The Magic of Sober Travel


By Karolina Rzadkowolska


I’m writing this blog post in a hotel in Edinburgh. I just spent the day touring the Scottish highlands. I feel overwhelmed by the sublime views I just witnessed, breathtaking lochs and glens, (lakes and valleys), towering mountains and cute little sheep grazing on green hills.

I realize, this is my tenth trip without drinking alcohol. And each and every trip has been filled with pure magic.

This is an absolute revelation.

You see, for as long as I’ve been a drinker, I believed that alcohol was integral to a good trip. Travel and booze just went hand and hand. How else would I let loose and relax? How else would I properly experience a culture without immersing myself into their drinking culture? I had some pretty strongly held beliefs about booze in my life—ways in which I thought it brought me benefits. I had to break free of those myths and prove they weren’t fundamentally true. No, alcohol doesn’t relax me, it increases my anxiety. No, alcohol doesn’t make socializing easier, it makes me more insecure over time.

The hardest myth to break? You guessed it, that vacations and travel were made for drinking. Wouldn’t I feel miserable and deprived if I didn’t get to drink sake in Japan? Or Flemish beer in Belgium?

Turns out, my last remaining myth around alcohol was also a falsity. Drinking never made my trips better. I can look back at every trip I’ve taken as a drinker and remember the horror. The horror of drinking too much and waking up not in my comfortable bed in California to “sleep it off,” but in a hotel in Spain I had to check out of immediately. Gasp. The horror of having a few beers and waking up at 4 am for an early flight, burping up grossness. The horror too of caring more about finding the next cool drinking hole instead of going to a museum in a culture capital of the world. And then there’s the horror of coming home and realizing you need another vacation, because rest and relaxation weren’t actually achieved.

So take out all of that baggage, and what are you left with on a sober trip? Oh, it’s so much more than just not experiencing the negative side effects of drinking. It’s the magic of being fully alive. Without a toxin messing up your brain chemicals, you are literally alive to the world and alive to everything you are seeing. There is wonder to discover in the natural beauty, meaning to be found in solemn temples, and awe to be had at cultural masterpieces. When you are not feeling low with a depressant in your system, you see the beauty in the world again.

Along with pure awe and appreciation, you are present and awake to the here and now. As a drinker, the waterfall I was seeing was a five, but subconsciously I couldn’t wait to have a drink and be at a ten. Never looking for a bigger and better artificial reward, you fully immerse yourself into what you’re experiencing.

And if those feelings of deprivation sneak up on you, remember ALL the times you’ve traveled and drank. Do you really want to take away that presence and gratitude for a beer you’ve had like 5000 times? Seriously, been there and done that. I mean, why save up all this money and all this time just to travel halfway across the world to be hungover? What a waste. Why go to the most beautiful tropical location with balmy waters to sit in a dark depressing bar?

I want to live a life I’ve never lived and rewrite my story about what it means to truly see this world. See solemn grace in countries like Japan and China, experience cultural wonder in Belgium, connect deeply with my family in Poland, watch the sunrise in Hawaii, swim in balmy beautiful waters in Haiti and Mexico, do yoga in Costa Rica, jump off waterfalls in Jamaica, visit with youth activists in New Orleans, walk the Freedom trail in Boston, save my calories for donuts in Portland, go for morning runs in Charleston, make snow angels in Vancouver . . .

and see the beauty of the Highlands in Scotland. What a way to see the world. Through magical sober eyes.