Traveling Sober for the First Time

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Traveling Sober for the First Time

Contributor Erin Lunde's family road trip from Minneapolis MN to Austin TX was her first time traveling sober, first trip since the pandemic and first as a family of five.  Erin shares her insights into being sober on a hectic family vacation and how it changed everything for her.

My family and I have felt so much change in these past two years of the pandemic.  Distance learning, quarantines, COVID isolations, and missed holidays. We have had our fair share of loss. We’ve also had a lot of learning and growth. My youngest, who was only four months old in the infamous month of March 2020, has learned to crawl, walk, run, and eventually speak under his big brother’s and sister’s guidance. We, a young family of five, have done a lot together in these years. 

But we haven’t traveled.

This year, we were at risk for not having a Spring Break, again; we had two weeks of distance learning in January, my kids’ teachers went on strike for three weeks in March.   So when it became clear that we were, in fact, going to have the week off, we planned a cross-country road trip. We decided to drive our minivan from Minneapolis all the way to Austin, TX. We needed a break. We needed to get out of the house. We needed sunshine and warmth. 

This was our first family road trip, and this was my very first sober trip.

I gave up alcohol as the pandemic was unfolding on top of all of us. I was facilitating distance learning for a kindergartner, managing sporadic online classes for a four-year-old, and keeping a four-month-old alive as my business was stumbling along in a global catastrophe while I was still on maternity leave. The stress and pressure of every passing day was exacerbated by my drinking. I stayed up late, later than usual, so that I could drink more and more. I need another, I’d tell my husband, because I didn’t want tomorrow to come any sooner. I couldn’t do it all again the following day.

And yet I would have to do it all again the next day, but I’d be shaking, sick, and exhausted from a hangover and sleep deprivation. Finally, I quit drinking as I became noticeably dependent. I’ve always known I’m an abstainer in other areas of my life. I didn’t know I’d have to abstain from alcohol. Alas, I can’t moderate with that, either. 

Today, I’m nearly seven months into my longest stretch of sobriety, save for my pregnancies. In many ways, I’m an infant in this. 

There’s a first for everything and traveling sober for the first time was surprising.

Because I’m fairly new to this sober life, I can remember traveling as a drinking person pretty well. Here are a few things I noticed on my recent sober road trip:

1. Alcohol doesn’t dictate my plans anymore.

When I was drinking, I remember very well that the alcohol at the end of the day – or ideally at any point in the day – was the end goal, the achievement, the whole point of the day. I’d be certain to have beer and or liquor available to me in the hotel, so that if I couldn’t get enough throughout the day with whatever activity I was doing, I’d know I had something waiting for me in the evening. I remember I wouldn’t relax until I knew it was there. And once I knew it was there, I’d fixate on when I’d get to drink it.

I continue to be surprised by how much I thought about alcohol when I wasn’t actively drinking it.

2. I no longer worry about whether alcohol is available through the day.

I have young kids. Many of the side trips and activities we did were outdoors, in the mornings. Granted, when I was drinking, I could find excuses for drinking in the mornings – It is vacation, right? Rules don’t apply, etc. But I am so thankful that I didn’t worry about where to go for lunch, or whether the bar was open at a certain hour. None of these details mattered to me this time, so I was much more willing and able to engage in whatever it was the kids wanted to do.

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3. I have clear expectations about what’s going to be tough and am able to cope with it.

Anyone who has kids, especially young kids, likely knows the struggle of sleep. I knew that I’d be sleeping in the same room with my four other family members for the whole week. I also knew that one or two of them would be in the same bed as me.

If I’d been on a trip like this while I was drinking, I would have put the kids to bed and sat on the floor of the bathroom with an ice bucket full of whatever beer or mixers we had, filling a tiny plastic cup from a flask we’d brought. If I was lucky, I’d have my iPad volume on low and if the bathroom could accommodate two adults at the same time, my husband and I would’ve crunched ourselves into corners and strained to hear whatever show was competing for our attention over the angry lights of the bathroom.

Then, I’d move one or two children to a side of one of the beds and try to sleep while listening to my heart pound away, only to be awoken a handful of times throughout the night and then finally in the morning with an excruciating headache.

On this sober trip, I didn’t sleep well, but I also didn’t wake up with a headache. I prioritized any down time I could get, sometimes napping with the toddler. I tried to sleep when the kids did, knowing that I’d be better prepared to parent them the following day if I got what sleep I could. Maybe in a few years my husband and I can take a true vacation. We just can’t right now, and I was clear-headed enough to work with my reality. 

And here was the reality: 

We saw bats fly away at sunset from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. We ate ice cream from Amy’s Ice Creams. We climbed to the top of Enchanted Rock, and rode the ferris wheel and raced RC boats at Morgan’s Wonderland. We saw a baby elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo and watched longhorn cattle amble down the road at the Fort Worth Stockyards. 

We saw a lot. We did a lot. We slept much less. I was sober for all of it, and I hope my family felt more supported because of it.

• • •

More info:

Erin’s top picks for sights to see on her road trip from Minneapolis, MN to Austin, TX.  Click for more info.

Bats at the Congress Ave Bridge at sunset.  Photo credit AustinBats.com

Amy’s Ice Creams, Austin TX.  Photo credit: Taste and Tell Blog

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.  Photo credit: Texas.gov

Morgan’s Wonderland.  Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

Photo credit: Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Photo credit: Fort Worth Stockyards

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