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Solo Sober Travel : The Ups And Downs

Solo Sober Travel : The Ups and Downs

I’m a person in long-term recovery, and I love to travel. I was determined to keep doing it after I got clean. Like everything, it had to be redefined and reworked back into my new sober life. They say you can’t fit recovery into your life, you have to fit life into your recovery. I’ve been a staunch disciple of this principle; I distinctly remember how preachy I sounded telling it to other people. Nothing has challenged me to walk my talk more than travelling sober and solo.

Travelling sober tests me in every way.

I tend to go by myself, and I am prone to isolating, so that’s a challenge. I am all too familiar with hiding behind facades, and that’s easy to do in brief encounters, which happen a lot on the road. Sometimes, I don’t know if I’m experiencing the beauty of meeting new people, or avoiding the intimacy of the community I already have. I can’t see where my line is between curiosity and an aversion to sitting still. Travelling can help you get to know yourself in deeper ways, but am I growing or ripping off layers of the onion that aren’t ready? There are times when I don’t have a clue. I do know that I am in love with travelling, but—as with any love—I need moderation, I need boundaries, I need guidance, I need humility. I need recovery.

I’ve been travelling sober in New Zealand for three months, and I’ve found myself on a WIDE variety of adventures; some have deepened my sobriety while others really challenged it (some did both at the same time, which is frankly exhausting). Solo sober travel has been amazing, weird, hard, and certainly educational! Here are some of the things it has taught me about myself and my recovery, which I would do well to not forget, and maybe could help you if you are wanting to do some solo sober adventuring of your own.

Why travelling sober is awesome:

  • You get a LOT of practice asking for help. I had an anxiety attack one day while running errands and had to call someone I barely knew and ask them to ask someone else I knew even less to come pick me up.
  • You meet people and learn things you just wouldn’t at home. I spent time with healers who are Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, and learned to relate to my healing, my spirituality, and my ancestors in ways that I wouldn’t have learned anywhere else.
  • You get the kind of confidence you only learn from trying things outside your comfort zone. I ate sea urchin, learned how to drive on the wrong side of the road, spent Christmas with complete strangers, used a translator app on my phone to ask out a guy who didn’t speak English.
  • You learn more about your own home and country by seeing how they differ from others. The things you love you appreciate more—I love how gregarious Americans are and how we really do have a spectacular variety of people and places. I also love New Zealand’s Prime Minister.
  • When you take a step back from your “normal” life, you can see it more clearly and distinguish what you truly want and don’t want. I want my close-knit recovery community back home. I don’t want to spent time with people who make me feel terrible just because I don’t want to offend anyone.

Why travelling sober is challenging:

  • You lose familiarity and structure, which are genuinely helpful for people in recovery, especially those of us with dual diagnoses (or a list of diagnoses, as I like to refer to mine). I struggle with daily routines and good self-care at the best of times, and attempting it when your days vary as much as they do travelling is straight up hard.
  • The friends who have seen you through your struggles and know how to support you are really far away. And in a different time zone. And you have to have good Wi-Fi to use Facetime or Skype.
  • If you frequent hostels or hang out with young travellers in general, you will find yourself around mood altering substances like alcohol and marijuana. On Christmas Eve I sat in a tepee with a bunch of yogis and ate candy and talked about what we love about life, which was amazing and beautiful, but then they started passing around joints, and it instantly became one of the scariest and loneliest moments of my entire trip.
  • You get doses of humility the likes of which you haven’t had since getting sober. I need lots of rest, am easily overstimulated, and am prone to anxiety attacks when stressed. Travel can be very active, stimulating, and stressful. I have to say no to a lot of things that sound really fun, things that the other young energetic backpackers around me seem to be doing so much of.
  • On that note, lots of new people and new experiences mean lots of opportunities to compare yourself to others. So. Many. Opportunities. For. Growth.

Why I will never stop:

  • I have learned some of my most important lessons travelling. In Africa I found my higher power. In Canada I got sober. Here in New Zealand I found my home. (It’s back in the States, that’s the funny trick travel can play on you sometimes.)
  • I have seen some heartachingly beautiful places, and they remind me how much I love being a part of this world and how grateful I am to still be alive.
  • Travelling is like real-life school and one of the best ways to learn, and I need learning like I need air. Curiosity is what fuels my fire.
  • I believe we gain confidence and faith from taking action, and I certainly need those to keep going in recovery.
  • I am a storyteller, it’s just my nature. It’s how I live, it’s what I do for work, it’s the way I experience people and connect with them. I like having stories to trade. I want some stories to laugh about when I’m old and dying. I need memories to remind me what wonder feels like when life is hard and the world is dark. Stories simply come from living. Recovery gave me second chance at life, and I want to live.

Regan Spencer is a writer, filmmaker, nomad, recovery advocate, and person in long term recovery. Obsessed with wildflowers, roads that curve, and smiling at strangers, she is always looking for the next adventure and another good story. Regan would love to share her journey with everyone who’s interested at or @ReganSpencerWriter on Instagram, and she welcomes anyone with a desire to reach out to continue the conversation with an email to The primary purpose of her work is to help engage and connect people because, despite her stubbornness, life has convinced her we can’t recover alone.

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