Sober Travel: How Being Alcohol-Free Changed My Traveling

happy girl hides half of her face behind a big leaf – sober travel

For many of us, when we travel, our tastebuds’ curiosity for local liquid is a driving force. Alcohol. We’ll go far and wide to find spirits, wines, and beers. For many of my trips, booze was the star of the show. Architecture, museums, and history were more the garnish to my trips, and alcohol was the planner. As you can imagine, when I decided to give sober travel a try, the way I traveled changed significantly and far beyond any way that I imagined. 

Alcohol-Free Travel: How Sobriety Changed My Traveling 

The Itinerary Changed 

I drank cava in Madrid. Vinho Verde in Granada. I had too much gin with some blokes from England. I found myself in Frontignan, where I mused on muscat. I also cheer with Champagne to celebrate my newly found location. I had every bottle of rosé I could find in Agde. I flew to Italy and drank Aperol almost exclusively for a week. Then I went to Milan, where I had an airport romance that included prosciutto, prosecco, and a man from Portland. Arak found me on a moshav and in Tel Aviv. Bad vodka accompanied me and another romance at a retreat in India. And, naturally, I came to find all the beer at Oktoberfest in Germany. 

Drinking wasn’t limited to just the destination. As a drinker, here was the 4 step ritual that I cherished: 

  • Step One: Arrive at Hartsfield Jackson International 
  • Step Two: Go to my favorite restaurant inside of the airport and get drinks 
  • Step Three: Get on the plane and order drinks. 
  • Step Four: Land in destination, find “The Local’s” watering hole immediately. 

The first country I traveled to sober was Ireland. I can hear what you’re saying. Ireland? Sober? What about Guinness? What about Jameson? What about Ireland’s ruckus nightlight culture? Don’t think I didn’t think that. I did. 

I did it soberly regardless. 

I did things that I would generally want to do but would be too hungover to enjoy or go late and be rushed through or just not go at all. 

I saw Ireland the way I dreamed about it. Castles and green fields and crashing waves against cliffs. I saw the spirit of Christmas in town squares and musicians playing in alleys. And yes, I saw the nightlife of Dublin. 

Participating in it soberly was an entirely new experience. There were many moments where I found myself witnessing people 3 sheets to the wind stumbling, screaming, and carrying on. 

To be a person looking on instead of being one of them was an eye-opening experience. It made me rethink my concerns about missing Guinness and Jameson or their versions in any other country I was to visit. 

Travel for Cheap

Traveling abroad, no matter where you go can be costly. Traveling to Norway is far less expensive than India when you’re doing so with USD or the Euro. I visited both countries while being an alcohol-free tourist. Let me tell you, my trips were far less expensive than I anticipated. 

Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner without alcohol save a pretty penny. How many pennies? In Norway, it saves enough to buy two terrific seats for the Oslo Opera House. It afforded me a week’s stay in an incredible homestay in Kolkata instead of a shared hostel room in India. 

Flavor Savor

When we drink wine that was selected to be paired with a dish or a beautifully concocted cocktail designed to be relished, those are moments our tastebuds thank us. 

When we have drinks before that glass of wine or cocktail, things start to change, like our pallet. We aren’t able to taste something to their full perfection. That’s not to say my tastebuds didn’t get to experience beautiful things before. Still, I can’t imagine what they tasted like had my tongue not been moderate to completely numb. 

Knowing the local spots is a point of pride. I could tell you which hole in the wall to go to in Belgium for Pomme Frites, or I can say to you which Michelin Star restaurant to go to in Bangkok. They are all of equal importance, and I keep them in my mental Rolodex to advise other travelers. 

Traveling sober now, I taste food and drinks as they were designed to indulge. If it is umami, I know it without being told beforehand. 

The best: I know that when I recommend something, I can trust myself. 

Time Travel 

There are so many moments in my traveling history that I can’t clearly remember the details. There are also so many moments that I could have really savored but been far too hungover to appreciate them. Not just food, but moments. 

One time, I was engaged. While the engagement didn’t last until marriage, I wish I hadn’t been so hungover during the trip that I could have cherished that moment. 

Or the moments when I reflect on a grand occasion, and someone’s name escapes me. I misremember the date or the place where I was. Or, worse, I don’t have the memory at all. 

Fortunately, we have social media and phones to provide pictures of proof. The only downside is, there’s no memory of the evidence. 

If there is a picture and I don’t remember it, did it really happen? 

Exploring soberly has given me the ability to remember the places I’ve been and accurately. If there is no other reason to travel than to have a memorable experience, this gift from being sans alcohol has been one that I may cherish the most. I get to have an extraordinary time and go back to it whenever I want to in my mind. 

Traveling Responsibly

Traveling to foreign countries always comes with risk. Some of that risk is part of the excitement of traveling. 

Maybe you’ll get lost and see new places. Perhaps you’ll meet a stranger and make friends. Maybe you’ll lose your passport on a jog, and a stranger will find it and then find you on Facebook to return it. The list of what if’s is endless. 

When you’re drinking, these risks increase. Getting lost can go from being an adventure to being a nightmare. Meeting a stranger can go from enchanting to terrifying. Alcohol can also prevent our minds from working the way we need it to when we need it too. 

Needless to say, I’ve found myself in some pretty precarious situations with some a time or twenty partying my way through travel. 

Journeying sans alcohol has proven to be far less stressful. I’ll admit that the last example of losing my passport happened while I was sober. I can’t even imagine how that would have unfolded had I been drinking. I’ve been lost for hours at a time in the middle of the night without panic. I’ve been able to articulate my need for help when I really need it and not be perceived as a drunk tourist. I also have been able to have my wits about me as a solo female traveler. That includes, in the dating scene. 

Travel Healthier For The Mind & Body 

As you can imagine, my mornings were cloudy by hangovers and anxiety. There are a few details I left out about my ventures around the globe. One of them being that I had some inner turmoil that manifested in suffocating anxiety. Naturally, my passion for alcohol temporarily masked this symptom, and I was allowed to travel somewhat unscathed. 

Except for the mornings of hangovers. The return of the anxiety. The new accompaniment of acid reflux. Nausea. The swollen eyes. The sore and dehydrated sides. 

Being without alcohol almost completely liberated me of these symptoms. Sure, the acid reflux comes around when I have some food that is a little too spicey, particularly in India, but the anxiety almost wholly disappeared. Not only that, but my rosacea has also calmed down significantly. 

Instead of rushing to buy a glass of wine at the airport, I bought coffee and water and watched all the people around me. Instead of drinking bloody’s on the plane, I had more water and read a book. Instead of feeling swollen and buzzed, I felt clear-headed and agile. 

There was no time squandered, stumbling around, waiting for my brain to quit rattling. I didn’t have the spins or have to suffer from guilt for any outlandish behavior the night before. 

The sobriety pill relieved me of weights I didn’t even know I carried and allowed me to travel far healthier, mentally, and physically. 

Conclusion

If you’re considering making a sober curious trip and are worried about what you may miss out on, maybe reconsider how you’re looking at it. Perhaps, think about how much you’ll have to gain. 

I took my sobriety from Ireland, Norway, India, and back to France. I discovered new curiosities, new passions, and even new friends. I navigated through challenging or uncomfortable situations, and instead of following it with a visit to the bar, I found comfort by introducing myself to native comfort food. 

Sober travel allowed me experiences I could not have had otherwise. Not only are all of my memories fond ones, but also I have all of them to carry with me for the rest of my life.

Taylor Martin runs Living Wanderfull, a guide to sober life and other types of life ass-kicking. Follow her on Instagram.

Contributing members are responsible for the accuracy of content contributed to A World to Travel.