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Staying Sober While Traveling

staying sober while traveling

For those in early recovery, there are many recovery milestones or “firsts” to experience. The first time you travel, for business or pleasure, is one that can be exciting yet equally anxiety provoking. It can also present additional challenges and potentially dangerous situations if not planned properly for anyone regardless of their length of time in recovery. That is because staying sober while traveling can be challenging.

Here are some practical tips and considerations for staying sober while traveling.  

Staying Sober While Traveling

While you may not have months to prepare for your first trip in sobriety, there are some things that might help guard against temptations and the unexpected while traveling. If possible, it might be helpful to:

  • Plan shorter trips in early recovery, to gain confidence and practice before embarking on longer vacations
  • Road trips may be preferable over flying, especially if you may be tempted by airport bars
  • Pick your destination wisely, where there is an emphasis on wellness rather than an all-inclusive resort
  • Map out local support in the form of meetings. Many local intergroup websites post 12-step meeting schedules, plan to attend at least one or two meetings so you can continue your recovery routine while traveling. WIth social media, you may even be able to access an extensive recovery alumni network and find someone to bring you to their homegroup meeting.
  • Take advantage of technology. Download recovery books, podcasts or apps that can help serve as additional resource sif you feel anxious or triggered while on vacation.
  • Talk to your sponsor or therapist before you travel so that you hold yourself accountable
  • Make a list of your coping strategies before your trip so you don’t have to think of a strategy in a stressful moment and can access your list easily and quickly

Make Sure You Take Care of Yourself

Staying sober while traveling can be stressful and it takes you out of your comfort and routine. Ensuring that you practice self-care and spiritual awareness is critical during your first trips.

  • Go back to basics and remember that being “HALT”-hungry, angry, lonely and tired are relapse triggers and can be exacerbated when you are not in your normal routine. Pack snacks and try to rest when possible. Be mindful of your emotions and reach out for help as needed.
  • Have the humility to ask for help. Regardless of your length of time in sobriety or how strong you think you and your program are, traveling can be hard and it is ok to admit you are struggling. In many cases, especially at airports and train stations you can go to a ticket counter or concierge and ask them to page a friend of Bill W. Often this will result in one or more people in recovery coming to assist. If this is not the case, or if you prefer a less public approach, pick up the phone and call a sponsor or trusted friend. In some cases just picking up the phone and holding yourself accountable can help.
  • Redefine your travel goals and practice gratitude. Rather than using a vacation as an excuse to “go wild”, use your vacation as a time to recharge and practice gratitude and mediation. 

If you are traveling “home” for the first time in sobriety, or attending a function such as a wedding or family gathering, it is important to:

  • Have an exit strategy for events. If you have not been exposed to friends and family drinking around you before, make sure you talk about your fears before the event, and have a few phone numbers readily available if you need to talk to a support. 
  • Plan what you will drink. Having a go to drink order when a bartender or waiter asks can be helpful. Turn your wine glass over at the table so the waiter knows not to fill it. Keeping a glass of water with you can be helpful as well so people do not offer you a drink.
  • Avoid going to old “stomping grounds” or seeing people who you used to drink or use with, try to. If you can’t avoid it, make sure you plan support networks.
  • Play the tape through. It is normal to reminisce about the “good times” you once had drinking or using, especially when revisiting your hometown or seeing familiar faces. Remember that it was not always “good” and that for you, the consequences and ramifications of drinking or using outweighed any fun that you may have had. Consider keeping a written record in your wallet or phone to remind yourself in early sobriety of what you could lose or have lost because of your addiction. 
  • Be willing to sit some things out, especially if you are traveling with other people who have different ideas about how they want to spend their vacation. It may be hard to say no at first, or to explore on your own, but it may add to your overall experience.

While this may seem stressful at first, there are many ways to access support and maintain your recovery routine. Staying sober while traveling presents a new perspective on places and experiences. There are also unexpected perks, like not oversleeping, not waking up with a hangover and spending less money. Ultimately, stay committed to your recovery and see a new (or old) place with sober eyes.

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