5 Tips For Staying Sober When You Go Away on Business

by Michael Walsh

“5 Tips For Staying Sober When You Go Away on Business” - article by Michael Walsh

One of the first things people notice when they quit drinking, or take a break from it, is that alcohol is everywhere. [Updated March 2023]

That used to be great but now that you’re changing your relationship with alcohol, it can feel like you’re navigating a minefield. Particularly in cases where you have to travel.

I promise you, sober travel is a thing and actually becomes incredibly enjoyable once you get a few trips under your belt. But the first one can test your resolve. Whenever one of my clients is getting ready to take their first business trip after quitting or cutting back on drinking, we come up with a plan that will set them up for success.

Whether you have a conference to attend, a company retreat, or even are getting ready to embark on your first sober vacation, there are ways to prepare ahead of time to make it less stressful.

I’ve included some of my favourite tips for staying sober while you’re on the road.

The Challenges of Sober Travel in Early Recovery

There are two big-picture things to be aware of when taking your first business trip after you quit drinking.

The first is that you’ll be away from home where you’ve likely established some sort of routine and support system to help you achieve the goals you’ve set regarding alcohol consumption. Leaving the safety that you’ve put in place for yourself means taking extra steps to put together a plan that will provide that same comfort and accountability while you’re away.

Second, travelling comes with a lot of temptations. From the endless stream of bars that line every airport terminal, bar carts rolling down the aisle of the plane, and hotel lobby restaurants – there may be a lot of triggers to navigate before you even make it to your room.

The truth is, anything you do for the first time after you quit drinking, can be confronting. But it’s also an opportunity to lean further into the work that you’re doing to build the exceptional life you’re striving for.

I can assure you that once you navigate your first sober travel experience, the sense of empowerment will be well worth it. And the next time you have to go away for work will be significantly easier.

5 Tips For Staying Sober When You’re Away on Business

There tends to be a lot of drinking during work trips. Conferences, dinner meetings with colleagues, or a game of golf with your business partners are all events where people often have a drink in hand.

You were probably one of them not too long ago. Let’s think back to those days for a brief moment.

How often did the night end with inappropriate behaviour that you had to apologize for the next day? Or a sub-par performance the next day because you were too hungover and groggy to be effective.

That’s the beauty of getting on the right side of your relationship with alcohol. No more wondering, “what in the hell did I say to my boss's wife last night that she’s keeping her distance today?”

You’re in control when you’re not intoxicated and having a plan before your trip can help you stay that way. A client of mine had to go away three weeks after beginning our work together. We created a multi-point strategy to attend a massive Gaming conference in Los Angeles [notorious for heavy drinking] from the airport, to airplane to the hotel and the dinners and events. To establish a mindset I asked her, "who do you want to be at this conference?" She responded, "I want to be professional, polished, pure, dynamic and laser focused." Read more about her trip here.

Try a few of these 5 tips for staying sober to start (and finish) your trip on the right foot.

1. Anchor to an Intention

Getting sober allows you to be intentional about the kind of person you want to be and how you show up in your life. Going on your first business trip after getting sober is a great opportunity to clarify who that is and why it’s important to you.

Think about how you want your colleagues, boss, or business partners to view you. Maybe as someone who prioritizes a healthy lifestyle. A leader who shows up with a clear, focused mind and skillfully executes the complex objectives that your position requires. This is your chance to be that guy – or gal.

2. Identify Potential Triggers

Taking some time before your trip to anticipate what you might encounter that could be challenging will help you feel prepared. If you visualize the trip from start to finish it may be quite evident what situations will cause the most discomfort.

For some, it’s the big company dinner where everyone will be drinking, dancing, and socializing. For others being alone in the hotel room might be the time that poses the greatest problem.

Identifying the specific triggers ahead of time allows you a trial run in your mind. It also makes you aware of when the most stressful circumstances will present themselves so that you can take a little extra time to prepare.

3. Have an Exit Strategy

Give yourself permission right up front to leave an event or gathering early. Social settings can be challenging for people in early recovery and there’s no benefit in pushing yourself past your capacity.

Check-in with yourself regularly to remain aware of what you’re feeling. Is anxiety building? Are you simply exhausted from the day and out of steam? Then tap out. Prepare ahead of time what you’ll say to let people know that you’re going to call it a night. Whatever feels comfortable to you.

