The Brain and Body Healing Effects of a Sober Tropical Vacation


I got back recently from a five day, sober vacation in Puerto Rico. To put the result into the proper perspective, I missed my connecting flight on the way home and I couldn’t muster enough rancor to be snippy to the customer service representative who rerouted me.


What, Me Worry?

My originating flight was an hour delayed out of San Juan. When we arrived in Philadelphia, the flight attendant announced, “Some of the passengers have tight connections, so if this is your final destination please stay seated and let them pass.” With that, everyone packed into rows 1 through 23 ahead of me, stood up and duck walked into the isles. Everyone. They took their sweet time un-wedging bags, hoisting them from overhead bins in sloooow-mo. They walked with exquisite sluggishness while calling loved ones who were picking them up at their final destination in Philadelphia…


I had exactly twenty-five minutes to get to my next gate. An impossible deadline that would normally have me pushing women holding babies and harrumphing, “So much for letting me pass…” Tailgating and tromping the heals of the person in front of me.


Still Feeling Chill…

Instead, I waited my turn and got out of the plane with ten minutes to hightail it from Gate A10 to F38 – the exact opposite end of the airport. I was not wearing comfortable shoes. Still feeling chill and “movimiento lento” I walked forever and then, at a metaphoric fork in the terminal, chose the bus instead of the walkway, thinking it would be faster.


Let’s just say there was no sense of urgency on the bus. By the time I got to Terminal F, by a circuitous route, my “lento” had turned “rapido”. I hijacked a handicapped cart (I recognize the dangerous terminology, but desperate times call for desperate measures) and told the driver to, “STEP ON IT!” We arrived at the gate just as the plane pulled two inches from the covered walkway and stopped. The last plane to Grand Rapids had officially “taken off”, even though I could still make fruitless pleading gestures to the pilot through the window…


Airports are Triggers for Alcoholics…

But here’s the deal – during the entire trial – a couple of hours of running, negotiating and hijacking until I was in a hotel room with a meal voucher – I never once thought about drinking. And airports are big relapse triggers for me. I didn’t really even get upset. I credit the residual brain and body healing effects of a tropical vacation. And I also ascribe the bonus good behavior, to almost four years of sobriety.


There  is nothing like a tropical vacation to put one in a great mood.


And Here’s Why a Sober Vacation in the Sun is the Universal Cure-all…


Lie in the sun with a soft breeze blowing and the sound of the waves hitting the shore. I defy anyone to stress about work. In fact, troubles and responsibilities take a well needed hiatus. The “ping” of the cellphone does not have the same Pavlovian response. Tropical relaxation allows a person to put things into the proper perspective and be nicer – something that has a long-term effect on the psyche when you go home (see pushing babies above).


No Booze Cruise

I will admit that I had some frenetic times on vacation when I was drinking. I even engaged in those vicious, coconut lobbing arguments that only occur when  fueled by alcohol. But, there is great joy in experiencing the sounds and sensations of a poolside lounge chair without the hangover and the regret.

The Color Blue (topaz, azure, turquoise, navy, baby…)

There are not enough words for the color blue in the tropics. What is it about blue that cures what ails? The color blue is calming and evokes strong emotions. The color blue makes a person feel tranquil, safe and secure.

Rigorous Exercise

When you don’t have a hangover, or if you aren’t buzzed before noon, there is a lot more time for climbing mountains, wind surfing and snorkeling. And if you don’t drink, you are probably in better shape for it. Early morning is a gift for the sober set and that means longer days to enjoy the beauty that surrounds!

Whole Foods and Fresh Fruit

I always eat better in hot climates. And when you can actually pick your breakfast off a tree or buy your produce from farmers in the open air market, it tastes better. That’s the recipe!

Palm Trees


Can you tell this photo was taken from a lounge chair? Enough said…

Vitamin D

For those of us who are snow birds, a long winter can rob the body of Vitamin D. Sunshine and fresh air help to combat depression. And the suntan lotion you slather all over that white body helps moisturize dry skin…


Great Mood – Lasting Results…

A good vacation reaps overall benefits, including lowered blood pressure and reduced stress hormones. Returning to “real life” and work well-rested will help you take things (even the negative) in stride. The benefits of a vacation are long-lasting and will improve everything from work to social life to the inconvenience of a missed flight home.


Swaying palm trees are gorgeous. But realizing a life free of the insistence and persistence of addiction is beautiful too. You can’t be on vacation all the time, but you can be present all the time. And when you vacation sober, the memories are sharper, the gratefulness more acute…





after marilyn head shot bio

Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world (she also holds a BA in English). Nine years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, Excursions. She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction and is Vice President of the Board, JACK Mental Health Advocacy.