10 Reasons It Didn’t Suck to Be Sober in Italy

  1. No Wasted Moments…or MoneySunset Over the Sea

Let’s face it: travel is expensive so it is important to make the most of every second.  As I sipped cappuccino and welcomed each morning, I felt rested and refreshed. When our afternoon adventures ran long or we found one more sight to visit before returning for dinner, I had no feelings of rising anxiety or obsessive thoughts about when and how I could start drinking. I was fully present for every wonderful moment.

  1. Mmmmm….That Food!12 Course Seafood Appetizer

When we were finally showered and sitting to dinner, I could focus and appreciate the subtleties of handmade pasta, fresh ingredients, and regional specialties. (Pictured above: a 12-course seafood appetizer and yes, we followed it with entrees!) I happily drank water with dinner to rehydrate after hours of endless walking Venice Streets and hiking the mountains of Cinque Terre. Afterwards, I regularly indulged in desert knowing I saved all those alcohol calories for something better.

  1. No Pressure

I had built up the idea that I would offend restaurant staff by declining wine, as though I was turning up my nose at the pride of Italy. In fact, I was never pressured anywhere and my requests for “Tonica, per favore” – dramatic slashing hand gestures – “NO GIN! NO ALCOHOL PER FAVORE!” were consistently granted without incident.

  1. More Energy for *Other* Things

Italy is very romantic…wink wink …say no more…

  1. Early Morning Church BellsManarola Bell Tower

In my little corner of Canadian suburbia, churches are generally modern buildings without bell towers.  What a treat to wake up at 7 a.m. by the ringing of authentic church bells from multiple nearby locations! The ringing continued several times a day – for morning prayers, at noon, evening prayers, and mass times. Joyous, old-timey, community-calling ringing of the bells. Gorgeous! The morning clangs were doubly lovely knowing that I would not have appreciated them nearly so much in my wine days.

  1. A Lighter LoadI Got This

I am wildly proud of having managed a 70L/55lb backpack throughout this trip, partly because of the physical effort required and mostly because of the necessary packing restraints I had to embrace. I wore the same leggings and sweater for most of the trip and washed socks and undies in the sink at night. Where the hell could I have tucked in the necessary 6 boxes of wine that 16 days abroad would require?! Thank God I am sober! My back couldn’t take another ounce!

  1. Long Walking DaysHiking Cinque Terre

The best way to see a new place is on foot at a leisurely pace. Stroll, feel the breeze in your hair, smell the sea and the bakeries. Hear the languages being spoken around you. Stand at the foot of a historic building and experience its scale against your size. Reach out your hand and touch the ancient stones. Climb the steep terraces that locals have travelled for centuries. (Step aside as a 90-year-old local rushes past with impressive agility.) Spot something in the distance and say, “Let’s go see what that is!” I promise, you’ll be blissfully asleep by 9:30 pm – no emotional numbing agent required.

"Easy" Walkways

  1. My Sweetheart

My husband and I had spoken about our expectations for each other ahead of time. We had a plan to ensure we both experienced the vacation we wanted. It is important to travel with someone you trust, who values and respects your sobriety, and is willing to look out for you.

  1. A Flexible Mindset

I have developed a lot of routines and habits that support my sobriety. Morning coffee, evening tea, time alone, and self-care are vital parts of my day, and missing out on these things can spike my anxiety. I realized that I would have to be flexible and sacrifice some of my routine. Tea before bed was rarely possible, my husband and I were together 24/7, and there was little room in the backpack for my giant bag of cosmetics, flat iron, nail polish and body lotion. I had to make do, and often do without – or at least do differently. I had to get dressed and go in front of other humans before morning coffee (gah!) but Italian cappuccino was worth the effort.


  1. Living the Dream

We waited our whole lives to explore the world, and I didn’t want to miss a thing. Prior to the trip I had worried that being sober would spoil my trip to Italy, and that Italy would spoil my sobriety. It occurred to me as we drove to the airport that the two were not at odds, but a perfect union. Being sober made everything better, more real, more memorable.

14th Century Church

About UnPickled

I am learning to walk without the crutch of alcohol. As I begin I am 1 day sober. Gulp. I drank in private and hope to quit just as privately. The purpose of this blog is to help make me accountable - just by following you will give me enormous support and encouragement.

Posted on April 20, 2015, in Getting Sober and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 54 Comments.

