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.