The Benefits of Sober Travel

After reading some great pieces on sober travel by Be My Travel Muse and  I thought I'd share my experiences as a sober traveller.

The last time I had alcohol was when I was in high school, some 14 years ago. Like most high school kids, I drank here and there, doing my fair share of stupid shit in the process. It was a social thing. It was normal. I never really thought twice about it.

Until I did. Until I realized that — wait for it — the decisions I made under the influence of alcohol were consistently not great.

Shocking, right?

Now, I never did anything too ridiculous. Didn’t get drunk and kill a dude or burn down a house or anything. But I made poor choices that impacted the people around me. And I didn’t like that.

So I quit. Just like that.

Heck, I still wasn’t even legally allowed to start!

I was fortunate that I had a solid group of friends and family who didn’t care if I drank and, for the most part, supported my decision. Without that, things likely would have been much more difficult.

While alcohol is never a big issue in my daily life, it certainly is a huge component of the travel world. Whether it’s a glass of wine in Italy or champagne in France, some potent shots in Eastern Europe, or a night of binge drinking in Southeast Asia, alcohol is almost synonymous with backpacking. People travel to party and to drink and to have fun. And I get it. Young people want to cut loose (do young people say cut loose?) and have a good time and booze is a great platform for that, generally speaking. 

But it’s not mandatory. And that’s the point I want to make today. Because you don’t need to drink alcohol to be a backpacker and you don’t need to drink alcohol to fit in as a traveler.

Pretty much every backpacker I’ve met on the road was perfectly fine with me not drinking. It didn’t keep me from hanging out with people and it didn’t keep me from having fun. Does that mean it’s harder to meet people without a social lubricant? Sure, you need to take more initiative and not be afraid to just dive into social situations.  With no liquid courage, you just need to be more assertive. Which takes time and practice to develop if you’re not naturally extroverted. But it’s definitely possible and no one is going to think twice about it these days.

The only time I was hassled about not drinking was when I was in Poland. I was Couchsurfing and went out for drinks with my host and her friends. They reallllly pushed me to drink and I had to, in the end, be rather forceful to make them stop. But they did.

Was it awkward or rude or insensitive on my part? I guess you could make a case for that.

Was it awkward or rude or insensitive on their part? Totally. But I was never going to see these people again, and my personal choices and principles are more important to me than what some strangers think. So whatever.

Beyond that, after 10 years of backpacking, I’ve never had another bad experience. I’ve been able to make awesome friends, I’ve been able to party and have fun and do silly stuff. And I did it all without alcohol.

Are there cons? Sure!

  • You’ll be the only sober person to handle all the drunk backpackers
  • You won’t pass out which means you’ll have to listen to everyone snoring
  • People will constantly ask you about your decision (sometimes less than respectfully)

But let’s be honest, these are hardly big problems. Especially when compared to the benefits:

  • You save money
  • You’re more healthy
  • You’re more productive
  • You avoid hangovers and have more time to travel
  • You avoid getting drunk in public (which can be a safety issue)
  • You learn how to be a more engaging, assertive person (because you don’t have the crutch of alcohol)

If you want to drink alcohol and travel you’re perfectly welcome to. Lots of people have a deep appreciation for it and use it as a way to shape their travels, visiting breweries and trying local spirits. And that’s cool. I’m friends with plenty of bloggers who do that very thing and it’s perfectly ok! To each their own and all that jazz.

What I’m trying to say is that, if you’re not a huge fan of alcohol, it’s ok to say no. You don’t need to drink to be a “real” traveler. You’re not going to miss out on any transformative experience just because you don’t try a glass of whiskey or taste some wine. That’s just one piece of the cultural tapestry, and passing up the opportunity won’t ruin your trip or make you any less of an “authentic traveler.” 99% of the people out there won’t care — and many will even applaud you for your dedication. It’s your trip, after all. You decide how to make the most of it. If that involves alcohol, cool. And if it doesn’t, that’s perfectly ok too.

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What do you think? Is alcohol an important part of your travels? Let me know in the comments!