A few of my most awkward travel memories involved extended family. Because,well…in-laws! When I drank, the weird dynamic became even more difficult to navigate. How do you remain hospitable while wanting to hide with a bottle of wine? How many drinks is too many before someone raises an eyebrow? Even worse, what if they’re heavy drinkers as well, and then the evening devolves into a messy scene from COPS? It’s a lot to handle.

I recently returned from a in-law visit which I wasn’t particularly looking forward to.  (That’s something about sobriety no one tells you about–you aren’t magically turned into a saint. 😧)  It had all the makings of being super annoying: two flights in two days, small house with lots of people, forced dinner conversation, and in a destination even the most charitable travel guides skip over.

But, if you want to continue to trick your significant other into thinking you’re a generous, loving person, you have to suck it up and occasionally be a team player.  So that’s what I did.

Fake Stress

And in doing so, I discovered another example of what I refer to as “Fake Stress.”  “Fake Stress” is a situation I once thought I needed alcohol to cope with  but turns out–surprise!–it’s actually a more pleasant experience without it. (“Dinner” or “horror of facing the evening once you get home from work” are a few other examples of “Fake Stress.”)

If you’ve been sober for awhile, say longer than six months, you’ll have noticed you’re much more patient with life, in general. This means that you’ll be able to smile serenely when you’re defecting questions about your weight and Uncle Larry’s jokes. You might not even be faking!  You might not laugh at the fifth knock-knock joke of the evening, but I bet you’ll at least enjoy the hamburger casserole.

Nothin’ to Hide

The luxury of having absolutely nothing to hide is a favorite part of sobriety.  It’s a relief after several decades cagily trying to get away with bad behavior.   Forget awkwardly counting how many bottles of wine are left for all these people. No giving Aunt Glenda the side-eye when she fills her wine glass up to the brim and then barely touches it. No tiptoeing into the kitchen for a topup. And no more empties to get rid of the next morning. It’s positively luxurious to have so few secrets. And makes you a much lesser maintenance house guest.

Though, because we like to plan for happy sober travel, here are a few tips to ensure success the next time you must visit your beloved’s family:

1) Pack your favorite non-alcoholic drinks.

I strolled into my in-laws’ home with two litres of diet tonic water. Sure, they had iced tea and water.  But diet tonic makes me happy, so where I go, it goes.

2) Go to bed as early as you need to.

Blame your exhaustion on the travel. Or say you need to catch up on some work reading before bed, and then retire to your room at 7:30 if you have to.

3) Insist on a hotel, if you need it.

Having your own space to return to at the end of the day can be a game changer.  Need an excuse? Use one of these:

  • I’m taking an online class and I have a paper due on Monday, so I need a place to work.
  • I need to use the gym and pool to get in my triathlon workout–it’s coming up soon!
  • The kids are really excited about the hotel pool.  (This only works if you have kids.)
  • I have a voucher for a night at XYZ hotel, and I want to use it before it expires.

You’re welcome.

Want to read more sober travel advice? Check out this article on how to keep cool despite the stressiest of travel stress.