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Sure, a couple of beers make it easier to walk up to that cute Brazilian. But can we really not make deep connections without the bottle involved?

Photo: swimparallel

Drinking alcohol tends to be a large part of many traveler’s itineraries.

Ok, maybe not ‘itineraries,’ per se, but checking out a local pub or expat bar usually plays into the travel experience.

Sometimes, drinking is taken entirely too far, and ruins a trip or friendships. Other times, it simply creates too many missed hikes or day trips because of those gosh-darn hangovers that make you want to hurl at the thought of rolling out of that uncomfortable hostel bed.

So here we go with a new study that lets us know if you don’t drink alcohol, you’re more than likely to be depressed. Even more so than a heavy drinker, apparently. Alrighty, then.

And it’s not just depression, no no. It’s also anxiety disorders.

When they try and break down the “why,” it seems that most people who completely abstain from alcohol either have some extreme illness like chronic fatigue, or are former alcoholics, both of which are more prone toward “melancholy.”

Added to that is “the most powerful explanation”:

…It seems to be that abstainers have fewer close friends than drinkers, even though they tend to participate more often in organized social activities. Abstainers seem to have a harder time making strong friendship bonds, perhaps because they don’t have alcohol to lubricate their social interactions.

Yes, alcohol is a lubricant. When traveling, this can be especially helpful in sliding your way into a new situation where you don’t know anyone (especially when traveling alone). But really, abstainers have a harder time making strong friendship bonds? We clearly can’t be trusted to connect without a little tequila (or vodka, or red wine…).

I wonder if this is more an issue of self-acceptance and self-determination more than anything else. Not to say I don’t ever partake in a little drinky-drinky myself…

Do you think alcohol is a necessary social lubricant while traveling? Share your thoughts below.

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About The Author

Christine Garvin

Christine Garvin is a certified Nutrition Educator and holds a MA in Holistic Health Education. She is the founder/editor of Living Holistically...with a sense of humor and co-founder of Confronting Love. When she is not out traveling the world, she is busy writing, doing yoga, and performing hip-hop and bhangra. She also likes to pretend living in her hippie town of Fairfax, CA is like being on vacation.

  • Julie

    Thanks for this, Christine. Alcohol’s definitely not necessary to connect. In fact, I think it may make it harder sometimes to connect authentically and deeply beyond that one-time encounter.

  • Nancy

    I don’t think boozing is necessary to connect on the road, but I agree wholeheartedly that it acts as a social lubricant. Not only does drinking usually open people up, but it also provides a venue (bar, pub, club, rooftop of hostel) to meet a greater percentage of fellow travelers than say standing in line at a museum, grocery store etc.

  • Eva

    I think the key to this study is likely to be found in the reasons people don’t drink – it’s an unusual choice in our culture, and as the article notes, often linked to illness or personal history. (The only guys I know who don’t drink are worried about turning into their fathers, for instance.) So I don’t think it’s a causal relationship – not drinking = can’t make friends. I think they’re probably both symptoms of something else.

  • Candice

    Wow, interesting article. Now that I’ve sat down and thought about this a bit, I’ve met nearly all my incredible friends through nights out, going to parties, hitting up a pub, etc. I think drinking is good for easing you into an uncomfortable place…alcohol has helped me approach many people to hit them up for conversation, but it’s whether or not we carry out the relationship later that matters. Bottom line: don’t get black-out drunk. ;)

  • valodniece

    I find alcohol completely unnecessary. But it does seem to be harder to meet people while traveling if you don’t drink, since everyone else seems to, and hence goes tramping off to the pub. Is there some sort of non-drinkers Meetup that gets together in various cities around the world? Because that would be nice.

    I don’t drink alcohol. I think it tastes vile (especially beer-type drinks, including ales and lagers, which seem to be most peoples’ drinks of choice). And yes, I’ve tried many different kinds. I don’t like pubs, bars or any other establishment that revolves around consuming alcohol. I find them terribly dull, because they’re usually full of people getting drunk, with little conversation able to be had because it is so loud. Give me a cafe, dance club or a chilled-out restaurant any day, because then you can actually *do* something besides just consume alcohol.

