Sober travel: Handle travel stress without losing your shit

Sober travel: Handle travel stress without losing your shit

My least favorite thing about quitting drinking is that there’s no reward for getting through the day without punching somebody in the face.

Back in my drinking days, it seemed that even the most aggravating situation would dissolve as soon as the cork popped. The sting of being bumped off a flight made sweeter by a strong airport lounge G&T.  The stress of dealing with an infuriating client almost forgotten after a few glasses of Cab.  Sadly, no longer an option.

Stress is an inevitable part of sober travel, no matter how practiced you are.   I travel frequently and find myself in exhausting scenarios with annoying regularity.  A few days ago, after being on the road for several hours, I tried to check into a hotel in the charming town of Staunton, VA.  Despite the presence of my reservation confirmation, the receptionist coldly announced that they had no record of me.  “Oh, and by the way, our hotel is full,” she gloated.

Thirty minutes later, after miraculously finding me a room, she dismissed me with a warning that the air conditioning was broken, and the hot water was OK to drink–but not the cold, since it was brown. Say whaat?! 

Now that it was 9 pm, I was finally getting into my room–dinner plans had been long abandoned–it occurred to me that handling travel stress with aplomb would be a helpful blog post. A few years ago, this would have been a perfect set up for celebrating surviving the day by sinking five glasses of wine. I mean, how else does one reward themselves for getting through the life’s frustrations without losing their shit?

Here are my 11 tips on how to handle travel stress without having a nervous breakdown.

1) Mitigate problems by traveling during business hours.

I try to avoid showing up at hotels at midnight or catching the 5 am flight.  Let’s be reasonable, people. We’re sober–not superheroes. Give yourself a buffer of a few business hours to find another hotel or catch another flight.

2) Comfort drinks by the gallons.

For many years I brought wine with me when I traveled. I mean, why endure the inconvenience of having to decipher local liquor laws immediately upon arrival? That’s for amateurs.  (Side note–it was when I packed not one, but two boxes of wine, for a 4-day trip to Portugal, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just being organized or if these were two major red flags.)

Now I’m smuggling diet tonic water–cloaked in less shame, but still so outrageously heavy the baggage handlers wince when they throw my gear on the cart.  I’ll toss in some instant coffee and tea, as well.  I’m not an animal.

3) Pack snacks, and most definitely chocolate.

Granola bars. Beef jerky. Fun bags of almonds. Definitely chocolate. And remember, if you are traveling with a grumpy significant other, double your stash.

4) Headphones, always.

If you heed no other advice on this list, remember this one.  Pack not one, but two pairs of headphones.  When that kid in row 6 starts blasting his Ipad with absolute disregard for your sanity, you’ll be grateful. I’ve forgotten my headphones before–zero regrets paying $35 for an emergency pair of earbuds at the airport kiosk.

5) Don’t forget your back-up chargers.

Self-explanatory, I think.  Pack one set in the carry-ons, the other in the suitcase.  I bring a power bank as well, but I need a lot of gadgets.

6) Something to read, or do.

I live and die by Kindle, and make sure you actually download the books before getting on the plane.  If you get delayed somewhere, you’ll be grateful for something to read, a puzzle book, knitting, a meditation app, adult coloring book, just something.  Plan ahead for extra downtime.

7) Bring cash, especially in different currencies.

When I lived in Eastern Europe, I could never count on the ATMs to dispense money, especially when I ended up in a random part of the Balkans. So now, even if I’ve let the bank know I’m traveling, I’m immensely paranoid of being without cold, hard, cash. I always bring enough money to cover a coffee and a taxi wherever I land.

8) Sleep it off.

When I first quit drinking, my go-to coping strategy was crawling into bed (no matter what the time) surrounded by my dogs, snacks, tea, and something trashy to watch on Netflix.  When I emerged the next day, the agony of whatever I had been suffering had faded and I could get on with getting on.  Take the same approach when traveling–you have that big, comfy hotel bed and room service!

9) Plan your sober rewards.

