I rarely traveled when I was a drinker.
For one thing, I couldn’t afford it. I was spending more money on booze and cigarettes than I was on rent and food. These addictions didn’t leave much room in my budget for travel and entertainment.
But, even if I could have afforded to travel, I still wouldn’t have had any interest.
The sad reality is that drinking was the most important priority in my life, and I was uninterested in traveling because I knew it would interfere with my habit.
I drank every single night, with only a handful of exceptions each year—normally during failed attempts to quit. Each evening I’d get home from work, open a beer, and then keep drinking until it was time to go to sleep.
I didn’t like interruptions in this routine. I’d skip parties to stay at home and drink. I’d avoid networking events so that I could sit in my apartment and get wasted. Similarly, traveling just wasn’t as important to me as drinking.
On the rare occasions when I had to travel, the experience was miserably stressful. Plane rides drove me crazy because I couldn’t smoke cigarettes. I’d wear nicotine patches and chew nicotine gum (at the same time, despite the many warnings against it.)
The day I arrived somewhere new, the first thing I’d do would be to find some alcohol to bring back to the hotel room. My greatest fear was having to get through the night without booze.
I can still remember the shame I felt from going through so much beer and having to leave the empties in the tiny hotel trash cans.
It was even worse when I visited my family. At my parent’s house, I’d wait until they fell asleep before getting drunk. Then, I’d sneak the empty cans to the recycling bins outside, doing my best to bury them under cereal boxes and packing materials so that my parents wouldn’t notice how much I was drinking.
I didn’t want them to know about my addiction, but I also couldn’t bring myself to make it through even a single day without getting drunk.
Hiding my addiction was so stressful that it would ruin these trips entirely. Travel was so miserable that I just wanted to stay in my city, locked in my apartment, getting drunk every night on my own. So, for the most part, that’s exactly what I did.
After I quit, I became far more interested in traveling. With my alcoholism out of the way, I wanted to finally experience the world.
Of course, I’ve been a bit limited, as everyone has, because of the global pandemic. Fortunately, these days, with travel opened up again, I’ve been trying my best to do it more.
What’s it like to travel as a sober person? All of the stresses of drinking are gone, but have they been replaced with the stresses of sobriety?
Initially, I was worried that going on vacations would trigger my desire to drink, perhaps even leading to a relapse. I’m happy to report, however, that this hasn’t been the case at all. As I’ve begun to dip my toes into traveling, my sobriety has remained strong.
A great tip that I’ve learned is to travel with other sober people. One of the first vacations I took after getting sober was to visit my cousin’s farm. He’s sober too, which took drinking completely out of the equation for both of us. The trip was fun and it never felt like my sobriety was at risk for a second. In fact, I didn’t really think about alcohol the entire time.
Later, I took a trip to the mountains with another sober friend. We stayed in a city known for craft brewing, which worried me a bit as we were planning the vacation. However, the reality was that since we were both sober, alcohol just wasn’t on our radar. We found plenty of fun things to do, and it never felt like we had to go out of our way to avoid alcohol.
Traveling with other sober people is great because its easy. On both of these trips, I never felt like I had to make an extra effort to avoid drinking because we simply didn’t have any alcohol around. But, what about traveling with non-sober friends and family?
Perhaps my biggest test came last year when I went on a short Caribbean cruise with my brother. My brother isn’t sober, but he isn’t a heavy drinker either. However, these cruises are known for excessive drinking—was I crazy for even considering going on one?
It turned out that even on a cruise, there is plenty of fun to be had while sober. I visited beaches, watched comedians and cheesy musicals, lounged by the pools, ate amazing food, and visited an awesome port. The days felt packed with fun and I never once felt pressured to drink.
Even though my brother isn’t sober, he knows that I am, and I think that helped. He drank a little on the cruise, but not much, and knew not to offer me drinks. Having him there also gave me the feeling of having a support system nearby, although thankfully I didn’t end up needing it.
Overall, traveling while sober hasn’t been nearly as stressful as I worried it might be. Vacations offer plenty of totally sober ways to have fun and relax. I’ve stayed focused on having fun and not let myself get caught up in thinking about alcohol.
The best thing is that I finally have the freedom to actually enjoy these trips. I don’t need to worry about scheduling everything around drinking, or hiding my habit from my travel companions. I can just go on vacation and have fun like a normal person.
I’ve got another trip coming up soon, but at this point travel no longer worries me. Traveling as a drunk was a nightmare, but traveling while sober has been nothing but fun.
With all of that said, I now have a potential challenge on the horizon. The reason that I’m writing about the topic of travel is that for the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking about taking my newfound love for travel even further by actually moving—temporarily—to a foreign country.
I’ve been studying Spanish for the past two and a half years. Now, I want to live in a Spanish-speaking country for a year or two to improve my speaking ability, experience the culture, and push myself outside of my comfort zone.
I’ve gone back and forth on this idea. It’s a huge change—not just another vacation. One of my biggest fears is how such a change might affect my sobriety.
Moving to another country, even if it’s not a permanent move, is still a way bigger event than going on a cruise or hiking in the mountains for a week. Even if I love the experience, I’m sure that some aspects of it will be incredibly stressful.
In addition, many of the countries that I’ve looked into have huge drinking cultures, and I worry that there may be far more social pressure to drink than I experience in the United States. (And pressure to smoke cigarettes too.)
Worst of all, I’d be facing all of this alone. Although I could call friends and family back home, I wouldn’t have any local sober friends to turn to.
However, despite all of these reservations, I still want to do this. I don’t want to allow my sobriety to become an excuse to miss out on life’s adventures.
I’ve always viewed sobriety as an opportunity to get more out of life, not a reason to close back in on myself.
Instead, I’m going to move forward with planning this experience abroad, but at the same time, I’ll be careful about taking my sobriety into account. A few of the things I’ll be doing:
Creating a plan in advance for how to handle thoughts of relapsing. Who will I call? What will I do if I can’t reach anyone?
Researching local attitudes and advice from sober people who live in these countries.
After moving, finding local meetings. Even though it’s been years since I’ve gone to in-person recovery meetings, I think that it could be a big help when somewhere new.
If you’ve made a big move like this and have any other advice for me or other readers, please let me know in the comments.
My goal is to move near the end of this calendar year. I’ve actually started the process for a specific country, but since it’s still a bit far out, I don’t want to get specific about my plans here yet. Wherever I end up, though, I’ll be putting sobriety first.
Sobriety shouldn’t stand in our way, but we should take it seriously. Quitting alcohol has helped me to live my life to the fullest, so it’s well worth the effort to protect it.
Although a move to a foreign country will absolutely present challenges, I’m confident that with careful planning, my sobriety will remain intact.
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Sounds like you're on the right track with finding some in-person meetings. Maybe tap into online resources too as virtual meetings have become more commonplace since the pandemic. One more potential source of support might be the ex-pat community for whichever country you've chosen. It's not sobriety focused but contacts there might lead to meetings or other sobriety-minded folks. Good luck!!