Summer vacation … there’s something magical and nostalgic about the mere words. And we can have even more fun traveling in recovery than we had in active addiction. A trip where we can remember all the cool stuff we’ve done and seen, with no hangovers or dopesickness, without the constant distraction of needing to find the next drink or fix … that’s pretty idyllic!
But vacations in recovery can also be a source of worry. How will we avoid drinking or using when we’re away from home, with all of our recovery routines disrupted? Or when we’re in locales full of partying vacationers? It’s true that vacation can have some challenges for people recovering from substance use disorder, but if we’re mindful, we can navigate through them and stay sober on vacation.
Make a plan.
There are times to just go with the flow and see what happens, but this is not that time. Vacationing in recovery—especially in early recovery—can have unexpected pitfalls, so it is wise to plan ahead for how you’ll handle the completely expected ones. For example, plan substance-free activities that will keep you occupied and entertained so that you’re not at loose ends. Look up the restaurants and clubs at your destination so that you can order confidently when you get there. Having a plan will make you feel more confident and set you up for a successful vacation that fits your recovery goals.
Find ways to connect, even away from home.
We are blessed (and sometimes cursed) to live in an age of connection. If you’re a Workit member, you can log into your usual recovery groups from the road (just keep in mind any time zone changes), and you can reach out to your care team through the app. If you’re a 12-step person, research your destination to find local meetings and how to get to them, or save the links to some online meetings. If you don’t take part in either of those recovery options, you can still ask a sober friend, coach, or other supportive person if you can call or text them for backup if you feel uncomfortable on your trip.
Consider a sober vacation group or a location with sober-friendly options.
Right from the start of your vacation planning, it can be helpful to look for vacation spots that are not renowned partying destinations. If you want to be even more careful, there are organizations that can make that easier. Did you know that there are travel groups specifically for people in recovery? A quick internet search brought me to Soul Bliss Journeys (primarily in Bali, but including other locations), Sober Vacations and Travel Sober (both 12-step-centered), and Sober Celebrations (cruises). There are also an increasing number of resorts that offer zero-proof menus so you don’t feel like you’re missing out when others have drinks.
Check into any regulations about traveling with your meds ahead of time.
If your recovery plan includes medication, don’t just assume that you will be able to travel with your prescription. Make certain! Research the regulations around your medications not only at your destination but also at any places you will have stops or layovers. Some locations are much stricter than others. Bring enough doses for your trip, plus a buffer in case you’re delayed. Bring a written copy of your prescription in case you need to show proof that your meds belong to you. These considerations are especially crucial if you take a controlled substance like buprenorphine. We have a quick video about traveling with Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) here.
Talk to your travel companions.
Before your trip—ideally, before the deposits are paid—talk to the people who will be on vacation with you, especially if they’re not all in a similar place in recovery.
One topic might be establishing your boundaries with them. For example, you could clarify that you won’t raft/rock climb/zipline with someone who is intoxicated. If your friends or family will be using drugs, you could be firm that your own hotel room will be drug-free. Or maybe you’re fine going to places that coincidentally serve alcohol alongside food, but you’re not okay going to bars or venues where the primary focus is drinking. Perhaps your boundary is that you need your co-vacationers to refrain from offering you a drink or a drug. Whatever boundaries you establish to protect your recovery, lay them out clearly.
Also, talk to your travel companions about the kind of support you would like from them. You can ask them to remind you of your commitment to recovery, to help you get to your planned meetings, to meditate or exercise with you, or to help you get back to the hotel if you’re feeling triggered. Be realistic and considerate in your asks—you don’t want to be controlling or rude—but let them know what support you’re hoping for from them.
Prepare for triggers.
We all encounter triggers for our addictions in everyday life, but your summer vacation may present some different ones. Before setting off on your trip, think through how you could avoid or navigate your triggers.
For me, feeling unwell is a big trigger, so I avoid that trigger by wearing comfy clothes on planes and road trips, bringing along over-the-counter painkillers and anti-diarrhea meds, and drinking enough water. I also personally find hanging out around people who are inebriated to be triggering, so I navigate that by deciding how I’ll respond if my companions or other vacationers are intoxicated around me. I might plan to head to my room early, or if that’s not possible, I might bring earbuds and plan to distract myself with a video while I wait until I can leave. By preparing ahead of time with ways to avoid or navigate my triggers, I can safeguard my recovery.
Keep up with your self-care.
Going on vacation doesn’t have to mean suspending your self-care. Although your routines will probably be somewhat disrupted, you can pick one or two self-care strategies to prioritize on your trip. Some examples include breathwork, sleeping enough, stretching, keeping healthy snacks on hand, journaling, quiet time, gratitude exercises, or meditation.
Vacationing in recovery can be so freeing and relaxing. I hope that these tips help you have an amazing summer vacation sober.