We are pleased to present a guest blog this week, written by a Kartini Clinic parent. We hope you enjoy her first-hand tips for traveling with a child on the Kartini Clinic meal plan. Many suggestions will be useful to parents who do not share our meal plan, but want general parent-to-parent tips about travelling with a child with an eating disorder.

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“There’s no place like home.” Dorothy’s famous words from The Wizard of Oz could not ring more true for a patient managing an eating disorder. There is something extremely comforting, especially for a patient with an eating disorder, about the predictability and reliability of being home with known entities and solid structure. Nothing brings this reality more to the forefront than the idea of travel.

Even so, sometimes getting away and having a change of scenery is truly the best medicine for patients and families in the thick of recovery. Supporting a patient who is struggling to manage an eating disorder is stressful and exhausting for all family members. Despite how daunting it may seem, travel is definitely possible and can often bring much needed respite, and even some levity, for everyone involved.

The important point to remember when traveling with a patient suffering from an eating disorder is that getting away cannot be confused with letting go. Quite the opposite, it means traveling with extra vigilance and extra baggage, literally.

The name of the game for successful travel is careful planning and attention to detail. Taking into consideration the unknown factors and trying to mitigate as many of these as possible prior to departure is not only helpful, it is critical for a successful trip. It is also important to be realistic about the feasibility of a potential destination. There are some types of travel that are truly just too difficult at different stages of recovery to even consider. Discussions with the patient’s medical team can help identify viable options.

Once a travel plan is in place, it is time to begin preparing for the adventure. Following is a checklist that highlights bigger picture topics to consider ahead of any trip.

  • Have a clear understanding of the destination and the specific type of accommodations. Having a kitchen, or access to a kitchen, is invaluable.
  • Research available groceries, especially if the destination is foreign or remote. Make lists of items used in everyday food preparation, being sure to include all grocery items most commonly used. Research which of these specific items (including brand names and quantities) are available and identify alternatives, as needed. Make sure your child understands that substitute foods, brands, and sometimes quantities (to meet caloric intake) will be part of the meal plan during travel.
  • Discuss possible dining scenarios with the entire family and let everyone ask questions. Often these discussions reveal potential issues to address that might not have already been on the radar. Research restaurant options and menus.  
  • Clearly communicate that traveling demands flexibility, especially for a child with an eating disorder. While a commitment to the Kartini Meal Plan never changes, the specific ways of meeting the meal plan criteria must be more fluid during travel. Everyone needs to understand and be comfortable with this reality.

With a general travel plan in place, the real work begins; nailing down the nitty, gritty details of the packing list. When traveling with a patient managing an eating disorder the stakes are much higher that nothing be overlooked or forgotten. No matter where you plan to travel, if it is not a familiar place, assume the creature comforts of home will not be available. Even in the most luxurious of rentals, basic household items such as measuring cups and spoons are often not stocked. Ask questions about what appliances and tools are actually on-site, such as a blender or toaster.  

In addition, following is a list of items to consider packing or shipping ahead

  • Benecalorie (if applicable): If it is part of your child’s meal plan, this may be the single most important item to remember. Calculate the number of containers needed. Then pack at least double the minimum amount needed, allowing for extras. Assume some will be damaged or spilled during travel. If traveling by airplane, pack adequate supplies in both carry-on and checked baggage in the event checked baggage does not arrive. Seal containers in ziplock bags to move through airport security and to minimize a mess in case of any leaks. It is also a good idea to request a letter from the your child’s doctor, citing Benecalorie as a medical necessity, that can be placed with the supplies in case there are questions at airport security or customs.
  • Medications and Supplements: Pill organizers are a lifesaver for travel. Measure daily dosages for the duration of the trip. Be sure to allocate a few extra days for unforeseen issues. These should be placed in carry-on if traveling via airplane.
  • Food Journal folder with an adequate supply of blank food journals. Be sure the folder is clearly marked with a contact name and phone number so it can be returned to you in case it is lost. This should be placed in carry-on if traveling via airplane.
  • Food scale
  • Collapsible measuring cup (found in camping/outdoor stores)
  • Measuring spoon (Tablespoon)
  • Spatula or other utensil(s) critical to food preparation
  • Digital photos of all Kartini Meal Plan guidelines
  • Sandwich and Gallon Ziplock bags (for packing food and snacks, as necessary
  • Portable Cooler
  • Freezer Packs for cooler (be sure these are placed in checked baggage if traveling by airplane)
  • Hydroflask bottles with straw lids (for patients with smoothies as part of the meal plan). This brand keeps drinks hot or cold for 24 hours, making it easy for travel and transport.

*Note: If traveling by airplane, consider packing all kitchen items in the portable cooler and using it as a carry-on to ensure their arrival at the destination.

Once travel begins, have fun and remember to stick to the meal plan. No matter what. Some days this will be easy and everything will go smoothly. Other days will demand creativity and real patience as the entire family navigates bumps in the road. Far from home (and direct Kartini support) exude confidence in decisions, at least regarding the meal plan, and wholeheartedly embrace the role of expert. Above all else, be empathetic. The unknown variables inevitable with travel are stressful and anxiety-inducing in general, but especially so for eating disorder patients. Take a deep breath, allow for some extra time, and remember this is a vacation. Try to find the humor in the self-induced chaos. As with any travel, there will be frustrations and setbacks, but hopefully everyone involved will find the outcome overwhelmingly positive.