  1. I’m 30+ days sober and I head to Italy on Friday. I’ve been stressed about staying sober there and missing out on the wine. Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this. I’ve just come across your blog as I embark on a yet to be determined amount of time sober. I am overwhelmed with “never again” so am starting with 100 days. I am 4 days in, taking it day by day and devouring recovery writing the way I did wine. I’ve always been inspired with people like yourself when I come across their story, yet it’s never translated into something I took hold of for my own life.
    I know we can’t live in the past, but it makes me ache how much travelling I have done with alcohol at my side. I remember quite a few days wasted in Italy, specifically. It makes me sad now. Thankfully I have another trip coming up and the chance to do things differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for a great post Jean. It occurred to me that so many of my trips sucked because I was not sober. So many experiences tolerated through a hangover-yah, yah, nice cathedral-can I go home now . I started drinking on the May Long Weekend ( I’m Canadian too ) in 1975,and as it comes up on the calendar I have realized that’s 40 years. No rock bottom as such, but a steady, inevitable decline. As always, you give me hope.


  4. My vacation is coming up in a couple of months. I am going to refer to this post as a reminder of what it means to vacation without a hangover. Thank you for this!


  5. Wonderfully written. I am so pleased you loved Italy and had a fab time.
    In awe of your luggage constraints and ability to still look radient! Love it! X


  6. Your comment about being afraid being “sober would ruin your trip to Italy and that Italy would ruin your sobriety” is an excellent illustration of those crazy double-minded thoughts we think at times. I enjoy your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It is so wonderful to hear how well your trip went! Its nice to hear someone talk about having a vacation where alcohol wasn’t needed to make everything feel more fun. I used to feel that way, and couldn’t imagine a vacation without drinking. I loved hearing you talk about all the details you noticed, and all the things that brought you joy that you may have missed if you were distracted thinking about drinking. I think you look beautiful and happy, and are very inspiring to me. I agree with someone who said it earlier, you really do show sobriety with style! I am 105 days sober today and have yet to be on a vacation or sit through a holiday. I am curious how it will be, especially when I visit my extended family that I adore, and they all love sports, grilling, and drinking. I’ve enjoyed partaking in those things with them, and I know they ultimately love me and want to support me. I’ve had to relearn to do a lot of things, and this is just another one on the list. Each thing informs the next and it does get easier. Your tips and insights are extremely helpful! Thanks for sharing so much of you 🙂


    • Thanks, torpedomemories! The more we share our stories, the more we each see that we are not alone or even all that unusual. I am grateful for that, and to be on this journey together with good people like you!


  8. What a fabulous trip! You are beautiful inside and out 🙂


  9. Sounds perfect, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Gosh this all sounds so wonderful. 🙂 I’m so happy for you that you both shared this experience. 🙂 Italy is one of the places on my List.


  11. Jean, I heard you on The Bubble Hour last night, and I couldn’t believe it! My anxiety has been spiking lately in anticipation of an upcoming trip to meet my daughter in ….. ITALY! And there you were, and here you are, beautifully showing me what lies ahead for the sober me! Amazing how sometimes the Universe (I think it’s God) presents me with what I need just when I need it! So in addition to reveling in your beautiful pictures and lovely descriptions, your blog has had so much meaning and encouragement for me! If you did it, I can too! Thanks so much for sharing, and I will be thinking of you and toasting you with my water!


    • Wow, no kidding!? Well guess what – you will have a wonderful time and your biggest challenge will be choosing between the “bubbles” or “still” water they offer constantly. Have a beautiful trip and then come back and tell us all about it, please 🙂


  12. Hi. I’m 31 days sober. Your blog has been very helpful. You should be proud of yourself for what you’ve accomplished and for the help and inspiration you give to others. I’m sure your family, friends, and all of us readers feel the same. Thanks for all you do.


    • First, CONGRATULATIONS on a whole MONTH of sobriety!!! Aren’t you just amazed at your own ability to do this? We didn’t know how we could get through one day and then it just starts adding up. Hurray for you!! And also…sincerely, honestly, it is my pleasure to tend this blog. It helps me stay sober and fills my heart just as much as anyone else’s. I am glad you are here.


  13. Loved this! I was waiting to see how the trip went. Good for you and you look like you had an amazing time too xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Untipsyteacher

    Wow! I was so excited to hear about your trip!!
    Now I have and I am so glad it was wonderful!
    I am in awe about the leggings, sweater thing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you for sharing this!!!

    I remember the first time waking up in a hotel room without a hangover and going out for coffee and enjoying the sites and smells with out feeling sick. PRICELESS…

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I’m going to Ireland in June and my 18 year old son asked if I was going to drink and I said no. He thought that was crazy because Ireland won’t be any fun without drinking! Ugh. We had a long talk about how you don’t need alcohol to have fun. I think he is excited because he will be legal to drink in Ireland unlike here in the States.


