triggers and problem-solving (travel habits pt. 4)

For most of us, some drinks are easier to discard than others. They’ve been described as “low hanging fruit,” i.e. easy to remove from the tree. For me personally, that’s almost any daylight drinking, because as long as there is daylight, there is almost certainly something else that I could be enjoying at least as much. True for me in everyday life, and even more true in a new, exciting place. For someone else, the easy-to-skip drinks might be different, but that’s the fun of moderation: we each get to have our own style.

I’ve been practicing moderation for about ten months, and so I have gained a lot of experience in skipping drinks. I’m no longer particularly worried about the easy-to-skip category of drinking, I’m worried about the kind of drinking that is substantially harder for me to figure out, which involve triggers.

Granted, it’s not always possible to know in advance exactly how we’re going to feel, but I’m old enough to have a pretty good idea how I’m likely to respond to many things. So I can make a list of some general triggers that I’m probably going to encounter on this trip, including:

  • Jet lag — any time I am short on sleep, I’m going experience more urges. Throw in that internal dislocation that comes with crossing time zones, and I can expect to have some strong cravings at some odd times.
  • Hotels/motels — for whatever reason, hotel rooms make me want to drink. Fiercely.
  • Travel fatigue, or vacation down-time — when I’m overwhelmed or out of my element, I start wanting to just check out.
  • Boredom — the flip side of doing too much is doing too little
  • Local specialties — being offered the chance to try something local to that region, so that my vacation takes on new flavors, is irresistible to me.

Having pinpointed specific triggers, I can start brainstorming specific solutions. Let me pause to point out that someone else’s triggers & solutions might be completely different; different things work for different people, and the only “best” answer is the one that works for you. These are just a few things I can clearly identify in advance.

For jet lag, the right answer for me is definitely to be alcohol-free for at least the first few days of vacation (including airports and planes). Of course, that’s easy to say — the challenging part with all triggers is translating intent into action. So I have specific tools in mind: I’m going to enlist my partner as my sober buddy (and be one to him in turn); I’m bringing a refillable water bottle and some trail mix in my bag (dehydration and hunger distort my judgment); I’m doing what I can to minimize jet lag itself (starting to adjust sleep hours ahead of time, for instance); and I’m going to create an offline drink-counting journal to help make sticking to my commitments easier (like a counting card, basically). The idea is that by abstaining during the first few days of this trip, I may make it easier to abstain during the next few days of the next trip…habits are powerful things!

The motel issue is actually the easiest to solve: we’re booking most of our accommodations through sites like airbnb. This solves a whole tangle of issues, because it gives us more control over cooking our own food, setting our own schedules, and having more living space during our “down time.” My goal is to avoid drinking during evenings in our rentals, at least for the most part (an occasional shared bottle of wine over a meal we cook together is one thing, gulping down booze while mindlessly surfing the internet is not what I’m after). Same as at home, really, so it’s mostly a question of being prepared for this to feel harder, simply by virtue of the new surroundings. I’m also aiming to abstain on the nights I’m in a hotel, which I’ve done before (with difficulty, but also with success!), to keep flexing that particular skill until it gets easier.

Travel fatigue is harder for me to figure out, because I can’t predict it. I like being in new places, I love seeing new things, and yet I have my limit, a certain point where I just want to curl up and turn my brain off for a bit. This is especially true in places where I am experiencing a lot of culture shock…but actually, it can happen anywhere, because even the best vacations can have moments where I really just want to switch off. It’s definitely stress, which is also a considerable trigger for me in regular life, and so I’ve been working on healthier ways to handle stress. My drink-tracking-journal is going to have a second section, a list on paper of things I can during those times when I want to retreat to my room for a bit (reading, maybe some yoga-type exercises, maybe there’s something creative I could carry along easily?).

Boredom is the flip side of vacation stress. I don’t actually think it will be a huge factor on this trip (there’s just too much going on), but my experience is that “doing nothing” is really hard on me. It’s supposed to be relaxing, but unstructured time is actually pretty challenging. I need to remember that drinking is not an activity in and of itself. So as far as specific strategies, finding things to do that are a good fit for me (not the “must see” lists for tourists, but the things that actually delight me) is essential. It requires me to take responsibility for myself, which is something moderation seems to have helped with quite a bit. The biggest challenge I have here, actually, is that my partner loves the idea that vacations should be spontaneous, which in practical terms means he turns vacation planning into a total headache…really, relationships and drinking triggers are their own set of issues, worthy of any number of posts!

Finally, the trigger that is most emblematic of travel & vacation: not wanting to miss out on local flavors or special opportunities. And actually, I have no intention of missing out. The whole point of making a plan is to make sure that my overall alcohol consumption doesn’t become an issue for me, so that I can say “yes!” to a sample of local cider, a bottle of local wine served with dinner, or the chance to share drinks with friends, without feeling guilty or seeing my behavior spiral out of control. Again, I think it helps to avoid treating drinking as a complete activity, even if it’s dressed up as a tasting session or whatever. I can sample local wine and beer over dinner, or after a full meal, or during a tasting opportunity that also includes food & water. At home, I like my drinks to be a small, but enjoyable, part of life; the same basic rule of thumb applies on vacation.

These are just a handful of potential triggers. As I continue to plan the trip, I’ll be on the lookout for others, and devote a minute or two to trying to problem-solve for those too. It seems like a lot of extra work, doesn’t it? At least when it’s all written out like this. More on that in part 5.


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