As a former ‘Party Girl’ turned Certified Recovery & Life Coach and seasoned international traveler, I am excited to share my tips for how to stay alcohol-free on vacation.
Let me start by saying, vacations are so much better when enjoyed fully present and sober. I know this might be hard to believe, but after many vacations and travels both drinking and not drinking, I am here to say sobriety wins, every time. There are no wasted days. No coming home needing a vacation from your vacation. No foggy memories. No embarrassment. No cringy photos, social media posts, or new “friends” that you have to face after alcohol was doing the talking.
Yes, your first sober vacay might feel a little unsettling but I promise it gets easier. As a Sober Coach I have witnessed hundreds of people successfully complete sober vacations. No doubt when the time and place are right, you can do it too.
While vacationing sober is a wonderful milestone in any sobriety journey, it doesn’t have to (and perhaps shouldn’t) happen on day one. It’s important to ask yourself if you feel ready to go on a sober vacation before committing to any travel. Pay attention to what comes up for you when you think about traveling. If it’s fear and dread, that might be telling you it’s too soon. If it’s nerves, anxiety and nausea, that sounds like it’s not the right time. Listen to the signs of your body. Tune in to your needs.
Some people think they need to “test” themselves.
You might tell yourself:
“You can’t be shut in forever. You’ll have to get out sometime. Stop being a baby. You have to go live your life. What’s the big deal?”
If you’re hearing these voices in your head, know that I did too. But I learned that our thoughts aren’t always true or helpful, especially when recovering from alcohol. You don’t need to test your sobriety to prove that it’s real. All you have to do is listen to your needs.
Just because you say no to a vacation now, doesn’t mean you’ll never travel again. It means you’re still building your sobriety muscles and you need more time to practice at home. It’s admirable to accept where you are at in the recovery process, and take things at your own pace.
If you do feel ready to venture out on a sober vacation, the first step is to plan for success.
To me, planning for success on vacation means planning around activities. There are so many vacation ideas that don’t involve alcohol. Here’s are a few of my favorites:
I used to plan my vacations around my drinking schedule. All inclusive. All you can drink. I would prioritize opportunities to day drink with less guilt than on ‘non-vacation’ days. At almost 5 years sober, my vacations look very different now.
I am experiencing more, not less, thanks to sobriety.
Instead of hitting the clubs in Vegas, I hit the spas, restaurants, shows, and pools. Instead of drinking at the swim up bar on beach vacations, I engage in other poolside games, sand castles, water sports, and other activities.
I have more interest, more energy, and more motivation without alcohol.
How can you rethink your vacations?
I never thought I could sit around a campfire sober. Now, I love being fully present for cozy conversation with a warm alcohol-free drink in my hand as the fire is crackling. I always loved the intimate group conversation around a fire. All along I was crediting the alcohol for it. It wasn’t the alcohol. It was sitting under the stars with people that I love. As yourself: Are you giving alcohol too much credit for experiences too?
Wellness is also a priority for me and I keep that in check even while on vacation. I am not constantly in a drink-and-recover cycle. Steam rooms and saunas are not for alcohol detox anymore. Running and yoga are no longer punishment for overindulging the night before. These are now simply for pleasure, not punishment or hangover routines.
One final point I want to make about planning your sober vacation. A sober vacation doesn’t have to sound fun to anyone but you. Maybe it’s simply laying in a hammock or completing a puzzle on a screened in porch. Maybe it’s making music in a circle of people you love. Staying in your pj’s until noon, playing Scrabble, or walking the dog through a lovely park. Think about what you love and what you want. Then plan a vacation around that, not alcohol.
Once your dreamy sober vacation is planned, here are my tips for sober success.
Here are a few of my key tips for having a fun, relaxing, and sober vacation:
Let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these pointers.
What are your goals on vacation? To rest and relax? To experience a new location? To spend time with family? To take tender loving care of yourself? To not abandon yourself by checking out with alcohol no matter how uncomfortable you feel? To be sober, even if that means not participating in some things?
When your intentions are clear, your actions will follow.
Sober vacations definitely look different than drinking vacations, and that’s okay. If you’re used to measuring the success of your vacation by how many drinks you have, it may take some time to adjust. In early sobriety, it was really important for me to stick to my morning rituals and alcohol-free nighttime routines, even on vacation. I like to wake up early and spend some time alone drinking coffee, journaling, and doing some yoga stretches or meditation. This sets me up for an intentional day.
