The Travel-Drinking Lifestyle
Do you drink alcohol more than usual when you travel? I certainly do.
The problem is I have FOMO (fear of missing out) – a few beers at the hostel bar, sunset cocktails, free pasta and wine nights, checking out a new club, ladies’ night (a.k.a. free alcohol), rum around a bonfire on the beach. Every few weeks on the road I commit to a detox but then the inevitable happens – a night of potential fun laid out before me and I go weak in the liver.
The reality is that I drink more when I travel than I have at any other point in my life…which is saying something given I come from England, the Binge Drinking Nation.
Things don’t get much better when I come home. After being starved of my friends and family for months at a time I go through a whirlwind of catch ups that usually sees me swinging from bar to dinner party to cocktail lounge wondering why nobody seems to drink coffee anymore (I’ll blame the economy – a fair scapegoat for most things).
The Effects of Daily Drinking
“I can count on one hand the days I’ve not drunk on my trip.”
“I’m getting so fat.”
“When I go home I’m going on a huge detox/going to give up drinking/becoming a nun.”
“I’m not coming out tonight…oh, ok, just for one…”
I’ve heard these comments over and over from fellow travellers. I’ve said all of them myself, often with a beer in hand.
The downsides of over indulging are well accepted from a health perspective but it’s usually the more obvious points that cause travellers to stop and look at their drinking habits – the tighter waistbands (no, the laundry lady did not shrink your denim shorts again), the diminishing travel funds and precious travel days wasted on hangovers.
After three years of near continuous travel and very little break on the alcohol consumption front, I decided it was time to stop treating my travel life like one long happy-hour holiday. I’d said many times that I’d quit alcohol when I returned home, but this time I decided to stick to my plan.
The decision to give up alcohol for 30 days was easy – it came after a month in Italy where wine accompanied most meals and was promptly followed by a two-week alcohol fuelled catch up with friends and family when I returned briefly to England.
Enough was enough. With my liver waiving a white flag of hope and my jeans at the point of too tiny that I couldn’t get into them, I called a truce.
Give up Alcohol for 30 Days: The Results
I had high hopes for my booze-free month – weight loss, more energy, brighter skin, improved work efficiency, more money…increased intelligence…Ryan Gosling begging me for a second chance…I did say my hopes were high.
Having completed the challenge with success here’s what I found.
1. I ‘ve lost some weight but not as much as I thought
Losing weight when I quit alcohol was no great surprise given the amount of empty calories contained in each glass of wine or bottle of beer. Add in the late night munchies I get when I drink, the fatty foods I gorge on the morning after and the sedentary hammock position best for hangovers and it’s easy to see the effects of alcohol on the waistline.
With that in mind I expected the weight to slip off but that isn’t quite what happened. Half way into the challenge I found I’d only lost 1lb (less than half a kilo)! I’m pretty sure I’ve lost more than that eating a bad choice of street food in Asia. I was disappointed to say the least.
But then my detox kicked in. In the last two weeks I notice my jeans were looser and my stomach (let’s be honest – my lady beer gut) was starting to flatten (relatively speaking). Weight loss was mine! Yay.
Yet not as much as I’d hoped because…
2. I substituted alcohol with chocolate
Lacking a glass of wine as a treat and fooling myself into the notion I was saving a chunk of calories by not drinking, I ate more chocolate during my 30 days alcohol-free than I normally would. Ergo, not as much weight lost as I could have achieved if I didn’t keep sticking my hand in the cookie jar.
3. Not having hangovers felt amazing
As I age less than gracefully and the length of my hangovers trickles towards days (plural), I was probably looking forward to this aspect of not drinking more than anything else. Headaches, feeling sluggish, languishing in bed and generally wanting to vomit is the biggest downside of indulging in alcohol and completely banishing hangovers from my life has been blissful.
Waking without feeling rough and enjoying my days to their fullest is probably the biggest motivator for me to keep my alcohol consumption low (I say this with the conflicting prospect of currently being sat in Dublin, another booze-heavy culture). What I’ve relished most is feeling consistently good with no hangovers marring my days in between.
4. I got up earlier
I’m not a morning person at the best of times, but without alcohol chasing me through my dreams and into mid-morning, I’ve found I’m able to prise myself out of bed and into work/my day that much easier.
It probably helps that I need (yes, NEED) tea or coffee to jump-start my system in the morning, especially as England starts to reveal its dark mornings, and without hangovers, I’m happy to get stuck into my life-reviving tea first thing (too much alcohol puts me off caffeine – I guess because my body can’t cope with tipping another dehydrating drink onto an already water deprived system).
5. I’m still a night owl
Early to bed, early to rise, makes a girl healthy, wealthy and wise.
It’s a saying I heard from my Nan a lot and one I wish I could live by, but I am a night owl by nature. I thought that without the stimulant of alcohol to keep me up at night (the 3am to 6am slot is not an uncommon time for me to be awake when I’m in party mode), I’d be tucked up by 10pm – midnight at the latest. Not so.
The reality is that my brain wakes up at 9pm with my best work usually done between then and 2am and this didn’t change during my 30 days alcohol free. Although I didn’t see any sunrises, I still couldn’t get myself to switch off earlier than 1am. I guess the body clock is what the body clock is!
6. I had more energy but motivation to exercise remained sporadic
I assumed, wrongly, that fewer hangovers and increased energy would spell more motivation to exercise. That’s not been the case. Yes, I revamped my gym membership but with England getting colder and having lost interest in the gym (running machine versus climbing a volcano are incomparable), I’ve not had the fitness kick I’d anticipated.
