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Alcohol-Free, Sober Travel on the Rise

As customers seek healthy lifestyles, cruises, hotels and tour groups add nonalcoholic options

spinner image A “No Alcohol” sign posted at a state beach park.
Hospitality brands and tour groups offer alcohol-free options throughout the year, not just during Dry January and Sober October.
Patricia Marroquin / Getty Images

Shelly Smee remembers vacations with friends to Mexico and Italy that didn’t go according to plan.

“I’ve been on trips where people get into the wine and before you know it, they’re hung over for the excursions the next day,” says the real estate agent from Vancouver, Canada.

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In 2022, Smee, who said she’s a casual drinker, went on her first small group tour as part of an alcohol-free trip to Iceland with Hooked — Alcohol Free Travel Adventure. The company has organized trips to Italy, Mexico and Nashville, Tennessee. Among its 2024 offerings are a visit to Canada, a cruise from Panama and a safari in Tanzania.

“I’m 56 and have a hard enough time getting out of bed just normally,” Smee says. “I was looking forward to doing a trip where the focus was on seeing the sites during a small group tour with like-minded individuals committed to trying all the differing experiences.”

Over the course of a week, Smee says, the group stopped at hot springs for an unforgettable dip in the clear waters and sampled nonalcoholic cocktails at a Michelin star restaurant in Reykjavík.

What the group didn’t do in Iceland was drink alcohol.

“We all got along. Quite frankly, I didn’t even think of drinking,” Smee says. “It just wasn’t a priority.”

Hospitality brands bet on sober travel

The alcohol-free travel trend is growing and goes beyond Dry January and Sober October, voluntary opportunities to forgo drinking during those months — whether to raise money for causes or for one’s own personal health.

Hotels.com reported more than 40 percent of travelers planned to book a detox trip in the next year, and even more expressed interest in staying at hotels that offer easily accessible alcohol-free beverage options.

For proof that there’s opportunity in experiences of the no-proof variety, you only need to look as far as some of travel’s biggest brands.

MSC Cruises and Celebrity Cruises are among the major lines offering alcohol-free drink packages to customers. On the Norwegian Viva ship, mocktails available at the Vibe Beach Club include the Espresso Notini, made with a nonalcoholic amaretto liqueur, and the Smoky Water, created with a nonalcoholic red vermouth.

Hotels, from big chains to boutique properties, also have jumped onboard the alcohol-free wagon.

“Hilton has absolutely seen a growing demand for nonalcoholic cocktails,” says Adam Crocini, senior vice president and global head of food and beverage brands at Hilton. In the company’s 2024 Trends Report, he says the brand explored emerging traveler preferences across generations, from Generation Z to boomers.

“Across all age categories, we continue to see an increased focus on personal wellness and mindful food and beverage choices,” he says.

To address the demand, the chain launched Tempo by Hilton’s cocktail program, which includes “Spirited” selections with alcohol, as well as “Free-Spirited” versions that mirror classic cocktails in presentation, mouthfeel, flavor and sophistication — without any of the octane.

You can do more than just sip. In the Maldives, Jumeirah Maldives Olhahali Island’s new zero-proof mixology master class taps alcohol-free gins, rums and whiskeys.

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The 57-guest-room Deer Path Inn, an English-inspired boutique hotel in Lake Forest, Illinois, recently debuted a Zero-Proof Experience as a year-round offering geared toward “sober-conscious” travelers. The package includes DIY mocktail mixology kits in rooms, as well as a private lesson with the hotel’s chief spirits officer, Jorge Centeno, during which guests might learn to make seasonally inspired mocktails.

“Our team loves seeing nondrinkers delight in the whimsy that can be infused into beverages sans alcohol — like the Christmas Cup, which is served in a snow globe,” Centeno says.

At revered gastronomic outposts such as Restaurant R’evolution at the Royal Sonesta hotel (along Bourbon Street, no less) in New Orleans and New York City’s Per Se, mocktail offerings, including the former’s Piña Col-Nada (coconut milk, coconut water and pineapple juice) and Berry Me Above Ground (fresh berry mélange, ginger and lemon), get prime placement on menus.

Sober tours are not just for people in recovery

Sober travel, of course, goes beyond mocktails (which can be triggering for some people in recovery) and appeals to a range of travelers, says Darci Murray, 50, the founder of Hooked — Alcohol Free Travel Adventure.

“I find that a lot of my guests are just alcohol-free, not part of a recovery program; they’re all about healthy living and healthy habits,” says Murray, who stopped drinking six years ago and launched the company in 2021 after working as a travel agent for 18 years.

“I found it to be no fun at all traveling with people that were drinking,” she says. “I decided I can’t be the only person in the world who wants to experience like-minded people traveling together.”

On her trips — which max out at 14 people and tend to have an equal spread of travelers in recovery and those who just prefer the alcohol-free lifestyle — Murray says activities such as chocolate carving and cold-water plunges in Iceland and line dancing or monster truck rides around Nashville fill the hours when people would otherwise be drinking.

“I think it’s hard for sober people to imagine group travel that’s every bit as fun and funny as drinking life was, and I see it in their faces. They are surprised by how much fun we have.”

—Brooke Morton, founder of Sober Outside

“You might not have known you were a photographer who liked sunsets or that you liked line dancing,” she says. “We expose people to activities they might not have participated in.”

Murray says that when she started her company, she thought it would mainly attract sober travelers, but she’s been surprised how many guests just want to have a healthier lifestyle overall.

Other companies offering alcohol-free group travel include We Love Lucid and Sober Vacations International, which feature cruises and land tours geared toward people in recovery. 

“We are putting out trips as fast as we can, and then they get filled,” says Max Abrams, director of business development with Sober Vacations International, which runs roughly eight trips a year to locations around the world. Abrams said 2024’s Sober Village trip to Turks and Caicos — an annual tradition during which the company rents out an entire all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean for roughly 500 people — sold out faster than ever (in 42 hours versus the previous record of one week).

Retreats are another way to go (or remain) alcohol-free on vacation.

Kimberly Rossi, director of business development at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, North Carolina, said the 380-acre alcohol-free and vegetarian wellness retreat has seen an increase in people seeking sober vacations in the wake of the pandemic.

“It seems during the pandemic, alcohol usage significantly increased for many,” she says. Since then, she’s seen many people trying to return to or kick-start healthy habits that include alcohol reduction, increased physical fitness and meditation.

Rarely is anyone who attends in recovery.

“People are seeking out retreats to abstain from alcohol and take a break, jump-start new habits with others and learn tools to carry this new way of being into their lives,” she says.

The joy is in the journey

When it comes to destinations that are best for alcohol-free travel, there’s no reason to limit yourself, Murray says.

“Any destination can work,” she says. “We go to the places that anybody would go to, but we have a group of like-minded people.”

Brooke Morton, the founder of Sober Outside, says a group itinerary can be helpful for people in recovery and anybody else interested in traveling alcohol-free.

“We already have something in common, and it’s not a heavy lift to strike up a conversation,” she says.

When she’s not guiding trips, Morton says, she has “a small circle of sober friends and friends who aren’t heavy drinkers, and I invite one of them to travel with me.”

As a sober traveler, she’s not seeking different destinations — just different ways of experiencing them, she says. 

“For example, I used to meet people at the bar all the time when I traveled. I don’t go to bars anymore,” Morton says.

New friendships have been the highlight of her alcohol-free travels to Bonaire and Thailand.

“I think it’s hard for sober people to imagine group travel that’s every bit as fun and funny as drinking life was, and I see it in their faces,” she says. “They are surprised by how much fun we have.”

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