And the truth is, people are busy focusing on what they're doing, not what you’re doing. So it’s likely that nobody will bat an eye when you say you want to head back to the room and give your kids a call before they head off to bed.

4. Play the Tape Through

For those of us who’ve struggled with substance misuse, it’s easy to look back and identify very clear patterns. When you drank, it’s likely that despite your best efforts, your behaviour followed a very clear path once you got past a certain amount of drinks.

Maybe you tended to start arguments or wake up to astronomical credit card charges with nothing to show for it. Or you said things you were embarrassed about or couldn't even remember. When you’re tempted to jump in line for a drink at the cocktail party, it’s helpful to play the tape through and remember those patterns that frequently played out as a result of having one too many drinks.

5. Stay Connected

There are two ways to stay connected that will serve your goal of staying sober on a business trip.

One is to identify someone else on the trip who you know doesn’t drink. More than likely there’s at least one. Make plans to meet for coffee every morning or to take a quick walk at the end of the day. This person can also be a great resource if you find yourself in a moment of heightened stress and unable to turn to your usual method of regulating your discomfort.

Also, stay connected to someone back at home who can support you in maintaining your commitment to not drinking. Whether a sober friend, family member, or a recovery coach, touching in with someone regularly will help you stay the course.

Choose a time to check in with that person every single day. Maybe it’s at 6 pm right after the work day is done and before you go out to dinner with your colleagues.

Navigating Sober Vacations

These tips are as useful for going on your first sober vacation as they are for a business trip.

The added challenge with travel for pleasure as opposed to work is that you might be going somewhere beautiful where people are relaxing and having a good time.

For some people, that means drinks on the beach or poolside. But more people are seeking alcohol-free getaways than ever before. Avoiding party destinations is ideal for those who are interested in a quiet reprieve or outdoor adventure. And for someone newly sober, this could be a great way to go.

As people continue to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol, event coordinators and hospitality professionals are becoming more conscientious about accommodating people who aren’t interested in drinking or partying.

Music festivals and concerts often provide designated areas where alcohol is prohibited to offer people a reprieve.

Locating these sober zones when you first arrive at an event can give you a great option if you get over-stimulated and just need a break.

If you need help turning these tips for staying sober into a more concrete plan for your next sober vacation or business trip, recovery coaching might be a great fit for you. Having a sober coach help you navigate new experiences in sobriety, can make a powerful impact on your recovery.

Get Help Creating Your Personal Roadmap

It can be really scary to arrive at the realization that you have a drinking problem, no matter how big or small.

But it’s a lot less scary when you have an experienced guide to help you sort things out.

I’m an accredited Addiction Recovery Coach offering worldwide virtual support, and in-person support across Canada. If you’re interested in exploring 1:1 recovery coaching to help you cut back your drinking or stop drinking entirely, I’m happy to answer your questions.

I offer a no-charge consult call to anyone who has questions about their own substance use, or the substance use of a family member. These calls are completely confidential with no pressure to make a decision before you feel entirely ready.

If you’re ready to explore the potential of working together, I’d love to chat. Michael is based in Victoria British Columbia Canada. The other Recovery Coaches on the team are based in Nanaimo, Vancouver British Columbia Calgary, Edmonton Alberta, Toronto Ontario, Montreal Quebec, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Because we all work virtually — we can work with anyone no matter what city, province or country around the world. We have clients all across Canada and the USA, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, New York City, Denver, Nashville, Berlin, Tel Aviv, London, Singapore and Australia.

I’d also like to invite you to read more about my personal story here.

Michael Walsh
Phone or Text: 250.896.8494
Email: Coach@MichaelWalsh.com
Chat: Start a WhatsApp chat

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Michael Walsh

About the Author

Michael Walsh

When I say I’ve been there, I mean it. I am a different person now, and I am fired up about helping other people get to the place where they, too, are living better, healthier, and bigger lives.

Contact Michael

Further Reading

View all articles

  • Addiction recovery resource by Michael Walsh on the topic of “How the Sobriety Movement Has Created a Trend Toward Mindful Drinking”

    How the Sobriety Movement Has Created a Trend Toward Mindful Drinking

  • Addiction recovery resource by Michael Walsh on the topic of “Be Your Own Sober Boss w/ a Recovery Coach”

    Be Your Own Sober Boss w/ a Recovery Coach

  • Addiction recovery resource by Michael Walsh on the topic of “How to Address High-Functioning Alcoholic Drinking”

    How to Address High-Functioning Alcoholic Drinking

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