After completing a drug and alcohol addiction treatment program, your biggest goal will be to return to a healthy and productive lifestyle without the specter of substance abuse. Work, social and family obligations usually take first priority in your new and sober life, but part of staying emotionally healthy is balancing all that work with some fun. It can be tricky to add recreational downtime to your routine without running into cravings and triggers, and the idea of planning an entire vacation can seem impossible.
We tend to look at vacations as long periods of unstructured fun. At first glance, they can seem like a recipe for disaster for anyone looking to maintain sobriety. New and unfamiliar environments, while interesting and engaging, are also the perfect place for unwanted thoughts and impulses to creep in. Add that to the often stressful experience of traveling, and vacations can seem almost dangerous!
Luckily, you can avoid a relapse and use these tips on how to plan a sober vacation that supports your continued recovery and health. Taking extra precaution can make the difference between a stressful series of events and having the time of your life.
Determine Your Destination
The success of your sober vacation partly relies on the destination you choose. A national park will likely have less of an impact on your recovery than a vacation where food and drink are the focus. Let’s take a look at a few pros and cons of some popular vacation types.
- Beaches & Breeze. When you hear the word “vacation,” a beachside scene probably comes to mind. This type of vacation include cruises, buffets and a lot of unstructured downtime. They’re often all about relaxation, but unfortunately that usually means they’re focused on enjoying more physical pleasures — often with an emphasis on alcohol. When you’re surrounded by people who are drinking or doing other drugs, it can affect your perception of these actions and possibly undo some of the progress you’ve made through rehab and your continued sobriety.
On the other hand, many tropical or resort-based retreats offer extras like spa treatments. If you choose to embark on a vacation where there’s fun in the sun, you can benefit from massages and other physically relaxing activities. If you see a chance to join a beach aerobics class or snorkeling lesson, take it! These activities can help you stay grounded and reinforce your hard-won sobriety.
Food, drink, and relaxation-based vacations can end up stressing you out when you’re looking to avoid drugs and alcohol. There are, of course, healthy options to choose from wherever you go — but it may be more difficult when people around you are sipping alcoholic drinks.
- Cities & Sight-Seeing. Tourism is as popular as your typical beach or cruise. Whether domestic or international, there’s always an opportunity to tour a place you’ve never seen before. You can avoid scenes with drugs and alcohol while you take in the local sights. Soaking up the history of another city or country can both broaden your mind and enhance your experiences of sober fun.
It might be harder to avoid drugs and alcohol in some locations compared with others. Many people tend to use bars and nightclubs as landmarks during their trips. Eschewing those from your itinerary can narrow your options a bit. That said, a little planning ahead of time can save you a lot of trouble with triggers and cravings in your sober vacation. Pick out the shops, parks, museums and libraries you plan to visit before you go, and the temptation factor of that corner pub will decrease noticeably.
If you love history and culture, a metropolitan vacation can be the perfect destination. There’s a chance you may encounter a situation where drinking or drugs become a temptation, but most sketchy situations can be avoided if you plan your itinerary before you arrive.
- Activities & Outdoors. If you’re seeking a holistic vacation experience that will boost your recovery, natural destinations are an excellent sober vacation idea. Outdoor vacations boast two particular benefits: they’re usually based on physical activity like hiking or kayaking, and they make it easy to avoid temptations. You’re pretty unlikely to find a bar at the top of a mountain, next to a hot spring, or in a cave you’re exploring!
The drawbacks to natural vacation destinations are almost nonexistent. Trouble may arise if your destination is remote and you can’t stay in contact with your sponsor for accountability purposes. As long as you retain communication, going to the ends of the Earth is likely to do more good than harm.
Stay Sober by Staying Busy
Once you decide where you’re headed for some well-deserved time off, you should determine how to fill your vacation days. In recovery, you probably noticed that the more time you had on your hands, the more you struggled with triggers and cravings. Rehab treatment for addiction focuses on learning how to create structure in your life so that there simply isn’t much room for temptation — but when it does strike, there are structured ways to fight it.