7. I got more work and life admin done
Sixteen hours a day – that’s how much time I have available most days. Working from 9am to around 1am (obviously with some chores and free time in between), I’m getting a lot more done. The lack of hangovers has been a huge contributor. In fact, I pretty much worked the past 30 days solid. Which brings me onto my next point…
8. Drinking alcohol has it positive aspects
Curse me to hell for saying this (or commit me to rehab if more appropriate), but I’ve realised that alcohol actually performs an important function in my life. Perhaps it was years as a lawyer but I find it hard to switch off from work. However, as I don’t like to write (or at least publish) under the influence of alcohol, having a glass of wine is a good way of drawing a line between work and social hours, prompting me switch off completely – even if it’s just for an evening of reading or watch Breaking Bad (guilty pleasure).
While I’ve not been drinking I’ve been putting my spare time to good use with a huge stint of work. But we know only too well that all work and no play makes Indiana Jo a bad blogger. It is the nights out, new restaurants and cocktail bars that provide a good chunk of material for my writing and cutting these fun aspects out of my live has made me a little (a lot) more dull.
9. Hangovers also have a function in my world
If you didn’t curse me to hell for the last comment, you might for this – I’ve realised that hangovers also have a function in my life! Since I’ve not been drinking I’ve been averaging around 6-7 hours sleep a night, which is not as much as I’d like and while I don’t have any post-lunch lulls, I realise that hangovers do permit me the luxury of lazing in bed a bit longer than I do when I’m full of beans.
A balance of work and play is what I should be searching for but with a mind that runs at overactive from the second I wake and for around an hour after I try to sleep, there’s little mental shutdown time. Hangovers at least gave me that.
10. I look worse
This might seem unusual given too much alcohol is bad for us, but overall I look worse than I did before. A fading tan and the onset of autumn can take some blame but the lack of sleep and long hours in front of my laptop are not without fault. The social relaxation that comes with nights out and dinner parties seem to have a positive effect in my quest for eternal youth.
11. I’m happy (enough) on alcohol-free booze
I’ve taken to drinking alcohol-free wine and beer. Some people consider it an abomination but I’ve really warmed to the idea. The thing is, I love a glass of red wine with a rare steak, and a curry accompanied by beer is one of life’s thrills for me. Realising the alcohol industry has come a long way in catering to an alcohol-free crowd, I’ve taken advantage of this and in doing so regained some of the benefits I enjoyed from booze but without the actual booze.
Torres do a pretty decent de-alcoholised red wine (the white’s not bad either) and Becks Blue is very drinkable (though I have it on authority that if Becks is your usual beer, you won’t be able to enjoy the alcohol-free version).
12. I didn’t save as much money as I thought
Akin to the weight-loss, I didn’t save as much money as I thought I would. Why? My money seemed to disappear in other ways. Treating myself to a new top, a few magazines, a massage – I tricked myself into thinking I was saving money, which could justifiably be spent elsewhere. In reality, I probably ended up spending more than I would have on booze.
13. I’m not sure I could or would want to give up alcohol for 30 days (or more) in a bar-cultured country
In a sense I’ve cheated with my challenge, doing it when I’m in England after having caught-up with friends and family. I picked a month where I had scope for a social lull and no travel planned. To that extent, with drinking opportunities pretty low, it’s been easy to say no to alcohol and if I’m honest, I’m not sure my FOMO would have had the same resolve in a travel situation.
It can be tough to opt out of a party night absent a complete lack of funds to cover your beer expenses. One day….perhaps one day I will complete the same experiment on the road. But then I would want to make sure I was in a low-alcohol country. I didn’t drink in north India for over a month because the stuff was notably absent, but in a place like Italy where wine flows as freely as water I personally would feel like I was missing out to abstain completely. Which brings me…
14. Everything in moderation
There are some things in this post that might inspire the puritans to wave a finger of judgment – hangovers (and the more sleep they cause me to have) can’t surely be good for you and if I need alcohol to switch off from work, that’s presumably indicative of a deeper problem? However, this post isn’t intended to be a promotion for good life practises. It’s an honest peep under the bonnet of what life looks like as a traveller who indulges a bit more than she should…and then stops for a while.
What my 30 days without alcohol has reinforced is the notion that everything should be enjoyed in moderation – alcohol, work, fun and sleep. I’m an extremist in most things I do – I drink too much or drink nothing (coffee and coke included). I run far and fast or don’t run at all. I travel and explore or I hole up in a room for weeks hooked to my laptop. My next challenge – finding a balance that blends it all….with a little more moderation.
Starting to Drink Again
Since arriving in Dublin I’ve reintroduced alcohol into my life (as expected). So far, I’ve noticed the following:
- alcohol tastes bad to me – not so much when I’m drinking it, but I’m noticing a strong, chemical aftertaste (yuck) and I’m actually wishing the bars stocked my alcohol-free versions so I could participate in the social stuff without the actual alcohol. I suspect this is an initial phase that will pass!
- I’m a lightweight – it was to be expected that my alcohol tolerance would go down. A couple of beers the other night and I definitely felt under the influence, and I didn’t like the feeling. With several alcohol-based parties coming up, I think I need to work on my tolerance or stick to the soft drinks.
- Not drinking would save me money in Dublin – at €4.50 for a pint of beer and €5 minimum for a glass of wine, not drinking in Dublin definitely would save me money.
- 3 days – that’s all it’s taken for signs of my lady-beer belly to put in an appearance. Even though my alcohol consumption levels are much lower than before, beer bloating doesn’t take too long to return.
That’s my alcohol-free experience. Have you give up alcohol for 30 days (or more) while you’ve been travelling? Do you abstain completely? I’d love to hear your experiences. In the meantime, I’m off to the bar…can’t pass up that free Guinness invite…