During my first six months of quitting drinking, I planned a reward for myself every single week. Ooh! Another whole week, I win a manicure AND and a $7 Starbucks coffee.  This weekend, I’m heading to Panama and I’ve already scoped out the hotel spa.  It doesn’t have to be expensive though–maybe your reward is two hours uninterrupted by the pool or a sunrise walk on the beach.

10) Give people the benefit of the doubt (sleeping Buddhas).

I”ve had a fledgling interest in Buddhism and meditation for many years.  I’m a terrible meditator, but I do take advice for living wherever I can get it.  In the book, City Dharma, I learned that it’s helpful to think of the Buddha as being in all of us, and if someone cuts us off in traffic–well, he’s just a sleeping Buddha right now.  I think the lesson there is to practice compassion–for others and ourselves.  I get it, it’s hard. Especially at the end of a 14 hour flight, and you just want to get off this f-ing plane, and some travel noobs are blocking the aisle. 🙄

11) Remember that at some point, this situation, no matter how nightmarish, will end.

Where good planning fails, that’s where the great stories begin, right? You aren’t going to write a hilarious blog post about your journey to Nairobi when everything went smoothly.  That’s boring.  I want to hear about the time you were forced to hitchhike through Slovenia after your now-ex-girlfriend left with your best friend and the rental car.  I’m no monk (ask my husband) but my threshold remaining patient has drastically expanded since quitting drinking.  Be patient with others, and yourself.

I didn’t quit drinking one day, and then hop on a truck tour of Oman the next.  In fact, it was about six months before my first sober travel adventure. One of the first articles I wrote on the “sober travel” topic discusses my apprehension of a weekend away for the first time.  Check it out here. 

 

Sober travel blogs and other fun resources

Sober travel blogs and other fun resources

There are approximately 98,000 sober blogs out there now (give or take).  I think that’s awesome! Following other peoples’ journeys when you’re teetering around on your newly sober Bambi legs is super helpful.  There are even a few other sober travel blogs out there, for which I want to provide you with the links. If I haven’t covered the topic, maybe one of these fine people have. Also, I’ve included a few sober travel agencies and tour groups which may have a blog associated with them.  I have zero affiliation with anybody, I’m just a master of the Google-fu and am sharing my resources for those who might be lazier.  You’re welcome. 😉

Sober Travel Blogs

Parisian on Purpose: Not really focused on sobriety or travel, but the author and journalist Robert J. Hughes, who splits his time between Paris and NYC, reflects on his Not Drinking in France, and other aspects of French life and culture.

The Sober Senorita: Kelly Fitzgerald Junco blogged about her journey getting sober in Cancun and now she’s writing a book!

Traveling Wild Woman: I just discovered Shannon Whaley, and I love her style, cool tattoos, and the message about storytelling and entrepreneurship.

Nomadic Notes: I stumbled across James Clark’s blog last year when I found his post about his life as a non-drinking traveler. He’s currently based in Vietnam.

Be My Travel Muse: Kristin is a solo female traveler, who also doesn’t drink.  Yay!

Sober Trips & Retreats

Travel Sober: A sober travel tour company; upcoming trips include Hawaii, Greece, and Mexico.

Sober Outside: Started by  Brooke, who wanted to travel with like-minded sober peeps.

Recovery Elevator: I’m a huge fan of Paul’s podcast; he puts on meetups and retreats several times a year.

She Recovers:  The recovery movement has an annual conference as well as retreats both in the US and abroad.

General Articles on Sober Travel

Sober Travel: Do it Without a Drink! GoNomad.com 

The Best Types of Vacations To Take if you Don’t Drink, HuffPost.com 

9 Tips for Staying Sober While Traveling, TheFix.com

The Ghost of Drinking: Reflections on Sober Travel, LauraMcKowen.com 

Traveling the world in search of good, sober fun, BostonGlobe.com

 How to Plan a Sober Vacation, MissTravel.com

 

Sweden: a non-alcoholic wonderland

Sweden: a non-alcoholic wonderland

I had zero expectations of what an alcohol-free Sweden trip would look like.  I’d been to Scandinavia before but was a hearty consumer of beer at the time.  When I visited this fine country, I’d been off the sauce for 10 months. So what does the land of long winters, Vikings, and DIY furniture assembly have to offer the non-drinking minority?