    I have plenty of good friends – both drinkers and non-drinkers – so the idea that in that study that non-drinkers have a harder time making strong friendships is, excuse the language, utter bollocks. I prefer getting to know friends in a clear state, so I can actually know *them*, rather than through the bottom of a glass, be it mine or theirs.

  • Llynda

    I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in well over a year, and yes, that includes wine (for some reason, people seem to think non-drinkers make exceptions for the more sophisticated glass of wine). I’m more confident, as drinking only brought out my insecurities and made me wonder if I was making a fool of myself. I also feel truer to myself, as I honestly don’t like the taste of alcohol (barring plum wine with sushi, the one time I miss it!), and when I used to drink it was because of a social obligation and not because I enjoyed it. I no longer feel guilty for turning down a shot, or physically worse for accepting it. The only drawback I’ve noticed is that it’s hard to explain to people, which is inevitable if I go out.

  • NYer in NZ

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. I don’t have statistics at my fingertips, but I would guess that the percentage of the adult population who abstains from drinking is quite small in proportion to those who do (because this includes those who occasionally indulge in a glass of wine all the way up to those who teat whiskey like water). It’s just a common level of relating among a myriad of differences.

    I would expect similar outcomes to those who have never had a job mingling with those who are employed, since work can often find its way into conversation, or those with strong exceptionally strong religious convictions in a fairly secular setting. And of course, the lack of inhibition that alcohol provides can make for shared conversations and adventures that many shyer individuals may not experience otherwise.

  • Corbin

    I think comedian Jim Jefferies said it best when he said- “If you don’t drink, you’re boring and all your stories suck”

    I have a few friends that don’t drink, but I’m one hundred percent with Jim Jefferies in that their stories tend to be lame, and always end with “…and then I went home”… And if you’re trying to make friends, talking about the 3 cats you have waiting at home for you isn’t gonna score you any “street cred”. I respect abstaining from alcohol, but sometimes a little liquid confidence is all you need in order to make some new friends in a new place.

    • Candice

      Corbin, just checked out your website and I love it. When you get to Newfoundland, hit me up and we’ll head out for a drink on the town…and that’s exactly the kind of bonding that alcohol offers!

  • Kevin Post

    For me alcohol is a waste of time and money. I don’t drink (unless it is a good glass of wine once in a great while) and I have more money and so much more energy than my fellow travelers as a result. Besides, I can’t climb +6000 meter peaks by being a drunk. I also disagree with the study, I am a very happy person :)

    If you need to drink to meet people then maybe you should get some help.

    • Carlo Alcos

      I wouldn’t call everyone who enjoys a drink or two a “drunk”. There are many who handle their drinking very responsibly, who might only want/need one or two drinks to loosen up a bit. They don’t “need help”.

  • clake

    no, alcohol is not necessary to connect, but when I do need to talk with some expats (speak full sentences) a bar is usually where I’ll find the local expats. And in reality, the locals drink/toast a whole lot more than the expats.

  • Tyler Long

    I’ve had the pleasure to travel the world through touring in bands, all the while I’ve been Straight Edge. For those who don’t know what that is, its purposely not consuming alcohol, tobacco or drugs for personal, social or political reasons. It makes it hard to make friends sometimes because of a lack of similar interests, but at the same time I’ve made plenty of wonderful friends on the road, drinkers and not drinkers alike. You may not make the volume of friends that drinkers make, but you make mostly quality friends not drinking. Ones who will respect you and your choices.

  • Turner

    Glad you’re writing this up. I didn’t have a drop until I was 21 (believe it or not) and didn’t have more than a beer or two until I went over to Japan at 24. I really think this played a big part in forming strong friendships in high school – not that I think 16-year-olds should be drinking, but like you said, it’s a lubricant – socializing in college, and eventually getting girlfriends. When I was 22 and living in Alaska for the summer, I wouldn’t drink with the boys after a day of work, and they always seemed to resent me for it, saying things like “I want to know what your problem is”… well, I just didn’t want to drink. I considered myself morally superior to those that did, and thought there was something wrong with them if they required alcohol to have any kind of good time.

    Now I know the issue’s not so black and white. Obviously if you’re pretty anti-social to begin with, alcohol’s not really going to open too many doors for you. By the same token, if you’re outgoing, you generally have no problem making friends in organized groups, walking to the store, even chatting someone up at the post office. But many of us are in the middle of the road, and I believe alcohol is necessary to form tighter friendships in that respect. Like Candice said, never reach the point where you feel you have to drink yourself into stupor to have a good time, but if you go out in groups and have to explain why you don’t want to drink with them, then an invisible line is formed, like it or not.

