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How did I stay sober on a two week trip alone in a foreign country? It was difficult, I won’t lie! I went to a meeting in Tokyo and stayed in contact with friends and family back home. I know my triggers, so I knew on some nights that I didn’t need to be around alcohol. Just like back home, I know I don’t need to go out when I’ve had a rough day or having weird thoughts. Some nights I went out with people that I met and other nights I stayed in. Here are the top five hardest things I found about solo sober travel and how I conquered them.
The Hardest Things About Sober Solo Travel
I consider myself a fairly decisive person in my regular, non-traveling life. However, when traveling, I am forced to make so many split-second decisions while going from city to city or sight to sight. I thought I was going crazy when I couldn’t make up my mind on what to do! There were quite a few moments that I missed having another person around to bounce ideas off of. For example, while I was in Kyoto, Japan, I missed my bus (which was a common occurrence) and consequently missed the show that I planned to attend.
“So what should I do now?” I asked no one because I was alone.
This experience was just one of many times that I was not sure what to do next. However, when I am traveling solo, I just figured it out anyway because that is the only option! That evening, I ended up walking around Kyoto Station. The building itself is gorgeous. It is complete with a rooftop garden, a mall, hundreds of restaurants, and a view of Kyoto Tower!
Between the constant walking, the language barrier, and the sight-seeing… it can be amazing, but exhausting! Here’s something that I learned in recovery: HALT.
When I am any of these or all of these adjectives, I am much more likely to feel tempted towards a drink or a drug. When traveling alone, I was HALTing constantly. Basically, I was cycling through these feelings over and over. The most common for me was definitely feeling tired. There is so much to see and do all the time when traveling, it is hard to slow down to take a break. Also, the time change and jet lag was a killer for me. I am on Central Time when at home, so it was a 14 hour time difference, which was opposite from day and night.
Every few days, I allowed myself to sleep in as much as I could without planning too much in the morning. I also tried to only plan one big activity per day, as to not feel rushed. When I’m tired when traveling, I’m just plain tired. Why fight it? I gave into it some nights and retired early, which is totally ok as a solo sober traveler!
Missing out on night’s out
I went out a few nights with people from Reddit and my hostel, but two nights, in particular, I didn’t go. Honestly, I still feel that “ooh man I should have gone” feeling that us sober folks know so well.
I called my husband one night while I was deciding whether to go to karaoke. He said, “Did you still have a great day even if you don’t go?” The answer was a resounding, “Yes! Of course, I did!” because I went on a walking tour of Harajuku, explored multiple shrines, and ate takoyaki, (octopus!) for the first time. I traveled all the way to Shinjuku where the karaoke meet-up was happening, but I was exhausted and not in a good place mentally.
At a certain point for me, it is not worth the risk of a possible slip. That night, even if there was a 1% chance of me drinking or doing drugs, I wasn’t going to attend because I have worked so hard for the sobriety I have now.
My advice is to not be afraid to call it an early night, especially if you’re feeling tempted by thoughts of being reckless while abroad. Remember that traveling without a hangover is definitely the way to go. My friends who stayed out till 3 AM were likely jealous the next day!
Of course, staying sober in a foreign country brings temptation.
When I was at the Robot Restaurant, I chatted with the British solo traveler seated next to me. He went to the bathroom a suspicious amount of times throughout the show. After talking more, he offered me his vape pen filled with marijuana, and that was my drug of choice in my addiction!
My first thought was, “This is a test!”
My second thought was, “No one will ever know!”
Finally, I thought, “How did I find the one guy in Tokyo that is smoking weed right now?!”
It was a test, and I passed! The thought of being high or drunk in a foreign country where I don’t know the language and got lost daily, sober, and in daylight is terrifying to me! I am so glad that I didn’t get high at that moment. The temptation to drink and get high was constant while abroad but I am grateful that I made it home sober!
“No one would ever know” Thoughts
Being away from the familiar while traveling is a positive experience because I am growing out of my comfort zone and creating exciting new memories. However, for me as an alcoholic and addict, it is important I stay in touch with my people and resources back home in order to stay accountable and far from these creeping “no one would ever know” thoughts during solo sober travel.
Even though I am thankful for accountability back home, I am sober for myself first, and being sober is the most important thing in my life. Being in a foreign place where no one else knows that I “don’t drink” is a very powerful feeling because it doesn’t happen at home. However, I know that I can’t drink and I know what would happen if I did. For me, drinking is like rolling the dice of whether I’m going to come home safely or not.
The “no one would know” thought is untrue because I would know! I am also such a talkative and open person that I cannot keep a secret for long. My conscience and happiness are worth more than a night out. This knowledge kept reckless thoughts out of my head for the most part.
Going to meetings in your new location is also a great way to stay in your routine if you regularly attend meetings. I went to an AA meeting in Tokyo and it was an experience I will never forget. Check out this blog post if you’re interested in how I find meetings while traveling!
Solo Sober Travel
Of course, there are so many amazing aspects of solo sober travel. No hangovers, a clear mind, and making your own sightseeing plans, just to name a few. In this post, I am highlighting the tough points in order to show that it is not always easy. But, like most difficult things in life, worth it at the end of the day!