This is not a public service announcement. You aren’t a bad person if you drink and you (probably) won’t go to hell if you have a couple of glasses of vino or spend a day in bed hungover. I’m a firm believer in people choosing their own path and this is my experience of how giving up alcohol has enabled me to travel more and realise my potential.
My reasons for giving up were plentiful though I shan’t go in to them here, needless to say my relationship with alcohol had become fairly unhealthy and by the end it was nothing more than a crutch, legitimising my terrible life choices. That was in 2014 , that same year I booked a 5 month trip abroad which turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made (let’s ignore the fact I booked the flights after a binge drinking session!). With the benefit of hindsight it’s clear I couldn’t have travelled so successfully whilst still drinking, conversely travelling showed me that life without booze was oh, so much better. Quite the chicken and egg situation.
Of course the thought of meeting new people without a cup of Dutch courage in my hand was abhorrent. That glass I held in front of myself with beer, vodka or wine in it, was a metaphorical protection in any social situation and without it I was exposed. The dam broke and my anxiety flooded out, so much of my personality was linked to my party girl persona and I wasn’t sure what else I had to offer. It took many months, some therapy, and significant support from my friends and family, to understand that sobriety wasn’t the end. In fact, it was just the beginning of a different adventure.
The solo trip I took through SE Asia and Colombia was nerve-wracking but the confidence it gave me was profound and long lasting. Forcing myself to be sociable as a hardcore introvert was often exhausting, some of the people I met were insufferable (such as the Colombian tour guide who tried to spike my diet coke with moonshine) but others were brilliant, intelligent, funny and creative.
One of the most significant turning points was in Vietnam. I remember waking up in a dormitory at 7am, the alcoholic stench knocking me sick, bodies strewn around, people snoring having only got in a few hours earlier. I was disgusted at the thought of ever behaving like that again. How much time had I spent hungover face down on a bed? Sleeping my way through weekends and holidays. Why would someone travel half way around the world just to blackout every few days? It seemed such a waste and I couldn’t identify with that mindset any longer.
That morning flying through the Hoi An countryside on my bike I had never felt so alive. Hackneyed though that sounds, it is the truth. The world was in high definition; the neon blue of the sky and green of the trees popped, wind whipped my skin until every hair stood on end, smiling so much I could have been mistaken for a madwoman. I didn’t need booze or stimulants any more and it was a relief.
Since 2014 I have travelled relentlessly, notching up around 20 countries, more than the all of the previous years put together. Until you stop consuming alcohol it is nigh on impossible to gain perspective of the sheer amount of money you are chucking down the drain, or down your gullet to be more accurate. Drinking and resultant activities (such as taxis and takeaways) were costing me between £200 – £500 a month in London. How many flights could that buy? How many days in South East Asia would that get me? It was insane!
Sure, the extra £300 or so a month helps but my decision to stop drinking enabled my passion for travel far beyond having a fatter wallet. I would never go back to my boozy days split between the pub and my bed.
If you’re considering giving up drinking (or reducing your intake) for any reason, be ready to deal with not only your own anxiety but peer-pressure from others, accompanied by some intrusive questioning. Learn to accept it and find your own coping mechanisms – fill your days with fun and calming activities like yoga, meet friends in coffee shops rather than bars, prepare answers to difficult questions and don’t feel bad for leaving undesirable situations. Above all remember you aren’t boring because you have chosen not to drink, people who levy that accusation often have their own issues to deal with. You are embracing life and travel and all the opportunities available to you with a sharper mind, you are being proactive about your own happiness and health. That’s no small feat.
Finishing on a quote from the late great Carrie Fisher (R.I.P), this embodies my sentiments towards giving up alcohol and probably how myriad people feel about travel…..
“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”