When I first quit drinking I thought I was inadvertently signing up for a death sentence to everything I loved. I thought my social life would tank, my ability to have fun would be ruined, that I would always have an intense case of FOMO, and everything from that point forward would be utterly boring—including me.
I was the quintessential party girl from the moment I began drinking in high school all the way to my mid-twenties. By that point, alcohol was no longer my solo substance of choice and was almost always accompanied by cocaine or some other kind of upper.
My life consisted of VIP at the hot spots, free drinks from the bartenders, drug dealers on speed dial, and an all-access pass to the after parties.
Life was one big adrenaline rush fueled by booze-filled all-nighters. I was known to be the last woman standing—and was rather proud of it. There was no gathering, wedding, destination, or setting that didn’t revolve around binge drinking and powder up my nose.
Until one day when that lifestyle caught up with me, leaving me riddled with anxiety, shame, and total exhaustion. What was once fun turned into more of a nightmarish Groundhog Day. I couldn’t go out without drinking, couldn’t drink without using drugs, and couldn’t get through the day without a looming sense of anxiety under every inch of my skin.
After trying to fight the whisper that had now become a scream for well over a year, I finally came to the conclusion that alcohol was the culprit of so much of my misery. Yet another happy hour turned into a bender, and I finally reached my own personal breaking point, causing me to do something I had never done before.
I dropped to my knees in prayer. I wasn’t even sure if I was even doing it right, but I just knew I needed help after all my failed attempts to moderate or quit. Something in that moment sparked a change in me, and from that day forward I never drank or used cocaine again.
That fateful day was over ten years ago. As you can imagine, life as I knew it drastically changed. It had to. And eventually, things I never thought I’d be able to do suddenly became not only possible, but also much more enjoyable.
Out of all the changes that happened as I went alcohol-free, one of the most notable has been learning how to travel while staying sober.
I live in Las Vegas, one of the most infamous party destinations in the world. A common question I get from my clients and people who follow my adventures around the globe on Instagram is: How do I travel while sober and still have fun?
The short answer: It’s daunting, for sure, but it’s also been one of the most treasured parts of this path.
When people ask me about living in Vegas or traveling the world as a person who doesn’t drink, what I always tell them is: What you seek is what you will find.
If you’re seeking the party, you’ll surely find it. If you’re seeking wellness and conscious experiences, then that’s also what you’ll find. It’s simply a matter of shifting your attention and being better prepared, especially when you’re taking your first few booze-free trips.
Maybe you’re newly sober and worried about taking your first trip without alcohol. Or maybe you’ve been sober for some time but have a big trip coming up—a bachelorette party in Vegas or a wedding in Mexico—that’s making you anxious just thinking about doing it without drinking. Or maybe you’re simply trying to cut back on your drinking and don’t want to slip back into old habits the second you step off a plane.
Whatever your situation might be, you can become a person who travels sans alcohol and still has the time of your life. Here’s what I’ve learned in my 10 years of living—and traveling—while sober:
1. Set your intention before you even get your boarding pass.
Sometimes the hardest part of traveling is the anticipation in our minds of what it will be like. Because of that, you’ll want to decide on your intentions as they relate to alcohol well before you go. If you want to make sure that this trip or vacation is not going to be a pass to drink, it’s best to make that commitment as early on in the planning process as possible.
Before traveling, begin visualizing how you want the trip to go and see yourself at your destination experiencing joy instead of worrying about not drinking or what could go wrong. Focus on what you want and hope to happen—not what you’re worried about happening—in order to create the experience you really want.
If you catch yourself starting to experience FOMO, which seems to always happen before we even get where we are going, or if you start romanticizing drinking on patios in Italy or Paris or wherever you’re headed, try to bring focus back to your original intention. If it helps, remember that FOMO is much easier to deal with than a hangover from hell.
2. Be over-prepared for a triggering airport experience.
Next up on the possible obstacles for sober vacations is of course, the airport (insert JAWS music for full effect). For most people, the airport is full of triggers from the security lines that push all your buttons, to the bars that line the terminals, to the mini-nips of alcohol on the plane that you swear might have actually called your name out loud.
First thing’s first, don’t sit at the bar at the airport, even if you are alone. Get a table and order water or a seltzer straightaway. Tell the hostess or waiter you don’t want the drink menu, so you’re not tempted during one of the most vulnerable parts of the trip.
Once you board the plane, give yourself a silent round of applause because you’re halfway there. Put music on in your headphones on the plane immediately to help with any anxiety before take off, and close your eyes to breathe. Be prepared with tons of games, books, podcasts, movies, or anything else that will keep you occupied for the duration of the flight.
I always travel with a water bottle and my own snacks so I have something to sip on and don’t have to order anything if I don’t want to. This also prevents dehydration and hunger, which can both send cravings into your body that mimic wanting a drink.
3. Plan morning activities that will make you question what you do the night before.
If you have a fun activity already booked (and better yet, already paid for) in the morning, it’s going to be much easier to call it an early night. Hikes and excursions that have earlier start times are a great way to help you and the people you’re traveling with stay on track.