The Alcohol-Free Promised Land

Upon arrival, I was delighted to find that every menu, in every restaurant, in every Swedish city visited, had an extensive non-alcoholic drink section.  Say whaaat?  Non-alcoholic ciders.  Booze-free sparkling wines.  Fun tonics and herbal spritzers.  And they were good, no sickly sweet $9 grape juice here. It was glorious.

I copied this (below) from an upscale wine menu at a restaurant in the Gamla Stan part of Stockholm, but similar choices (and more!) were available everywhere, including the hotel bar.

Alkoholfritt (Alcohol-free)

  • Kivik Svart Vinbär/citronmeliss (Kivik Black Currant/ Lemon Balm)
  • Kivik Päron Ingefära  (Kivik Pear Ginger)
  • Kivik Årets skörd Äpple  (Kivik Harvest of the Year Apple)
  • Rött, Vitt vin eller Rosé Natureo Glas  (Red, Wine, or Rose Wine)

I’m not the only non-drinking traveler to have noticed how Sweden is rocking the alcohol-free scene.  London blogger DryChick observes the following:

Much to my surprise it seemed that every restaurant I went to that weekend in Stockholm had alcohol-free wine or beer on the menu. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I was able to order alcohol-free red with my steak at Zink Grill and a sparkling white with my sole at Stockholm Fisk. At the Fasching jazz bar, I discovered the 0% San Miguel cerveza that I had read about but hadn’t yet tried, and it was sweet and refreshing [link to full article at DryScene].

Hell yes! I’ve been trying to do some digging as to why Sweden has normalized offering non-alcoholic wines and beers in their restaurants, but haven’t found a satisfactory answer yet.  Sweden, like the rest of Scandinavia, tax alcohol very heavily as part of several initiatives to curb alcohol abuse and addiction.  However, Sweden seems unique in the sheer availability and choice of non-alcoholic drink options.  If anyone knows more, send me a note in the comments.

Can’t get enough of this non-alcoholic European travel advice? Who could blame you?  Read about Amsterdam here!

What is Fika?

One of the best parts of Swedish culture is fika—basically an excuse to have cake and coffee mid-morning. 

Sober in Amsterdam? 12 things to splurge on since you aren’t getting high

Sober in Amsterdam? 12 things to splurge on since you aren’t getting high

Amsterdam might be my favorite city in Europe and not just because I stumbled across this naked troll flower pot. (Isn’t it amazing?)  Don’t let the Red Light District’s reputation put you off; this cultural capital shouldn’t be missed, even if you don’t partake in the city’s infamous recreational activities.

Amsterdam is so much more than its permissive stance on intoxicants. Quirky, diverse, fashion-forward, and oh, so many things to eat!  On my recent trip, I actually had to seek out the Red Light District for a nostalgic stroll. I’d traversed the city on foot multiple times over three days, yet I hadn’t come across even one sketchy street corner. 

Walking is the best way to explore Amsterdam. Heaving with historic buildings, cozy cafes, museum heavyweights, leafy parks, and more charming canal scenes than you could ever photograph, to explore Amsterdam is to slow down and get acquainted with the Dutch exceptional quality of life.

I’m currently trying to convince the husband that we need to retire on a barge tucked in a quiet canal in Amsterdam somewhere. But until I make that happen…let’s discuss what to do when you find yourself sober in Amsterdam (since you won’t be indulging in the typical offerings of a brown “coffee” shop or biercafé).

I present to you 12 alcohol-free cultural indulgences that won’t cost you your soul. Hooray!

(There are, of course, many free things to do, but since you are traveling sober in Amsterdam, you deserve a little luxury, no? I think you do.)

1) Fun Accommodation  

Be warned, accommodation in Amsterdam is pricey and the rooms are European-sized (really f-ing small). There are dozens of budget-friendly hostels in the city center, but you don’t want to make that mistake.  To ensure a pleasant stay away from the party scene, the Volkshotel (People’s Hotel) in the Weesperzijde neighborhood is an excellent choice. 