    As for myself, I guess I really starting to see the drinking side of things after about a year in Japan and countless nights in a Fukuoka nightclub (3000 yen for all you can drink all night). I drink, but I’ve never gotten drunk. And I don’t think a lot of my travel experiences would be as rich without some alcohol stories or some regular stories told over a cold one.

  • Alina

    Yes, we all should drink’ until we die

  • Christine Garvin

    Thanks for your comments, everyone. Turner’s comment reminded me of the time period in my 20s when I couldn’t drink (which interestingly enough, I didn’t recall when I was writing this up). On and off for a good 4 years, I didn’t touch it at all because I was sick, and abstaining from alcohol (among other things) was part of the get-better protocol. It was one of the hardest times socially in my life. Explaining why I wasn’t drinking (or eating certain foods) definitely strikes at other people’s comfort zones, as well as my own.

    I had been drinking since I was in high school, not over the top, but definitely used it as a way to make myself comfortable in large crowds. Really, it’s only been in the past two years that I’ve realized I hate big large crowds of people at things like concerts, etc., so alcohol really helped. Now, I can drink alcohol again, but that time off taught me a lot about myself, and I am much more aware of the “why” (enjoying wine at a dinner or a party with new or old friends, or wanting a vodka tonic because of feeling extremely uncomfortable and wanting that feeling to go away?).

    Also as I have become more comfortable with me, I recognize less of a need to find the bar as soon as I walk in the door of a club (or party, or event, or [insert here]).

  • Carlo Alcos

    It was always a commonality between my friends growing up. Since I started traveling more later in life – when I drink much less – I haven’t really thought about it in a traveling sense, but for me alcohol definitely breaks down the barriers and makes it much easier to socialize. I responded to this article at my blog, if you’re interested.

  • Fresh Airfares

    Caffeine is a great social lubricant too, I’ve met some cool people in coffee shops, including a Starbucks in Kyoto.

    When you’re solo on the road, there is a bigger need to make connections and alcohol (social lubricant) helps.

    If you’re traveling with friends or family then you already have that human connection, and there is less need to seek it.

  • Ernesto

    I find alcohol unnecessary. Being straight-edge at home means I’m always the designated driver. On the road, it becomes a social handicap, because most travelers drink and a lot smoke. For many travelers, an evening drink at the bar seems to be more important than a morning stroll thru town.

    Luckily, I don’t travel to meet other travelers. I travel to meet locals. And, during my travels, I’ve found locals to be much more understanding (of my desire to avoid alcohol) than travelers.

    I’m glad I’m straightedge because it means I have more time, money and energy to devote to the actual “traveling” part.

  • Candice

    I’m a little taken aback by the condescending attitude towards drinkers here. I’m a drinker myself, but I have dozens of friends who are non-drinkers and it’s never been an issue between us. Sure some alcoholics are idiots, but they’re the kinda people you just ignore and they’ll be too drunk to remember your disagreement later anyway.

    Personally, a city’s nightlife is my most favorite part of travel. I love seeing a city or town come alive at night, I feel that that the atmosphere entirely shifts in the later evening when people come out to have a carefree, good time. Plus, at most nightclubs, bars and pubs I’ve visited, there’s a great mix of both expats and locals. Myself, and friends I’ve travelled with, have never let a hangover or a boozefest stop us from getting out and continuing our travels the next day, and we certainly don’t consider our money “wasted”.

