Sunblock, Swimsuit, Sobriety: Maintaining Your Recovery While Traveling

By Dominic Nicosia – June 27, 2021

The country is slowly but surely getting a move on again. With pandemic restrictions across the United States incrementally lifting, Americans are preparing in large numbers for all types of travel, from short weekend trips to once-in-a-lifetime, cross-country journeys. If you’re one of the millions who are planning to travel this season but are also among the over 19 million Americans who struggle with substance use disorder (SUD), it’s critical that you get your mind ready along with your body in time for your beach-season getaway. 

Airlines, cruise liners, hotels and other travel entities are seeing double-digit increases for bookings in the second half of 2021, and single-digit increases into 2022 and 2023 as vaccines continue to create widespread national optimism. Data from Deloitte indicates that 46% of Americans who have yet to be vaccinated say they’re comfortable staying in a hotel and 34% feel comfortable flying. Of those already vaccinated, 70% say they feel safe staying in a hotel and 54% feel safe flying. 

For those who are in recovery, however, this enthusiasm is tempered with the caution of maintaining their sobriety while they’re away from their support system. As much as we love the thought of getting away, especially after the year we’ve all had, travel has the potential to disrupt routine, which can be particularly destabilizing to people in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction, especially those in the early stages of the process. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) puts relapse rates for addiction recovery at between 40-60%; very often these relapses are the product of in-the-moment stresses caused by routine derailment. If you or someone you care about is in recovery, the good news is that you can plan ahead to keep your sobriety top of mind during this year’s trip. 

Find Meetings Near Your Destination 

Meetings are a fundamental component of the recovery process because they keep you accountable, grounded and present. They also allow you to exchange support and insights with others in recovery during your most vulnerable periods. Do some research prior to leaving for your trip to find out where the nearest meetings are in proximity to your destination. Alcoholics Anonymous (NA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), SMART Recovery, or whatever other model you’ve chosen to embrace has networks all over the country to help you easily access support wherever you are. You can also continue to take advantage of virtual recovery meeting options, but it often helps to connect in person. 

Sponsor on Speed Dial 

Check-in with designated members of your recovery support system every day, whether it’s your sponsor, a family member or just a friend you can trust and who is familiar with your situation. Coordinate with them before you leave to establish a call schedule, so they know you’re staying on track. Make sure each member of your support system has each other’s contact information so they can connect and collaborate to act and get you help if you suffer a setback. Call them at a designated time each day or when you’re feeling particularly vulnerable. 

It’s also a good idea to coordinate with your therapist prior to leaving so they know that you may be vulnerable at certain points during your trip. Ask if you can call them outside of office hours for impromptu or emergency sessions when needed. 

Avoid High-Pressure Situations When Possible 

You’re going on vacation to relax; not relapse. The last thing you should have to worry about is being triggered by a completely avoidable situation. Stay out of bars as much as possible and try to avoid other venues in which alcohol and drugs are readily available. If your friends or travel companions are planning to go to a club, party or bar, offer to split up for the night so you can do your own thing, like explore the city or cultural institutions in the area. 

If going to a bar is absolutely unavoidable, for whatever reason, make sure you have your own way of getting home so you can leave if things get too tough. 

Bring Your Best Mind and Body on Vacation with You 

Recovery is more than just giving up drugs and alcohol, it’s cultivating a physically and emotionally healthy lifestyle that nurtures nutrition, fitness, mindfulness and emotional wellness. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that can be triggered and exacerbated by things like diet and lack of exercise. For example, sugar, drugs and alcohol all cause intense surges of dopamine.

 When you’re on vacation, keep your holistic health top of mind to avoid physiological pitfalls that can lead to sudden, unexpected cravings. Keep moving for at least 30 minutes a day, stay hydrated, go for walks, get fresh air and take it easy on overtly sugary and salty foods. If you take medication for withdrawal symptoms or maintenance, make sure you’re up to date with dosage and have an ample supply of meds you take every day. 

Know Yourself and Be Prepared 

Recovery is very much about self-awareness. You know yourself, you know your threshold for temptation and you know how you act when you engage with certain people, places and things. If you don’t think you’re ready to spend a week with your friends who haven’t given up drinking or drug use yet without succumbing to relapse, make other vacation plans. When you plan your vacation, do it around the theme of cultural exploration or leisure rather than just partying. Pack your daily itinerary with activities to give you plenty of things to do with minimal downtime. Finally, if you’re new to recovery and don’t feel ready to go outside of your support system, you don’t have to. 

Don’t forget to lean on the coping strategies and evidence-based techniques you learned in treatment. Use the insights you gained in your program to your advantage. Rehab is meant to help you get through tough everyday situations, including travel and social interaction, without succumbing to alcohol or drug use. When you’re getting ready to travel this summer, don’t forget to pack your recovery plan with your swimsuit, sunblock and flip-flops. Have fun!


About the Author

Dominic Nicosia is a New Jersey-based journalist and content writer covering addiction care and mental health. He currently serves as Senior Content Writer for Recovery Unplugged Treatment Centers, a national addiction treatment organization that offers a full continuum of care and uses music to help people more readily embrace the treatment process.


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