Traveling is often associated with getting wasted in strange places—but traveling clean can be far more enriching. The Fix presents 10 personal stories of enlightening sober trips, from Miami to Nepal.
Real-estate broker Mike quit drinking on his own in 2006. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing after that. “Although I was successful professionally, I was miserable and felt completely alone,” he tells The Fix. “So I went to my monthly AA meeting and, for the first time, asked for help. An old-timer pointed me toward the activities-based AA group Not a Glum Lot, which happened to be gearing up for its annual Memorial Day weekend rafting trip. Signing up for that trip was the greatest action I ever took for my recovery. One hundred-plus AA-ers rode buses from NYC to Pennsylvania to set up camp, followed by three fun-filled days and nights on the Delaware River. We helped each other pitch tents along the waterfront, grilled hot dogs, sat around campfires for meetings and roasted s’mores. We laughed, sang and played in the river. For the first time in my adult life, I enjoyed peace of mind and happiness.”
"On our first day out, my car broke down, making me really have to live in the third step," says NYC resident Jess, who road-tripped this past spring with a non-alcoholic girlfriend. "In New Orleans I went to the Mustard Seed—I found meetings using the iPhone app Steps Away—and was given a 'pink cloud' chip for being a visitor. The next meeting I hit was in Marfa, Texas, where one of the eight people in attendance was a real-life cowboy who shared so honestly, I was blown away. In Palm Desert, Calif., the meeting was full of old-timers; the speaker's father got sober with Bill W.. I left for LA shortly thereafter, which was maybe the most challenging part of my trip, with one late night that ended with a beer dumped in my lap. I wouldn't necessarily recommend such a trip to another newcomer, but I made the best of it. Although it definitely wasn't 'slow-briety,' now that I'm back home I can pump the breaks again."
“When I agreed to go with my dad on a cruise to Antarctica, I hadn’t realized that all people do on cruise ships is eat and drink,” says Fix Executive Editor Anna David. “I also hadn’t considered that we wouldn’t be doing any sunbathing or docking at any tropical locales. At the time I was about three years sober, and going to five meetings a week, so I was thrilled when I found out that the ship provided daily AA meetings. These were far different from any other 12-step experience I’d had previously. The same five or so of us met every day, so by the second meeting, I knew everyone’s story. One woman was unbelievably sweet and very much took on a mother/ grandmother role with me, inviting me to eat with her family, telling me about all the sober vacations she’d been on and, in general, making me feel like sobriety into and through your 60s was not only possible but also quite enjoyable.”
“In Nepal’s Pokhara region, where I traveled in the fall of 2008 to visit my sister, I found myself losing my mind during my first trip away from my tight-knit fellowship and regimented program in NYC,” says Sean, a private investigator. “So my sister made some calls, and I was directed to show up at a certain spot the next day at 3 pm for an NA meeting. Not long after I got there, Dilip arrived on a motorcycle, made a quick introduction in clipped, colonial English and told me to jump on the back of the bike. We ended up having a meeting sitting in a circle on the grass in a park. After a reading—in English!—from the 12 & 12, two guys who had disappeared returned with tea service for everyone, complete with a heavy silver tray and glass teacups full of piping-hot, sweet spiced tea. I’d never seen anything like it. One of them must have lived nearby—but to my mind they’d somehow just manifested the ‘coffee break’ out of nowhere.”
“This winter my wife and I went on a 'babymoon' to the fast-populating beaches of Tulum,” says Fix Editorial Director Mike Guy. “Each morning, while my wife practiced yoga at Maya Tulum, a spa-style cluster of beachfront palapas, I went on long daily runs in the sweltering midday heat. On the fourth day, in desperate need of a meeting, I decided to jog a different route, past the Mayan ruins and into town, where I figured I'd ask a local. I took a wrong turn onto a very sketchy street, Andromeda Oriental, and stopped to get my bearings. Suddenly, a very drunk local approached me and said, in Spanish, ‘I'm looking for the reunion.’ It took me a second—and then I realized he was also in need of a meeting. Turned out we were standing in front of the only AA clubhouse in the state of Quintana Roo. We went inside, I qualified and ran back home as the sun set over the top of the jungle.”
