15 Tips to Enjoy Your Vacation Without Drinking

by Rebecca A. Watson on February 27, 2014

in perception, Recovery, travel

Yesterday morning I got a text from the hubby.

wanna go to venice this weekend

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.

venice carnival

Life is frickin’ magical.

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.

new orleans voodoo shop

Not sure about the skeleton, actually, but Owen sure had fun.

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.

gran canaria 10k

Like: What?!? I’m running a 10k on an island off the coast of Africa? Rad!

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.

gran canaria hike

Not to mention some great photos.

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.

soft drinks u.k.

Here’s a small sampling from a store in the U.K.

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?

travel photographer writer rebecca a. watson

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.

coffee beignets

Beignets, anyone?

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.

Or pick up some bubble tea. That's kind of like a snack, isn't it?

Or pick up some bubble tea. That’s kind of like a snack, isn’t it?

 —

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.

If you like this post and are interested in reading more, I suggest starting with my 100 day post, or just check out all my posts about not drinking and recovery

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.

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosanna Dillon March 11, 2014 at 11:47 pm

This is a great piece. Thanks . I have found it very useful and will use it when I am away. I was feeling aprehensive about holidays but now i’m not.
Many Regards
X

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Rebecca A. Watson March 12, 2014 at 11:41 am

Hi Rosanna. Thanks for stopping by! I’m glad you found my tips useful. Enjoy your holiday! Hugs and thanks for the comment.

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WalkSober May 30, 2014 at 3:44 am

These are fantastic suggestions for travel. And, thank you for sharing some of the circumstances you found yourself in and still emerged sober and enthusiastic. Most importantly, thank you for being willing to say that we don’t always get to choose our travel companions …. and that we can still go, stay sober and have fun. I am headed to the Bahamas in two days — very remote, out island where, yes, often the main activity used to be drinking. We are taking our family (5), going with another (4) and my mother in law. I will be the only adult non-drinker. The other family is one we travel with once a year and have known, literally for decades. I bought a travel water kettle to take, several travel tins of specialty tea, bath salts, new books, my journal, and two travel tin soy candles. These items should help me create my “escape” moments, if needed. Focused on staying active — have suggested a snorkle trip, a fishing trip and a jet ski day. Like your story, when drinking, I would NEVER be the one to suggest active vacation events. A chair and a beach, with cabana service was for me. Hangovers on vacation are awful. Period. I remember being soooo hungover in Florence three years ago it still brings back horrible shame of such an opportunity just flushed down the toilet by me. My husband is a drinker but has always initiated active things on vacation — which I usually find a reason to avoid. He usually wants to catch a sunrise in whatever awesome place in the world we happen to be …. I have only wanted to stay in bed.

Very much looking forward to coming home exhausted but from having had too much authentic, present fun, not the destructive, numbing kind.

Glad I found your blog. I plan to read some more.

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Rebecca A. Watson May 30, 2014 at 8:39 am

Super glad you found my blog too! Welcome 🙂 It sounds like you have really prepared yourself for this vacation. You are going to have such an amazing time! I’m so stoked for you! And since you will have kids there, you can always just hang out with them. Often when I got to events with a few families I will just chill with the kids because they always seem to have fun and don’t need booze. Ha!

So glad to have you reading and thanks for the comment!

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Ginger May 30, 2014 at 2:38 pm

So glad I found your blog too! And, based on the other comment I made on the language of sobriety piece, and my cold shoulder to the word “sober”, the irony of my screen name was not lost on me. So, Good Morning Authenticity! I am just using my name. Take that Wolfie.

Peace,
Ginger

Sara July 28, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Wow! What a great piece to come across on the internet. We are planning a vacation to Mexico and I was very worried about not drinking. This gives me hope that others have done it and some very positive things to look forward to.

Thanks so much!

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Rebecca A. Watson July 28, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Yay Sara! I’m so glad you found me and that you got some inspiration. Yes, you can totally enjoy your trip in Mexico without booze. And when you return, you’ll actually be refreshed! 🙂

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Melissa A August 21, 2014 at 3:53 am

Hello
I am so glad I found this because I just completed my 30 day challenge of no alcohol and drank 2 glasses of wine and was feeling horrible. Did not like the feeling of it and had a very bad long lasting hangover headache! Just from 2 glasses of wine and so now I am telling my self maybe it is not for me anymore and I am going on vacation to florida in a week and am considering to just continue with my challenge and making it to another 30 days and not drink on vacation which I think will be hard but then again I passed my 30 day challenge so I should be able to do it! reading your blog helped me with some pointers. Thank you

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Rebecca A. Watson August 22, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Hey Melissa! So glad you found my blog and that it helped you. Have a wonderful vacation my dear. You can do it 🙂

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CH September 22, 2014 at 6:18 am

I am going to Hawaii next month. I am so using your tips.

