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Whether you’ve been sober for a few months or over a year, planning a vacation can be intimidating. Media often drills into us that summer vacation is a time to let go, to get drunk, and even to do drugs. That’s unhealthy at the best of times and more so if you’re planning to stay sober. But, if you’re just out of rehab, chances are, you have no idea how to plan and have a great vacation without drinking.
Often, there are plenty of ways to have a great vacation without ever touching alcohol. However, you will have to plan carefully, to pick a destination with some care, and to look into what you want and like to do. And, of course, the people you’re traveling with matter as well.
It’s important to keep in mind that not everywhere is a sober-friendly vacation destination. Cruises, for example, often have little to do but eat and drink. Resorts across Mexico are often little more than glorified bars with a beach. It’s important to plan your summer vacation around a destination that doesn’t rely on alcohol and that has other fun things to do. Some of those could be:
The idea is to decide what you want to see, what you’re interested in, and then go do things. Of course, those things might be going to Brazil and spending your summer vacation learning to dance and sitting on the beach. But the point is you should have activities that aren’t hanging around the bar.
It’s not enough to go somewhere that has things to do that aren’t alcohol. You also have to know what you want to do, when it is, and how to get there. That can save you a lot of hassle and boredom when you do get there. Putting together a list of “nice to see/do” things means you’ll have that list to pull from. That could be:
Most importantly, you don’t have to commit to doing everything you put on your list. If you show up and decide it’s more fun to get on the local public transportation and take a tour of the area, that’s also good. It’s just important that you have options if you need them.
Stress is a large contributor to relapse. Yet, many people spend their vacations hurrying from one tick-off-the-box to another. That’s not fun. You shouldn’t be stressing and pushing yourself from destination to destination. Instead, take time to relax. Have time to de-stress. And, don’t pressure yourself to see and do everything. That’s especially true if you have kids or if you’re managing a larger group. It’s okay if you don’t get to everything. It’s more important to have a good time, to enjoy what you do get to see, and to experience everything without a sense of stress or rush.
Many of us get to a vacation and drop our exercise and healthy eating habits. Yet, for someone in recovery, that can be dangerous. Eating well helps to ensure you feel good and have the energy to manage your emotional and mental health. Regular exercise does the same. If you find yourself eating unhealthy meals and not exercising every day of your vacation, you’ll eventually crash. Here, you can often take care of the exercise by engaging in active things to do. Hiking, sports, and other sightseeing events can be quite active. However, you should make sure you’re getting enough nutrition and that your food intake stays overall “healthy”.
Sober vacation plans often stop at night. That can be a big mistake. In fact, you might end up bored and lonely while the rest of your friends or family are off at the bar. Figuring out sober nightlife will ensure you have things to do at night when you’re more likely to be bored and lonely. Most importantly, those events should be as social as possible – although that can be difficult to pull off if you’re not aware of what sober nightlife options are in the area.
It’s important to discuss your plans to stay sober with anyone you’re traveling with. If you haven’t already had this discussion, that can be intimidating. However, if the people you’re with know that you want to stay sober, they can help. Many will also be willing to make choices that involve fewer bars and more activities if they know you want to stay sober. Or, for example, ensuring that you have something else to do before they go off to drink.
Best-case scenario, you don’t go on vacation with anyone who’s going to spend a lot of time drinking. That’s especially true in early sobriety. However, if you’re vacationing with family, that may be impossible to avoid. So, discuss your own sobriety and make sure everyone is in on your plans.
It doesn’t matter how many plans you make; you will end up facing triggers. That can be significant, especially as those triggers can simply be memories of past vacations. Most of us are vulnerable to reminiscing about how good times were in the past – even when they weren’t. And, you’re more likely to remember euphoria and being social than the hangover and negative side-effects. It’s important to understand your coping mechanisms, to figure out what you’re going to do when you experience cravings, and then to follow through.
Those activities can be as simple as calling a friend or your counselor. They can also involve sporting, doing breathing exercise or meditation, talking to someone, taking a time out, etc. Just make sure that you know how you’ll respond and how it should help.
If you’re spending more time at one destination, it can be a great idea to look up local support groups in that area. For example, most developed areas have AA or NA groups. You can alsoo find AA and NA meetings online now. The local sober members can help you to find sober activities and nightlife, like sober parties, gaming events, etc. Continuing to attend AA or another support group means you’ll have ongoing social motivation as you try to stay sober on your vacation.
A sober vacation can be difficult, because many people plan their vacations around destinations to drink. On the other hand, it can be a lot easier than you think, because there’s a lot of the world to see and enjoy while sober. Whether that ends up being hiking and camping in the mountains, exploring historic cities and ruins, or surfing is up to you. Just make sure you have plans, that you discuss sobriety with people you’re traveling with, and that you know what to do in case you start having cravings.
Enjoy your vacation!
If you or a loved one is seeking help for alcohol or other substance abuse, contact us at Stairway Resource Center today. At Stairway Resource Center we provide a 60 to 90-day outpatient program that takes place in an engaging and supportive community setting. We offer dual diagnosis treatment and daily group and individual therapy for our clients, in addition to fun community-based events and activities.
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Jim Sugel is an SEO and Digital Marketing Expert in addition to having achieved the coveted Google Partner status for PPC expertise. Prior to focusing on Digital Marketing, Jim worked in Information Technology roles at a variety of national firms as a software engineer and consultant, resulting in many years of professional coding and consulting experience.
Jim holds a Bachelor of Science, cum laude in Computer Science and Psychology from Loyola University Chicago. After relocating to Southern California from his native Chicago, he became involved in the recovery industry here, discovering a natural niche in helping treatment centers with Digital Marketing and other technology projects. Jim is the Founder and CEO of Airtight Digital, a firm that specializes in digital marketing for the behavioral health industry.
His other interests include hiking, canyoneering, urban exploration, and screenwriting. Jim now lives in beautiful and sunny Orange County, California.