Vacation time isn’t any different. Having planned activities is even more important when you’re in unfamiliar territory. This isn’t to say that you should cram your days full of high-octane activities. If you make that mistake, it can cause stress. The most effective way to create structure during your sober vacation is to bring in routines from everyday life to create and maintain consistency. Journaling, exercise and meditation are some of the most common and effective ways to bring your recovery routine with you on your sober vacation.
Once you’ve made sure to leave time for the essentials, consider what level of planning detail is best for you. If you’re the type that gets stressed out from having too much time on your hands, you should create a highly specific itinerary. Map out what activities you’d like to do and sights you’d like to see, and determine how long you want to spend on each. Remember to leave buffer time for unexpected occurrences, and write down any contingency plans in case you run into sudden triggers.
If you’re not a big fan of heavy scheduling, don’t worry. If you want to maintain structure, plan at least one thing to do during your day. It doesn’t have to be a grand excursion. You can simply say you’re going to read for an hour, or take the time to make dinner. The important thing is to have events of any size to look forward to, instead of losing focus on your sobriety in the novelty of being in a different place.
Stay Connected to Sponsorship
One of the biggest make-or-break factors in sober vacations is your access to accountability. It can be all too tempting to take a vacation from everything, including the people who have supported your sobriety thus far. That’s why it’s important to stay connected to your sober network, and maintain contact with your sponsor. This can mean springing for a roaming data package, or simply making sure that wherever you stay has reliable Wi-Fi. Even if you aren’t planning to speak to your sponsor every day, it’s vital to know that you can contact them if necessary.
For example, you may find yourself in a situation where you feel out of control. Maybe the hotel you’re staying at has a prominent bar, or some cool people you just met are inviting you out to the club. Having access to sponsorship or your sober friend circle means having access to another — and often clearer — perspective on your situation. It can mean the difference between sobriety and succumbing to substance abuse.
Maintain Your Health
Vacations often bring out our inner hedonists, and many people use them as excuses to go overboard with food, alcohol and other vices. After all, when was the last time you heard someone talking about how much they enjoyed their vacation exercising? Maintaining a focus on your health can help you power through your vacation with less temptation.
The benefits of exercise are very well-documented even outside of the scope of addiction. For instance, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: People who get regular, vigorous exercise are up to 25% less likely to develop depression or anxiety.
For those struggling with addiction and substance abuse, this is a big deal! Depression and anxiety are often root factors in the development of addiction, so exercise can be one of the most effective tools in combatting relapse. Even though vacations are supposed to drain stress, they can sometimes end up aggravating it. Dealing with emotional triggers in an unfamiliar setting is much harder than it would be at home.
Creating a vacation exercise plan isn’t as difficult as you might think, though you might struggle a little bit sticking to it. But that can be said of any exercise regimen, so don’t let it get you down! You don’t need to run a marathon every day to see the benefits of exercise, and there are many ways to fill up your physical activity quotient. Whether it’s swimming, yoga or just a walk around the city, keeping active keeps cravings at bay consistently and effectively.
Recognize the Benefits of Mindfulness
Staying sober on vacation can take a lot of extra self-control, depending on where you are and who you’re with. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a few techniques on hand for when you need a little extra willpower to get through your day. Mindfulness meditation is one of those tools, and you can get started in only a minute or two. Keep these travel-sized techniques in mind to make your sober vacation a success.
- Mindful Breathing. If you’re feeling overcome by stress or the desire to do drugs or drink, mindful breathing can help you clear your head to better handle the situation. All you have to do is close your eyes and breathe slowly — in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Each breath should last six seconds. One minute of this can help you let go of your tension and re-emerge better able to focus.
- Mindful Observing. This technique is particularly good for those on vacation because it can be applied anywhere. Mindful observation is the simple act of concentrating on an object and noticing as much about it as you can. Consider the size, weight, formation and creation of this object, and let that focus take you out of your worries and distractions for the moment. Appreciating the object and its role in the world can help enhance feelings of your own calmness and well-being.
