Three years ago, while trying to save money for a big trip, I went on a strict spending diet. Included in this diet were tons of rules. No more afternoons spent wandering around Target. No more Chipotle for dinner because I was too lazy to cook. And no more buying alcoholic beverages at bars or restaurants.
Now, don't get me wrong, I still went out (and missed my tequila shots terribly). But now, mostly, I was the sober friend. The one who would drive everyone home. The one who was sipping on selzer with a spritz of lime. After a few weeks, I couldn't believe how quickly my savings were piling up. It really is true: you don't realize how much you're spending until you stop. But what I also realized, quite quickly, is it's still fun to go out when sober!
Fast forward to final preparations for my big trip, you know, the one I went on the spending diet for. I was three days away from three months solo traveling Europe. Reality — OK more like nerves — were starting to hit me. I was a youngish woman, traveling alone, who didn't want to put myself in a bad situation. I wanted to make the most of this trip. Even with what I had saved, I didn't have a tremendous amount of money. So I made a bold decision: I wouldn't drink at all on this trip.
Looking back, I wasn't afraid of the actual not drinking part. I was afraid of telling people "Nope, no drinks for me tonight." Would I get weird looks? Would it be isolating? Would I be missing out?
Those answers would be no, no, and no.
That stigma that I thought was associated with nondrinkers ended up being nonexistent. So was that isolation I thought would eventually follow. If I stayed at a hostel, I continued to be social — I simply picked water over wine. I sat at numerous bars, in many different countries, and ordered a meal instead of a drink. Conversations still happened with the staff and other travelers around me. I even went on pub tours to meet people but told the tour I wanted to join sober. No one batted an eye.
Three years, over 20 countries and many more solo trips later, I still very rarely drink when I travel. I have stopped caring about what other people may think about me not drinking (Seriously, why do we care so much what others think?) and now I have so many reasons to rarely drink. No hangovers mean I'm out sightseeing by at least 8 a.m. — if not earlier. Gazing at the ocean while the sun rises or sitting at a coffee shop as a city begins its day are some of my favorite memories.
Not drinking also equals more money to spend on other things. Like a gorgeous dress I picked up while in Cuba, that I wear all the time. Or a day-long excursion to interact with rescued elephants in Thailand. I can say with certainty I'll remember that a couple of decades longer than a random night I went out in Barcelona.
Have I been tempted to drink when I travel? Sure! Read the title of this article again. It's why I rarely drink, not why I don't drink. Prime example: During a recent trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo. My room came with access to the all-inclusive club lounge which included various bottles of wine and spirits from Japan. I reminded myself not to go overboard, but also didn't think twice about enjoying a glass of bubbly while gazing at Mt. Fuji.
Life isn't black or white. And at the end of the day, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. If you're thinking about giving sober travel a try but are worried, let me reassure you, you will be fine. It isn't the end of your late-night life, your crazy adventure life, or your fun life. Those things are all still there. You just have a water in your hand instead of a tequila shot.