blessing. And it’s faster than I thought.
What are your favorite travel tips?
Google is your friend. I always love checking out people’s blogs and checking out their itineraries and creating my itineraries from there. For plus size, Southwest is one of the friendliest airlines for plus size travelers. As I travel on a budget, I do not have dates dictated when I travel. I go to the discounts. I let the discount set when I go anywhere.
How did you decide that plus size travel should be your focus?
It happened when my wife and I were on a plane. I mentioned something about the seat. We talked about window or aisle seating and then the seat belt extensions and I said, “Aren’t you thinking about it? Don’t you think about the weight restrictions, the height restrictions? Yo this is crazy. “In the back of my mind I always think about it. Even when you get on the plane, the fear that many oversized people have felt is because other people are uncomfortable. They don’t want to be uncomfortable and they don’t want other people make you feel uncomfortable.
Have you met people who felt they couldn’t or shouldn’t travel until they are a certain weight?
I just wrote a post the other day and got people through my DMs: “That’s how I feel!” I actually didn’t know how many people felt the same way until I started posting about these things that I felt like a travel blogger and influencer. I was transparent in my mind. I was very naive to believe that I was the only one who thought that way. There are thousands of people who actually think that way.
Have you ever felt discriminated against as a plus size traveler?
I’ve definitely been stared at at times. And I’ve had people come and touch me like try to touch my stomach. That happened in Thailand and it bothered me so much; I had three or four older men come over and grab my love handles. There were times when I felt embarrassed and isolated because everyone else could get on (one ride) and I couldn’t. With Chubby Diaries, I’m trying to get rid of those feelings of isolation and embarrassment by just teaching people the tools and tricks they need to know beforehand to determine whether or not they can do something.
Do you think there is a misconception that plus sizes can’t be active?
There are a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to my size, that I can’t climb mountains, I can’t swim with sharks. I know I can swim in circles around people. I am a good swimmer. I don’t mind climbing. I want people to get out there and experience it. Seeing other plus size people in the media and on Instagram, as well as in magazines and newspapers, gets people off their couches.
What would you say to someone who has postponed a major trip due to their size when it is safe to travel again?
Live life now. Don’t wait until you reach your ideal weight. Do some research, follow me and let’s live life now. This is usually my main thing that I always tell people. Don’t get caught up in where you will be later. Do it today. Make that decision today.