The first floor of the Volkshotel is a hip open-concept cafe/hotel reception/co-working space, giving the space a creative energy.  A rooftop terrace and restaurant serves food and is a spectacular perch to watch the sunset.  Wellness activities such as yoga classes and a sauna room are also available.  Rooms start at around 109 Euros per night. (photo courtesy of Volkshotel.com).

P.S. The Volkshotel breakfast buffet (like everywhere in the Netherlands) is spectacular. 

2) BREAKFAST  Dutch-style

Dutch breakfast buffets are an underrated experience. I discovered (to my astonishment) that a standard Dutch offering was chocolate sprinkles for my toast.  Say what? Instant chocolate croissant?  Weird slices of meat on the side? I’m so in.  Anyways, the Volkshotel has a solid breakfast spread.  However, to mix it up, a few minutes walk from the Volkshotel, the Breakfast Club is serving interesting options like a Breakfast Burger and Chicken Waffles served with sriracha and honey.  Menu items are featured and named after capital cities like Mexico City, London, and New York.   There are several locations for The Breakfast Club in Amsterdam; I went to the Wibautstraat 56 location. 

3) Modern home & fashion

I think Dutch modern design is underrated.  Scandinavia might have cornered calming minimalism and France may be understated glamor, but if you like quirky and a little weird, then Amsterdam has you covered.  For home goods and vintage clothes,  try the De 9 Straatjes (9 Streets) area of Amsterdam, where cafes and unusual shops line cobbled alleyways and four main canals.  Concrete Matter, the Man’s Gift Company located at Gasthuismolensteeg 12, is rich with both vintage and new treasures. I particularly love their section devoted to Mantiques, which include must-haves such as an authentic wooden Spitfire propeller and a  1930’s solid steel French butcher’s knife.  For unique women’s apparel, check out Shan’s Shawls and Stuff at Raadhuisstraat 39hs. I  limped in desperate for walking shoes and strutted out rocking embroidered high top sneakers.

Nearby in the Haarlemmerburrt neighborhood, I stumbled into the glorious Store Without a Home and found the polar bear wall rug I never knew I desperately needed.

4) Handmade & Local at the Market

Don’t worry, when strolling through Amsterdam, it won’t take long to encounter a charming street market scene. Craft markets, flower markets, food markets, second-hand goods and antiques: They are everywhere! To my delight, when I stopped to admire a quirky kitchen accessory or a child’s dress printed in an Amsterdam canal design, I was often approached by the vendor who had also created the original design!  I scored unique gifts for all my nieces and nephews in one swoop.  For fabrics, clothes, fresh food, and plants in a bustling outdoor atmosphere check out the Albert Cuyp Market on Albert Cuyp Straat.  And it doesn’t get any more Dutch than a floating flower market, so make sure to stop by the Bloemenmarkt on the Singel canal. 

5) EXPERIENCE ART: DUTCH MASTERS TO THE MASTERS OF QUIRK

The Netherlands have a deep history of visual arts from the Dutch Golden Age  to quirky graphic prints you can pick up at street markets.  From the Van Gogh Museum to a Banksy Exhibition at the Moco Museum, Amsterdam is stuffed with fine and contemporary masterpieces. Also, picking up original art from local artists is one of my favorite things to do while traveling.  It packs pretty well, creates a lasting and meaningful memento of the trip, and supports local artisans as well! A gallery I stumbled upon with original and non-cheesy Amsterdam-themed art and clothes is Mark Raven, with locations at Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 174 and Leidsestraat 42.

 

6) DUTCH TULIPS, REAL & CARVED

 Holland’s ubiquitous flowerthe tulip.  If you have some outside space at home that needs a little color, there are bulbs for sale literally everywhere in Amsterdam in all possible colors. Yes, you can buy them at the airport, and no, I had no trouble with customs. I was also drawn to the carved wooden versions which only cost a few Euros each.  You can find them at any of the street markets in the tourist areas. Of course the Bloemenmarkt, mentioned above, will definitely have both live and wooden tulips for purchase. 

 

7) LUNCH AT THE INDOOR FOOD MARKET

The only thing more fun than a Dutch street market is a Dutch indoor food market.  The colors! The smells! The weird sausages! Do yourself a favor and make your way over to Foodhallen  at Schellingwouderdijk 339.  Sort of a gathering of indoor food-trucks, there’s an option for a bit of everything.  I personally had a Bahn Mi from Viet View that changed my life. You’re welcome. 

