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Tall Guy, Short Girl-Traveling with the Vertically Challenged

This topic came up recently as my wife and I were reminiscing about past trips; I’m 6’2”, my wife is 5’0”. I’ve always raved about the Vatican, but she’s always hated it with no desire to go back because it was too crowded for her to see some things. I could hang at the back and not only people watch, but enjoy the art. She had to navigate through bodies to try and get to the front of the crowd to see anything besides armpits. The Vatican, Carcassonne, St Marks Square in Venice, Changing of the Guard at Buckingham, or a parade anywhere, she views a lot of armpits. She doesn’t want to miss anything, but it’s frustrating because she does miss stuff if she can’t get to the front.

The height challenge can rear its head right from the beginning as we board the plane. Being 5’ tall is not a recipe for success when trying to stow your stuff in the overhead compartments. Without me, my wife typically checks her back because it is a struggle to place it up there herself. But an unintended bonus of the vertically challenged is leg room on a plane. Her feet dangle and so plenty of leg room. I also, benefit because any excess storage that can’t go above, can be put under her seat, leaving me with a bit more space to stretch my legs under the seat in front of me.

But once we arrive somewhere…riding the subway in Paris during rush hour in June was a problem because she found herself standing at armpit height in a crowded car. Interestingly enough, she enjoyed the Tube experience in London more as she found Londoners more likely to give up their seat for her than Parisians. But even walking through the Subway/Tube stations can be a challenge as she regularly latches onto my beltloop as I cut through the crowds that she can’t see above.

Another unintended bonus to her height is that it forces us to plan to miss the crowds. We were one of the only people in Burano early one morning and got some great, unobstructed photos. Carcassonne at sunset and sunrise…we had the place to ourselves and once again we got some incredible photos. Travel tip, get up early to see the sunrise against the walls at Carcassonne.

Speaking of photos, have you ever tried to take a photo with a 14” height difference? Posing for a shot by others or posing for dual selfies can be a challenge. We tend to take a couple of selfies a day because of the personality it can add to some photos, but we can’t just turn and shoot anywhere, we need to find steps, a bridge or a hill and even then, she’ll be a few steps behind me so we can both be in the photo. Palatine Hill in Rome; perfect, the Mona Lisa at the Louvre; not perfect. We tend to find a location away from the crowds and overlooking the sites.

So, our strategy is to get to places early in the day. We also look for smaller group tours on day trips where she finds it easier to shimmy her way to the front; a small 8 person tour of Pompeii-good, a free tour of Bath with 55 of our closest friends-not so good. We were on an RS tour in May and an unintended benefit of his tours for us is the group sizes of 26-28 people. Not perfect, but much easier for her to make her way to the front of a group to see the sites.

Does anyone else travel with the vertically challenged? Do you do some pre-planning to factor in height to make sure you get maximum benefit out of your trip?

Posted by
3 posts

Hi Allan, we can relate. My husband is 6'10" tall and I'm 5'3". We both have to compromise (him on bedding and tiny little showers in Europe) and me with the crowds and being unable to see anything on a large tour. When we are on a tour my husband serves as an excellent landmark to those people who wander off or get lost from their group. I appreciate the guides on the Rick Steves tour who do their best to accommodate the end of the day it is what it is and we always make the best of it!

Posted by
1029 posts

My husband is 6'10" tall and I'm 5'3". We both have to compromise (him
on bedding and tiny little showers in Europe)

The tiny showers, but what about all the tall bathtubs? My wife was having a heck of a time in some hotels in France. They were so high she'd have to sit on the edge and swing her legs over to get out. It was comical at times.

Posted by
11412 posts

So I get it’s an age thing , but my 11 yr old loved history anfeas so excited to visit Versailles, however due to her age appropriate height ( short lol ) it was a nightmare for her - she saw mostly elbows and backs

Posted by
2286 posts

I’m short but maybe not short enough to see the downsides (5’3). I find it an advantage. Sure, I can’t see over crowds but neither can someone who’s 5’7 - you have to be closer to 6 feet for that to be a real advantage. Meanwhile, I don’t find airline seats excessively small, I can squeeze through crowds, I can sleep anywhere (there’s no such thing as a bed for adults that’s too small for me, no bedding is too short), and I don’t have to duck in older low ceiling buildings or stairwells.

