Yesterday morning I got a text from the hubby.
I was on the computer doing research for my book, specifically about the benefits of traveling and trying new things, so it was kind of a no-brainer to say yes. Got the message Universe — loud and clear.
The Universe was also asking me to write something too, because earlier that morning I had an exchange with someone on my 30 Day Challenge group who had finished his challenge of 30 days without drinking and wondered how much longer he should go. He’d considered doing the 100 day challenge but had a vacation planned and was worried about enjoying it without booze.
I’d listened to The Bubble Hour podcast about traveling while sober, which had some good ideas, but I felt like it was more geared toward business travel and the fear of flying. And when I looked online, there wasn’t really anything else that stuck out at me, so when I was sharing the podcast I wondered aloud, “Perhaps I should write something about this.”
But I was lacking a little inspiration. Our March ski trip fell through and we weren’t planning any other vacations until my birthday in April. So, the Universe decided to give me a muse. Suddenly, here I am, a day away from going to Venice during Carnival, which should be ahhhmazing.
I’d like to consider myself a bit of an expert on this subject, since I tackled New Orleans before I hit 30 days without a drink, went camping multiple times (where the drinks were a-flowin’) in my first 100 days, enjoyed the beer gardens of Germany, hiked through wine vineyards in France, sat in a pub in the U.K., and sunned myself on a patio in the Canary Islands of Spain all without a sip of alcohol.
How did I do it? Well, honestly, it wasn’t always that tough. I mean there were moments of craving and a little sadness, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t going to deny that wine with my paella would’ve been divine. But I know better, at least for me. And here’s what I got for you:
1. Tell people before you go. This was crucial to my success in New Orleans, where I swear I’ve never heard a story about the city without the words “so drunk” coming into play somewhere. I was visiting a friend and was nervous about it, to be sure.
So I called her up and told her how important it was that I don’t drink and that it meant sometimes I might have to go to bed early or not want to go somewhere, but I still wanted to have a good time. She reacted with so much support, that even though I know she’s a good friend, I was blown away.
And we had a blast. She came up with all sorts of activities to fill our week, and we even roamed the streets with her friends late into the night. I think only one of them had a beer. Fun was had by all, and booze barely graced the scene.
2. Visualize enjoying yourself before you go and while you’re there. So you know what your past vacations look like, at least in the beauty of your imagination. Something like you sitting on the beach, enjoying a margarita? Or perhaps sipping on wine in the sun on a patio? Or enjoying a beer after a great day exploring? Those were a few of mine.
What they don’t include were the drinks after them and the wicked hangovers in the morning, not to mention the icky depressed feeling and money wasted. And why would they? This is your ideal. Your get-away. So now it’s time to change that picture a little bit.
Start seeing yourself wrapped up in a good book while you’re laying in the sun, fruit smoothie in hand. Really feel the rays and the relaxation. Hear the water. Picture yourself waking up early, clear-headed, drinking a steaming cup of fresh coffee while you watch the sunrise. Hear the birds chirping. Feel a calm, a peace, settle over you as you take in the beauty of a perfect morning, beginning just for you.
The idea is to create new ideals, new beautiful pictures in your mind, with new props. And just like those Olympic athletes who envision them crossing the finish line first, before you know it, you’ll be acting out your picture-perfect vacation and maybe even things you couldn’t imagine.
3. Plan and focus on daytime activities. Maybe there’s a hiking adventure you can book. Perhaps take advantage of a museum pass. Whatever it is, check out some activities during the day you can get involved with that will fill your day and help you keep your mind engaged.
When we went to the Canary Islands, I planned ahead to run a race, hike through the volcanic areas, rent scooters and paraglide. You can bet we were happy to crawl into bed every night, exhausted and happy. Drinking wouldn’t have done anything but cramped my style, making me tired, foggy and annoyed. Instead, I got some killer memories and a great stories to tell.
4. Do things differently. Like the last item, this is about changing your patterns and behaviors, while you’re on vacation. If you’ve always been a beach-goer, perhaps head into the mountains for some guided hikes or hot springs getaways. Or if you still want to enjoy the beach, opt for something different than laying out all day.
Maybe try an activity like stand up paddleboarding or take a yoga class on the sand. Rent a wave runner. I spend more time running, knitting and writing than I ever did on vacations in the past. I’m also more open to paying for guided tours and other activities because I’m not buying booze.
5. Learn about the local N/A specialties. In Germany, it’s Apfelshorle for me. In the Canary Islands I was loving Appletiser. And there’s apparently something delicious in Italy called Lemonsoda. That and San Pelligrino are going to be my go-tos at dinner or out on a patio. I found this handy-dandy list of non-alcoholic drinks around the world to be helpful.
In the states, I’ve found some excellent local ginger ales and sarsaparillas as well. And then there’s always the trusty club soda with a splash of cran. Delish.
6. Learn how to say “without alcohol” in the local language. Ohne Alkohol. Senza alcool. Sin alcohol. Chances are you’ll stumble upon a little cafe that doesn’t have your favorite prearranged drink. This could easily be a way to just order that ridiculously cheap bottle of wine. I mean, it’s practically begging you to, right?
If you can tell the server you’re interested in something without alcohol, they can point something out for you. And what I’ve found while traveling is that there are a lot of people who don’t drink, so there’s usually several nice options to choose from.
7. Stay present. When Sante and I sat on the patio in front of the Atlantic Ocean in beautiful sunny weather while our server mixed seafood paella and graciously served our plates, I felt like a queen. In that moment, everything was so lovely and all seemed to be well.
