How to have an alcohol-free holiday ... By Ali Roff, Psychologies Editor-at-Large - One Year No Beer
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Could having an alcohol-free holiday be more enjoyable, fun, relaxing and meaningful than any other holiday you’ve ever been on?

I’d navigated alcohol-free nights out and weddings, wine free dinners hadn’t phased me, and evenings in with friends had been much easier than I’d imagined. But, with a group holiday with friends on the horizon, I wondered what exactly an alcohol-free holiday might look like. For me, summer holidays are made for that glittering part of the day, when the heat of the sun has left the air and its lowering light shimmers on the ocean. I can see myself now, Balearic beats accompanying the conversation as you order that first drink of the holiday, my skin tingling from a day in the sun…

I think about this moment. Could navigating this be the most difficult part of my whole journey? I wonder for a second… why am I doing this? A question I’m sure we all ask ourselves at some point. But every answer I might have ever needed as to ‘why am I doing this’ was delivered to me in the unfolding of this one holiday. From prepping to perspective, here’s how to have a fun-filled and next level alcohol-free holiday that might just be better than any Pina Colada fuelled holiday you’ve ever been on.

The first drink

I’m not going to lie, this was the toughest part, but sometimes it’s best to rip off the plaster.  The cool, crisp glasses of wine set down on the table over our first sunset meal was tough to watch. I felt a lot of internal dialogue spark up; ‘It’s not fair’, ‘why are you punishing yourself’, ‘you’re so boring’, and ‘you’re not having as much fun as everyone else!’ swirled like strands of scrabble letters around my head.

I’m a big fan of mindfulness (so big that I now teach it!), and I find it comes in very handy in moments like these. It’s natural to try and move away from uncomfortable feelings and thoughts by either giving in to them, trying to escape them and avoid them, or numb them by looking for things to distract ourselves with – the problem is, that inner dialogue usually only shouts louder. The key is to simply notice, and sit with the feelings and thoughts. This is also known as ‘surfing the urge’, the idea being, that by using mindfulness to simply observe how we feel, we actually manage to move past the urge, rather than be stuck with it by trying to distract ourselves or become overwhelmed by it. Read how to do it here. Having this tool in your locker before you head off on holiday could help you jump that first hurdle with no problem at all.

The relaxed dinners

As I surfed the first urge, I became pretty good at getting out my surfboard when I needed to. Dinners are a huge part of most holidays – eating out or ‘al fresco’ at your villa. But it was my holiday after all, and holidays are about a little indulgence and enjoyment. So at the supermarket, I grabbed loads of fruit, tonic waters and herbs. Huge slices of grapefruit with rosemary in a big wine glass with zingy tonic water became my go-to. At restaurants, I indulged in beautiful fresh fruit juices and mocktails. The fruit in hotter countries is usually beautiful and so I made the most of it. While my friends were popping corks, I was slicing fruit beautifully and creating beautifully presented cocktails for myself. The key here? Don’t deprive yourself. Try new things, make up your own cocktails and create your own rituals.

A glass of something around the pool

I’ve never been great at daytime drinking – I’d just end up tired, bloated, and feeling less than my best in a bikini. So this was where the magic began to happen. I started to realise that I felt so much happier in my own body on this holiday. Coincidence? I think not. Instead of drinking bubbles all day, I was sipping on water and fresh, vitamin-packed juices. No bloat, no sluggishness. Come the evening and I felt great – I was energised, happy and hydrated (never underestimate how great it can feel to live in a hydrated body!).

The big night out

And then my friends dropped it on me. A big night out! Time to let our hair down and party, across the other side of the island no less, and would I drive? A quiet part of me wanted to stay at home and give it a miss, but I was determined not to let the absence of alcohol stop me from having fun. So off we went – with my fantastic friends singing The Beatles songs at the top of their lungs in the back of our rickety hired jeep, I drove them an hour across the island to a world famous outside club.

It didn’t even open until 11 pm, but once we got in, I was in awe; the music, the trees, the sky. It was magical. Sober dancing, however – not so magical. I felt so awkward as my alcohol-fuelled and uninhibited friends danced and swirled around. I grabbed a bottle of water and my husband pulled me into the crowd. But half an hour later, I was having the time of my life. As I looked around I could see that everyone was so merry they weren’t looking at me anyway. Being surrounded by people who had lost their own inhibitions allowed me to lose mine, alcohol-free and hydrated as hell.

At 4 am, I rounded up the gang, herded them to the hotdog stand and drove them the hour-long journey home under the stars. That night I felt like I had a superpower, I had as much, if not more fun than everyone else, and in their sleepy drunken states, I felt love for them – looking after them had been a privilege.

The mornings

Which leads me nicely to a stark contrast between our states of mind the next morning, and every morning for that matter. Even a few drinks the night before can make it harder to get out of bed, especially on holiday. But it turned out that my mornings on this alcohol-free holiday were where the magic was. I woke every morning and took myself out for ocean-side yoga, early morning runs, and sunrise meditations. Those precious hours before the world (and my pals) woke became sacred to me and gave me so much joy, indulgence and happiness than any glass of wine has before, no matter how crisp and cold it was. I even felt a small sense of loss as I walked back to my villa before breakfast, for every foggy headed and tired morning… and for the many beautiful sunrises, I’ve missed on past holidays. I made a vow – a silent prayer to myself that this was the way I wanted to live my life now, and it felt beautifully empowering.

The shifting of perspective

The most surprising part of my alcohol-free holiday? This shift in perspective didn’t just touch me; it touched so many of the friends I spent my holiday with too. Over the week I began to recruit a small yoga class, running buddies and meditation partners. Aside from our big night out, our evening meals were far less boozy than the previous year, and daytime drinking didn’t survive much past the first day. Could it be that my happier, healthier demeanour sans-alcohol inspired them to drink less themselves? Or perhaps they are at the beginning of their own journey – is there a sense of something in the air, where we are all moving towards lifestyles with less alcohol, if not alcohol-free altogether? Maybe next year we’ll all be awkwardly sober dancing until 4 am… I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

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