Let’s face it: Most of the world–travel industry included–caters to people who drink. Whether it's an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise package, a tour of the South African coast with an extended pause at a winery, or complimentary liquor in your Tahoe Airbnb, it seems like you can’t escape booze when traveling. So how do you plan an enjoyable sober vacation?
Maureen Coulter of the sober travel blog The Temperate Traveler offers some advice for folks who are interested in sober vacation tips –whether you are in recovery, sober-curious or just not a fan of alcohol. As someone with 16 years in recovery who has traveled extensively across Europe, the US and Central America, Maureen has encountered pretty much every situation you can imagine as it relates to sober travel.
For anyone who is accustomed to alcohol being the focal point of their vacation, it can be a daunting task to plan a sober trip that is engaging, relaxing and meaningful. Here, The Temperate Traveler offers a guide for anyone seeking a fun, zero-proof getaway without the stress–or FOMO.
Plan–but not too much.
Whether it's your first time traveling sober or your 40th, it’s best to have a plan. Who are you traveling with, and are they supportive of your sobriety? What kinds of activities and tours are you partaking in? What is the drinking culture like in the place you are traveling to, and how much exposure will you have to alcohol? What are you going to say when (not if) someone offers you a drink? These are all questions to consider as you prepare for your journey.
If you are new to sober travel, you might want to start out with a trip in your home country, or at least to a place that speaks your native language. This removes some of the more complicated logistics from the equation. Destinations with a non-drinking culture, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, might take pressure off you as well.
It’s also important not to over-schedule. Booking a scuba-diving lesson in the morning, a city walking tour in the afternoon, and then evening dinner reservations is a recipe for crankiness and exhaustion, not to mention you will have less flexibility if you experience transportation delays, a lost key or a sea urchin spearing your foot.
2. Take care of yourself.
In 12-step programs, members talk about H.A.L.T.: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. We are human beings and we only have so much physical energy and mental capacity to get through each day. When I am ticked off that my hotel room isn’t ready, I haven't eaten in 12 hours and a baby in the next row kept me from sleeping on the plane, I am in a vulnerable state and might be more prone to obsessing about the airplane bottles of Ketel One in the mini-fridge. That’s why it’s important to take care of yourself as a sober traveler:
Make time for rest. When I was in Greece earlier this summer, I anticipated jet lag, so I made time for a nap after my morning Acropolis and Parthenon tour since the afternoon was going to be scorching hot anyway. It allowed me to be alert and present later in the day when the temperature was more comfortable for exploring outdoors.
Bring snacks from home. Since you don’t know the area, sometimes it’s hard to find a place you want to eat when you are hungry, especially when you first arrive. A Nature Valley bar or an apple keeps me from biting the head off my travel partner, or eating an expensive, mediocre burger at the hotel restaurant just because I am ravenous.
Schedule a massage and/or yoga class. It’s something to look forward to that also allows you to relax, and reduce the stress that inevitably comes with travel. I typically will do this mid-trip, to reset my mental and emotional state.
Connect with others. Tours are a great way to meet fellow travelers, as are recovery meetings. Whenever I am planning a trip, I check to see if there are any English-speaking 12-Step meetings in the vicinity. I’ve met some amazing people just by hitting a meeting in states and countries I’ve traveled to.
If you are vacationing with family or friends, make sure you have time apart. Take a cooking class separately, or spend time by yourself at a museum. Then you’ll have something to talk about at dinner and reduce the chance of getting on each others’ nerves.
3. Choose fun activities that don’t revolve around booze.
Find a breathtaking hiking spot, discover the best street food, coffee or dessert in town, go swimming or take a surf lesson. Or a unique experience, like a turtle release. There are also plenty of events and activities–sports, festivals, comedy shows–that serve alcohol, but are just as much if not more fun if you subtract booze from the equation. I’ve traveled to California for a music festival, London for a football game, and New York for a comedy show, and planned each trip around those events.
When booking a tour, it’s best to avoid ones that explicitly state that they offer an open bar or include a stop at, say, a tequila factory. Often, you will be the only one not drinking and it’s awkward. Sometimes that’s not possible. In this case, let the tour company know beforehand that you don’t drink alcohol, so you will reduce the chance that the guide will offer it to you. And check if they can accommodate you with a non-alcoholic beverage–maybe a fruity mocktail?
4. Enjoy yourself!
Take the opportunity to be fully present during your vacation. You’ll get to watch sunrises, meet interesting people, and immerse yourself in a different part of the country or in a new culture, with the added benefit of no hangovers and a smaller dinner tab. It’s truly an amazing way to go about the world.