Sometimes “getting away from it all” needs to include alcohol and substances, especially for the 23.5 million adults in recovery. Fortunately, more travel companies than ever are catering to sober vacationers, with everything from yoga retreats and camping trips to deluxe South American adventures.
“People need to know how incredibly rich life can be,” says Snow E. Piccolo, owner of Sober Celebrations, who organizes several “Gratitude Cruises” each year. “As long as we stay together there’s no place on earth we can’t safely go and see all God’s miracles.” Piccolo, who started her business in 2001, loves to talk about the trips she’s taken with her guests: “We have prayed in the world’s largest mosque, although no one [in our group] was Muslim; we have seen the sun rise from a hot air balloon over the jungle in Africa,” she says. “We will soon throw some boomerangs in Australia. When you travel with me, it’s not just another day at the beach, although we have those too!”
Piccolo escorts groups of 25 or more, bringing her own 40 years of sobriety into the mix. All her trips include a 24-hour fellowship station, daily 12-step meetings, keynote speakers and private tours, along with games and contests. Next up is a late-August weeklong sailing voyage from Seattle to Alaska’s glaciers (from $1,029). “It’s a place where you feel free and forgiven,” she notes.
More Sober Vacations
Launched in early 2015, the Clean Fun Network (CFN), hosts trips to places like Costa Rica, Montana and South America. This summer, CFN will run a trip for its members (all guests must be referred by someone in the network or screened by interview) to explore Chile on a 10-day, $4,400 excursion (excluding airfare). Highlights include skiing in the Andes, enjoying Santiago’s jazz scene and scaling the 100-meter-high sand dunes of the Atacama Desert. If you can’t make the August expedition, consider signing up for an eight-day journey to Nicaragua in November.
All CFN itineraries focus on health and fitness and organizers run interference, so travelers don’t have to walk through the lobby bar, turn down a cocktail at check-in or wrestle with the temptation of alcohol in the mini-bar. While the network is new, co-founder Jimmy Hamm has been organizing sober vacations since 2009, when he began welcoming New York Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) members to his vacation rental houses in Montauk, Long Island. Later in 2015, CFN will start a foundation to sponsor travel for people in recovery who can’t afford its experiences.
Set up in 2014 by a couple in recovery, the cruise-focused Rule 62 Travel Club organizes private dinners, scavenger hunts and events like ‘70s dances that “are just pure silliness,” says co-founder Melissa McCallum. Its next sailing will be five nights in the Bahamas on the Carnival Fascination (from $329) in September.
The club’s name is drawn from AA lore: A new and over-eager group once submitted 61 protocols for its meetings to the state office of Alcoholics Anonymous. The branch’s reply was short and to the point: “Rule 62: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.”
Established in 1987, Sober Vacations International (SVI) is renowned for its Club Med buy-outs, which clear all alcohol from the resort. This year’s annual “Sober Fiesta” runs from August 22 to 29 in Cancun, Mexico (from $1,295). Twelve-step activities start daily at 7 a.m. and run until midnight and are peppered among all-inclusive recreations like tennis, sailing and water-skiing.
SVI also offers more far-flung expeditions, like a 10-day trip to the Galápagos Islands this autumn (from $6,290, excluding airfare). Sailing aboard the 96-passenger National Geographic Endeavour, travelers will encounter penguins, giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies — and even have the option to snorkel with sea lions.
“It is our belief and experience [that] if you aren’t having fun in your recovery you are not doing something right,” says SVI owner Steve Abrams. Clearly he’s hit on a winning formula, with an 84% return rate for guests.
For those who prefer to travel on their own and want to stay strong in their recovery, Piccolo has some advice. “Take your Grapevine magazines and little Big Book,” she recommends. “And get meeting lists for every place [you’re going.] Enable texting [if you’re traveling abroad] so you can connect with your support network at home. In a true emergency, ask airport or ship staff to page a ‘friend of Bill W.’ Never go anywhere without planning your sobriety.”
To find a 12-step meeting almost anywhere in the U.S., use the Addiction.com Meeting Finder.