Fear Not Sober Vacations – Great Escapes for Sober Sojourners!

sober vacation on the beach - Portland

A newly sober friend of mine was looking meaningfully into his coffee. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m going on a sober vacation to St Martin next week and I’m really nervous about my recovery,” he said.

My immediate thought was a sarcastic, Poor you – that’s the kind of problem I’d like to have. But he looked worried enough that I bagged the snide comment. The fact is, vacations (especially to temptation islands) can be stressful to folks in recovery. And when there’s a boat party on every sandbar or a history of overindulging on past vacations, a holiday can be downright dangerous to the sober sojourner.


picture of sober vacation on the beach

The Good News About Sober Vacation…

This doesn’t mean you have to stay home and play tiddlywinks. And springtime vacations (after tax season or a long winter) can be just what the doctor/addiction therapist ordered. It does mean however, that like my friend, you should plan for triggers to relapse and create a schedule for the time you will be away. You should also consider your destination and vacation partners carefully.


Scheduling vacation time? Planning for a trigger free environment? That doesn’t sound like fun – it doesn’t even sound like a vacation.


The definition of vacation is, “an extended period of leisure and recreation; especially one spent away from home or in traveling.”. Vacation is not defined as a pie-eyed free-for-all, so let’s get that out of our heads. The good news is that sober vacations without corner-drugs and strong drinks with umbrellas are:

  • Less dangerous or accident prone
  • Less expensive
  • More energetic
  • Happier (no late-night drama or pratfalls into the pool)
  • More in-the-moment and appreciated


But vacations also mean you will be away from familiar 12-step meetings, recovery routines and escape plans. So pre-planning and control is a good idea. You do not want to end up on spring-break in Key West, or on “shore leave” from the cruise ship at a Senior Frogs…


Let’s take a look at the best sober vacations and why they enhance recovery…

Tropical Islands

tropics can be good for sober vacations


St Martin is actually a great place for a sober vacation when you define “vacation” properly. Sunrise strolls, hiking, snorkeling, hitting the straw market and wholesale jewelry stores, and sightseeing are all great sober activities on tropical islands. And if you have access to a boat, snorkeling is the perfect exercise for folks in recovery. Water in the face, rigorous exercise, exquisite scenery and early to bed. Make sure to pack the cooler with sparkling water and go!

You will be proud of your prowess and overwhelmed by unfettered views of blue! 


“Educational” Getaways

sober vacation exercise like steps at Vatican


If you’ve always wanted to see the Vatican, get the lay of the Sleeping Bear Dunes or sit quietly on the banks of Loch Ness, now is the time. And with a clear head, excellent balance and stamina, the experience can be greatly enhanced. You will actually visit the visitor center, lead the charge up 320 Vatican steps and research Nessie sightings before you arrive in the Highlands.

Aren’t you clever? Repairing brain function and living in the moment – and BTW the Michigan dunes were created by glaciers during the Ice Age!!




Sober Yoga & Spa Retreats

Speaking of brains, this is a no brainer. When you are with a community that is passionate about wellness, fitness or mindfulness you do not have to explain why you’re not ordering a Mai Tai at lunch. The best sober vacations renew the mind, body and spirit and there are so many options for a healthy retreat vacation…. many spas do not serve alcohol and have 12-step meetings on site.


doing yoga on lawn sober vacation


Flood all the senses and commune with others who value mindfulness…


Museum & Gallery Sober Vacations

Take a long-weekend stay-cation and visit every museum in your town and (if you don’t live in a big city) surrounding towns! You will be amazed by how many options present themselves. New York has MOMA, but also the Museum of Ice-cream, And near Grand Rapids? We have everything from Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park to the Bruce Dice Mineralogical Museum.

The logo for the Grand Rapids Public Museum is “be curious”. So, be curious…


Guided Tours, Camps & Trying Something New

At Sanford, we’ve all heard of equine therapy, but can you see yourself herding cattle on a dude ranch? Stretch your imagination and think of all the things you’ve never tried (but would love to try). Learn to play third base or row a skiff. Hike the Grand Canyon, camp in Copper Harbor or bike through the Cotswolds. Learn the art of forest bathing in Japan.

horse ranch sober vacation


It doesn’t have to be dangerous or expensive – it might be a guided birding tour. And when you do something that has a guide or instructor, they will take you seriously. And you will have accountability as well as boatloads of fun. Which reminds me, I’d like to go to sailing camp…

Widening the path of recovery with exciting activities and passionate involvement. 

Vacations and Sobriety

When you think about it, vacations are for the sober. We get up refreshed, early and ready to experience the day. We’ve learned to live in the moment, curious and passionate about our interests. And we are unencumbered by the need to pack or find our substance of choice on a remote island, backwoods village or camel back excursion. We have done the kind of inner-searching that illuminates what we want out of life. And what we don’t want.


So, fear not the sober vacation. With proper planning, risk avoidance and the right destination and company – you can literally have the time of your life!


And more on sober vacations from the Huffington Post:


The Best Type of Vacations to Take if you Don’t Drink





Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.