- Mindful Immersion. Immersion is making yourself as completely aware as possible of your own physical and emotional presence in the world. You can practice it by picking one action to focus on. For example, as you wash your face, notice the temperature of the water and how it feels on your hands. Consider the feeling of cleanliness you’re creating through this ritualistic activity, and how it positively impacts your life. Increasing awareness of physical and emotional spaces can enhance your appreciation of life in general — and make your sober vacation all the more enjoyable.
Sober Vacations for Singles
While vacations are often a family affair, singles need to take time off too! Some singles might shy away from the vacations they desire out of fear that they won’t be able to have fun, or that they might have the wrong kind of fun and relapse. These fears are certainly valid, but they shouldn’t hold anyone back from acting on their sober vacation ideas and dreams.
Singles can enjoy the same amount of fun, as long as they maintain support for their sobriety. Support can include:
- Planning out a call schedule with a sponsor or sober friend
- Keeping a shared online journal of cravings and triggers
- Making new sober friends in your vacation spot
If you’re still not sure that a single sober vacation is for you, consider these tips for your destination:
- Keep Your Sober Support. If you’re concerned about being on your own with your sobriety, the best thing to do is keep in contact with a supportive individual from home. Whether it’s your sponsor, a family member or a friend, a familiar face can do wonders when you’re having a hard time maintaining sobriety.
- Find an Exercise Buddy. Your vacation destination — or somewhere very near by — likely has a gym or other exercise facility. Physical activity and substance abuse aren’t two sides of the same coin, so you’re likely to meet at least a couple people at the gym who can show you the sights and respect your sobriety.
- Attend Local Meetings. Addiction recovery meetings are nearly the same wherever you go. Before you arrive at your vacation destination, do some research and find local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-step groups. It’s a fantastic way to make new friends and find the support you need during your single sober vacation.
Sober vacations can be an incredibly fulfilling experience for singles, as long as they know how to maintain their support network. With a little extra precautionary work, the reward to your recovery can far outweigh the risks of relapse.
Further Vacation Resources
If you’re still unsure about going on vacation after rehab, you’re not alone. After learning the risks, tips and tricks of how to plan a sober vacation, many people feel that they don’t have the expertise to plan and execute an entire trip alone. Luckily, you can find others who want to share a sober vacation experience together. A dedicated sober vacation service can help you plan a fun and fulfilling vacation in shared celebration. Sober Vacations International, for example, offers people the chance to see the destinations of their dreams — without the nightmare of relapse.
If you don’t want to go alone, there are many options for trips and retreats with other sober individuals. These programs are often the best options for sober singles, or anyone who doesn’t have many sober vacation ideas. In addition, choosing a travel program can help you work directly on expanding your comfort zone while staying clear of drugs and alcohol.
Take the First Steps to Permanent Sobriety
Taking a vacation while maintaining your sobriety is an admirable and attainable goal, but it’s more difficult for some people. It takes a lot of adjustment and fortitude to adjust to regular life after rehab. You deserve the quality, expert guidance that can help you achieve success in sobriety.
12 Keys Rehab offers a one-of-a-kind aftercare program for individuals who have completed rehab and want the best chance to maintain their sobriety permanently. Even if your goal is to re-integrate into your life with as little friction as possible, we are in your corner — and if you’ve got your eyes set on a sober vacation, we can help.
A combination of clinical check-ins, group support and active involvement from our addiction professionals can give you the confidence you need to plan or sign up for a sober vacation. Don’t let stress, anxiety or depressive symptoms come between you and your hard-earned getaway when you can continue improving your recovery skills with aftercare at 12 Keys. Our professionals understand the intricacies of living life after rehab, and they know it’s an ongoing process.
Where other clinics only offer a one-size-fits-all approach to rehab, recovery and aftercare, 12 Keys places emphasis on treating you as an individual. We formulate unique treatment and aftercare plans for every client, ensuring that clinical, medical and holistic aspects work together to provide you with the recovery plan that suits your needs. If sober vacation after rehab is your current recovery goal, take your first steps by contacting 12 Keys about rehab and aftercare programs for addiction.