  • Benny the Irish polyglot

    I wrote precisely about why I don’t need to drink as I travel, in particular when I am speaking foreign languages.
    Alcohol is completely unnecessary for socialising. The PUB is necessary, simply as a way of gathering people interested in socialising in one place. Throwing some liquid down your throat just because everyone else is, is not being social. The parts between the drinks; the actual talking, is the social part.
    I had a look at your “alcohol abstainers at a higher risk of depression” link and was amazed at the huge jump in logic that it seems to be treating as incidental. It’s the same logic used to make people think that life without the glass of wine is unhealthy. The most important part of that article is that “some abstainers were formerly heavy drinkers”, some people don’t drink because they medically can’t, or because they take much heavier drugs, or because they simply can’t afford to – which can all lead to depression, that has nothing to do with the reasons the article is implying that lead to depression. Simply not ever starting to drink and learning how to be social naturally is surely a better alternative. It’s a psychological problem. Frankly, despite the fact that alcohol clearly has mind altering effects, it’s a placebo in terms of being a “social lubricant” for some people. If they didn’t wait for beer’s permission to have fun, they could do it! It’s definitely harder at first, but it’s a mental barrier that you could get over with some work, and getting a pint is a quick solution rather than dealing with social awkwardness head on.
    I go out several times a week, am the first person on the dance floor and the first to sing at karaokes and I run on nothing but orange juice. To this day nobody has explained to me why I would want to throw away money, my ability to think clearly and my liver just so I can be another sheep and do what everyone else does…
    Sadly I have to lie and tell people that I’ve already got a drink “waiting for me”, rather than pointlessly try to convince them that some of us don’t need beer’s permission to have fun. When I’m out and having lots of fun, people presume that I needed drink to reach that stage, and I prefer to avoid the discussion when I’m out. I wonder what all of these people do during the rest of the week! I find it a depressing thought that I could only have fun once or twice a week and only at night time… (or all week long and be an alcoholic)

  • starr

    “Need it to have fun” and “enjoy it a lot” are not the same thing. Some people think that beer tastes really good and enjoy all the different types and flavors.

  • Jasmine Wanders

    I haven’t had a drink for 5 years, and I traveled for 2 years. I love going out to clubs and bars, and most people don’t seem to notice I’m not drinking. All of the people I’ve met traveling that I’ve kept in contact with I’ve met in a guesthouse, on a bus, et cetera, and then go out with them afterward. I don’t recall meeting anyone that’s remained in my life long-term at a bar while I’ve been traveling.

    Not only that, but I save a ton of money from not drinking. I may buy one Red Bull (or its equivalent) when I go out and that’s it. I get to travel longer and have to save less than my drinking counterparts. My non drinking hasn’t been a hindrance so far, and I don’t think my stories are any more or less boring than someone who does drink. I lived a crazy life before my decision to stop drinking, and I think I’m more entertaining now :)

  • Johnny

    To Turner’s comment…

    Not trying to start an argument here but I disagree with what you said. There is no “invisible line” when you turn down a drink. There’s only you and taking your own actions. So what if they think they think you got a problem. If its for your health then why not turn it down. If they’re really you’re “boys” as you say then they wouldn’t have any problems with you turning down a drink. Simple as that. Again, there’s no moral superiority here. You know that drinks don’t make you a better person then why bother with them.

  • Mr. Jones

    Valodneice: You go to dance clubs for conversation instead of pubs?

    I drink because it makes me awesome at everything.

  • Mr. Jones

    P.S. You’re all virgins.

  • Amanda

    Personally, I think alcohol plays a large part in understanding culture and history.

    A trip to Italy without tasting a real Chianti?
    A summer in France without partaking in their Bordeaux?
    A study-abroad in Czech Republic without throwing back a pilsner?
    Japan without sake?
    Korea without soju?

    When you’re tired of the temples or galleries or monuments, the place to keep the cultural exchange going, whether with others or not, is in the pub.

  • Sandy

    The only time someone cares about what’s in your glass is when they have a problem themselves.  If you like booze, drink it, some of it is delicious, if you don’t, don’t. Problems only arise when people get all judgey about it. Go to a pub and have a coke, fine, but don’t sit there and leer at the people drinking a beer or think they’re inferior. If you’re drinking, don’t constantly be the ass who’s, well a drunken ass. In the end who really cares if you’re drinking or not? Just don’t be an overbearing idiot about whatever choice you make.

  • Luis Gonzalez

    Alcohol is awesome at helping you let go and just relax and be more open….

    but far from necessary. As I said, it is awesome at helping you -relax- and be -more open-

    alcohol is unecessary if you already are completely relaxed, open and joyful. that is, as you say, if you are completely self-determined and comfortable.

    i have experienced awesome moments socially, both with and without alcohol. nothing beats being in completely harmony with yourself, and transmitting that awesome energy to others…. it always bounces back. :) 

    with or without booze, being in good company and feeling good about yourself is the key to successful bonding.

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