Every year at this time, I think of those who are new to recovery. Summer vacation without alcohol can be stressful for the recently sober traveler. In my drinking days, a holiday began with the first glass of wine on the plane. It often ended with bruised shins, battered relationships, and a hangover from hell. Still, it didn’t deter me from Bahamian breakfast (a beer before 8:00 am) or zipping wine shooters into the pocket of my hiking backpack. After all, there are no rules on vacation, and what is the point of reaching a mountaintop without a celebratory toast, right?
Wrong. These days, I don’t even think about drinking alcohol, but if I harken back to early recovery, I remember I was afraid to go on vacation. Why? Because everything was a reminder of the days before recovery. Airports were triggers; Jimmy Buffet songs made me think, DRINK and unscheduled time felt dangerous. But there is nothing to fear about vacations without alcohol. The trick is thinking ahead and picking the best sober vacations that leave little time for temptation.
Vacations Without Alcohol
A summer vacation without alcohol should not be boring or a compromise. Indeed, it can be just what the doctor/addiction therapist ordered. It does mean, however, that you should plan for triggers to relapse and create a schedule while you are away. You should also consider your destination and vacation partners carefully. The definition of vacation is “an extended period of leisure and recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.” Vacation is not defined as a “bingeing free-for-all,” so let’s get that out of our heads. The good news is that sober vacations sans strong drinks with umbrellas are:
- Less dangerous or accident prone
- Less expensive
- More energetic
- Happier (no late-night drama or pratfalls into the pool)
- More mindful and appreciated
But vacations also mean you will be away from regular 12-step meetings, recovery routines, and escape plans. So pre-planning and control is a good idea. You do not want to end up on “shore leave” from the cruise ship at a Senior Frogs drinking contest!
For more on early recovery:
6 High-Spirited Vacations Without Alcohol:
Explore your State
During the pandemic, trends toward close-to-home travel emerged, and it is an excellent concept for the skittish traveler. If you drive your car, you can avoid airplanes and high-priced rental cars and have a built-in escape hatch (even if you don’t use it). Travel someplace you’ve never been in your state and immerse yourself. Watching a sunrise or sunset without a hangover or being well on the way to intoxicated is one of the joys of recovery!
Islands in the Sun
An island getaway is a great place for a sober vacation when you define vacation properly. Early walks on the beach, sightseeing, hitting the straw market or wholesale jewelry stores are all excellent sober activities in the islands (and no waking to packages filled with souvenirs you don’t remember buying). If you have access to a boat or a mask and swim fins, snorkeling is the perfect exercise for those in recovery—water in the face, rigorous exercise, exquisite scenery, and early to bed. Make sure to pack the cooler with sparkling water and go!
If you’ve always wanted to see the Vatican, get the lay of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, or sit quietly on the banks of Loch Ness, now is the time to repair brain function and live in the moment. And every experience is greatly enhanced with a clear head, excellent balance, and stamina. You will take time to read the plaques in the visitor center, lead the charge up 320 Vatican steps, and research Nessie sightings before you arrive in the Highlands.
Yoga and Spa Retreats
When you are with a community passionate about mindfulness, you do not have to explain why you’re not ordering a Mai Tai at lunch. The best sober vacations renew the mind, body, and spirit, and there are many options for a retreat vacation – from eco-friendly to luxury. Likewise, many spas do not serve alcohol and have 12-step on-site meetings. A retreat is also a good option for solo travelers to meet like-minded new friends. Is the budget a bit tight? There is no charge for forest bathing, or an awe walk in the woods!
Museum and Gallery Staycations!
Take a long weekend staycation and visit every museum in your town! You will be amazed by how many options present themselves. New York has MOMA, but also the Museum of Ice-cream, And near Grand Rapids, we have everything from Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park to the Bruce Dice Mineralogical Museum. A staycation also lets you maintain regular 12-step meetings and important recovery routines.
Guided Tours, Camping, or Try Something New
Can you see yourself herding cattle on a dude ranch? Stretch your imagination and think of all the things you’ve never tried but would love to experience. Learn to play third base or row a skiff. Hike the Grand Canyon, camp in Copper Harbor, or bike through the Cotswolds. It doesn’t have to be dangerous or expensive – it might be a guided birding tour. And when you do something that has a guide or instructor, they will take you seriously. You will have accountability as well as boatloads of fun.
Vacation Without Alcohol is Uplifting!
When you think about it, vacations are for the sober. We get up refreshed, early, and ready to experience the day. In recovery, we have learned to live in the moment, curious and passionate about our interests. And we are unencumbered by the need to pack or find our substance of use on a remote island, backwoods village, or camelback excursion. We have done the kind of inner searching that pinpoints what we want out of life. And what we don’t want. So, jump into that vacation without alcohol. You can have the time of your life with proper planning, risk avoidance, and the right destination and company! And after all you’ve been through, you deserve it.