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Rebecca A. Watson September 25, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Let me know how it goes CH 🙂

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Kat October 21, 2014 at 8:13 am

I am really impressed by your article. Well done you. It’s a refreshing change to read something like this.
I am eight years sober and love it. My life has changed completely. Keep spreading the word.

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Rebecca A. Watson October 21, 2014 at 10:06 am

Thanks so much Kat 🙂 I appreciate your comment. Eight years is awesome! Well done to you as well. Thanks for stopping by.

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Cori October 31, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Wow! This article was so helpful to me! My husband has planned a beach house getaway on Bermuda and at first mention of it, instead of being thrilled, I got chilled to the bone with fear about how I was going to stay sober. I did a google search, “can an alcoholic drink only on vacation?” Lol, right. Well, your page was at the top of my results! It was a godsend that gave me some valuable tools and the hope that it can be done. Thank you and a great big cyber hug!!!

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Rebecca A. Watson November 22, 2014 at 9:31 am

Hey Cori! Thanks for the comment. I am super glad you found help in my post. Enjoy your lucid travels 🙂

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Hopeful Girl November 9, 2014 at 4:26 am

Going to Puerto Rico in 1.5 weeks. We agreed to join 2 other big boozing couples before I stopped drinking (30 days today!). I am looking forward to some aspects like warm water, time away from work, and beach reading. I’m not looking forward to others- I expect I will be excusing myself earlier in the evenings and will observe lots and lots of drinking. I had boozed at this location last year so will be nice to have another chance to do it soberly. I have already decided to do some spa treatments and will find some meetings in advance. Thanks for all the other helpful suggestions and tools too. I need to know it can be done and that I am not alone in this journey. 😄

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Rebecca A. Watson November 22, 2014 at 9:27 am

Girlie! I am so happy for you taking that trip and deciding to make it a lucid one 🙂 It can be done and you will totally enjoy yourself. There can be some awkward moments, but they’re canceled out by the fact that you remember everything and come back feeling refreshed!

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Kathy February 17, 2015 at 3:11 am

So glad I found your website. We are leaving for Italy in a few weeks and the tour includes an evening of wine tasting, pasta making and dinner together . I have been toying with the idea of pretending to taste the wine but just holding the glass to my lips. This plan could blow up in my face. Perhaps I should enlist the tour director to he me enjoy the evening without tasting. I don’t want to skip the whole event. It really sounds like a bonding event for the tour guests. I want to be part of the team without drinking with them. Advice?

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Rebecca A. Watson February 17, 2015 at 8:59 am

Hey Kathy, Glad you found my blog and commented. I totally know that worry about wanting to be part of a special event but NOT wanting to drink. I think you already said what you really think about putting a wine glass to your lips, but I’ll concur: Bad Idea. Period.

I would definitely ask your tour guide about it, and if he/she isn’t sure, suggest bringing your own beverage but ask your tour guide to tell the host in advance so there isn’t any awkward moment. I also think picturing how wonderful it will be, walking in with the other guests, smiling, making pasta, sipping your San Peligrino, maybe you even have some flour on your face 🙂 It’s a warm moment. And then picture yourself after the event is over, tucking yourself in with a nice cup of tea (or whatever awesome treat you have planned for when you get back to your room–definitely have a treat to look forward to!), sober, happy and proud.

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Kathy February 17, 2015 at 3:25 pm

So grateful to you for this support! I feel armed with a plan now.

Maggie August 25, 2015 at 9:49 am

Thanks for this! I would also recommend Sarah Hepola’s fantastic memoir which just came out, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.

