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No Booze, No Problem: 'Sober Tourism' Is the Next Big Thing

Alcohol-free traveling is an emerging trend, but there’s much more to this phenomenon than meets the eye.
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You’ve probably gone on at least one trip that revolved around drinking. Your main coordinator from the bunch would probably scout for the best bars, drinks, and clubs at your destination and create a legitimate itinerary around those spots. A pub crawl around Prague, a beer factory tour in Fukuoka, a visit to vineyards in Napa Valley—all are tests of (your liver’s) strength. And while this sounds like heaven for some, the thought of knocking back a few beers until the world gets blurry isn’t enticing for others. This is what the concept of ‘sober tourism’ responded to, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye.  

What is sober tourism?

Sober tourism is a movement wherein travelers consciously abstain from drinking alcohol during travel. To a higher degree, sober tourism also revolves around curated wellness activities that aim to rebalance and rejuvenate the traveler. On the surface level, sober tourism is trying to disintegrate the dichotomy of those who like to drink (often) versus those who do not like to drink. It’s a movement that recognizes that one’s relationship with alcohol isn’t simply black or white.

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It started with the ‘sober curious’ movement. 

In 2018, British author Ruby Warrington released a book titled, Sober Curious, which started a whole movement. The sober curious person is one who either has a distaste for alcohol or is actively exploring what life would be like without it in an effort to become a healthier person. It is the sober curious person that sober tourism caters to—a niche market that was always there, but one that was never given the proper attention in the travel industry until now. 

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It’s wellness-centered.

At this point, you’re probably getting the impression that sober tourism is all about wholesome activities, where bike rides replace beer and island hopping replaces beachside bars. That is correct. To a greater extent though, sober tourism is pegged as travel that revolves around wellness. Activities can include yoga, meditation, safari adventures, and Caribbean getaways. “A sober curious holiday could be any vacation without alcohol, but wellness-focused travel—which could be anything from a yoga retreat to a surfing or hiking holiday—is a natural fit for the sober curious,” Warrington said. In fact, Warrington herself hosts such ‘sober curious retreats.’

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It feels good, feeling good! Enjoy an IPA your body will also be happy with????? ????: @okokcreative

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Skift also mentioned another firm that took advantage of this market opportunity called We Love Lucid, a Spain-based travel company that arranges accommodations and activities for the sober curious traveler that is loosely centered on wellness activities. There is even Sober Vacations International that allows users to book trips through its partner app Loosid, a dating platform for sober people that “connects you to your local sober community.”  

What’s the big deal?

Sure, sober tourism is the travel industry’s response to the emerging market of sober curious people. It recognizes that there is a gray area between those who like to drink and those who don’t; that there are people who do like to drink but in moderation, or health nuts who like to go out but head home when the party is at its peak. But, isn’t this ‘movement’ forgetting that the word ‘sober’ indicates an active choice for abstaining alcohol due to struggles with the substance in the past? Packaging sober tourism as retreats and lush getaways turns a blind eye to the fact that rehab exists for those who experience sobriety as a constant battle. These so-called ‘sober retreats’ reduce the real problems of those who struggle with alcoholism—and that’s not okay.

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In fact, the idea that sober tourism (and in conjunction, the sober curious movement) glamorizes sobriety has been deemed a pressing issue. It is seen as a trend that makes one look cool. “Sober Tourists are usually people that try out whatever is trendy at the moment: activated charcoal, fidget spinners, romphims, only to abandon said trend when they get bored of it,” said Tawny Lara of The Temper

According to The Guardian, some sober curious people flaunt their alcohol-free lifestyle on social media as a kind of social currency that will garner them ‘cool’ points. Naturally, the ‘sober serious’ are offended by the reductionism of this movement that makes sobriety “seem like an Instagram filter.”   

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And most importantly, we're thankful for cousins who "take you on a walk" before dinner...?

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Don't care didn't ask plus I don't want the hangover ?

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It is evident that those who find the movement ‘trendy’ need to view it with a grain of salt as a form of respect to those with a difficult relationship with alcohol. On a positive note, The Guardian also stated that this craze is contributing to younger people’s distaste for alcohol. It turns out that wholesome fun and going to bed early are becoming more appealing than drinking until one is sloshed.

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Warrington posits that at its core, being sober curious is a “questioning mindset to every drinking situation, rather than go along with the dominant drinking culture.” In that spirit, if being sober curious entails a conscious effort towards a healthier and renewed you—without the highs of alcohol—then perhaps it won’t hurt to go on a sober retreat after all, as long as you’re not making light of it on Instagram.

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Nicole Cruz
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