8) ALL OF THE CHEESE

Does this picture even need a caption? Maybe just 😂😂😂😂😂😂.

It seems every neighborhood in Amsterdam had a cheese shop. Full disclosure—I took the above picture in Rotterdam, but I assure you the situation is just as cheese-friendly in Amsterdam. Several amazing shops are located on Singel street in Centrum, including the popular Reypenaer at Singel 182. Don’t be shy about asking for a taste! Also, if you’re flying internationally, it’s totally fine to bring back cheese if it’s vacuum-sealed.

9) A Surinamese feast

What is Surinamese food, you ask? Happy to answer.  It’s savory deliciousness. What else do you need to know??? While I was in Rotterdam, I met a girl from L.A. whose family was from Suriname.  She said I had to check out the Surinamese food scene in Amsterdam.  And I did exactly that.   I’d describe it as a mashup of Indian, Chinese, and Caribbean flavors and foods.  To add to the fun, you must try the traditional pink drink called dawet.  Made from coconut milk, lemongrass syrup, and rose paste (or red food coloring), the result is a thick tropical drink to enjoy with your noodles and curry.

I ate at Warung Sprang Makanda, and with three locations in Centrum Amsterdam, you should easily be able to add one to your itinerary!

 

10) Take a lovers cruise

On my first trip to Amsterdam, I found myself on a Lovers Canal Cruise with my 19-year-old sister and 16-year-old brother. There are many outlet’s offering canal trips, so I’m not sure how we ended up on the Lovers version, but it ended up being a rather amusing, yet thankfully platonic event. Nearly 20 years later,  I was delighted to find the same company still in business!  It’s a little touristy, sure, but it’s a relaxing way to glide through the city from a different perspective.  Just make sure to avoid the booze-cruise variety.  Tickets on the Lovers Canal Cruise start at 15 Euros.  

P.S. If you visit in the winter, you can experience the Amsterdam Light Festival from the water!

 

11) Day trip to Rotterdam

The Netherlands is a compact county.  Paired with highly efficient train travel, well my friends, you have the perfect mocktail for a day trip! Traveling to nearby Rotterdam, The Hague, or even Belgium by train is a breeze.  On my most recent trip, I spent several days in Rotterdam exploring the modern architecture and killer foodhall scene.  Another optiontake a day trip to one of the cheese markets, such as in the town of Gouda.  

12) SOMETHING SWEET TO TAKE HOME. 

Apparently I ate every stroopwafel within 11 seconds of my purchase, as I have zero pictures despite sampling quite a few. I had to borrow this picture from Wikimedia.  Not surprising, because they are divine.  Wafer-thin waffles sandwich a caramel center to make a delicate little cookie. Then my friend taught me to warm it up by balancing the cookie on the rim of coffee I’m drinking so it gets all melty inside.  Bring them home with you by the cases, that’s all I can say. You can find them wrapped for sale at the grocery and fine foods stores all over town, but I don’t think you’ll have any trouble, I even found them at Starbucks! 

Final Notes:  If you’re headed to Amsterdam soon, I hope you find these tips helpful.  But of course, they’re just a starting point—once you’re there, adventure will unfold naturally.  Can’t wait to hear what you discover; leave me a note in comments! 

Hungry for more? Read this post on why Sweden is a non-alcoholic paradise. 

 

How quitting drinking made me a better traveler

How quitting drinking made me a better traveler

Originally published by Pen & Trail Travel Magazine

A few months before I quit drinking for good, the husband and I stole a few days to lounge on the sand at the Delaware Shore. It was September, and the air was still warm but the crowds had thinned, leaving us the wide beaches to ourselves.

We had three entire days to soak up the sun and watch the dolphins dart among the waves. So, I was pretty annoyed to wake up one morning so hungover that I had to grit my teeth to force myself to face the day.

A few precious days that we’d paid a lot of money for, which I was now just trying to survive. At brunch, I’d order coffee (obviously), and avocado toast (healthy!) and make chit-chat with my husband about how to spend the day. He might not notice, but I’d be distracted, hardly present at all, because mentally I’d be berating myself for swilling that extra glass of red wine, again.

