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How Does Travelling Affect Your Alcohol Consumption?

Posted by on September 11, 2015

I recently published a loosely “academic” essay on why we continue to pursue the irrational through alcohol (and other substances) against all advice and reason. It had nothing to do with travel and I wrote the essay for Uni and never really expected anyone to read it. However, to my surprise, it quickly became the arena for a debate between two of my favourite fellow travel bloggers. At the root of the debate? The question of whether travel increases or decreases your drinking.

Drinking Beerlao in Ban Xang Hai Whisky Village near Luang Prabang, Laos

Stopping for a Beerlao with fellow travellers in Ban Xang Hai ‘Whisky Village”, Laos. Photo by Marion.

Does Your Drinking Decrease When Travelling?

Graham of Inside Other Places commented that the desire to drink (and whatnot) that he has when at home “disappears when traveling”, perhaps because “the urge is replaced by other sensory input“. For Graham’s camp, travel is too exhilarating and all-encompassing an experience to allow much time for getting pissed. He did concede that in my, shall we say, ‘line of work’, “travel probably only increases your desire to appreciate different modes of alcoholic excess”.

Sometimes travel is too exciting to waste time getting pissed

Ruth blown away by the scenery at Kawah Ijen, Java

While Graham is “certainly not against any flimsy excuse for beer o’ clock” – a fact I can vouch for, having enjoyed many a beer with the man – he confesses that he is glad of the lessened “social pressure” to drink. Having “spent a lot of time in Muslim countries that sometimes have restrictions on alcohol sale … doesn’t bother [him] … beyond the lack of non-sickly-sweet-drinks.”

Or Does It Increase?

Derek from The Holidaze pointed out that…

Alcohol brings people together…nearly as much as this one other plant I know of … I often find myself invited into random houses to enjoy a glass or four of whatever homemade beer or jungle juice concoction is the local brew of choice. And it’s these moments, these experiences, that I embrace the most when traveling and that keep me going. We don’t even need to speak a single word of the same language as long as we can tip our glasses and smile.”

For Derek, drinking and travel go hand-in-hand:

“Of course, back when I had a home (many, many years ago) I didn’t drink near as often. Perhaps because I was busy with work or perhaps because I was not accomplishing arduous feats on a daily basis that deserved a beer as a reward. Successful hike up the mountain? Beer me! Make it safely through that nerve-racking chicken-bus ride? It’s beer o’ clock! About to hop on a chicken-bus for a ride that could be your last? Better have a whiskey first. Too scared to try the local delicacy, goat brains? Do a couple shots to work up the nerve. Last night in [insert country/town/hotel here]? Drink up!”

As Derek quite clearly demonstrates, “there’s always a reason to drink on the road”… I just worry for his liver.

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Drinking bia hơi with Andre and other strange characters at an “after hours” bar in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Travel Definitely Affects the Amount of Alcohol You Drink

Me? I know exactly what both Graham and Derek are talking about and have experienced both sides of the argument first-hand. Alcohol is a great social lubricant, perfect for the meeting of new people everyday that’s often a major aspect of life on the road – god knows where I’d be without it – but I also find that, yes, travel can be an intoxicant in its own right – the blur of rushing through the world, filling your senses with new things, cultures, personalities, being blown away by scenery you never could have imagined existed…

In my experience, travelling, as with any other upheaval or change of lifestyle, will inevitably affect your drinking – as well as your eating, sleeping and so on – but whether the volume of alcohol consumed actually goes up or down depends on so many factors: the travel style, the destination, your travelling companions (or lack thereof), transport method, length of trip, and more other variables than I can be bothered to mention.

For example, if you’re going to Ibiza, or maybe Amsterdam (or even, perhaps sadly, South East Asia) you’re probably going to drink a lot more than you normally would in your regular working life. That is, unless you’re an absolute wino in your regular working life. And assuming of course that you have a regular working life, which I’m afraid I can’t speak for anymore. Yes, I’m gloating.

