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Sober Travel: How Not to Fall Apart Without Your Routine and Support System

by Claire O'Brien May 9, 2019

Getting sober might be the hardest thing you ever do. And if travel and alcohol have always been intertwined for you, kicking the booze habit can be absolutely devastating. If asked before I quit drinking, I would have dismissed sober travel as not only unfun but pretty much impossible. How can I backpack around Ireland and not have a pint? Barcelona without vino? And how can I travel with my friends who still drink?

Even if you’ve been sober for years, travel can shake your confidence in navigating the world without picking up a drink. One minute you’re a badass sober warrior, but the next you’re panicking about your achievements coming crumbling down. Truth is, after a little practice, traveling sober actually opens up more opportunities, not less. But that’s only if you have a plan to keep from falling apart without the routine and support system that’s kept you sober so far. Here are seven tips to keep you grounded while tackling that travel bucket list sober.

Recreate your routine on the road.

Travel is all about experiencing the new, but now’s not the time to abandon your entire routine. If you start the day with meditation, yoga and a green juice, keep up those habits on the road. Herbal tea bags don’t take up much room, but even liters of tonic water can be brought into checked luggage. Unwieldy, yes, but if that’s your evening routine, pack the Schweppes. Plan ahead so you can replicate your routine whether you’re in Detroit or Delhi. You can also consider packing a mocktail of choice so you’ll have something familiar and celebratory to sip on your first night away.

Keep the lines of communication open.

Infinite forms of recovery support are found on apps in our pocket, and the savvy sober traveler prepares for a trip by downloading favorites in advance. Recovery meetings apps, such as Meeting Guide, are a lifesaver for finding a local meeting anywhere in the world. Or bring the meeting to you by checking out recovery podcasts, like Recovery Elevator or This Naked Mind. With app-based therapy options like Talkspace, even extended travel won’t interfere with your mental health. Traveling is an opportunity to get away but it shouldn’t be an excuse to isolate; reach out for support when you need it.

Stay accountable by sharing your journey.

When you’re open to others about your recovery, you remove the likelihood of slinking back to your old ways without anyone noticing. Consider telling your travel companions that you no longer drink long before you embark, and they’ll be less likely to pressure you into a sketchy round of drinking games. Other ways to stay accountable on the road might include daily check-ins with a sober buddy, tracking your length of sobriety using a sobriety app, joining a group support group on Hello Sunday Morning or participating in a sobriety challenge via the Reddit group r/stopdrinking.

Prioritize the all-important downtime.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of travel planning and try to cram all of a destination’s must-sees and must-dos into a single trip. When you’re tired, stressed, and overwhelmed, that’s when you are at your most vulnerable to slip, relapse, or just experience a miserable time. Recharge by taking the afternoon off from sightseeing, skipping the crowded landmarks, or simply having some well-deserved hammock time. It might feel strange to put your needs first, but remember that H.A.L.T — being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired — is often the origin of relapse behavior.

Don’t forget to research your new drink order.

Forget FOMO — get excited about the interesting refrescos you’ll be sampling! After you’ve figured out your itinerary, the best beaches, and how to say, “Where is the bathroom?” start studying what non-alcoholic options locals enjoy. International cultural attitudes towards alcohol swing wildly, and not every country places the reverence on boisterous consumption as others. Even destinations that are well known for their beer, wine, or spirits often have equally interesting (and socially acceptable) non-alcoholic options to sip on while lingering at a pub or cafe. Think citron presse in Paris, mint tea in Istanbul, or elderflower soda in Sarajevo. For extra points, practice ordering your local mocktail in the local language. Živili!

Bribe yourself with sober rewards.

Being uncomfortable is part of travel. The trick is not letting a missed flight or a lost bag totally derail your sober intentions. To get myself past the uncomfortable moments after I quit drinking, I instituted a policy of sober rewards. The rules of the game are simple: Survive [insert a length of time] sober, get [fun thing]! For example, after navigating the London Underground, a transatlantic flight, and then walking seven blocks in the rain, you arrive at your hotel in New York City bedraggled but still sober… well, dial up room service and order that $11 slice of cheesecake.

Plan for success by remembering “Sober Places, Sober People.”

You’re sober, not superhuman, so skip the party-charged atmospheres of spring break destinations and choose locales and activities that aren’t solely focused on drinking. If all your friends prefer to party hard when they’re on vacay, it may not be the best option to travel with them. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean you have to go alone.

Group sober travel is a trend on the rise. You can find sober retreats and international travel catering to many different interests, such as Mediterranean cruises, yoga retreats in Mexico, backpacking the Sierra Nevadas, or even traveling through Thailand and Cambodia. Benefit from like-minded companions while making connections allowing you to form a sober travel squad of your own for future adventures. You’ll probably have more fun (and fewer regrets) whitewater rafting in Costa Rica than watching the spectacle at Señor Frogs, anyway.

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