Alcohol has arguably been a part of human history and culture for about as long as civilization and many a travel tour has been booked specifically around trying alcohol in every shape and form ever invented. From Czech beers to Russian vodka, to Mongolian arkhi, Japanese sake, and Filipino tuba and beyond – you could draw circles all over the globe, highlighting all the unique and interesting ways in which different cultures consume booze.
Nevertheless, what if your specific goal is to completely avoid alcohol and still travel the world and see all there is to see while staying sober? For one, it is important to remember that just because a place is famous for its booze does not mean you have to try it. However, early on in recovery, the temptation may just be too strong especially if you enjoy having a nightlife but need sober alternatives.
Thankfully, there are plenty amazing and beautiful countries all over the globe where alcohol isn’t that big of a deal, even deep into the night and way into the small hours of the morning. If you know where to look and what to look for, you can circle the globe and explore dozens of interesting cultures without ever letting a single drop of booze pass your lips.
Although recent turmoil in Egypt, Libya and Syria has made the North African and West Asian regions less of an attractive travel option, Morocco and Tunisia remain to be amazing Muslim-majority countries with vibrant cultures, a great infrastructure for tourism, and plenty of unique and beautiful sights to see. If you even remotely love shopping, then you simply must spend a day in an authentic medina, and cool off with some traditional strong tea and North African cuisine. Most Muslim and Buddhist-majority countries largely forego the consumption of alcohol – it is still available, largely to tourists, but you do have to go a little bit out of your way to find it.
However, why would you, when there is half a million new things to pay attention to, and try out? The vibrant cultures of Morocco and Tunisia are best experienced while fully sober and completely immersed.
Some countries are more sober-friendly than others, and Malaysia is one of them. Just like Scandinavia, alcohol is heavily taxed in Malaysia, meaning while you can still find your fair share of booze if you go looking for it, it is not going to be shoved in your face on every occasion in every tourist trap.
Malaysia is a large country situated south of Thailand in southeast Asia, and there is a little bit of everything here. You can head to Kuala Lumpur to steal a look at a rapidly growing Asian metropolis, or stick to the countryside and experience a wonderful blend of Malay, Indian and Chinese culture in towns and villages across the country.
An island nation just south of India, Sri Lanka was settled by pre-historic humans well over a hundred thousand years ago, and features ruins and historical documents spanning back over 3,000 years ago. Although still recovering from a civil war that ended less than a decade ago, Sri Lanka is a gorgeous country with a deep Buddhist heritage, and countless well-preserved historical sites.
Aside from exploring its rich history, there is plenty to see and do on this island. If you are looking for something to drink, Sri Lanka is tea country, featuring the Haputale Mountains where Sir Thomas Lipton himself launched his empire. Sri Lankans today still rely on tea exports as a part of their economy, and there is little that compares to enjoying freshly brewed Sri Lankan tea sat on top of a tropical mountain ridge.
As another Muslim-majority travel destination, but this time famous for amazing beaches and clear waters rather than nomadic tribes and beautiful town squares, the Maldives are a prime travel destination for anyone looking to unwind and hit the waters of the Arabian Sea. It is also within a metaphorical stone’s throw of Sri Lanka, making them great back-to-back travel destinations while you are in the area.
Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland are not particularly known for their sobriety, but they are known for extremely high taxes – and overpriced booze. In fact, the Nordics have some of the most expensive alcohol in all of Europe, with Norway and Iceland paying by far the most for any given pint of booze.
To many, Scandinavia is not a particularly well explored culture. When most think of people that far up north, they picture lands of ice, social democracy, and Vikings, but there is more to it than that. The Nordics enjoy some of the world’s most preposterously beautiful landscapes, with countless national parks built around fjords, volcanoes, luscious forests, amazing mountain ridges and breathtaking waterfalls. Taking a nature trip through the Scandinavian peninsula is worth every cent, and will often leave you speechless.
In addition, given the high alcohol prices, clean-living and sober nightlife are not foreign concepts to the Scandinavian’s at all. Stockholm has featured clubs dedicated to sober dancing for years now, and many sober nightclubs are joining into the trend.
The Japanese do consume beer and sake, although not quite as excessively as their Korean neighbors, and while the cramped and bustling nightlife of Seoul is a wonder to witness, Japan offers more than advanced cityscapes and eccentric hobby shops.
From a trip through Osaka’s countless legendary food stalls to Akihabara in Tokyo, or any one of the hundreds of beautiful nature conservatories and national parks across the island nation, Japan is one single massive sensory overload, especially if you have never immersed yourself in Japanese culture. As a country with a long history of isolationism and xenophobia, Japan has developed quite differently from much of the rest of the world – and it takes a couple trips to get used to their unique culture and wild mishmash of interesting locations. If you need a place to go and never be bored while staying sober, Japan is a relatively safe bet.
Many more travel locations all over the globe make for many amazing experiences without even the mention of booze. You can pick any continent, and make your way across countries and through cultures where alcohol, while occasionally consumed, is nowhere near as big a deal as it might be back home.