The Life Challenge
Quick Guide: Your First Trip in Recovery When No One Is Watching

Quick Guide: Your First Trip in Recovery When No One Is Watching

By Martha McLaughlin

It’s normal to be nervous about taking a trip when you’re in recovery from addiction. Your routine will change, and the temptations may be different from those you’re used to dealing with at home. Preparation is key, and thinking through who, what, when, where and why before your trip can help you not only stay sober, but fully enjoy your time away.

Traveler with suitcase in airport

Who to Go With

Built-in accountability isn’t there when you travel alone, so going with trusted friends, family or even a hired sober companion is a great idea when it’s possible. Whether you’re taking a trip with others or on your own, communicating regularly with a mentor, sponsor or counselor through phone or text will help you stay connected and supported.

Check with your regular support group to see if you can participate remotely while you’re gone. If you do your research before you go, you can also find a local support group to join during your time in the area.

What to Do

Have you got a plan for down-time? Therapist Anita Gadhia-Smith recommends bringing recovery-related books and recordings to enjoy during your trip.1 You may also want to research sober activities in advance so you’ll have fun alternatives to situations that could be problematic or triggering. What will you say if someone offers you a drink? Think through your response and consider practicing various scenarios with a friend.

Where to Go

If your trip is for business, you may not have control over your destination, but when planning a personal vacation, consider the availability of drugs and alcohol when choosing your spot. As an article in Psychology Today notes, “When planning a vacation, it goes without saying: no Germany in October, no spring break at Daytona Beach, no tours through Napa Valley.” 2 Even if you aren’t able to choose where you’re going, you can improve it. For example, you can request that alcohol be removed from the mini-bar in your hotel room.

When to Go

Do you have time in your day for self-care such as breathing exercises and meditation?

If you can maintain at least some parts of your recovery routine while you’re away from home, you are likely to feel more in control. Pay attention to your schedule, and try not to either overfill your time or leave too many unplanned hours. The goal is to avoid both stress and boredom, which may trigger old habits.

Why Travel in Recovery?

Planning ahead and taking steps to avoid relapse requires a bit of mental energy, but there’s a reason for it all. Remember what life was like when addiction was in control, and why recovery is worth the effort. With time and practice, the routines for successful sober travel will seem like second nature to you, and you’ll be able to fully enjoy your trips with a healthy and vibrant body and mind.


1 Castaneda, Ruben. “11 Strategies for Staying Sober While Traveling.” U.S. News and World Report, February 8, 2017.

2 Sack, David. “5 Ways to Stay Sober While Traveling.” Psychology Today, May 5, 2015.