Travel Advent Day 1: Alcohol and Travel

Last month I thought long and hard about what Advent Calendar to buy myself for this festive month. Advent calendars make the dark cold Danish winters just a bit more livable. In the spirit of Christmas, I decided I’d try giving an advent rather than receiving one. So every day leading up to the 25th, I’ll present a bite-sized travel story, ramble, or observation for the benefit of myself and my fellow ramblers. I hope you enjoy and share your Advent delights on your respective sites!


I have a love-hate with alcohol. For better or for worse, it has undoubtedly shaped many of my travel experiences throughout the years. It’s been the cause of many headaches and has helped facilitate or perhaps deepen some of my lowest pits in life. Yet, it has also stroked the felicity to some of my best memories, and it is inherently intertwined with my travel as a way to share, learn, and form a connection with your fellow traveler. I’ve been sober the entire month of November this year, so I feel able to reflect on the matter: what relationship should alcohol serve in my life moving forward?

I was properly drunk for the first time at 18. Deep in Bariloche, Argentina, trying to swing up to the level of a beautiful Dutch woman much older than me while simultaneously acting mature enough to hang out with backpackers much wiser than myself. We went out to a local bar with some fellow travelers and the owner of the hostel and her architect husband. The bar, a microbrewery, sold delicious craft beers for less than 10 pesos, which at the time equaled out to about $0.60 a pint. So for only a few dollars, I tried each beer they had on tap, each one tasting better than the last to my underaged North American mind. By 11 PM we were gone, mentally and physically, out in the streets and into an asado restaurant to order mountains of cheap juicy meat and drink as much red wine as we could fill in our nearly bursting stomachs. Hours were spent with these travelers, laughing, drinking, sharing stories, and ultimately creating a bond that would lead me to travel further with one of the backpackers to Chile. Alcohol served as the glue to make for ridiculous conversations that opened us up mentally, and let us engage in a way that I may not have been able to do with tea.

A year later, alcohol drove me to a dark bar on a rainy afternoon in the Faroe Islands. There I met Magnus, a beautiful bearded Icelandic chef visiting the islands for a surfing expedition. What else would a badass bearded Icelander be doing? That night we drew up drunken plans to rent a car and road trip the islands to loud Led Zeppelin albums, stopping in the remote bays to surf and take pictures of lambs navigating the mossy slopes. The next morning, alcohol goggles cleaned, we met sober to act on these plans and rent the car, and have five days navigating the surf of the Faroes.

I have countless tales of how alcohol has fostered beautiful travel memories and fueled the way for beautiful moments and stories to tell and remember. Yet it has also held a destructive power to create not only physical but mental pain. My most debilitating hangovers were in Belgium after long nights getting too merry with eager locals. My first few months in the cold, dark Danish winter saw me in the attic of my host parents’ house, drinking beers all night and writing poetry and songs into a journal, digging myself into a fit of winter depression. Now that I have spent a month sober in Danish winter, I struggle to find much else to do other than drink.

All of my greatest winter Danish memories are spent in candlelit bars or music venues, drinking tall dark beers and laughing with smokey bearded Danes. Without that social lubricant, I would be as I am now, staying up late at night rambling into a computer screen. So where does alcohol sit in my life now? There is no denying that it can be a powerful tool for connection, but it doesn’t have to be one of destruction as well. Perhaps I could have had all of these experiences had I been sober, and maybe they would have been even better. There’s a lot of sanity in living a little, but just to the point where it won’t take all the fun of living a tomorrow.

To be honest, I’m not sure what the answer is. What do you think?

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