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6 Tips for Traveling Sober or While In Recovery

Vacation should be a time of relaxation and escape. For people on a recovery journey, it can be a challenging experience. Traveling often exposes you to various triggers and can confront you with temptation. It can even make you vulnerable to a relapse.

If you’re sober or in recovery, you’ll need to take precautions to ensure a successful and enjoyable vacation.

Triggers to Watch for On Vacation

Everyone’s triggers are different, but there are some common scenarios to be aware of while traveling. These include:

  • Stressful or time-sensitive situations—Traveling often involves extensive planning and logistics, which can cause stress. For instance, arriving late at the airport or getting lost in a foreign country may cause a triggering event.
  • Dining out—You will most likely eat at restaurants while traveling. If the people you are dining with order drinks, this can add a layer of challenge.
  • Parties or events—If you’re traveling for something like a wedding or a birthday, events like these can present some opportunities for temptation.
  • Family dynamics—Family vacations can be extra complicated. It depends on your relationship with your family, but even a positive family atmosphere can make you vulnerable.
  • Fear of missing out—Traveling exposes you to specialties and experiences local to the places you’re visiting. You may feel pressure to participate or partake in these things because you don’t want to miss out on them.

It’s normal to struggle with certain situations while you’re recovering. Recognizing the potential challenges that can arise on your travels will help you prepare for how to respond to them. Safe and enjoyable vacations are possible, and there are ways to make that happen.

Tips for a Successful Sober Vacation

Once you’ve reviewed the most likely triggering scenarios, it’s time to decide how you will react to them. You can learn from other people’s experiences by following the tips they used to stay sober on their travels.

1. Plan ahead

The most important thing you can do before heading out on vacation is to make a plan. Plan every step of your journey, including how you’ll get from one place to another and how you will spend your time in each location.

If having large blocks of free time may trigger you, schedule activities to keep you busy during your vacation. Morning activities, in particular, can help you think through what you do the night before.

You may also want to research the local cuisine and specialties. Pick out restaurants that have appealing non-alcoholic beverages. Read the menus and set an intention for what you’re going to order.

Planning your trip out, while tedious, can help keep you on track and fully committed to your sobriety while enjoying your time in the moment.

2. Be realistic

It’s essential to know and accept your limits. Be honest with yourself about what experiences are safe for you and which aren’t.

You don’t have to do everything your traveling group does. Plan alternatives in advance. Winery tour? Schedule a hike instead. Bar crawl? Hit a local bakery and have some pastries.

You can combat your fear of missing out by substituting these experiences with something equally memorable.

3. Ask for support

Communicating with the person or people you’re traveling with will be crucial to your success. Let them know what you’re dealing with and what you’ll need to avoid.

If they understand your boundaries ahead of time, they’ll be less likely to push them on the trip, whether inadvertently or deliberately.

You may want to agree on a code word to use when you need their help to get out of a situation. If you’re comfortable with it, a friend can also check in with you regularly to see how you’re doing.

4. Stay connected

While vacation can be a great way to disconnect from much of the stress of everyday life, it’s essential that you don’t completely cut yourself off.

Keep in contact with your support network, including sponsors or recovery groups. Doing so can remind you of your priorities when needed. Schedule virtual therapy sessions or calls with a sober friend if it will help you stay on track.

You can even investigate local resources in the areas you’re visiting. They may have a group you can drop in on or some helpful tips for how to enjoy their hometown sober.

5. Choose meaningful rewards

Don’t forget to celebrate your hard work and commitment, even on vacation. Treat yourself to non-triggering rewards to commemorate your trip.

Treats could involve indulging in the locals’ favorite gelato flavor, purchasing a memorable souvenir, or a morning at the spa. Let yourself feel good in healthy ways!

6. Take care of yourself

You are much more likely to surrender to temptation if you feel stressed, tired, hungry, or otherwise uncomfortable. Make sure you’re giving yourself the care you need to stay in a good mood and keep your body happy.

Always have water and a snack with you for emergencies. Try to keep to a sleep routine you know will work for you. Make time for exercise if that’s a non-negotiable. Review your activities, transportation, and menus for the next day the night before.

More Tips for Planning Your First Sober Vacation

Planning your first trip after you’ve achieved sobriety can be overwhelming, but enjoying a vacation during recovery is possible.

Here are some things that might help when you’re planning your first vacation:

  • Consider staying close to home—For your first trip, you might want to visit a location near where you live. That way, you can return home quickly if you need to leave a dangerous situation. Keep it short and sweet—Starting with a shorter trip can help build your confidence for future, more extended vacations.
  • Stay in control—Pick a vacation that gives you the most control over your routine. For example, staying somewhere with a kitchen may be a good option if eating out is a big trigger for you. Or visit a town known for something other than its local alcohol.
  • Map out your escape route—Make a contingency plan in the event of triggering situations. Practice saying no. Make sure you always have a key to the place you’re staying. Having the option to return to the place you’re staying can provide a much-needed retreat in moments of need.
  • Know you’re not alone—Tap into your resources when planning a vacation. Ask your support group how they succeeded on trips. You may even want to go on your first vacation with another sober friend so that you can easily support each other.

The Bottom Line

You are capable and deserving of a safe, exciting vacation. Traveling is a great way to relax, unplug, and detach from the stress of your life as long as you plan and set yourself up for success.

If you feel you need additional support in planning your vacation or in your recovery in general, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Recovery groups like those at Jackson House Recovery Centers can offer you the camaraderie and tools you need to lead a happy and adventurous life.

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