In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, traveling in sobriety may be the last thing to cross your mind as we’re being encouraged to engage in social distancing and refrain from leaving home. However, the various states of quarantine will be over at some point this spring, and travel opportunities and adventures will await you more than ever in your recovery. You might even be making up for lost time by plotting out travel itineraries that may not have come to you had you not been at home in the throes of cabin fever. Whether you plan on traversing cities, countries, or continents, similar challenges of traveling as a sober person may arise for you. But just as there are challenges, there are joys and blessings of sober travel that far surpass the ephemeral pleasures that substances can provide on these adventures. I can greatly attest to this based on my own experiences traveling in active addiction versus traveling in active recovery. Read on to find out more about what you should consider and ways to help your sobriety blossom while you’re away from home.
Drunken Travels and Unmanageability
A brief overview of what traveling in active addiction looked like included a month-long high school group trip to Spain in 2008 in which I threw back eight glasses of wine at dinner, which was quickly followed by getting sick in the bidet (which my roommate had to clean up as I was passed out). In 2012, I studied abroad in India for my spring semester and while I had lots of rich, cultural experiences, the background of my substance use (binge drinking, frequent pot smoking) started to take a great toll on the ways in which I showed up for my friendships, new connections, and academic work. An example of a typical night included having unlimited beers with a classmate, quickly blacking out, and leaving the cab home with my phone, wallet, and copy of my final project in the back seat. Needless to say, I felt powerless upon waking up the next morning, though that did not stop my partying antics until about 1.5 years later, after my college graduation.
In the fall of 2018, five years into sobriety, I decided to take a mini Eurotrip and attend English-speaking Alcoholics Anonymous meetings whenever I could in Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Berlin. The strongest community I found was in Berlin, where I was regularly attending meetings and partying with sober friends, oftentimes staying out until 7am. I agree with the adage that a big partying city will oftentimes have a strong recovery community to match as well. While I was already establishing a sober network, I wanted to experience what a night out with “normies,” or people who weren’t in recovery, felt like. I could feel my endurism kicking in as I decided to club hop and attend a house party with my “normie” couchsurfing host at the time. I felt exhausted as I chain smoked cigarettes and drank water all night, feeling incredibly emotionally hungover the following morning, all to prove to myself that I, too, could do it. However, if I were honest with myself, I wasn’t really enjoying myself as everyone around me kept drinking and imbibing a cocktail of assorted drugs.
Travel Conditions To Consider
Certain parameters to consider and adjust for while you’re traveling sober include asking yourself how your recovery needs will change whether you’re traveling for pleasure and leisure, work, or a little bit of both. Traveling for work will affect the amount of time you can allocate to your own desires and recovery efforts versus the time and energy that may be required of you. If you’re traveling with co-workers and know you’ll need your solitude at times, try to be upfront about that need. If your co-workers normalize going out for drinks and it feels awkward for you, see if you feel comfortable revealing that you may not drink or if you’ll be fine getting a non-alcoholic drink if there were an option for that. If you’re traveling for vacation or pleasure, consider the pros and cons of traveling alone and whether going with friends and/or family can enhance or detract from your sobriety and overall experience. I highly recommend solo travel if it’s something you have yet to experience and have some fear around.
Traveling in sobriety is a great test to see how strong your recovery is and where you might have blindspots. You’ll see how portable your recovery really is and what your toolbox consists of when you’re no longer on homebase. Consider what your core values are in your everyday life. If working out or gentle exercise is important for your recovery, ask your hotel or Airbnb ahead of time about options. If you have specific dietary restrictions, ask about those as well. If recovery meetings are a key part of your sobriety, check out if they meet where you’re headed. Remember to prioritize what will make you feel safe, both physically, psychologically, emotionally and mentally. While in transit, carry whatever tools you need to keep your immune system strong, be they face masks, hand sanitizer, hand creams (to overcome the dryness of frequent handwashing), travel-sized disinfecting sprays/wipes (Clorox and Lysol have great options), and other sanitary tools.
Tips for Traveling
Amidst a change of location or scenery, it’s nice to maintain some semblance of a routine, whether that means eating familiar meals or engaging in usual healthy habits. I try to prioritize a trip to the local supermarket as soon as I can. Browse the local and regional varieties of what it is you may have eaten in New York City. But also try out new food items that may seem unfamiliar (Google Translate is a great app to download, which you can use to scan labels in unfamiliar languages). In addition to food, take a stroll around the neighborhood you’ll be in to get your bearings as you embark on your adventures.
Support Is Everything
Another obvious way to ground is by staying connected to your recovery support network, whether through text messages, calls, or emails. While traveling, familiar feelings of being an outsider may come up for you, a big reason for why many of us might drink. I know for me, I need to be reminded that I’m not alone and that those who may seem different from me–whether due to appearance, languages spoken, or mannerisms–are really not that different. Recovery has taught me that staying tethered to those who love and support me is of utmost importance.
Slowing Down While Sightseeing
As you go about visiting sites, various attractions, or simply nature walks, don’t lose sight of yourself and your physical and emotional needs during bouts of sightseeing. I very well relate to the compulsion to do, see, and document everything–whether on social media or even just for myself, but either way, the desire to record everything can become a kind of soft addiction in and of itself, so it’s important to check in about why it is you need to reach for your phone. However, sober introspection is key and finding time to journal or reflect on your travel experiences can be really rewarding.
In traveling sober, I get to experience growing pains in a clear, lucid way that would not have been possible under the hazy cloud of substance abuse. I learn to adopt new, deliberate skills that restore integrity and self-esteem in a new environment. By taking small steps and working diligently and patiently through new travel experiences, a sense of peace, calm, and confidence can take over while on the road or in transit in sobriety.