    • It is hard for people to imagine, but once the perspective has that shift to being “better without” we simply see things differently. You will need to stay sober just to soak in every gorgeous detail, take note of the sights and smells, and understand the vernacular in those thick, rich accents! Check out the Bubble Hour episode we just posted on “Sober Vacations” and jot some a plan to support your recovery while you are away. My stats page shows that we have some readers in Ireland! HEY IRISH READERS!! Chime in. Maybe you could meet up for coffee, like I did with a reader in Italy? It was one of the highlights of my trip!


  17. Love this post! Thank you for the reassurance. I just celebrated 1 year of recovery, and as I contemplate the future w/o alcohol I wondered what events such as the trip you describe would be like without alcohol. Thank you for providing this beautiful silver lining to look forward to.


    • Congratulations on ONE YEAR!!! How did you celebrate? (And if you haven’t, you must! I bought myself a watch for my one year. Think of all the room in your budget now that you’re not buying booze!)


  18. I remember some of my first trips – work trips, family trips, couple trips … all in the end were incredibly better for being sober and continue to be


  19. I love this! How fantastic that you had such a great trip, and that being sober made the trip so amazing. Thanks for being such an inspiration! xo

    Liked by 1 person

  20. cynthiaj952@aol.com

    By the Grace of God you lived it all, clearly!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Wonderful vacation. Great pics. And the post itself… Inspiring. It shows that sober vacation is possible in the country that is famous not jut for its history but wine as well. Thank you for sharing this!


  22. Thank you for this….it truly was uplifting. Cinque Terre is the most beautiful place on earth I think! Your pictures brought back very fond memories. And good for you for tackling a 55 pound backpack. You rock!


  23. Welcome home Jean! The trip sounded/looked amazing. Now you have those clear crisp memories forever. So wonderful- go you!!! xx

    Liked by 1 person

  24. was checking in on you regularly on twitter and loved seeing your adventures… but liked this even more. thank you for showing us Italy through your sober eyes. that line about reaching out a hand to touch the ancient stones made me feel as if I was right there, beside you. xx

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I love this.And totally agree.Being present in all moments and even more so when traveling is a beautiful thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. The idea of sober holidays keeps standing in my way; your Italian story is so uplifting, and proof that life is better on the other side. Annie x

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Yay! Ain’t life awesomeI?I
    I loved Italy. What I wouldn’t give to repeat that trip … sober … to hear the church bells and not wince : )
    Sounds like you had a perfect holiday!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. fabulous!!!!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Thank you for this beautiful, thoughtful post…. it only reinforces what I learned this past year during my first sober holiday season: that NOT drinking made everything so much better and more enjoyable, quite the opposite of the old belief system that I held on to for years. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. drunkarddiscovery

    Italy is a beautiful place, it reminds you there’s so much more to life than a glass of wine and that you don’t need that glass to appreciate beauty. I’m off to Wales for my birthday next week and looking forward to appreciate nature without rosè tinted glasses! (Hope you enjoyed the amazing italian ice cream too, best ive ever had)


  31. Beautiful Jean in every way 🙂 You show us how to do sober with style xx


  32. 🙂 I’m happy for you. Cool list! And you are looking GOOD!!! I really like sober pictures because people do not hold back, they, you are genuine and happy. Beautiful :-).


  33. What a wonderful trip! And how even more wonderful to have been fully present for it. Beautiful Italy, beautiful you, beautiful story. Thank you! X


  34. Great post! You don’t need make up and irons, etc. Your inner beauty and joyousness shines brightly and that stuff just hinders the rays.


  35. awesome!
    thanks for showing how it can be done.
    Now….those cute hiking shoes, I need to know!


  36. Utterly amazing and inspiring.


  37. What a great article. It’s nice to see who unpicked is. You are a very pretty woman,
    I’ve only been sober for 90 days today & oh so very happy. I have traveled a bit while drinking and really I don’t remember much of anything, I’m learning slowly but surely ways to truly enjoy my journeys.


  38. Thank you for this! I leave Saturday for my first international trip in my 7 years of sobriety. I will be going to Paris and carrying your great attitude about traveling sober with me!

    Liked by 1 person

  39. An amazing adventure! Thank you for sharing!


  1. Pingback: Seven Years | UnPickled Blog

  2. Pingback: Doing It All Wrong | UnPickled Blog

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