Whether you are new to sobriety or in long-term recovery, sober travel for a vacation can challenge the best of us! But with some careful planning and research, it is entirely possible to stay sober — and enjoy yourself — when traveling.
Travel anxiety, long lines at the airport, flying with anxious passengers whose drink is wafting toward you, and navigating foreign countries can feel overwhelming. Even though you’re going away with the sole purpose of rest and relaxation, you could end up feeling triggered, stressed out, and like you’re potentially risking your recovery.
Whatever your stage in recovery, with our thoughtful tips, you can set yourself up for success with traveling.
Top tips for staying sober when traveling
1. Ensure phone access. Before leaving home, speak to your cell phone provider and ensure that you have network coverage at your destination. You may need to add on a bundle for around $5, but it will be worth it.
2. Stay connected. Pick three to five people as a support network to speak to while you’re away. Arrange this with friends, family members and loved ones, a sponsor, or therapist a couple of weeks before leaving. Tell them that you might call needing their support while you’re away. Having a support network of people on speed dial who know you (and your recovery goals) will make a world of difference. It will keep you accountable to your recovery and provide support should you feel stressed out.
3. Do your research. If you attend a 12-step group, research English-speaking meetings in the area where you are staying. Print out the list and take it with you in the event you have any phone difficulties if you’re leaving the country. If you don’t attend meetings, find other quiet spaces to retreat to while you’re away: look for parks, art galleries, museums, and libraries.
4. Communicate with cabin crew. If you are new to recovery, or are feeling particularly stressed by sitting next to someone who has had one too many gin and tonics, speak to the flight attendant and ask to move seats. If you feel uncomfortable asking from your seat, you could walk to the crew area of the plane and explain that you’re in recovery and feel triggered sitting next to people who are drinking heavily. They should be able to accomodate you.
5. Check in before leaving. Even if you planned your trips months ago, if you have just experienced a stressful event, like a bereavement or breakup, it is worth checking in with yourself and a trusted recovery support about whether this is the best time for you to take a trip. Events like these can result in heightened emotions and we could potentially reach for an old coping strategy when we aren’t thinking straight. It’s essential to travel when you’re feeling stable in your recovery.
6. Take your tools. Consider packing some of your recovery supports to take with you on your trip. That could be your favorite tea, essential oils, meditation and daily reflection books, a journal, meditative music, a yoga mat, scented candles, your favourite book, notes with affirmations, or access to online recovery support groups.
7. Pack snacks and an empty water bottle. You are allowed to take food through security as long as it isn’t a liquid. To avoid drops in blood sugar and keep your energy on an even keel, take healthful snacks with you: bags of dried fruit and nuts, jerky, and fresh fruit. You could even prepare a meal for the plane so that you don’t have to rush around the airport to find something before boarding the plane. You can fill up your water bottle once you are through security. Then you don’t have to wait for the flight attendant to give you a small cup of water — this will also ensure you’re adequately hydrated and minimize any potential jetlag.
8. Prepare for comfort. Take a sweatshirt or shawl, thick socks, eye mask, earbuds or headphones, lip salve, and hand moisturizer to keep you comfortable and promote sleep on the flight.
9. Allow for jet lag and tiredness. You can avoid some jet lag by eating well and keeping adequately hydrated, but if you’re traveling through several time zones, it is inevitable. Plan for this by not making a lot of arrangements on the day you arrive or the day after that. Give yourself time to rest and recuperate from travel.
10. Enjoy yourself! Don’t forget that you’re going to have fun and enjoy yourself.
Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and content strategist. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to providing the ingredients to live a fulfilling life in recovery. Liv also co-founded the podcast Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and publications, including The Fix, Ravishly, Workit Health, Grok Nation, and STAT News.