“Five sober girls decided to take a trip to Maui in March of 2010,” recalls Espere, from Portland, Ore. “We were set to stay with the cousin of one of the girls, about whom we were warned ahead of time that she was a potential alcoholic—or at least a heavy drinker. Although she lived in a cramped one-bedroom apartment, it was across the street from the ocean, so once we stepped outside we were free to be on the beach, or walk down to the open-air fresh fruit and vegetable market, or hop in the car and drive to our favorite swimming spot five minutes north. Even though the cousin drank—a lot—and smoked a lot of pot, she was a real sport, showing us her favorite beaches and picking us up or dropping us off at meetings. Beyond that, we meditated, we called our sponsors, we went McDonald’s-tray body-boarding with local AA-ers, and we drank big beautiful tropical virgin mocktails and experienced being sober away from home.”
“For a few years, I was going on a lot of press trips to international destinations,” says Fix Rehab Review Editor Hunter Slaton. “I went to Aruba, Curacao, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Sweden, Denmark, Japan—twice!—and even Abu Dhabi. Although traveling was cool, it could also be lonely, as every night I ended in a hotel room by myself, thousands of miles from my sober network. What’s more, the trips invariably were incredibly jam-packed. Nevertheless, I always looked up local AA meetings when I traveled, even when I knew I likely wouldn’t have time to make it to one. It made me feel good just to know when and where they were, if the fear ever set in. One meeting I did get to attend was in Singapore, in the food court of a shopping mall that hadn’t yet come to life for the day. Sitting there and sharing with those Australian and British ex-pats turned out to be a highlight of my trip.”
“My boyfriend and I went to Paris in the fall of 2011 for an amazing vacation—and also for Fashion Week,” says fashion-industry AA-er Ross. “Although we are both sober, that doesn’t mean that going to romantic, beautiful and whimsical Paris, whose cafés make people look especially glamorous drinking wine, comes without temptations. So we made a point of finding English-speaking meetings, and went to one—filled with ex-pats and fashion people—within the first couple of days. As I got busier with various shows, my boyfriend would hit a meeting while I was occupied. It was perfect! I'd been to Paris once before in college, but I was so drunk I barely remember it. This was completely different: I was with my sober boyfriend and experiencing the city through fashion shows, meetings, museums and cafés—where I drank delicious café crème, rather than wine.”
“One year I enjoyed one of Sober Vacations International’s ‘Winter Weeks’ at a Club Med resort in Turks & Caicos, with flat, white-sand beaches and clear-blue waters,” says AA member Josh. “The organizers bought in excellent circuit speakers, and the large, nightly outdoor meetings had terrific qualifications, not to mention the afternoon sober workshops. Having survived my share of yoga and meditation retreats, the food was better than expected. Meals were served buffet-style, and had a wide variety of meat and vegetarian options—including locally caught fish, conch and shellfish. They had a fair amount of activities, too—for example, a flying-trapeze setup for learning aerial arts, and a circus-y production on the penultimate evening. A significant bummer was, alas, the number of uptight, unfriendly members from a certain famously rigid NYC AA group which shall remain nameless—but feel free to guess.”
Each March, 100,000 “house-heads” descend upon Miami for more than 500 parties during the week-long Winter Music Conference (WMC). This year marked Mike from Brooklyn’s fifth WMC. “I’ve had a great time staying sober in notoriously fun party spots like Amsterdam, Ibiza, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin and Fire Island,” he tells The Fix. “Conversely, I’ve known people who’ve relapsed at home in their living room. Sobriety has helped me enjoy the WMC more than if I were drinking, because I don’t have hangovers, and can outlast my friends who have been drinking all day. Also, Red Bull is way cheaper than cocaine, so I can afford to splurge on nice restaurants.” Mike, who usually hits an AA meeting directly from the airport, adds, “Meetings are a great way to get the local scoop—whether it’s finding a good restaurant or a good party."
This SoCal rehab fosters a regimented but respectful recovery environment, where teens learn how to live sober through plenty of 12-step meetings and life-skills classes—not to mention "equine-assisted psychotherapy" and mixed martial arts.