Sober Travel: Do it Without a Drink!

Sober travel: Snowmobiling in Big Sky, Montana. Absolute Travel photos.
Sober vacations: Snowmobiling in Big Sky, Montana. Absolute Travel photos.

Alcohol-free vacations trips for when you want to travel without temptation

By Eleanor Harte

In a culture where after-work happy hours, brunch mimosas and weekend nights at the bar are the norm when it comes to socializing and meeting people, being sober can be tough.

It can feel very isolating, even though you know that logically there have to be others out there just like you. Where do you turn to find a tour for sober travelers like you?

According to a Princeton University poll, 30% of Americans don’t drink, though, with the way American culture glorifies alcohol, you’d never know it.

A person who’s recently made the decision to be sober might be concerned they’ll never be able to go on a vacation again. On all-inclusive vacations where the alcohol is free-flowing, the temptation for some people can be too great.

A new organization is hoping to change this.

Jimmy Hamm and MJ Gottlieb started the Clean Fun Network in January 2015 to combat this very problem. The group is a social network that hosts several monthly events in New York City and travel experiences to fun destinations – all without alcohol, but with a lot of fun.

“Everything we do is centered around an activity,” said Hamm, “and our trips are like going away on spring break, but you remember everything that you do.” Clean Fun Network trips are very group-oriented. Nothing is mandatory, but everyone is encouraged to do a majority of the activities together.

The beach in Nicaragua
The beach in Nicaragua. It's just as beautiful when you're sober!

Hamm started the network because he saw a demand for it in his own life. He began hosting people in a summer house in Montauk in 2009, and what started as one house quickly expanded to more, as Hamm’s friends began to invite their friends and those people invited their friends.

He began to see a need for a wider network bringing together sober people in New York City. He reached out to his friend, MJ Gottlieb, an entrepreneur who saw a similar need there. Together they formed the Clean Fun Network.

“I’ve been doing this for a few years now,” said Hamm, “and I have an idea of what people want to do. All of our trips are one hundred percent about fun.”

Hamm brings together like-minded people who are committed to sobriety for these trips. The company will have four trips, each a week long, to Puerto Rico in March. Through a partnership with Absolute Travel, they’ll be going to Big Sky Resort in Montana, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Then they'll go to Chile, one of the network's "premier" trips.

Kelly Fitzgerald
Kelly Fitzgerald

These trips are all-inclusive, save for airfare. Hamm, who directs the “fun” aspect of the network, has planned itineraries full of activities, from biking, hiking, skiing, kayaking and other destination-specific activities.

CFN member Laura heard about the network from friends who'd been on CFN trips before. "Society now cares a great deal about what they put into their bodies - physically, emotionally, spiritually," she said, calling 'clean living' the new black.

“Sobriety is so much better"

Kelly Fitzgerald, who runs the lifestyle blog The Adventures of a Sober Senorita, has never traveled with a sober travel company but hopes to soon. She plans trips herself and finds that the planning process goes much smoother now that she doesn’t drink.

“I stick to my plans and I get a lot more activities done. I am able to see and do twice as much because I am not hung over or drinking all day and night. I can also remember everything and savor every moment, instead of letting each day pass me by, like when I was drinking,” she said.

Mountains at Big Sky
Mountains at Big Sky.

Hamm wants to show that sobriety does not have to be the end of the fun in a person’s life. In fact, it can enhance it. For him, sobriety after years of alcohol abuse has been eye-opening.

“I have had more fun in sobriety, my life is a million times more fun,” he said. “You realize you don’t need all the outside things like drugs and alcohol to have a good time.”

Not everyone who is part of the Clean Fun Network has struggled with alcohol. Some members simply choose to abstain for any number of reasons. For some, it might be the taste, it might be a familial predisposition toward alcoholism, or perhaps it’s that alcohol can be expensive.

“I don't have to plan around getting drunk or places that have alcohol. I also spend less money because I don't spend any on alcohol,” said Fitzgerald. When planning her trips with friends, she focuses on making them very activity based so they’re not thinking about drinking. But for her, “avoiding alcohol while traveling is just like saying no to it every day of [her] life.”

She keeps her focus not on avoiding it, but keeping herself “mentally and spiritually strong” to take her sobriety one day at a time, and traveling is no different.

CFN member Laura said that she finds that "many sober people tend to wake up earlier, eat healthily, and do active things like surf, run, and bike ride."

There are other benefits for her too. "There is never any bar drama, hangovers or drunken people to slow you up."

Organic Growth

Hamm is quick to stress that his trips are not the equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous and have nothing to do with recovery. If someone is living in a detox treatment facility, this isn't the kind of trip for them, at least until they have a hold on their addiction. These trips are for anyone who is committed to sobriety and the idea of having fun without alcohol. They are vacations, pure and simple, just like anyone else would take; there’s just no alcohol or drug use whatsoever.

The trips provide a support group for people who may not have taken a vacation since they gave up drinking. As they work to overcome the challenges inherent in that new experience and the kind of behavior patterns they're working to change, CFN members are there for them.

A tree frog in Nicaragua
A tree frog in Nicaragua

“We basically want to make sure everyone on the trip plays well with others,” he said since the idea is to build friendships with like-minded people.

The network hosts multiple events a month, everything ranging from weekend ski trips to go to dinners and shows. The goal is to offer a wide range of activities in the areas of health, cult, re and wellness. Through it all, members keep things in confidence and agree to protect each other’s anonymity.

Hamm really wants to provide a safe space for members to get to know each other through activities that any other regular person might do. Their sobriety is what connects them, but it isn’t what defines them.

Clean Fun Network isn’t the only sober travel company.

Sober Vacations International runs week-long trips to Cancun, the Galapagos Islands and the Club Med resort in Turks and Caicos. They offer multiple meetings a day on these trips, and activities at the resorts vary from adventure sports to spa treatments.

The network has grown organically so far, mostly through mutual friends and references. A lot of the people are Hamm’s acquaintances for previous trips, but as the network grows through new events, new people are being introduced.

There’s a screening process for would-be trip attendees who Hamm, Gottlieb or a network member don’t know, but Hamm said it’s just a meeting to make sure they’re on the same page about what the trip is about.

Travel Sober is a company that allows people in recovery to make like-minded friends and experience new adventures with them. They partner with cruise companies to offer sober cruises, travel to AA conventions, and visit places all over the world.

Visit Sober Travelers for the latest in sober travel news and get new travel ideas.

Eleanor Harte

Eleanor Harte is a journalist and writer based in Boston, MA. She's fortunate to have studied abroad in Paris and to have visited Ireland, Belgium, Scotland, the Czech Republic, and a few other countries, but she has many remaining on her list! She's always looking for the next adventure.