Navigating Sobriety in the Skies: 5 Tips for Traveling Sober

I used to LOVE drinking in airports, especially when I flew alone. And it wasn’t just because it calmed my jitters about hurtling through the sky in a metal tube suspended 31,000 feet above the ground. While it definitely helped with that fear, it also made me feel connected to other people, but in a completely anonymous, no-stakes way.

Emboldened by vodka martinis, I could talk to people with ease because — a) we all had something in common (waiting for a flight) and b), I knew I’d probably never see them again. I could be whoever I wanted, say whatever I wanted, make up whatever crazy story about myself that I wanted. I could pretend to be the version of myself that I longed to be, which gave me a perverse (and delusional) feeling of freedom.

So when I found out I’d have to fly solo for a business trip a few months ago, I was worried about traveling sober. I had been on planes since getting sober, but not by myself. And without someone there to hold me accountable, I was afraid the temptation to calm my nerves and indulge my inner actress would be too strong to ignore.

But guess what? I did it! I stayed sober before my flight, during my flight, and after my flight — twice! It wasn’t even as hard as I thought it would be because I planned ahead and used my recovery tools. And if I can do it, ANYONE can. So if you’re stressing about flying the friendly skies without a drink in your hand, here are some things that helped me.

Book a Morning Flight

When you catch an early morning flight, fewer bars are open at the airport. And the open ones typically don’t have the same fun, festive feel that they do later in the day. If you’re a coffee or tea lover, even better — treating yourself to a caffeinated beverage can help fend off the temptation to reach for something stronger. Lastly, if you’re a nervous flyer like me, getting your flight over with first thing in the morning will reduce the amount of travel anxiety you’ll have to experience that day.

Plan Ahead

Before setting foot in the airport, have a plan in place. Research airport layouts to locate sober-friendly spots like meditation rooms or wellness centers where you can find respite from the chaos. You can also plan an activity to keep you occupied, such as reading a book, listening to a podcast, or creating a sober-positive playlist that really speaks to your soul. Having a go-to alternative can help fill the void left by alcohol and make traveling sober less stressful.

Lean on Your Support System

Traveling sober is easier when you don’t feel like you’re alone. Reach out to your support network before, during, and after your journey. Text a friend, call your sponsor, or hop onto a Zoom AA meeting while you’re waiting for your flight. I did the latter when I discovered THERE WAS A BAR RIGHT AT MY GATE (oy!) and it really helped distract me.

Practice Mindfulness

Embrace the power of mindfulness. Much like meditation, mindfulness allows you to stay present and grounded amidst the chaos of travel. Take a moment to pause, breathe, and tune into your surroundings. Whether it’s focusing on the rhythm of your breath or the sensation of your feet on the ground, mindfulness can help anchor you in the here and now.

Remember Why You’re Flying

Take a moment to reflect on the purpose of your trip. Is it for a work meeting that could advance your career? A visit with loved ones you haven’t seen in ages? Focusing on the positive reasons behind your travel can help you see past your immediate situation and remind you what you stand to lose if you pick up a drink.

Do you have tips for staying sober at the airport? Share them with us in the comments!

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