When I was about ten months sober I discovered an unusually cheap roundtrip airfare to Copenhagen. Yes, this is something I regularly do. Some people watch the stock market, I watch airfare prices. My time in Copenhagen included jumping on trains going in the wrong direction and spontaneous rainstorms. It also included meeting some incredible humans, visiting my first open flower market and partaking in one of the most beautiful race courses. By the end of my trip I was buzzing. Not because I had run a spectacular race or done anything too extraordinary. There is a feeling you get when you combine a challenge with a new experience. It’s, well, euphoric.
As I sat in the Copenhagen airport, waiting for my flight to depart, I couldn’t help but think how differently the weekend would have looked had alcohol been involved. Traveling and alcohol are entwined with one another. We are a product of the culture we live in where the overconsumption of alcohol is normalized and it is expected that every travel experience will involve drinking alcohol. We have been conditioned by every advertisement romanticizing sipping cocktails poolside or watching the sunset over glasses of wine. The after image, however, is never shown. The photo of falling asleep after spending the entire day drinking on the beach. The missed flight home because of one too many drinks at the airport bar. But here’s the truth, the world is not going to suddenly change. Alcohol is here to stay. It’s up to you to learn how to navigate travel without it.
Maybe you’ve already taken the leap and eliminated alcohol from your life. Maybe you’re “sober curious” and have embarked on a 100 day alcohol free challenge. Maybe you are just beginning to question your relationship with alcohol. Or maybe you just want to have a vacation you are 100% present for. Whatever stage you are at, the thought of traveling alcohol free can be intimidating. These are my top tips and strategies for traveling alcohol free.
EAT YOUR MAIN MEAL AT LUNCH
For many, thoughts of drinking only begin in the late afternoon. Getting through the day without drinking is no problem until the clock strikes 5:00. Then suddenly all bets are off. This can be even worse while traveling where we are typically eating out with others who may or may not be drinking themselves. If you plan on eating your main meal at lunch you can avoid this issue altogether. Later in the day simply grab a light dinner. If you have a kitchen available, cook something yourself where you are in control of the environment.
PLAN ACTIVITIES AHEAD FOR THE MORNING
Mornings are a magical time when you are traveling and not drinking. Most of the world is still asleep and it is often a time when you can have the entire city or town all to yourself as you watch it waking up. You will be far less likely to succumb to drinking in the evening if you have activities planned for early morning. Some activities (depending where you are) could include finding a new coffee shop each morning, finding the best spot to watch the sunrise or get your camera and take some shots without other people in them. Plan an early morning run or walk (many cities have early morning walking tours available). The point is to have something planned. This also provides a good reason to excuse yourself from staying out too late.
HAVE YOUR HOTEL OR AIRBNB REMOVE ANY ALCOHOL
If you prefer not having alcohol where you will be staying call ahead and ask it be removed. A hotel will gladly empty the minibar if there is one in the room. A simple message to your host on AirBnb stating you prefer no alcohol in the home or room is all it takes. I find most AirBnb hosts will leave other tasty treats in lieu of alcohol. If going on a group tour, let the tour leader know ahead of time that you do not drink alcohol to ensure they will have other beverages on hand for you.
STICK TO YOUR ROUTINE
If you have a regular routine at home try to stick to it as closely as possible. If you usually go to bed at 10 pm and wake up at 6 am, do the same while you are traveling. If you are use to waking up and exercising before breakfast, do the same while traveling. Of course there will be exceptions but if you can stick as closely as possible to your normal routine, your body, and brain, will feel more calm and relaxed.
THINK THROUGH TRIGGERS BEFORE YOU LEAVE
Instead of waiting until you’re traveling to figure out your triggers, try to think of them ahead of time so you will be well prepared. Sit down with a paper and pen and go through your travel plans day by day. Your body will usually let you know if something does not feel right. For instance, if there is a night planned out meeting friends for dinner and you know everyone will be drinking this could be triggering. Options could include: meet for lunch instead; look at the restaurant menu ahead of time and make sure there are nonalcoholic options; opt out of the dinner altogether; make sure you can leave early if needed. The point is to plan ahead for certain scenarios that may arise while traveling so you can be prepared and not caught off guard.
PACK A SOBER TRAVEL TOOLKIT
This may be one of the best things you can do for yourself when traveling alcohol free. A tool is anything we can use as a coping mechanism, or as a way to shift/relieve our current state. Those of us who abstain from alcohol often have what we refer to as a “sobriety toolbox”, an assortment of items we use to help self regulate. A “travel toolkit” works in much the same way. What you have in your toolkit will depend on you and your needs. Some items in mine include: essential oils, travel journal, assortment of teas, bose sleep buds, books on audible and meditations on insight timer and snacks (larabars, nuts).
HAVE AN ACCOUNTABILITY BUDDY
Doing something difficult, especially for the first time, is always easier when you are doing it with someone else. So how do you find an accountability buddy? There are lots of ways. It all depends on your comfort level and who you believe would be the most helpful. It could be a spouse or a close friend. It could also be someone from one of the many online support groups. There are also life/recovery coaches that can offer great support for these types of scenarios. Find someone who you feel comfortable with and who will hold you accountable while on your travels.
Something I have always done is reward myself with sober treats. In early sobriety it was important to associate sobriety with something positive. My sober treats included things as simple as ordering takeout, to bigger treats like a weekend away with my husband. The same rings true while you are travelling. Treat yourself! Splurge on a spa treatment or make a reservation for a special restaurant. You’re not spending money on drinks so why not divert the funds to something special. These special treats will remind you, not only of the trip, but also about how awesome it is to not be drinking alcohol.
STAY HYDRATED AND EAT
Traveling can be hard! Travel days are often long and exhausting. Do not forget the basics. Stay hydrated and don’t forget to eat. Pack a water bottle you can refill and snacks. Make sure you have a bit of protein every few hours so your energy levels do not drop and try to avoid overly sugary snacks. Set a timer on your phone as a reminder to stop and have some water and a bite to eat.
CHECK YOUR MINDSET
Lastly, mindset matters. Before heading on your way take a minute or two to think about what you want out of your travels. Instead of heading into your trip with a deprivation mindset, thinking you are missing out, focus on how amazing you will feel being clear headed and present for your trip. Write out on a notecard what your hopes are for the trip (to come home well rested, to create memories with your family, to experience something new). Keep this notecard where you can access during your trip as a reminder to yourself.
I am not here to try and convince anyone to start living an alcohol free lifestyle. That is a decision everyone needs to make for themselves. I am here to show you how traveling alcohol free can enhance your experience. Not only is alcohol free travel possible, it far surpasses any buzz derived from a bottle. So book your ticket, pack your bag and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.