Maybe I wasn’t the biggest drinker you’d have ever met.  But, I definitely had a habit, and it was getting old. Frankly, so was I. How many days traveling over the last 20 years had I wasted from overindulging? I couldn’t even guess.

But, what’s traveling without drinking anyways? Swilling pints of lager in cozy London pubs. Pounding shots of rakija in Croatia. Sipping wine with every meal in France. Spilling sticky cups of rum and cola on the dance floor in Belize. And a personal favorite, guzzling margaritas from a can in Mexico. Traveling means experiencing life to the fullest! That means alcohol. And lots of it

Less than a year later, I was back in Rehoboth Beach for my 2-year wedding anniversary. This time, I was six months into my post-alcohol experiment. I booked a B&B, famous for its waffles in the morning and free wine in the evenings

Immediately, my mind flooded with anxious thoughts

How can I travel without drinking?”

“How can I celebrate my anniversary without alcohol?

and most urgently, “But…free wine!”

Then I remembered that I once celebrated a trip to the grocery store with wine. So…maybe my excuses are still pretty flimsy

It rained all three days in Rehoboth Beach on that trip. I didn’t drink. It was totally fine. In fact, it was much more than fine. I spent too much money on used books and antiques. We took the ferry over to New Jersey and explored the Victorian town of Cape May. We ate fresh seafood. I challenged the waiters to bring me “the funnest” non-alcoholic drink they could invent

Instead of being a liability, I woke up early to research activities. I assumed the podcast DJ duties on the drive.  I made ridiculous observations intended to make the husband laugh. When I returned home content and invigorated, rather than depressed and full of regrets, I conceded that perhaps I really was onto something.  

Traveling without drinking is not only possible…but dare I say, preferable? Before you shriek “Heresy!” hear me out

Since that Delaware trip, I’ve spent several weeks in Scandinavia. My birthday fell during a 7-day work trip to Las Vegas. I spent a luxurious weekend in a Pennsylvanian resort and survived many visits home to California. I just returned from a week in the Netherlands. All accomplished without even one cheeky drink.

I’ve met other people that don’t drink while they’re busy exploring the globe. Some just don’t like it, some want to save money, and others were in recovery.  At an afterparty in Rotterdam recently, my new friends hardly touched a drop of booze, just because!  I’ve realized that traveling without drinking isn’t really about abstaining from this magical liquid worshiped the world over, but about feeling empowered to make decisions that work for you.

As a regular drinker, even if you don’t have an obvious problem, the ritual begins to make your world smaller. It’s imperceptible at first. Weekends might involve having a few drinks with friends. Soon, the two become completely intertwined. Next, your brain wonders,

“How can I even hang out with the girls without drinking?”

“Is it possible to attend this wedding without toasting with champagne?”

“How will I visit Scotland without sampling a few drams?”

“How can I survive Tuesday?”

In some ways, my lengthy travel resume, with its regular doses of the unfamiliar, prepared me for this new life sans alcohol. What’s more uncomfortable than quitting a 20-year habit, especially one that is both so soothing and socially encouraged? If the point of travel is to escape the ordinary, experience our differences, and push against the boundaries of what’s comfortable, then quitting drinking has, in fact, also made me a better traveler.

I’m more adventurous than ever.

I’ve always considered myself a risk taker. But that quality didn’t extend to my drinking ritual, which was really more of a drinking rut. Now, every restaurant, city, and country is an opportunity to sample the new. Frothy glass of hot pink dawet at a Surinamese restaurant in Amsterdam? Sure! Traveling in Sweden was a delightful surprise. I found an extensive non-alcoholic wine and beer list on every menu, none of which I would have glanced at before.

My adventurousness even extends beyond my drink choices.  One random evening I came up with the idea that I should fly to every international destination served by a direct flight from Washington, DC. And write about it. Then, more astonishingly, I actually started doing it.

I’m more flexible.