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Rebecca A. Watson August 26, 2015 at 6:21 am

It’s definitely on the list, behind Mrs. D’s Going Without. Thanks Maggie 🙂

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Debbie September 22, 2015 at 2:57 pm

Hi I have a drink problem and also get into a lot of trouble through my drinking , and my boyfriend does also , last holiday was a nightmare , benalamdeba for a week , the first night out , we spent all our 1000 euros and ended up getting a flight home next day , now where going to thailand for 18 days for Christmas, I will take all your advice , thank you , it’s so hard , I’m going to get myself help I think , it’s ruinin g my life , as I write this I am in bed with major hangover , can’t keep nothing down , I feel so depressed and stressed out, everything is 100 times worse when I feel like this ,

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Rebecca A. Watson September 22, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Ugh, I hate those feelings Debbie. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that all right now. If I were you, I’d start dealing with your drinking issues sooner rather than later. The first 10 days can be tough, and you don’t want to ruin your beautiful vacation in Thailand by feeling crappy because you just stopped drinking. But that’s just my two cents 🙂

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Natalie October 29, 2015 at 2:35 am

I absolutely love this post! Its just so ironic because, although I plan on taking a trip to Mexico for Thanksgiving, I’m really not at the point yet of being able to conceptualize the trip sober. It will be my first EVER trip out of the country for my 30th birthday. Pretty epic, and I plan to indulge. HOWEVER, this list of tips is so very helpful for me here and now on Day 12!! I’ve been pouring over your blogs from the beginning as a way to pass the time and just broke out in smiles reading this post. Right now my goal is 15 days, but the more I read, the more I want to make that longer. My flight lands in Mexico on day 40 – that seems like WAY too long to go though!

Anywho, definitely gonna drink in Mexico. But this post also made me realize it in no way it has to be a crucial part of the trip. And also makes the other side of the trip seem that much brighter. I’m trying to get to be a happier, sober-er self by the time I turn 30 (12/16/15) so reading this brings me one step closer. Thank you 🙂

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Rebecca A. Watson October 30, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Hey Natalie! Thanks for your comment. I’m glad I could inspire you to drink less on your vacation. It definitely doesn’t have to take center stage. Enjoy your days of sobriety before then … who knows? You might like it so much you decide to stick it out. There’s lots of yummy mocktails and soft drinks in Mexico 🙂

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Miss K November 6, 2015 at 11:14 am

I am newly sober (three months going strong!) and although I am loving the new person I have become, I do find myself missing a drink sometimes. I am really glad I found this post! You are totally right, I find myself thinking of the positive memories of drinking on holiday, rather than the negatives.

I used to love getting drunk from morning until night on holiday and now I can’t wait to lie on the beach, fruit juice in hand, hangover free, happy, fresh and loving life!

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Rebecca A. Watson November 7, 2015 at 8:47 am

Yay Miss K! Nicely done on 3 months! You’ve gone through a lot of the hard parts, but there are still lots of firsts, like holidays without booze. You’re right to focus on the hangover free part — it is glorious 🙂 Enjoy your holiday and let me know if there were any more tips you found helpful that I didn’t include in my list.

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Cat November 6, 2015 at 7:27 pm

Hi There,
I am newly sober (50 days) and loving it. However, headed to Chile and I was actually giving up before I started Luckily, I got enough sense back to simply look online for some advice. Your article totally rocks and now I am sure Chile will be a sober person’s paradise. Thanks so much!

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Rebecca A. Watson November 7, 2015 at 8:51 am

Hey Cat! Well done on 50 days!!! That’s huge. And seeking out help before you decide to drink is a super big deal. You are healing girl 🙂 I have heard SUCH good things about Chile (I have friends who live there) … you are going to love it. It’s a very special place, a perfect one to leave old icky vacation memories behind and begin with new fresh ones filled with amazing adventures. Enjoy the Mote con huesillo 😉

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Christy June 16, 2016 at 11:38 am

My spouse drinks. I now loathe vacations after 17 years. I awoke one morning during last years vacation to said spouse pouring liquor down the sink. ” if it’s not in front if me I won’t drink it.” 2nd year. “Oh, you’re going to label me an alcoholic now?” I did long ago.
If only I could show your article. Thanks for helping me understand.

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Rebecca A. Watson June 19, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Hey Christy. Ugh that sucks. I can not even imagine being in that position. I am truly sorry for you. Maybe you could try going to Al-Anon or something like that to get tips from other people who have been through it?

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M June 22, 2016 at 3:50 pm

My son is 9 months sober and I am loving the person he’s become. I want to celebrate by taking him and his girlfriend to Disney and when I offered it to him he was apprehensive. What better place than Disney to find things to do that doesn’t involve getting wasted??
Thanks for your article. Maybe we will consider another destination.

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Rebecca A. Watson June 23, 2016 at 9:30 pm

Hey M! It might not be the location. Every one is different and your son might not be ready to go on vacation yet. One of the best things might be something like giving him a gift just for him, like a massage or another self care present. Recovering alcoholics really need encouragement in that regard. Hope that helps!

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