Sober Travels in Wine Country

My husband and I met as teenagers and have spent the last three decades dreaming of the day we could travel the world together.  It was always a “someday” vision – raising kids and running our business has kept us on a relatively short leash. Now our dreams are in sight, and I realize I’ve changed the game by throwing in the wrinkle of sobriety.

We will both soon be celebrating our 50th birthdays – his is this spring and mine follows in summer 2017. We’ve heard many people say that it’s a mistake to wait too long to start travelling – it’s hard to change the work habits of a life time – so we’ve agreed to use these upcoming milestones as incentive to shift into a “next stage” mentality. After thirty years of working shoulder-to-shoulder, it is now time to actually live out those “someday” dreams.

We asked, “Where do I want to be on my 50th birthday?”  The first answer for both of us is “at home, surrounded by our kids and grandkids” (assuming there will be more by then!). True, true but it was time to think BIG, so we turned our attention to those dreams that have been dangling beyond our reach for so long we’ve almost forgotten they are real places.

“I want to ski the Matterhorn on my 50th birthday,” said my husband smiling.

“I want to hike the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu on mine,” I answered with the twinkling eyes of a child on Santa’s knee.

We started planning, but I could see something was bothering my husband as we mapped a route from Zurmatt, Switzerland south to Cinque-Terrre, Italy. Finally he confessed his concerns about touring a region famous for food and wine with me. Would I be able to enjoy myself there? Would I expect him to also say no to wine with dinner? Would I resent him if he sampled the local treats that are off-limits for me?

Fair questions, I wasn’t offended. Given the pitiful misery of a travel companion I was in Cuba last year (recounted here), his concerns were justified. I’d vowed never to go against my gut again, and here my gut was telling me that Switzerland and Italy will offer many pleasant distractions. We had to talk it out and plan how we will make it work.

It is give and take. If we are sitting at an outdoor café enjoying the evening air, I can savour a cappuccino while he has a glass of local wine. If he wants a second glass and I don’t wish to stay, he may well have it alone while I wander or retire for the evening. That’s our equilibrium, and it is different for everyone depending on individual needs and the dynamics of the relationship.

My husband has a neck and shoulder problem. We haven’t even addressed yet how he will manage his backpack. It just is what it is and we will have to figure it out and prepare accordingly. Travelling as a person in recovery must be looked at with the same mentality: my sobriety is a simple reality to be considered. Plan ahead, be prepared, and look out for each other.

Here we are, finally embarking on an adventure we’ve worked for our whole lives and dealing with the reality of my recovery. Nobody dreams of being an alcoholic when they grow up. Still, I won’t tell myself I am spoiling our travels by being sober – that is ridiculous. If I wasn’t sober, I would spend the entire trip obsessing about when and how to drink, surrounded by abundance but trying to hide a desperate wish to hide in my room alone with a bottle. That would be worse, no?

And besides, I have to stay in shape for hiking the mountains of Peru.

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15 comments

  1. I so relate to this post. We travelled through Tuscany and France while I was sober a few years back. I was super worried before we left about how my husband (who is a normie) and I would handle this especially because we traveled Europe on our honeymoon and drank lots. It turned out to be so much more fun that had I been drinking. There was no obsession over when to drink, where to drink, how much to drink. The best part was not wasting a single moment being hung over or regretting my alcohol consumption. It was an amazing trip. I went to an awesome english speaking recovery meeting in the middle of Rome. I truly thought that travelling through this region would be so much harder without drinking. Truth was it was so much BETTER without drinking.

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  2. Somebody told me…maybe “Unpickled”…enjoy the scenery, the company, enviornment…the drink doesn’t add anything to what is actually going on…

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  3. I am repeatedly impressed by the thoughtfully, honest voice with which you address intimate experiences and universal themes of self truth. Your vulnerability and bravery in these tender and humorous sharings are beautiful. In this particular post, I love that you are embracing dreams with reality, setting boundaries that allow you to create your own path.

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  4. I am also a traveler with my husband and I am 18 months sober!. I struggled with how it would be not drinking while travelling Europe and South America when alcohol was such a big part of our trips – sipping wine outside a cafe together on a balmy evening in Rome, Paris etc. I now do exactly what you have suggested to yourself – I have my latte and he has his wine! I love the feeling of going to bed sober and waking sober and ready for the next day’s adventure with positive energy a clear head and gratitude that I have another day – wonderful day of sobriety under my belt! it’s awesome! I can honestly say it doesn’t bother me any more but it has taken a few trips and 18 months!
    I know you will have an awesome time! You go girl! and Happy holidays!

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  5. Hi Unpickled, i have no words to express how you changed my life! Literally, bcs I’m not a native English speaker, so my vocabulary is very limited hahaha
    your blog has been part of my everyday routine for 3 months. Every night I go to bed, spend my 5 lives on candy crush then read your blog until i fall asleep 🙂
    after all this time reading your posts and your followers comments, I felt like sharing an experience that was important for my recovery and might be for others.
    One year ago I started a new job… I became a forensic analist. I don’t know how you see this job in your country, but I live in a quite violent place, so seeing corpses is like a routine for me. Here we basically classify the deaths in two categories: the violent deaths (murders) and the non-violent deaths (suicides, “home deaths” etc). What impressed me most was that, among the non-violent deaths, I ‘d say 90% were alcoholics… Alcohol addicts that killed themselves or drank til death in their homes, or on the streets, or even drouned in a 30 cm deep pond bcs they were too drunk to “swim”. I had been fighting for a while against my addiction, but the images I saw since i started this job, and the suffering I saw in these peoples families really helped me see the future that was waiting for me if I didn’t stop. I woudn’t want this for my worst enemy… Neither for me or my family…

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    • Wow Vivi you have told us the reality from the forensic point of view. We all battle to stay on the right road when so many keep on travelling on the wrong road leading them to a dead end.

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  6. My husband and I went to Paris twice. Both times I was drinking.
    Now that I am sober, (only 79 Days), I am not secure enough to think of traveling and not drinking. (Yet)
    My husband does not drink to support me. (He never was a big drinker. Liked Coca Cola much better!)
    If I think of going to Paris again, or anyplace “romantic”, and not drinking, I wonder how I would do it.
    I think it would be one meal at a time. LOL
    Focus on the food, the coffee, the dessert, the beauty that I see around me!

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  7. Hiya. I agree with what Anne said. I remember trips where I sat getting pissed, and look back now, what did I miss out on seeing and doing? you will get so much more out of the trips sober! and indeed, be prepared and look out for each other. enjoy. how fab!!!!!

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  8. Lucky you! I’ve been to Italy. Gorgeous country. Sadly, I don’t remember all that much. Although I did manage to bring home a local bottle of wine to save for a special occasion. I think it remained unopened for about a week after my return. Oh, how I would love to do that trip all over again — sober this time.

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  9. Thank you for your posts. Congrats on your upcoming travels! Zermatt is an absolute dream of a vacation. One thought for your husband is the Back-t-Pack designed by a physical therapist to help people with back pain often caused by backpacks.
    http://www.backtpack.com

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  10. Exciting! I think not being sober would definitely ruin the trips.
    I just can’t see how not being obsessed, hungover and anxious would be a problem!
    We all have our own quirks. I think your honesty about your needs will set you up for success.

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  11. I am a traveler, that has recently quit drinking. I often wonder what it will be like in the future for my husband and I on trips. All of my past adventurers oversees involved the wine of the regions. I’m not sure I could handle it. This gives me hope, thank you.

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