Terra Jolé shares what it’s like traveling as a little person around the world– and it’s not what you’d expect.
When I first asked Terra Jolé for an interview about what it’s like to travel as a little person, she was eager to participate, and then quickly sent me a photo of herself sitting on the steps just a few yards away from the literal top of the Cobas Mayan Ruins near Cancun-– you know, the tallest ruins you’re actually allowed to climb. Climbing Cobas is a feat for any normal, fit girl, but Terra is only 4’2″ and you probably have seen her in movies like Jackass 3D, (yes, seriously) and her show Little Women: LA and Terra’s Little Family, both on Lifetime, for being the fabulously smart and outgoing little person that she is.
“Honestly, it was never challenging until I became a mother,” Terra says of the 21 flights she’s already taken with her young daughter, because stars: they’re just like us, even when they’re little. “Especially when traveling alone, no matter short or tall it’s hard with a child. Finding accessible ways to make life easier is key!”
Her young daughter, Penelope, is quickly becoming the star of her world (both on screen and off), but frequent traveling as a little person with a baby has real challenges.
“I’ve had a flight attendant not offer any help when I almost dropped my baby while carrying my stroller down the jetway. One of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever encountered on an airline. When I begged her for help she stated she couldn’t carry my bag it was against FAA regulations, then a janitor saw my struggle and helped me down the jetway. It wasn’t his job, he was just being a good human. Needless to say I sent out one great customer service letter that day and one extremely unfortunate customer service letter that day.”
She was excited to share that she’s THAT girl when it comes to customer service– you know, the one that says positive things when it’s time and negative things when a situation calls for it, because a woman’s voice has the ability to transform her into any size, instantly.
“Our show airs all over the world. We took a trip to Mexico once and people came up to my family expressing their emotions of our shows and yet I couldn’t understand a single word they were saying. Everyone knew Penelope’s name except they pronounced it ‘Penne Lowp eh.’ Picture people screaming your daughter’s name! More people knew her name better than mine! By the tone in energy of their voices I could assume they were sharing lovely messages, but I had no idea what they were saying.”
Terra spends much of her frequent time in Mexico screaming “¡Muchos Gracias!” at adoring fans, she says. But even when she’s not traveling to Mexico she manages to have hilarious Mexican run-ins.
“A few months ago I was told we were staying at the same hotel as Salma Hayek in Hawaii. Never saw her once the entire week we were there. On the flight back I was yet again struggling on the jetway with my arms full and Penelope’s screaming at the top of her lungs for a bottle. My husband’s arms were full as well as a friend of ours traveling with us. A woman could see I was about to drop Penelope’s bottle, so she took it and asked if she could help. Without thinking, due to Penny shrieking and holding up the line, I blurted “NO!” Then grabbing the bottle out of her hand and heading on the plane. Sweating and finally catching my breath with the baby on my lap I finally was able to sit down,” because traveling as a little person is infinitely harder in the physical sense, even if Terra makes it seem easy. “My girlfriend traveling with us said ‘it’s nice that someone is so genuine and real.’ I said ‘what do you mean?’ Evidently it was Salma that I so rudely grabbed the bottle from and refused help from. I was completely flustered with folding our stroller and Penelope screaming that I didn’t even look up. Not my finest moment.”
She’s looking forward to her upcoming trips to the Bahamas, San Antonio, her family’s favorite place to meet up, too– just as long as she packs her folding stool.
“I always travel with a fold up stool. Most hotels will provide you with one. The ones that don’t, should! Not just for little people but for children as well.”
There are a ton of obvious reasons why folding stools are necessary for little people traveling, but Terra has a laundry list of other wishes for the travel industry as well, and while they may not be what you or me would immediately think of as great, innovative ideas, they’re really universally great ideas. Traveling as a little person isn’t so different from traveling as any other type of person with some variety of handicap.
“If every country was handicap accessible that would be a start. I’ve discovered that the key to traveling as a little person is finding your own adaption. Multiple times I’ve been in elevators in other countries where I was unable to reach the buttons, and finding myself throwing my purse at whatever buttons it can hit. It sounds fun but being trapped in a small box can be scary.”
Honestly, why do those buttons need to be so high up, anyway? And handicap accessibility, while often expensive due to custom made furniture and finishings, goes a long way in making citizens feel cared for and respected– not just tourists. For now though, Terra Jolé is excited to keep promoting the positive, normal side of life as a little person. Season three of Terra’s Little Family is starting up in the next few months, in between Terra’s travels to Amsterdam and her family’s favorite hometown in Charlevoix, Michigan.
Questions for Terra or about traveling as a little person in general? Feel free to send ’em to me on twitter at @brycegruber.