No Alcohol Whilst Traveling

sober traveling

A month before my flight from New York to Bangkok, a bet was made, hands were shook, drinks were downed and a decision to not drink for 90 days while backpacking Asia was born. 

I’ve never really been a big drinker while traveling anyway, so I didn’t think it’d be too difficult. But then again, I can’t recall the last time I went a week without a glass of wine and now I’ll spend three months in Asia without one Bintang or Chang.

To me, traveling is about adventure, being comfortable alone, talking to strangers – meeting locals, getting out of your comfort zone, writing and challenging yourself. When I imagine drinking and traveling, yes, I think of all the people I’ll meet at a bar and all the random stories that come out of it, but I also think about nursing a hang-over the next day.

I enjoy a good night out just as much as the next person. But, this will have to be different. We decided this trip to be about early mornings, meeting locals, getting fit, and challenging myself not to overindulge [or indulge at all] with booze in Asia.

Without overthinking it, I decided to give it a try and gain a new perspective on traveling.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Sri Lankan woman walking on a beach in Galle
Taking pictures on the beach in Galle, Sri Lanka

The Pre-Departure Assumption:

If you’ve never been overseas, it’s hard to imagine not drinking whilst traveling. Isn’t vacation meant for unwinding, trying the local beers, relaxing, getting a little crazy and throwing a few back anyway?

I thought to myself: what do you do without drinking on weekends or week nights? How do you make friends with other travelers?

Before I left the country my perception of backpacking or traveling was similar to my perception of college:

NO PARENTS, NO RULES.

partying in Bali
April 2014, traveling around Bali with my girls.

Aren’t you supposed to reinvent yourself or do something you’ve never done because there’s no strings attached? Have fun, because, YOLO?

It’s not hard to consider a week or two without drinking, but traveling completely sober was something else. The two are pretty much synonymous nowadays.

TV shows are all about romancing an alcoholic image of traveling and binge drinking: Anthony Bourdain’s Part’s Unknown, The Booze Traveler by the Travel Channel and Chug by Nat Geo all paint a lightly fuzzy picture of pints and pub scenes.

I decided it was time for a change.

Despite loving a good cheap beer or five, at 27 three months without booze will be a challenge…, I mean, it’ll allow me to experience a different style of travel.

Lucky for me, it didn’t turn out to be too difficult. I met more and more 30-something’s deciding to travel, but not drink.

At first I thought it would be hard to sleep in a hostel full of backpackers. But it wasn’t. I became comfortable hanging out drinking sodas and water. No one cared and I didn’t shy away from hanging out and felt great the next day. People actually started mimicking my sobriety or saying nice things!

After three months of sober traveling I realized there is more to traveling than finding the cheap beers and chasing away a pounding headache the next day.

I realized its not, “how would I fill time without drinking?,” but it’s realizing I have more time than I thought I had. I made time for myself and developed my hobbies.

Hear me out:

Instead of waking up in a new place with a pounding headache, because at my age hangovers DO EXIST, or waking up realizing you binge ate noodles/pizza/ice cream in bed, you wake up feeling fine.

There’s no nursing a hangover or oversleeping. This is what happened when booze wasn’t in my life. I woke up early.

I got out of bed and got a killer sweat in. Usually Muay Thai or Bikram yoga before a cool-down swim in the ocean. My bikini bod actually started looking less like it had a small beer gut and more like it had small impressions of a six pack. FOR REAL!

My time didn’t feel so rushed anymore. I found more time in the day when I was getting a full 8-hour nights rest.

Isn’t a vacation suppose to be relaxing anyway? Shouldn’t it be a way to detox from the stressors of work and relationships? Time for you to check in – for yourself?

Without drinking, I found time for other hobbies. I started realizing I read a lot more, spent more time writing, photographing, and reflecting.

Another huge win was how my body felt. I lost the fat and beer weight in my face and stomach, reeaaaal quick and I started gaining more muscle.

Yes this is taken in a kitchen…. but more importantly, I would never have gotten into Bikram had I been drinking (hot yoga doesn’t wear well with a hangover).

The Wins:

  • waking up early (6am…)
  • working out and eating healthy daily, not just M-F
  • having time to explore
  • being respectful to locals – trust me, they prefer a sober traveler to the drunk tourist any day
  • developing hobbies – photographing and reading, taking an online course

Instead of binge drinking, I made friends with locals.

Sharing a Polaroid with children in Myanmar

I was able to spend more time with myself, reflecting, refocusing, and developing my photography, without the distraction of a blurry hungover headspace or pressure to get ready and go out that night.

Not Drinking has changed my life.

My body and mind has been the healthiest in my entire life. I feel fit, my stomach feels good, and I have found other ways to fill my time on weekends or nights.

Before these 90 days which turned into 120.., I never had a problem with drinking, I’ve always considered a social drinker. But eventually, beer prices add up and your time becomes limited.

So I suggest trying a vacation without sipping a strawberry colada

Put the bottle of tequila down in Cancun or the Changs in Thailand. Just don’t pick up a can of beer. Go to bed early, wake up early, and workout on vacation.

See how your body feels and actually come home feeling rejuvenated and not like you need a vacation after your vacation.

After a 4am wake up to hike the Pilgrimage to the top of Adams Peak, Hatton, Sri Lanka
Train rides in Sri Lanka!

My adventures and ramblings through Europe, Australia, and now back the United States. I generally write from daily inspirations or from random thoughts.

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