Notes on Traveling Sober {Day 9 of Sobriety Challenge}

I’m on Day 9 of my 100 Day Sobriety Challenge and ran into my first brush with alcohol temptation a few days ago when I landed in San Diego. The vibe of this city reminds me so much of Charleston: boozy Sunday Funday brunches, tipsy tourists laughing and walking the streets, boat and beach days filled with Trulys and cheap beer, and rooftops full of the beautiful and tan sipping cocktails in the middle of the afternoon. 

Places like the Tipsy Crow, Whisky Girl, and Blue Point Cocktail Lounge line the sunny streets of this cheerful city. Alcohol is mentioned in the name of nearly every establishment we pass. Sunny cities by the water where no one takes life all that seriously are perfect havens for the buzzed, and pre-Sobriety Challenge I would’ve jumped right in. 

But not this time… This time I was determined to figure out how to do San Diego 100% sober. (Also I was working, so excessive alcohol consumption would’ve been inappropriate anyway). 

Soon after we landed, we started walking the streets in perfect 75-degree zero-humidity weather and all I could think was, “Goddammit, why didn’t I start this challenge in August? I really really want a beer on a rooftop right now”. 

It consumed my thoughts as we passed patio after patio of buzzed tourists. I wanted just one drink sooooo badly, and my travel companions even promised not to judge or tell if I “cheated” (great friends they are). 

As I write this, I’m sitting outside on a patio drinking a blackberry and blueberry mocktail concoction at a place called Searsucker watching a group of about 35 drunk 20-somethings herd each other into a group photo. It takes me back to all the traveling I’ve done in the past that included so much drinking, I barely remember the trip at all…

  • Bottles and bottles of Malbec in Buenos Aires…

  • Shots on shots of vodka and god only knows what else in Malta…

  • Drowning in Porto in Portugal…

  • So much beer in Germany…

  • Tequila until I blacked out on my Mexican honeymoon…

  • Calimocho (red wine & Coke) every day for 6 straight weeks in Spain…

I’m embarrassed to say that this list could go on for quite awhile. I wonder what I might still remember about those trips had I been just the slightest bit sober…

I knew the hardest part about this challenge would be socializing in public without alcohol. 

What would I do with my hands? Or my mouth for that matter? How would I stand without a drink in my hand?

My first practice round of sober socializing was at a nice restaurant in the trendy Gaslamp district.

I scanned the room and noticed that every single person was holding a glass of red wine, deep in conversation about law, politics, finance, and other topics I knew nothing about. Immediately, I didn’t feel smart enough to be in the room. My old MO would’ve been to make a beeline for the bar and soften the awkwardness with some ethanol. And I almost did it. I almost broke my challenge and guzzled a glass of red.

But I didn’t. Instead, I strolled right up to the bartender and asked if he could please pour some ginger ale into a wine glass for me “so I could pretend it was alcohol” (I literally said those words).

“Why? Are you nursing a hangover?”, he responded. I didn’t think it was any of his business, but found myself getting nervous and defensive. So I responded, “Um, uh no. I’m just, uh, taking a break from alcohol (insert nervous laughter). Sometimes you gotta take a break, ya know? I’m not pregnant.”

I felt the need to tell the bartender who I will never see again that I wasn’t pregnant just to order a drink that didn’t have alcohol in it. But pretend like it did. I realize how ridiculous that sounds now that I’m writing it down, but alas… this is my life. One day at a time.

By the end of the evening, I had a few really great conversations with incredibly interesting people that, although felt awkward at first, I really enjoyed by the end. And didn’t wake up the next morning wondering to myself, “Jesus Christ, what the fuck did you say to that woman?” or the classic, “I’m never drinking againnnnnn”.

I’ve composed the following as a list of “how to be sober” when traveling. I realize that many of them are super generic (I can hear your eyes rolling at some of them), but I’m still learning how to do it, so if you have any tips, tricks, or suggestions, send them my way:

Things to Try When Traveling Sober

  1. Try a yoga or fitness class. I tried a great yoga class at a place called Pura Vida and was delighted to get a feel for the yoga vibe in a new city.

  2. Sip a fancy mocktail or ginger beer (or your spirit-free drink of choice — my favorite is kombucha in a wine glass) on a patio or rooftop and people watch. Watching drunk people is actually pretty hilarious.

  3. Wander the streets sober and energized. I spent a lot of my spare time just walking aimlessly through the streets, making an effort to soak it all in and not check my phone.

  4. Walk/Run the promenade, or whatever your city’s version of tourist attraction might be. Running (or walking) a new city is a great way to get exercise and see the city as local. Get lost, wander, explore.

  5. Get really deep, restful sleep and enjoy not being hungover.

OK that’s it. That’s all I got because I’m still learning how to do this 100% sober thing. Hit me up with more ideas!

I enjoy traveling and being social and am determined to not let being sober screw that up. I want to prove that you can still travel, go out to bars, see music, and have just as much fun sober as you can drunk.

Stay tuned…

Katie Daehler