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I went on my first sober vacation in 22 years. I didn't miss alcohol and I was more present with my family.

Terri Peters   

I went on my first sober vacation in 22 years. I didn't miss alcohol and I was more present with my family.
  • I've been drinking since I was of legal age, but I recently went sober.
  • I just went on my first alcohol-free vacation and found that I enjoyed myself much more.

I started drinking alcohol when I turned 21 and, with the exception of when I traveled during my pregnancies, every vacation I've taken since has involved alcohol. Whether it was a trip to California to visit wineries or a Caribbean cruise complete with a drink package, since becoming an adult, I've equated a relaxing vacation with maintaining that perfect balance between a buzz and not being too hung over.

A few months ago, however, I decided alcohol was no longer serving me. Tired of seeing the way booze affected my relationships and left me feeling anxious and exhausted, I chose an alcohol-free lifestyle, and I haven't back. Recently, I took my first vacation since choosing a life of sobriety.

My husband, myself, and our two teenagers embarked on a whale-watching cruise in Baja California Sur, Mexico through National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, and while I had no idea what to expect from a weeklong trip without my old friend alcohol, the experience was incredibly empowering for me and solidified my decision not to drink.

Here's what I learned on my first sober vacation in 22 years.

I enjoyed my trip so much more by not numbing out with alcohol

I definitely had moments leading up to the trip where I wondered if I'd feel like I was missing out by not drinking. The exact opposite occurred once I was on board our ship. Where vacations in the past flew by and were marked by bloody mary brunches and evening cocktail hours, this trip felt restful, and I felt more present without drinking the time away.

Amanda Kuda, an alcohol-free lifestyle coach and author of "Unbottled Potential: Break Up With Alcohol and Break Through to Your Best Life," said in an interview with Business Insider that the key to experiencing this alcohol-free freedom on vacation is to make your decision not to drink non-negotiable before you travel. "Decide you're going to do this experience and collect some data," Kuda said. "No matter what happens, you'll come out of it feeling really proud of yourself, so make the commitment. If you've never collected the data and had a sober vacation, you owe it to yourself to gain this new perspective."

I was way more present with my family

My kids are 13 and 15, and I know there will come a time very soon when they're out of the house and we'll take way fewer family vacations together. By not drinking my way through Baja California, I felt more present with my teenagers. We had deeper conversations while ocean kayaking and laughed more over long dinners in the ship's dining room. Because I wasn't worried about when the next opportunity to keep my buzz going would be, I stayed in the moment with my kids.

Kuda said even when it's hard to stay present, a sober vacation is a great time to prove to yourself that you can deal with feelings like anxiety or boredom without using booze to check out.

"Get centered in your breath and make peace with your feelings, because of course it's going to feel uncomfortable — you're giving your mind time to wander where otherwise you would have occupied it," she said. "Our brains go to places we don't want them to go, like worry and anxiety, so we instantly have this Pavlovian response that if we feel anxiousness or fear, we need to check out. If you just feel that feeling for a moment, usually it will dissipate, and you'll start to feel even more powerful because you took care of it on your own versus trying to numb it down."

The travel industry is embracing alcohol-free lifestyles

While I knew I'd be able to order mocktails on board our ship, I expected the selection to be sugary sips like Shirley Temples or plain club soda with lime. From the Champagne toast at the start of our voyage, when I requested and was given sparkling apple cider, I realized there would be way more to the National Geographic Venture's alcohol-free offerings.

Throughout the week, I enjoyed drinks made with dealcoholized spirits, non-alcoholic wine and beer, and flavorful mocktails that went way beyond grenadine and Sprite. It was a reminder of how far the travel industry has come in offering options for people who choose not to drink alcohol but still want something that feels festive in their hands.

Kuda agreed that the non-alcoholic beverage market has "really sprung up" in recent years. She said having the chance to sip a high-quality mocktail or non-alcoholic drink can remind you that a buzz isn't necessary to have a good time. "Those can be really fun things to try out and discover, hey, I'm actually drinking this because I'm having fun and not because I need to relax or I have to have a drink because I'm hung over," she said. "It's about choosing to have something fun and enjoyable, which is a really cool experience to have."

I loved waking up each morning sans hangover

My booze-free vacation started most mornings with an early wake-up time so we could take part in things like snorkeling with sea lions or whale-watching. More than once, when my alarm went off at 6 a.m., I said a silent 'thank you' to myself for not drinking, since waking up with a hangover then hopping onto a panga boat to hunt for humpback whales sounds like a recipe for an upset stomach. Our expedition cruise took us to some incredible places and offered some unforgettable encounters with nature, and had I been hung over each morning, I'd have missed out on the magic of it all.

According to Kuda, going into an alcohol-free vacation with the mindset that you're going to experience great things is key. "Don't go into it expecting it's going to be this really strugglesome time because there was a time in your life when you were able to have fun without alcohol," she said. "What if this were a reiteration or rebirth of that time when you just learn to see the things you're surrounded with through eyes of appreciation, rather than looking at what you're missing out on by not drinking?"

I learned I'm capable of keeping my promises to myself

While margaritas may hit different in Mexico, you know what else does? Topo Chico sparkling water. Over the course of the week, I learned that for every thing alcohol provided for me on past vacations, sobriety provided something even better.

I sipped non-alcoholic beer after sweating on a long hike through beautiful, rocky scenery. I had delicious dinners each night complemented by a glass of non-alcoholic red wine. And throughout the experience, I was fully present with my family and in my surroundings. The feeling of knowing I can keep a commitment to myself, even in settings where alcohol used to reign supreme, was more empowering than I expected.




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