One key to setting yourself up for success is to intentionally avoid triggers. For example, I don’t wait at the bar before a meal. I find another nook or step outside instead. I only go to happy hour if there’s an alcohol-free option for me. I don’t spend my time in drinking establishments. If drinking is the main activity, I opt out. Instead of spending my entire vacation day drinking, I now like to stay active. Instead of sitting at the swim up bar, I play volleyball in the pool. Instead of an early happy hour, I take a siesta before dinner. I enjoy entertainment and dancing, but when things get late and out of hand, I skip off to my bed. I look forward to washing my face, getting cozy in cute pj’s and reading my book. I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything, because I know I’ll feel amazing the following day.
Remember that you can always set a boundary to avoid potentially triggering activities. I’ve had a few clients tell their travel groups they didn’t want to do wine tasting. In a few instances, it turned out many others in the group wanted to skip that part too. In one case, they even went to a field of lavender instead. You can avoid, replace, or substitute a triggering event or activity. It’s okay not to join in on everything!
There may be a short list of things that I don’t want to do, but that leaves a long list of things I do want to do. Most of the magic I’ve experienced on vacation is because I am sober and not drinking. I would never want to climb a mountain while hungover. I have more money to spend on food and entertainment because I am not drinking. I can fully participate in every activity I do, because I am operating at 100%, one hundred percent of the time.Now, I am in awe of the evening light shows, the delicious taste of new foods, and connecting with people instead of hiding in shame. Getting ice cream at night has replaced an alcoholic nightcap. I do early morning beach yoga instead of laying in bed with the shades drawn praying for a different life. As you plan your vacation, think about which activities sound the most exciting to you. Having these ideas already planned will make it easier to stay away from anything centered around alcohol.
If possible, consider directing some of the funds you might have used on alcohol towards a spa day or other pampering activity. Taking good care of myself is such a sober treat for me. Massages, manicures, facials, steam rooms, sauna, and time alone, all contribute to keeping me happily sober, which is absolutely worth the investment.Treating myself to local art, room service, or the freshest fruit juice possible are other ways I spoil myself on vacation. This may sound excessive, but it takes care of me and it typically costs less than alcohol.
My journey to freedom from alcohol has also taught me to ask for what I want. That could look like asking my fellow vacation goers for some alone time, or seeing if the hotel can include a plush robe in my room. I am no longer afraid to put myself first. I am not hiding in a shame cave anymore because of my drinking.
I mostly travel with my family which works out great. I have also traveled with a group of sober people, which is amazing. There are times when I travel with people that drink alcohol too. This gets easier with time. I have learned to stay in my own lane when it comes to drinking. I have fun with my friends that drink and they are respectful of my choices. They support me in finding menus with alcohol-free drinks. Our connection is our conversation and friendship, not alcohol. We have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning playing cards, listened to live music, made friends with strangers, and danced on tabletops together. It might surprise you to know these are all things I’ve done while sober.
On the other hand, some people aren’t the right travel companions for me, and that’s okay! It’s important to feel safe and comfortable with your crew. If you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with turning down an invite.
When you are away you can still stay connected with your home base sober support system. Make it a point to step away to attend alcohol support groups, check in with your therapist, or reach out to a supportive friend. Engaging with your sober support will make it easier to stay connected to your goals. Maybe you want to carve out time to listen to a sober podcast while walking the beach, read a ‘Quit Lit’ book while poolside, or check out sober social media groups. Whatever works for you, don’t be afraid to integrate your at-home support network into your vacation lifestyle.
For me, my sober ‘packing list’ is key. My journal, daily sober emails, meditation app, sober counter, and lavender essential oil were key tools in the beginning. Bring the things that comfort you in sobriety along on vacation. That might be a special tea to enjoy at night, a worry stone to hold, your favorite scented candle, a fancy bath bomb, or a cooler full of alcohol-free beverages. Maybe it’s your own blanket or pillow that comforts you. Download your favorite movie so you have something to look forward to if you decide to tuck in early.
Ultimately, the key to vacationing while sober is to remember that your recovery can (and should) always come first. In the beginning, this sounded like a penalty for drinking too much. With time, I found the immense beauty in this. . You will come to see, through self-discovery and recovery, that if you have your sobriety, you have yourself. If you have yourself, then you have everything.
Changing your relationship with alcohol is something to celebrate – at home, on vacation, and everywhere in between! Schedule a complimentary call f you’re looking for additional support on your journey.