More travelers are choosing sober nights out when traveling, finding their experiences are richer, more memorable and they're more engaged with local culture than when they hopped between bars or spent the night chasing a single beer in an alcohol-free country.
Not-drinking is one of the most surprising trends of the early 21st century. A growing number of adults have realized the effects of alcohol on their mental and physical health often outweigh any benefits. Cue trending hashtags like #soberlife, #sobercurious and now #sobertravel.
Perhaps a subset of the wellness movement, sober living is really about connection, rather than puritanism. By giving booze a raincheck on holidays, travelers are finding they feel more authentic, are more present and start tapping into a sense of belonging that alcohol once temporarily provided.
Going out after dark is the obvious time when giving up on drinking could seem problematic. How does one dance, flirt, or abandon yourself to "where the night takes you" without a couple of glasses of bubbly or some top-up tequila shots?
By not drinking when partying, you’ll quickly realise that music is a greater elixir than the green fairy (absinthe). Get some travel companions on board and dive into some nightclubs sober – you’ll quickly find the right tune to get you on the dancefloor. And the messier the other patrons get, the less embarrassed you’ll feel. What’s more, the next morning you won’t wake up thinking "Ich will sterben" ("I want to die") because you’ve downed so much Jägermeister you now think you speak German, and you’ll have the energy to do all those daytime activities you planned as well.
Beyond dancing the night away at a roof-top bar in Bangkok or an underground club in Berlin, there are myriad nights out that don’t require a ready-made excuse if someone offers to buy you a drink. Many of the world’s cities will have theater, stand-up comedy, spoken-word performances, readings, escape rooms, live-music gigs, late-night bookstores, after-hours events at museums and art galleries, or night-time walking tours to keep you busy and booze-free. Broaden your idea of a fun night out and you’ll find sober travel may well make you more adventurous, not less.
The non-alcoholic world
Sober living is nothing new for a large percentage of the world. For reasons of custom, religion or culture, drinking is either frowned upon, illegal or near impossible in some countries. While many Middle Eastern countries do take a more relaxed approach to the consumption of alcohol by foreigners, it is usually kept only to hotels and restaurants and comes at a premium cost. So why not eschew the booze when traveling in a country where it’s otherwise banned and dip into a world of drinks you’ve never tried before?
Brits may love their tea, but for many cultures tea drinking is an all-day affair and one steeped in ceremony no matter where you’re having a cup. Even huddled under a makeshift tent in the High Atlas Mountains, a brew cooked over an open fire is given the same theatrical pour to oxygenate the flavors and is served with kindness and care to everyone present. Beyond tea drinking, and Italy’s much-admired coffee culture, you’ll find West Asian countries offer a broad variety of refreshing cordials called sharbat, shorbot, serbat or sherbet. Seeking out haunts for an afternoon refreshment, such as yogurt-based sweet lassi or savoury doogh, will reward your taste buds and offer a potential inroad to meeting and engaging with locals whom you wouldn’t have met drinking expensive beers at an international hotel.
Ten sobering trends
- Alcohol, what’s it for? Not drinking is a way of life in many Islamic countries; head where the locals socialize over tea or sharbat instead.
- Alcohol-free bars: Bars and pubs where the drinks are no- or low-alcohol are popping up in cities such as London and New York.
- Soft cocktails: No longer second fiddle to the "real drinks", mixologists are now taking mocktails seriously.
- Wellness retreats: Forget that "yummy mummies re-live spring break" yoga retreat: many are strictly drug- and alcohol-free.
- Booze-free festivals: Not common yet but popular among alternative lifestylers and families wanting to skip the hungover side of the festival scene.
- The great outdoors: Camping in the wild often means carrying all you will eat or drink, leaving little room for non-essentials, so leave the booze behind.
- It’s kombucha time: Served from a keg like beer, you’ll see a kombucha pitch at street-food markets and music festivals across the US today.
- Sober raves: From Morning Gloryville to No Lights No Lycra, dancing is the main focus of these alcohol- and drug-free events popping up worldwide.
- Sober sensations: Germany does multi-sensory club events in major cities with sober DJs, light performances and scent artists.
- Sober travel companies: Tapping into the trend, travel companies like Sober Vacations International have started organizing tours for sober folk only.
You might also like:
Sober travel: how to have a great night out in Europe’s top cities without alcohol
Destination Drinks #28: Anijsmelk
Destination Drinks #21: Mango Lassi