I remember one of my first sober international trips was to Amsterdam and I knew I needed to have things planned out for my mornings so I wouldn’t be tempted to seek out the nightlife scene. So, I researched some yoga studios around the flat I was renting and picked out some classes to take. The best part was when I sat down on my mat and the teacher started to speak in Dutch, which as you can imagine made for an interesting adventure considering I don’t know a single word in that language.
Remember, you’re probably spending a good amount of money on any trip you take, so you owe it to yourself to make sure you create the experience you want. While it’s each person’s prerogative to spend the bulk of their vacation budget on drinks and rack up hours in a hotel room hungover, that’s certainly not the only way to spend a vacation. The more you prove that to yourself, the less you’ll worry about how to spend your travel time without booze.
4. Stay connected to your support system.
Just because you’ve (hopefully) turned on your out-of-office doesn’t mean you need to check out of all communications back home—especially if you have people you rely on to help you stay on track. This might be a friend or loved one or it could be a sponsor or therapist. When you are out of your normal routine and experiencing new elements while traveling, even if you are in a great place with your sobriety, it’s always a good idea to have some trusted advisors in place for you to call on.
Stay connected to your support group and use it as you’re traveling even if it’s just checking in with your digital tribe. Another way to stay connected is to get to a meeting in the city you’re visiting if that’s your jam. You can also set up alliances with other sober people you know in the city where you’ll be. Coffee dates with sober peeps are great opportunities to engage in conversations that usually go deeper than small talk and can help you connect with people you may have only known from the Internet. One of my favorite things to do in new places is reach out to people in my social media circles and bring online relationships to life.
Finally, don’t feel guilty for needing certain accommodations or wanting to make certain tweaks to the itinerary. If you’re traveling with someone, have a conversation before the trip to get on the same page about your mindset—like that you’re obviously going to want to plan some alcohol-free activities. It’s important to voice healthy boundaries to friends and family, and you shouldn’t feel like a burden for doing so.
5. Plan for a mix of structure and spontaneity.
It’s great to have some plans, especially if you need structure to keep you accountable, but it’s also helpful to be flexible to allow for things to flow. By doing this, you’re opening yourself up to more spontaneity, which is the real reason to get out of your normal routine anyway, right? Plus, this mindset could help protect you from disappointment if something comes up that you either can’t or don’t want to participate in while sober.
Be willing to sit some things out and break away to do things you want to do if the people you are traveling with have different ideas of how to spend their time. It’s OK, and in fact necessary, to do your own thing at times.
I used to seek parties over culture and alcohol over, well, everything when I traveled. I never thought the day would come when my trips wouldn’t revolve around the DJ that was playing or making sure I hit the best nightclubs or bars in each city I visited. That is, until I quit drinking and my priorities shifted.
When you change what you look for, the things you look for change. It’s funny how your priorities shift when catching a buzz isn’t at the top of your to-do list. Trips start to become much more focused on taking in the smells, food, character, and ambiance of our surroundings when our minds are less clouded.
6. View your trip as an opportunity for relaxing, recharging, and all of the self-care.
Consider this the antidote to that “I need a vacation from my vacation” feeling. So often our vacations revolve around partying, which tend to leave us feeling exhausted instead of refreshed. Traveling sober is a chance to redefine your vacation goals and rather than using it as an excuse to go wild, you can choose to use your time to recharge and spoil yourself.
Always remember to bask in your hangover-free mornings on vacation by doing a quick gratitude practice and meditation when you wake up to keep yourself in the right frame of mind. You can also check out where you’re staying ahead of time to see if they have a gym or place to exercise as another great way to start your day.
One of my favorite things to do now on trips is spend money on spa days instead of popping bottles. All that money saved can go towards a massage or facial. When you switch your mindset from partying to pampering, you’ll be more inclined to hit the spa instead of hitting the club. Spa-ing is a staple of sober vacations that can completely transform the focal point of your trip.
Another fun idea is to indulge in a gift for yourself with the money you save from not buying alcohol. I always find a piece of jewelry or locally made apparel to splurge on and take home with me as a memory—one that I’ll actually remember.
7. Research the local scene and culture ahead of time so you can make a list of your must-do activities.
It was a newsflash when I realized there were sights to see beyond the pool bar. The reality is that you’ll have a lot more free time on your hands when sipping margaritas by the pool doesn’t steal away your day, so make it a point to spend your time taking in the culture and landmarks your destination has to offer.
Look for shows, museums, national monuments or art exhibits you might like to see that are one-of-a-kind and will help you stay excited about your visit. Even when making dinner reservations, look for places with unique atmospheres that are easy on the eyes—and ideally have a cool mocktail menu. It’s mind-blowing to me how many places drunk me visited without even considering I could get a fix from the excitement the local culture and art had to offer.
Overall, remember to stay committed to giving yourself the perspective of seeing a new place with clear eyes. Let yourself have a great time knowing you don’t need alcohol to do it. By choosing to be a sober traveler you are also making the choice to not let alcohol (or any possible resulting shame or regret) take away from your memories. You don’t often get a re-do of experiences like this, so why not show up as your best, most authentic self?