1000 meters of street food, Muslim Street, Xi’an, China

In the three years since I quit drinking, I’ve traveled to dozens of places without relying on alcohol. No margaritas to celebrate a tropical arrival.  And no desperate glasses of wine to numb my travel frustrations. In fact, I’m getting pretty good at sober travel and, for the most part, I rarely struggle while abroad.  That is until I escorted my mother to China on a two-week bucket list trip for her 70th birthday.

One night, towards the end of our trip, I staggered to my hotel room in Beijing; the stress and exhaustion taking me completely off-guard.  Thoughts I hadn’t had in years bubbled up.

“What if I went down to the bar for a drink?”

“I wonder if could have just one glass of wine.”

For a few minutes, I stewed on the unfairness of not being able to smoke or drink. Then I pulled the covers over my head, bunkering down until the self-pity storm passed. (That’s the trick to staying sober, I’ve found—keeping the faith that the storm will always pass.)

Traveling in Asia for two weeks with a parent is about as advanced sober travel can get—negotiating 15-hour flights, engrained family dynamics, unfamiliar customs, and oh my goodness, the crowds. It was also a pivotal experience—a first trip to the Far East for both of us, and one that both my mom and I will look back on fondly for the rest of our lives.

But I was humbled by how easily, with this specific combination of stressors, I found myself debating if I should drink.



Aberdeen Fishing Village, Hong Kong

I’m grateful that I had the practice of less intense sober travel, so I was able to fall back on habits that had kept me on track up to this point.

After returning from China, I published an article with the online travel publication Matador Network—Sober travel: How not to fall apart without your routine & support system.

If you’ve recently quit drinking, I hope you’ll check out the Matador article for ideas on how to stay on track when you’re abroad.

Want more sober travel info? Check out this article on how to stay sober while visiting your in-laws!