Wine tasting at Budapest International Wine festival in Hungary

Sampling Hungary’s finest at the Budapest International Wine festival

The reasons behind why you travel also play a huge part. For example, if you’re travelling to meet new people, or to simply enjoy yourself, there’s a good chance there’ll be some social lubrication involved somewhere along the line, whereas I’ve met a lot of people – think hikers and extreme sports people – who travel in no small part for their fitness. I’ve noticed that, for these people, getting battered in the pub the night before the big ascent of Everest isn’t exactly on the top of their bucket list.

While I can never be 100 per-cent sure whether my average alcohol usage goes up or down when I’m travelling, I do know for sure that it definitely changes completely, in purpose, quantity, regularity, consistency, frequency, and so on.

Below are my findings and thoughts on the subject. While we’re all different and therefore drink and travel in different ways – as Graham says, “Vive la difference!” – I’d be interested to hear how your drinking is affected by your travels, and whether you draw the same conclusions as I have.

Lifestyle Typical alcohol consumption
Home Busy weekends, binge drinking. Quieter week-nights, evenings with friends, the occasional work do that always ends embarrassingly.
Travelling solo Two nights alone in the wilderness for every one night getting blind drunk with people I meet in a hostel, on the road, etc.
Travelling as a couple Not much need to drink. Wine with food, overlooking the scenery. Rarely drunk.
Since becoming ‘the Drinking Traveller’ Absolutely fucked. Wine regions, brewery tours, tastings, etc. Now drinking for your benefit in the gaps where I would normally be recovering from my own excesses. Wink.
Chilli beer tasting at Matso's Broome Brewery, Western Australia

Sampling the chilli beer at Matso’s Broome Brewery!

So to conclude, travel definitely changes drinking patterns, but as to how it will change yours, there’s no simple answer.

Perhaps the reasons why travel can both increase and decrease alcohol consumption go back to the points I made in my original post. Sometimes travel itself can play the role of intoxicant. It can blow our minds. We can even go mad on it. It is an escape from the world of the rational and the day-to-day. However, at other times travel is the day-to-day – with its own set of obligations and worries – and alcohol is always appreciated to free us from those, no matter how temporarily. I suspect both are true to some extent. Alcohol and travel are like two different drugs: sometimes they mix well, sometimes they don’t.

What do you think?

14 Responses to How Does Travelling Affect Your Alcohol Consumption?

  1. Graham

    I enjoyed your post with a bottle of Albanian beer

  2. Lindsay

    I’m definitely in the realm of less drinking when traveling. Or rather, I’m less likely to get blindly drunk while on the road. When I was working full-time in a stressful job, I would get shitfaced every weekend to try to forget how much I hated my job. Travel is the opposite – I’m so happy and at peace most of the time I rarely go out of my way to drink more than a couple of beers at sunset with some fellow travelers.

  3. Derek Freal

    Seconding Graham, I just so happen to be reading this post while savoring a nice cold ale, a welcome refresher after a night of Long Island Ice Teas with friends (old and new) in South Delhi. Who knew that our offhanded comments would provide fuel for a full-fledged — and well-written — post on the variations of alcohol consumption during different stages of travel.

    You’ve pinpointed it all quite well Roy. I — and many others — drink only when the social atmosphere of foreign cultures beckons me to. If it doesn’t, we’re perfectly happy without — and drinking tea instead as a way of bonding with locals. However, I feel I must also say that traveling as a couple does not always reduce alcohol consumption. It’s either a reduction or a strong shift in the opposite direction, depending upon your other half’s tastes.

    • Roy Duffield

      Wow, us travel bloggers are a right bunch of alchies, don’t we. ;-) Yes, tea drinking also has its place in my heart. Cheers for the kind words!

  4. Julika

    You should start writing a drinks log / diary. You might surprise yourself, your GP and even history students from the distant future.

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