I can’t always reach top shelves, but it’s not a big deal. The only real issue is showers hung too high - I have very thick hair and if I’m too low in the shower my hair literally does not get saturated with water. I need the concentration of water at the top of the shower head. Luckily most European showers are adjustable. My problem is in cheap US hotels and, unfortunately, my gym. The person who placed the shower heads there must have been nearly 7 feet tall!

Posted by
641 posts

I'm 5'2" (husband is 6', but most of your comments were about the challenges of being short) but I don't find things quite as bad as you make it out to be. Yes, in massive crowds all you see is the person in front of you. But being on the small side makes it easier to push your way to the front (or maybe I'm just pushy). Anyway, as a photographer I need to be where I can see what I want to shoot so I move around a lot and being short helps rather than hinders that. I hate being in tour groups anyway, but I don't think it's the height that makes them unpleasant for me. In fact when I am in a tour group I hang to the back so once the group has moved on I am 'alone' (relatively speaking) for a while and can see/photograph. Totally agree with you about the getting up early to be places with fewer crowds, but I don't think that has anything to do with height. And as far as getting the bag into the plane overhead compartment, I never ask anyone for assistance (and I can do it myself, but clearly I struggle a bit) but someone almost always offers to help. I would never check a bag because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to stow it in the cabin. And then once in the seat, yup, that's when the short advantage kicks in.

Posted by
679 posts

I loved your solutions to the challenge. Up early and out also has the advantage of less crowds.

Posted by
3133 posts

Vertically challenged? That seems patronizing. You also describe your wife as if she were a little girl instead of a woman. But you have her hang on to your belt loops when you travel together in crowded locations? Really?

My father-in-law is 6’1” and my mother-in-law is 4’11”. When they visit us in NYC or when we’ve traveled with them overseas, they hold hands when they walk together. Vertically challenged? Those two are lovebirds when they walk hand in hand or arm in arm.

One doesn’t have to be a 5 foot tall woman to you prefer avoiding large crowds, avoid tour groups, and arrive at popular locales first thing in the morning to enjoy the venue without mobs. I have traveled like that all of my life and I am 5’7”.

Posted by
1029 posts

Vertically challenged? That seems patronizing.

Yikes. My wife's own phrase, not mine. The entire post was based on a conversation with her with after our first European adventure and why she didn't like the Vatican. As I stated, we discovered the benefit of visiting sites early because we made an effort to solve a problem she was having that was hindering her enjoyment. Holding hands in space that's wall to wall people when navigating from one end to the other, good luck with that. She's welcome to continue to grab by beltloop as we cut a path through a crowd. If it doesn't work for you then that's a choice you make, no need to tsk tsk our solutions.

Posted by
769 posts

I started my preemie life short, I've always been short, and now I'm getting shorter. I concur with Allan's wife's perspective. At the Trevi fountain, I didn't even try to push forward, I just lurked with my back against the storefronts because I was never going to get close enough to see anything. However, in smaller crowds, I am usually sneaking through as best I can to get close to the guide or the sight. And often, taller strangers are happy to help clear a path for me. I am not sure I've ever grabbed my husband's belt loops, but I've certainly tucked in close to draft behind him. No particular pre-planning, but now that you've suggested it, I may try it!

Posted by
34 posts

As a 5' person, I can completely relate to your wife! No, "vertically challenged" is not condescending (far better than shrimp, midget, shorty or any of the other things I've been called over the years). However, my personal favorite is "fun sized"! And yes, I've held onto the back of his jacket (or backpack, or shirt) in large crowds so as not to lose track of him :D

Posted by
1447 posts

I understand how she felt at the Vatican. On our first visit the crush actually scared me and contributed to negative feelings about Rome. This last trip we went with a private guide in the late afternoon and it was a completely different experience. We have 12” height difference, so I usually let my husband go first and block for me; I’ve also held on to belt loops. Next to the Vatican, the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is another crush I’m happy we never have to experience again, as well as the Mona Lisa.

Crowds impact us (him) more than height (me), so we usually follow the same path you do. Fortunately, we’ve seen most of the places that attract a crush and can enjoy experiencing smaller, less popular places.

