A high proportion of well-established vacation rituals seem to revolve around alcohol, from the preflight tipple in the airport lounge to the post-dinner nightcap at the hotel bar.
But that could be changing. Like other forms of recreation, travel is now under the influence of the growing “sober-curious movement,” giving rise to new ways of exploring the world without the risk of a hangover.
“Sober travel is a growing area. I’ve recently seen a boom in the inclusive offering at hotels, on airplanes, and in entertainment,” said Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.
Although the trend is buzzing right now, alcohol-free travel isn’t new. Sober Vacations International has been leading trips specifically for 12-steppers since 1987.
But these days, sober travel is no longer just for people in recovery from an alcohol use disorder—booze-free vacations are gaining momentum among other travelers as well.
Darci Murray, founder of the alcohol-free travel company Hooked, said that participants on her trips often include people who drink occasionally but are interested in making a shift when they’re on vacation.
“They look at it as a sober challenge and a fun, healthy, active way of being,” she explained.
Drinking on the Decline?
The rise of sober travel comes amid changing attitudes around alcohol and its effects.
At least 7 in 10 Americans say alcohol has a negative impact on drinkers and society, per Gallup. Research published by JAMA Pediatrics shows that the rate of alcohol abstinence is increasing among young adults.
And sales of nonalcoholic beverages have surged over the last few years, increasing by more than 20% between 2021 and 2022.
“More and more people every day are choosing this lifestyle or reflecting on their relationship with alcohol,” noted Lauren Burnison, founder of We Love Lucid, an alcohol-free travel company based in the U.K. “Alcohol-free travel opens a whole other reality for you—getting plenty of sleep, waking up with a clear head, not losing stuff, and feeling good in your body.”
An Upsurge in Sober Travel Offerings
Given the rising popularity of sober living, it’s no surprise that the travel industry has embraced the trend.
We Love Lucid, which launched in 2019, and Hooked, founded in 2021, are among the alcohol-free tour operators that have debuted in recent years. They give people the opportunity to join like-minded travelers on booze-free holidays filled with invigorating activities like tapas cooking classes in Spain, zero-proof gin tastings in England, and cold water plunges in Iceland.
New alcohol-free options have also popped up at conventional hotels and resorts. Wynn Las Vegas launched a nonalcoholic beverage program in early 2023, incorporating health-promoting ingredients like reishi mushrooms and ashwagandha.
At the recently opened Club Med Magna Marbella in Spain, the all-inclusive property has a Zen Pool with a bar that only offers alcohol-free cocktails for guests who want a break from drinking.
And after a 2021 Hyatt Hotels survey found that 50% of travelers were likely to opt for a nonalcoholic drink over a beer or cocktail, the company rolled out a zero-proof beverage program across several of its U.S. properties.
As for cruises, Carnival announced in mid-March that guests can now order alcohol-free versions of their favorite drinks from the line’s popular Alchemy Bar, thanks to a partnership with nonalcoholic spirits company Lyre. Norwegian Cruise Line, for its part, earned recognition for having the best adult alcohol-free beverage program at the 2023 Vibe Vista Awards.
Alcohol-free options that go beyond a can of soda have taken off on airlines as well—at least in the front of the plane. Virgin Atlantic, for instance, has stocked the bar of its upper class cabin with alcohol-free beer. And if you’re flying first or business class on Emirates, the flight attendant can serve you a tasty zero-proof cocktail such as an orange fizz or virgin cucumber gimlet.
“I was on a Qatar Airways flight recently and noticed they had a nonalcoholic sparkling white wine I had never heard of,” said Sheinbaum. “It was interesting to me, as someone who is so involved in this, to discover a brand I had never heard of in the air.”
The sober-curious movement has even slid into one of the most notoriously boozy travel experiences: après-ski. After hitting the slopes, you can now relax with a drink made with booze-free spirits from Seedlip at several of Bramble Ski’s chalets in Europe.
In other words, it’s easier than ever to cut back on alcohol or avoid it entirely when you travel, without making compromises on the overall experience.
No matter where you go, though, experts say there are a few things you can do to make sure you have a great alcohol-free vacation.
Sober Travel Tips
“Be selective about the place you go and the people you go with,” advised Burnison of We Love Lucid. “If you’re going away on a boozy holiday to Ibiza, for example, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to decide not to drink.”
Signing up for an alcohol-free tour group such as the ones mentioned above is one way to ensure you’re with people who share your interests. But if you’re traveling with friends and family who plan to drink on your getaway, you might find it easier to stick with your own plan to go booze-free if you take charge of some parts of the itinerary, said Sheinbaum.
“Take the lead in planning nonalcoholic activities, whether that’s taking a hike, canoeing, or something else active that doesn’t give you time to have an alcoholic beverage in hand,” she suggested.
Finally, Murray of Hooked recommends that you research which bars and restaurants in your destination have exciting nonalcoholic options. She has noticed an uptick in booze-free dining throughout Europe and the United States, and said she only expects sober travel to become easier in the coming years.
“There’s a whole sober movement taking place, including people who’ve quit for recovery, or health, or just those who want to practice clean living and mindful travel,” Murray said. “I definitely see alcohol-free travel increasing over the next 5 years.”