Previously, every evening ended with drinks, with few exceptions. Now, experiences of all kinds are crammed into my days. In Las Vegas, I spent the evenings visiting the museums and aquariums. I splurged on fancy tasting menus and rented a vehicle to explore the desert. On a whim, I rode in a drift supercar around the Las Vegas Speedway. It was harder to be spontaneous when I was preoccupied with where I could buy wine on Sundays and wondering if I had remembered to pack my corkscrew.

I’m more responsible.

I was the type of drinker that managed to get shit done. But I was still just managing. Once, because I was so disorganized, my debit card was declined while attempting to buy a single stick of deodorant. I was 35 years old. Now, my kitchen is clean. All the dogs and humans in my house are current on their medical appointments. And there are probably fewer than three empty coffee cups floating around my car. I have a savings account dedicated solely to travel, which I diligently contribute to monthly. All trips get paid for in cold, hard, cash.

I have piles of money.

Ok, I’m not exactly stacking bricks of cash, but booze is expensive, especially when you are consuming it with the frequency I once found refreshing.  Since my travel fund isn’t being depleted quite so rapidly due to lengthy pub sessions, I’m able to spend more on quality experiences. Like upgrading to Economy Plus!

I have more fun.

Ironically, I’m more outgoing and social since giving up the hooch. The dark cloud that followed me around gradually evaporated, making a cheerful and upbeat mood my default personality. Who knew? Now I’m the person planning adventures, not bailing on invitations at the last minute. I’ve instigated weekends away for welding classes, white water rafting, tree climbing courses, and exploring Jamaica while encouraging friends and family to join me.

I’ve become more resilient.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I developed healthy* coping techniques for stress, boredom, and all of the feels that I don’t like. Things still go wrong when I travel. In Richmond, the husband got food poisoning courtesy of a dodgy roadside gyro. In Sweden, it was an AirBnB fiasco. In Las Vegas, I mysteriously scratched my cornea and required medical attention. Now it’s easier to figure out what I need to do next without requiring an entire bottle of wine to cope.

Note: *Debatable if coconut ice cream with Magic Shell chocolate topping qualifies as healthy.

I’m more authentic now.

Confronting my worst habits and the role my ego played in prolonging the behavior was a humbling experience. The process of building new habits in their place, however, has grown my confidence. Also, without the daily dose of self-loathing, waking up every day as myself isn’t so bad. I don’t have to present as anyone else or hide parts of my life of which I’m ashamed. So, I’m able to more sincerely connect with people both at home and while traveling. Since I’m less distracted by my own internal dramas, I’m more interested in getting to know you.

I’m also less judgemental.

Like most well-traveled people, I considered myself to be very open-minded. Conversely, like most drinkers, I distrusted people who didn’t drink! I viewed cultures and customs that didn’t embrace alcohol with extreme skepticism. Now, that’s no longer an issue, which has opened up parts of the world and experiences I wouldn’t have seriously considered before. (Seven-day silent meditation retreat, no problem! Well…)

My life is bigger.

Probably not a coincidence, but around the same time I gave up alcohol, I completely restarted my professional career from one in the sciences to a more creative field. Five years ago, my options seemed few, and now I’m limited only by the hours in the day. Because there’s less holding me back, there’s much more space to move forward. Opportunities seem to be present everywhere. Travelling has become less of a selfish pursuit of simply accumulating more countries.  Now it’s more of a shared experience, of learning, of inspiring myself and connecting with others.

Sure, there’s the occasional pang for the experiences I’ll miss. I’m human.

My brain sends up random flares like, “I might want to go to Tokyo next year. Clearly, this will be impossible to do and not drink sake.”

It’s a little bit like having a fleeting thought about an old lover. For a brief moment, the fantasy, the “What if?”, is seductive.

Don’t I deserve some fun? Let’s be exciting and a little dangerous!”

It’s also the perfect way to create a total dumpster fire out of this otherwise satisfying life I’m building.

My love of travel stems from life’s possibilities. Endless combinations of routes to plan, experiences I haven’t had, people I haven’t met, and future memories I’ve yet to make. It’s not such a sacrifice for me to skip a few cocktails when the payoff could be so much bigger, and bolder. When I finally put down that drink, I found that I held a nonstop ticket to the rest of my life, and I want to see where it goes.