Traveling can present a number of challenges for someone in recovery. There’s always some kind of stress related to transportation or accommodations, your normal routine is disrupted, you may be exposed to alcohol much more than usual–especially if you fly–and some people feel, perhaps unconsciously, that a vacation is also a vacation from sobriety. This may be especially true of men. One study from the University of Pennsylvania found that a relapse in women was more likely to be preceded by negative emotions or interpersonal conflict but a relapse in men was more likely to be preceded by positive experiences. [https://archives.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/1998/11/men-women-in-drug-abuse-treatment-relapse-different-rates-different-reasons] People tend to lower their guard when things are going well or they might even feel like they can control their substance use when they’re in a good mood. Unfortunately, addiction doesn’t work like that. A slip or relapse on vacation will come home with you. The good news is that with a little care you can have a good time traveling and still stay sober. Here’s how.
Decide to stay sober.
Perhaps the most important thing is to decide before you leave that you’re going to stay sober the whole trip. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you’re on vacation from recovery.
Choose your destination wisely.
There are some vacation destinations that are just a bad idea for someone in recovery. Don’t plan a trip to Napa Valley or Bavaria during Oktoberfest or Cancun during spring break. Recovery is hard enough without being in an unfamiliar place where drinking is expected. Instead, think about destinations where there’s plenty to do that’s not related to drugs or alcohol–maybe a trip to the mountains, to a theme park, or to a big city with lots of culture.
Call ahead about the minibar.
Call ahead to wherever you’re staying and make sure there’s no alcohol in the room. If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure there’s no minibar and if there is, ask them to empty it before you arrive. If you’re staying in an Airbnb, ask your host to remove the alcohol. The last thing you want is to be feeling stressed, lonely, or bored in an unfamiliar place with a fridge full of alcohol 10 feet away from you.
Minimize travel stress.
Traveling is typically the most stressful part of any vacation so minimize travel stress any way you can. If you can afford it, buy the direct flight rather than risk missing your flight or having to sprint the length of O’Hare with your carry-on bags. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going so minor inconveniences don’t derail your plans. Know ahead of time how you’re going to get from the airport to your hotel. Try to pack light so you don’t end up wandering around an unfamiliar city with two suitcases and a backpack.
Bring a sober companion, if possible.
If you can, bring a sober companion with you on vacation. This makes the trip more fun and less stressful. Problems turn into adventures. You both understand the need to stay away from certain places and activities and you can each keep the other accountable.
Stay in touch with your network.
If you can’t bring a sober companion, keep in touch with your sober network at home. Check in daily with someone in your sober network and let them know how you’re doing. Make sure there’s someone you can contact if you’re feeling stressed or having cravings. There are more ways than ever to keep in touch with people, even if you’re on different continents, so be sure to stay in contact with your support system at home.
Find a local meeting.
There are more than 100,000 AA groups and more than 67,000 NA groups around the world, so it’s a safe bet that wherever you’re going, you can find a meeting. It’s a good idea to find a meeting ahead of time so you can include it in your travel plans. Attending a meeting shortly after you arrive might be a good way to remind yourself that even though you’re on vacation, you’re still in recovery. Going to a meeting on vacation is also a good way to get a different perspective.
Stick to your recovery plan as much as possible.
Vacation will inevitably disrupt your regular schedule–which is often the point–but it’s a good idea to stick to your recovery plan as much as possible. Go to a meeting at your regular time, get enough sleep, write in your journal, and do whatever else helps you stay sober. Sticking to your recovery plan helps preserve a sense of continuity and keeps you on track in an unfamiliar place.
Stay busy but not too busy.
It’s a good idea to make plans ahead of time and have a tentative schedule when you arrive. This helps ensure you get to the things you most want to do and it prevents you from having too much free time. You don’t want to feel bored or aimless, lest you think about killing time with a few drinks. Having plans keeps you occupied. On the other hand, you don’t want to plan so much that you feel stressed or rushed. You’re there to have fun, not make more stress for yourself.
It’s important to remember the acronym HALT–hungry, angry, lonely, tired. These are all especially common when traveling and can lead to cravings. Have some healthy snacks with you for when your flight or train gets delayed. Text or call someone when you feel lonely. Rest when you feel tired and try to deal with anger constructively.
Burning Tree West is a transitional college program dedicated to helping adults between the ages of 18 and 29 recover from addiction. Our campus is located in Tucson, Arizona, near the campuses of the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. Our program is designed to help young adults overcome addiction, build foundational life skills, and pursue their educational and career goals. Contact us today for more information.