Planning ahead for a vacation in recovery can help you maintain your sobriety while you’re away from home.

A vacation is supposed to be a blissful time of rest and relaxation away from everyday stressors. But for a person in recovery, the thought of taking a vacation can induce anxiety.

A vacation shouldn’t be used as a way to avoid problems — especially for someone in recovery — because chances are, you may be faced with several new travel-related problems. Going into a vacation with unrealistic expectations can potentially lead to relapse.

On the flip side, vacations can have a positive impact on your recovery when handled properly.

Finding new passions and exploring new places can give you a different perspective, broaden your horizons, help you discover new things about yourself and unleash untapped potential in your recovery efforts.

There are several do’s and don’ts you should consider when planning a vacation for yourself or someone else in recovery.

Do the Following When Planning a Vacation While in Recovery

When you’re in recovery, it’s necessary to have a proper plan — even when on vacation.

It’s important to ensure that your plans are in line with your recovery and that your vacation time does not interfere with your sobriety.

The following “do’s” are intended to get you started on the right track.

Do Consider Location

Pick a place to refresh and reenergize that also supports your recovery. Don’t settle for a vacation scene that is alcohol-centric. Opt for sober-friendly alternatives.

Also, if you know certain places might trigger you, avoid them. Sometimes trying a new place is the best course of action. If you’re up to it, consider venturing out of your comfort zone a bit and indulge in new, healthy experiences.

Do Set Boundaries

If traveling with others, make it very clear that your recovery is a priority. Maintaining your sobriety is paramount to your well-being and the success of the trip overall. Do not be afraid to use your voice. Let others know if you are uncomfortable or feeling triggered.

Do Find a Way to Treat Yourself

You’ve come a long way — take some time to reward and pamper yourself. Get a spa treatment, see a show or check out a local bakery. Learn to celebrate yourself in healthy ways. View each small step or accomplished goal as an achieved victory and congratulate yourself for a job well done — and invite others to join in. Continually acknowledging the strides you are making is a great way to reinforce better habits.

Do Stay Connected

People often take a vacation to “get away from it all.” And that typically includes shutting off your phone and shutting out distractions. But when you’re in recovery, the better rule-of-thumb is to stay connected to your sober friends, therapist, sponsor, group leaders and supportive family members.

Do Have a Plan

Fill your vacation days with lots of sober activities. Don’t overwhelm yourself, but make it a point to avoid too much downtime, which can lead to temptation. Create a daily to-do list and check items off as you go. Call ahead and pre-plan activities that will encourage and inspire you and ultimately promote your recovery. The point is to confirm that you don’t need drugs and alcohol to enjoy yourself.

Do Expect Temptation

No vacation is perfect. And when plans go awry, you might be tempted to relapse. Many different social, environmental and emotional challenges can act as addiction triggers. You will not always have control over what’s going on around you. But you can expect mishaps and prepare constructive ways to work through them, such as removing yourself from the situation, speaking with someone you trust, or practicing breathing exercises.

Don’t Do the Following When Planning a Vacation While in Recovery

So now that you know what you should do when planning your vacation, there’s several things you should not do as well. The important thing is to stay in tune with your mind and your body and know when to take action to avoid relapse.

Don’t ‘Set Sail’ Too Soon

Timing is everything. If you are relatively new to sobriety, “getting away” might not be wise. Early on in recovery, people are typically on much shakier ground physically and mentally. Vacations — which are meant to be relaxing — can also be taxing. Planning alone can leave a person feeling frazzled. That’s not to mention the hassle of traveling itself.

If you are still experiencing a fair amount of anxiety and uneasiness, a vacation might actually slow your recovery efforts or lead to a setback.

Don’t Skip Out on Meetings

A vacation might be used to get away from a lot of things, but it should not be used to get away from your recovery meetings. The support attached to these meetings is important to your continued sobriety. And more importantly, they can be found most anywhere you choose to travel. Alcoholics Anonymous even offers a directory of online meeting you can participate in while you travel.

Recovery is hard. It is an ongoing process of constant care. Don’t skip out on an opportunity to connect with other people going through recovery. They might even be able to offer some suggestions as to local must-see attractions, or you could make a new friend to accompany you on a day’s excursion.

Don’t Neglect Your Self-Care

Your days might be chock-full of experiences that can leave you feeling exhilarated and exhausted. It is important to make sure that you don’t skimp on your self-care. Be sure to eat right, get adequate sleep and find some quiet time to check out and recharge. It’s a great idea to stay active, but don’t get so busy that you don’t have time to take care of yourself. If necessary, schedule self-care right into your vacation plans.

Don’t Forget the Essentials for Coping

Comfort is essential to recovery. Make sure you have coping essentials on hand to counter potential setbacks. If a certain pillow, for example, makes you feel a heightened sense of security, bring that pillow with you on the road. Being in recovery doesn’t mean you should nitpick or be overly concerned with packing light. If you think you might need it, bring it.

Don’t Brush Off the Warning Signs

You know you best. If you are starting to feel yourself unravel, don’t brush it off just because you’re on vacation. Are you feeling anxious? Find ways to calm yourself. Are you feeling over-tired? Take a nap. Are you feeling isolated? Speak with someone who is familiar with you and your recovery. Do not neglect your intuition.

Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘No’

You have the right to politely decline invitations to drink or attend festivities where drinking will likely be happening. You should never feel ashamed to put your recovery first. If you feel you may be put in a tempting situation, distance yourself from the people you are traveling with or find a way to spend your time that doesn’t involve substances.

Recovery can open up new possibilities and opportunities, especially while traveling. Let your newfound sobriety enhance your experiences and travel plans. If you or a loved one need help reaching recovery, help is available. Contact the Recovery VIllage to learn about evidence-based treatment plans that treat the whole person, so you can find lasting healing.

a woman with long brown hair smiling at the camera.
By – Renee Deveney
As a contributor for Advanced Recovery Systems, Renee Deveney is passionate about helping people struggling with substance use disorder. With a family history of addiction, Renee is committed to opening up a proactive dialogue about substance use and mental health. Read more

Alcoholics Anonymous. Online Intergroup: Alcoholics Anonymous. n.d., Alcoholics Anonymous. Accessed April 29, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.