Sobriety is not an easy path, especially when traveling: Tips on how to travel sober

Sobriety is not an easy path, especially when traveling: Tips on how to travel sober

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Taylor Rebhan
 |  Special to USA TODAY


  • Traveling can have its triggers, but with the right preparation, it can be fulfilling.
  • One counselor recommends working out codewords and agreements with your travel partner(s) when going out.
  • Find a non-alcoholic beverage unique to your destination. Make it your go-to as you explore.

The cobblestone streets of New Orleans. The neon-splashed vistas of Vegas. The sun-soaked piers of Malibu. It’s hard to imagine traveling in these places without a drink in hand – but for those who embark on the journey of sobriety, it’s the reality.

From young folks giving up alcohol entirely to the Dry January and “sober curious” crowd, more travelers are globe-trotting while entirely sober.

Traveling can have its triggers, but with the right preparation and mindset, it can be wonderfully fulfilling. Here are a few tips from a seasoned pro – and an actual professional – to have fun and stay true to your commitments.

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Have a plan

The No. 1 rule, according to Ginger Blair, LMSW and Certified Addictions Counselor with more than 40 years of experience in behavioral medicine, is this: Plan, plan, plan.

“Communicate with your travel partners ahead of time about your parameters and boundaries,” she says. 

Blair recommends working out codewords and agreements. My wife and I have a code we call Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light when we’re out in situations where others are drinking: Green means good, yellow means I’m reaching my limit, and red means let’s go.

That leads to the next piece of advice: “Always have an escape route.” 

  • Know when and how to leave a situation that challenges your sobriety.
  • Always have your own key to the place you’re staying.
  • Keep a snack and drink with you as a diversion if you feel a compulsion.
  • And remember that no matter where you are or who you’re with, it’s OK to say no.

Once you’ve got your contingency plan, you can focus on your destination.

Get an all-natural buzz

There’s more than one way to feel that “vacation high.” It’s all about experiences.

Ever jetted off a sandy cliff in a dune buggy? Gone kayaking to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean? The sensation will stick with you long after you’ve returned home.

On a recent trip to Sin City, my wife and I had piercings done at the legendary Vegas tattoo parlor Club Tattoo. It was silly, spur-of-the-moment, and so much fun. Find what you love and go big – it’ll be a buzz you’ll actually remember.

Drink like a local with non-alcoholic beverages

In my hometown, Detroit, it’s Faygo. In Austin, Texas, it’s Topo Chico. And in New Orleans, it’s chicory coffee. Find a non-alcoholic beverage unique to your destination. Make it your go-to as you explore.

If you land at a restaurant or watering hole with limited options, ask the bartender to surprise you with a non-alcoholic drink. They’re there to mix drinks and get tips – whether or not those drinks have alcohol in them. You’d be surprised how many have a recipe for just such an occasion. And if not, you can always get a club soda with a lime.

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Take a walk

You travel to see the world, not sit in a bar. Get out there, whether it’s a walking tour, a carriage ride or a midnight graveyard stroll.

The natural world is uniquely grounding – and the perfect reason to not stay out all night drinking. 

Reward yourself

Sobriety is not an easy path. Take time to reward yourself for choosing life. Grab a gelato. Buy that memento. Nap on the beach. After all, traveling and sobriety have so much in common: They’re journeys of self-discovery, being present in the moment, and enjoying everything this world has to offer – unfiltered.

If you or someone you know is struggling with sobriety, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline. It is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Taylor Rebhan is a writer living in Detroit. You can follow her on Twitter: @trebhan.

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