Posted by
1029 posts

I am not sure I've ever grabbed my husband's belt loops, but I've
certainly tucked in close to draft behind him.

I prefer it when my wife grabs onto me, that way I know she's there as I'm cutting through a crowd. It prevents me from constantly needing to turn back to make sure I'haven't lost her. While I'm easy to find in a crowd, she's not.

Posted by
5404 posts

But an unintended bonus of the vertically challenged is leg room on a plane. Her feet dangle and so plenty of leg room.

Well, there is the bonus of having more leg room — but as another five-footer, I can assure you that legs dangling for the length of the flight is actually quite painful for both legs and back.

Posted by
706 posts

YAY for being "fun size" - 5'2" here.

I do find myself tucking my hand into my husband's (6') belt in crowds so I don't lose him.

Yep - not touching the floor on the plane ain't one bit fun but having your luggage under the seat in front she gets the bonus of someplace to put her feet. Win/Win I think.

I hate crowds for the feeling of being lost in the sea of humanity, being pushed along and being closed in. I find myself drifting to the edges of a crowd often giving up on whatever it is we are viewing.

Posted by
112 posts

I’m 4’ 11” and my husband is 5’ 5”. I am the navigator so he is the one following me! No belt loop-hanging on but we usually agree a meeting point in case we get separated. Yes, we also hate crowds and have learned to allow more time to insinuate through the bodies to a good vantage point. Stowing luggage can be difficult but I just stand on my seat to do it. Both being ‘compact’ we can always book a double bed at hotels not a queen or king and still be comfortable (and save some money).

Dangling legs is awful on long plane trips, and living in Australia most plane trips overseas are VERY long, so I always take a cabin bag (usually a small backpack) that I don’t mind putting on the floor to use as a footrest. I also am very particular about having a travel pillow that can give lumbar support in the right place. My favourite is one that is inflatable but also has a memory foam inner core that means it is easily adjustable.

Posted by
342 posts

I am a bachelor but I stand 6-4 and typically date women about 5-2 to 5-5 and I can tell you that on more then one occasion I have had my girlfriend grab hold of my belt or belt hoops when in a large crowd.

On the other end I can’t count how many times my long legs or just my height were issues. I had a girlfriend with a small Japanese spirts car.... we NEVER took that anywhere.

So yeah traveling with a radical difference in height can be a problem.
My father whom I used to travel with, is about 5-11 (was 6-0 but shrank a bit). And two years ago we visited Versailles. When we go home and looked at the photos I had a couple of the Hall of Mirrors and he looked at them and said “oh is that what it looked like? I only saw the back of people’s heads”. On the other hand he fit in the cattle class seats we had better then I did.

Posted by
1932 posts

Well, I wasn't going to add anything to this thread, but after reading AussieNomads contribution, I had to share my similar experiences. I am about 5'2" (or close enough). My husband is 5'10". I am also the navigator so my DH is following me (and he doesn't hang on to my belt loops because I don't have any) & I am MOVING. I am what you would call "agile." I move fast and have the advantage of getting through a crowd with a "weaving technique" so to speak. ;) We check our 22" bags and each carry on a personal bag. That said, to avoid any delay in boarding, my husband may put his backpack in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of him. Since I prefer the aisle if I decide to put my bag above I will stand on the seat.

Now, for "dangling legs," not so much. I can rest them on my bag if I put it under the seat in front of me. We will be trying the foot rest seats for our next journey. I too, use an inflatable travel pillow. "Vertically challenged?" Nah. I have never perceived that my height is a liability. I've been the same height since age 12!

Posted by
1845 posts

I can relate to nearly everything said in this post and the replies. I am 5’ maybe 1” on one of my “tall” days. My husband was 6’1. We experienced all the frustrations and perks as the couples with similar height disparity have listed. I never really minded not being in the front of things but stayed on the fringes of crowds, probably missing some things I would have enjoyed. Like someone else said, we agreed on a meet up place if we were to get separated. The biggest perk for me is the flights and the fact that I actually did fit ok in the seats.I also use my backpack as a footrest and am relatively comfortable. I check my suitcase because I can’t get it into the overhead but I really don’t mind doing that-any more! Second best perk is always fitting in a European bed!! But those high-sided bathtubs? A whole other story ......