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Tips for Drinking Mindfully While Traveling

By Maggie Downs
Posted: August 24, 2021

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The taverna owner plunked a carafe on the table along with a shot glass and pushed it toward me. 

“You must,” he urged. “For happiness.” 

It was tsikoudia (also known as raki), a fiery apéritif popular in Crete, where I was spending a couple weeks of my vacation. On an island legendary for hospitality, alcohol seemed to play an essential role. Nearly every meal ended with that carafe of tsikoudia. Occasionally I was given rakomelo, a special raki mixed with honey and cinnamon. Plus all of my hotel rooms had bottles of local wine waiting, begging me to uncork them.

There must be some kind of Murphy’s Law of drinking — now that I'm exploring life without all the alcohol, I can’t stop getting free alcohol.

Except I didn’t travel all the way to Crete to get drunk. I came to soak up the landscape, learn about history, and discover a culture unlike my own. While the generosity of Cretans was touching, I didn’t want to consume just to be hospitable, derailing my own goals in the process. If I imbibed, I wanted it to be on my terms. 

Hacks for moderating alcohol while traveling

My goal was to venture into the world without mindlessly drinking, the way I have on so many previous trips. For tips on how to do that, I spoke to Kathleen Porter Kristiansen, a globetrotting lawyer and travel writer who offered these practical suggestions:

Get the mini bar emptied. “I don’t need to have the alcohol there, and I enjoy having the extra space,” Kristiansen said. “I also bring something nice to have in there, like coconut water or a special sparkling juice, so when I do open the fridge, there’s a treat.”  

Think about what you value. “If something is free, it’s probably cheap and it’s not what you wanted in the first place,” according to Kristiansen. “Think about what does this free drink cost me? Is it worth it?” 

Find something else you enjoy. “When someone offers me drinks, I politely decline and ask if they have something else that’s not alcoholic,” she said. “I’ve gotten super into coffee, for instance, or fresh juices and smoothies. Sometimes I’ll look at the cocktail menu and see what could be turned into a mocktail.”

Turn your attention elsewhere. “I focus on getting up early and doing yoga and watching the sunrise — all the things maybe you wouldn’t have done if you were out late drinking,” Kristiansen said.

Treat yourself. “I buy a trashy magazine or something else that feels like a treat,” she said. “I don’t want to feel deprived. I’m here to enjoy traveling.” 

That last suggestion cut to the heart of why I visited Crete. I was traveling in pursuit of something to inspire me, to move me. I was there for clarity of the sea, where it shimmered in heartbreaking perfection. I was there to hike from one village to another as the sound of sheep bells jangled in the distance. I was there for the village-wide blackout we experienced one night, forcing everyone to sit outside, make conversation, and cool off in the briny night air. 

Those moments brought me happiness. It wasn’t about anything that could fit into a shot glass. 

One more thing I’d add to Kristiansen’s list of travel hacks: Give yourself a toolkit for success. Use Sunnyside to encourage mindful drinking. Bring along books, articles, or podcasts that motivate you. Have a buddy you can reach out to if things get challenging. 

I’m proud to say that by using all these tips, I had an excellent vacation, and I traveled while staying true to my goals. 

Also if I ever needed a reminder of why I wanted to be mindful about my consumption, I stumbled upon a Cretan “10 Commandments of Raki” that got straight to the point: “The first glass brings appetite. The second health. The third brings joy. The fourth happiness. The fifth brings excitement. The sixth, chatter. The seventh brings a fight. The eighth brings the police. The ninth brings the judge. And the tenth, a funeral.” 

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Maggie Downs

Contributing author for Sunnyside

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