Adventures Ahead: 6 Tips for Eating Disorder Recovery while Traveling

Posted June 13, 2023

Photo Location: Lake Chetek, WI

With more people traveling again, you may be wondering how to take your recovery on the road. Perhaps you’re traveling to see a loved one in another state, catching up with old friends, or just soaking in the joys of exploring a new state, city, or park. Maybe you’re excited that your relationship with food has gotten much more neutral lately, or perhaps you’re nervous because you’re not sure how to keep the momentum of recovery going forward with new stressors of travel coming up. Nonetheless, here are some tips for you!

1. Assessing Travel Readiness and Navigating Challenges

Sometimes travel is unavoidable, for example, visiting sick loved ones or mandatory work travel. However, if the trip is optional, talk to your treatment team to determine if traveling makes sense right now based on where you are in your eating disorder recovery journey. In some situations, pausing travel may be most beneficial, as there can be a lot of uncertainty and triggers that can come up with travel.

Photo Location: Katmai National Park & Preserve, AK

If it is a beneficial time to put the wheels in motion, discuss personal challenges and how you might navigate them in a session with your therapist and dietitian. For example, what if breakfast gets pushed off to be brunch?  What if everyone is stopping to get ice cream but you haven’t had that food in your recovery journey yet?  What if there is a lot of diet talk happening on the trip?  It is important to develop a plan about how you’ll navigate these situations and more.  You can make it fun and do some roleplaying in sessions, too!  It can also be helpful to include supports that may be traveling with you into a session or two prior to your trip – maybe a parent, significant other, or a friend. That way they can learn what is going to be challenging for you and how to support you best.

2. Nutrition on the Go: Essential Snacks and Hydration Tips for Traveling

Photo Location: Asheville, NC

It never hurts to have backup food on hand during travel. Think about how many times you’ve had a flight get delayed, dinner ended up being several hours later than expected, or you planned to make it back to the hotel but never had time. If we have access to food, we’re much more likely to follow through with getting that nutrition in throughout the day. I like to encourage my clients to put a few snacks into their backpack, purse, or vehicle at the start of the day when traveling and restock the next day. Think nonperishable snacks such as trail mix, chips, granola bars, crackers, or your favorite candy.

In terms of hydration, I encourage clients to pack a reusable water bottle and refill in throughout the trip if the hotel/Airbnb has available water to use. Otherwise, if you’re on a road trip, throw some bottled water, Gatorade, or your favorite hydrating beverages into a cooler.

3. Dressing for Comfort: How to Pack Mindfully for Your Travels During Recovery

Photo Location: White Sands National Park, NM

This might sound too obvious, but think about how often you’ve opened up your luggage on a trip and struggled with what to wear because nothing is comfortable. When our clothes dig at our skin it’s hard to focus and stay present. Pack options for various weather scenarios – rainy, cold, super humid, etc. Think about how you’d feel wearing those clothes in different temperatures. If wearing jean shorts isn’t comfortable when it’s sticky outside, can we opt for a loose dress or breathable shorts that might be more comfortable?

Tip: If you’re trying on clothes for an upcoming trip, or at any time for that matter, try putting on the clothes first without looking in a mirror. Ask yourself if the clothing feels comfortable. If yes, turn around and see if you like the style – if not just toss aside and try on the next item. We really want to lean into what FEELS good!

4. Preparation is Key: Early Planning and Packing Tips for Recovery-Focused Travel

Start the conversation with your treatment team around your upcoming travel plans weeks ahead of time – start to process potential triggers, fears, and various scenarios before the time comes. This gives you time to incorporate supports into sessions, too, if it would be beneficial.

Also, I encourage my clients to start the packing process early! It can be overwhelming to try clothes on all at once, especially if you’re packing for a different season or trying on clothes that you haven’t worn since before the recovery process started. Starting the process early allows you to borrow or buy clothes that you might want in different styles or sizes.

Tip: Set an amount of time per week to spend packing, and you can chip away at it over a few weeks!

5. Pack coping skills!

Photo Location: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

You might be scratching your head at this one…pack my coping skills?! I’m sure you have some on-the-go coping skills that don’t need to be packed, like deep breathing skills, 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, meditation, and so many more! However, think of what you could pack to help you cope as well. Do you enjoy listening to music? Remember to pack those Airpods or your favorite headphones! Do you find joy in coloring or journaling? Remember to pack those, too!

6. Remember Your Journey’s Purpose: Balancing Recovery and Memorable Experiences During Travel

Photo Location: Estes Park, CO

In addition to all of the tips above, my favorite tip is this last one. Remember the purpose of your trip! Are you traveling to visit a friend, family member, or loved one after a long pause during the pandemic? Are you going on your honeymoon? Are you soaking in the culture of a new country? Ask yourself what you want to remember from your trip once you return home. Remind yourself of that during your trip routinely. It is possible to successfully keep recovery afloat while having a memorable trip!

Happy traveling – both on your road to recovery or your next vacation!

Claire BowarArticle by Claire Bowar, RD, CDN, LDN, CEDS
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