For a minute though, I went into my old ideal and thought What would make this perfect would be a nice glass of chardonnay. Interesting, right? When I was in the moment everything seemed entirely perfect. It was only when I swept myself into the caverns of my own brain that I forgot that.
By staying in the moment and appreciating exactly what’s going on around you, you’re not looking for what’s missing. You’re seeing what’s there. This trick has helped me more times than I can count.
8. Seek out support. Like the first point, having people around who know you’re planning to not drink is good. Having people who understand why you don’t drink is even better. When I went to New Orleans I went to a few AA meetings because that’s what was working for me at the time. It was great to meet new people.
Now I have loads of sober penpals I connect with via email to remind me why I don’t drink. And I’m also able to text some friends too. I will read sober blogs and bring along sober podcasts. By having these options around, I know I can reach out if I need some support. And just knowing that makes a world of difference.
One of my penpals put it well when she wrote, “Just knowing that I can reach out to you helps me in following through with the drinking scenario to the end, i.e. the inevitable, painstaking, physically and emotionally draining hangover (and can’t forget the feelings of complete and utter despair).”
So make sure you find some way to keep a supporter in your midst, whether electronically or through the physical world. And if you’re into unplugging completely, there are loads of good books to read. I loved Augusten Burroughs’ Dry. I’ve heard great things about Lit, Diaries of an Alcoholic Housewife and Drinking: A Love Story.
9. Be the chronicler. Someone has to record this amazing event, this spectacular moment of your life. Why not you? Take photos. Write notes. Ask questions. Journal about it. Everyone you’re with will benefit and you’ll be so involved in your vacation you’ll be apt to think less about drinking. You may even find yourself a new hobby. Or a new career. Travel writer anyone?
10. Choose travel companions wisely. I realize this isn’t always a possibility. I camped with family who stayed up til 3 am playing drinking games. C’est la vie. But when you can help it, plan your trips with people who aren’t exclusively concerned with boozing as an activity.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with sampling local wines and enjoying the culture. Duh. But if your usual companions plan from the get-go to hit the liquor store or believe the best thing about that all-inclusive resort is the drinks, perhaps it’s time to consider opening up your travel roster to a few new folks.
I’m not saying they all have to be teetotalers, but they do have to be supportive of your thing. I’m lucky in that my hubby is more interested in eating cake than drinking booze (a true soul-mate really), but I try to keep my booze-related plans to a minimum regardless. Like I’m not interested in touring wineries or frequenting breweries, and so if Sante wants to do that, he’s gotta save it for a trip with the boys. Good friends won’t question this kind of thing.
11. Give yourself treats. Dessert. Massage. Hair style. Manicure. Whatever. When you’re away from home you want to let loose and live a bit more, which is why so many people drink more. It’s a way to reward ourselves.
When you take it away, you’ve got to do something nice in return. I’m a fan of pastries, so I tend to eat gluten and dairy (with the help of some enzymes) like a maniac. And it feels luxurious.
12. Have non-alcoholic drinks on hand. Find the nearest grocery or convenience store and stock your hotel room with yummy juices, sparkling water or whatever you like. Part of drinking on vacation is to provide your idle hands with something to do while you relax away your day. Giving yourself something else to hold will take away a bit of the urge.
13. Plan for weak moments. There may be a time when that craving hits you like a ton of bricks. This is when you’ve gotta have a plan. For me, if we’re going out for dinner and drinks with friends, I always make sure people know I might have to leave a little early because I’m so wiped out.
That way they don’t feel weird later when I need to get outta there when they’re on their third cocktail and my brain has suddenly decided that maybe I could drink moderately. Right now. And doesn’t that martini look delicious?
Know that you could possibly feel this way. It happens. And sometimes at the weirdest moments. Like when I crashed my scooter in Gran Canaria. Yes, this is a good time for a cocktail…what? The good news is you can get through it, even if it sucks in the moment. And when you do, you will wake up the next day feel *cue falsetto voice* FANTASTIC that you didn’t cave.
14. Get good sleep. Sober sleep is, already, freakin’ amazing, but sober vacation sleep is even better. Trust me here. No worries. No real obligations. No responsibilities. Maybe even no alarm clock. Yeah, rad.
The other thing about making sure you get enough sleep is that it’ll make the aforementioned weak moments fewer and farther between. The sleep will also help you to deal with them and move on.
15. Carry snacks. Have you seen the T-shirt that says, “I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry”? I know I can relate to that. If I start to feel my blood sugar go down, I am a bear. I will seriously take you down through verbal assault if you get in the way of what I want. I lack self-control.
And apparently enough people have this kinda problem, because I’ve heard an acronym to help you know when you might seriously crave booze. HALT. (Hungry, angry, lonely, tired.) What’s the first one? Hungry! That’s right.
So carry some nuts, some fruit snacks, some chocolate, whatever you like, while you’re out and about. Because there is a good chance you’ll spend more time looking for a place to eat that everyone agrees on and you might get hungrier than normal. Best to just avoid that situation all together.
Back in the day returning home from vacation meant post-vacation blues, combined with trying to tone down my drinking to pre-vacation levels. It was a monster of a problem for me that almost made me not want to travel. Not anymore! Now I’m just looking at photos, reading my journals and planning my next trip.
I hope these tips will help you to have a great time on vacation without the booze and to encourage you that it is indeed possible! If you’ve got some other tips or ideas, I’d love to hear them. Please leave them in the comments.
Wondering if you should quit drinking? Check out my audio class here. In the 20 minute class, I’ll walk you through my simple test to tell you if you should take the 100 Day Challenge and tips on how to do it.