Bern’s Steak House restaurant Tampa wine cellar
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Quitting Alcohol for One Month as a Frequent Traveler

Y ou may be well aware of my aversion to consuming alcoholic beverages, which I have noted in past articles over the years; and you might be wondering about what exactly are the reasons: was I an alcoholic in a former life? Do I take any medication which may become dangerous when interacting with alcoholic beverages? Have I significantly gained weight as a result of drinking too many alcoholic beverages? Did I suffer from a nasty hangover or operate a piece of machinery while inebriated, narrowly averting a serious accident from occurring?

No — none of the above, actually.

The reason is quite simple: I never liked the taste of alcohol. Beer, vodka, wine, champagne — the type of alcoholic beverage does not matter. The closest I ever came to tolerating an alcoholic beverage was when I tasted a sweet fermented liquid straight out of the trunk of a dead palm tree in Côte d’Ivoire, which the indigenous people colloquially referred to as palm wine — but I digress as usual.

I have always felt that there were advantages to traveling without imbibing in alcoholic beverages — there are those people who will fiercely counter my point of view — but I hesitated to do so for concern of being perceived as proselytizing; and I loathe to do that.

Quitting Alcohol for One Month as a Frequent Traveler

It was with great interest when I read this article called Quitting alcohol for a month as a frequent traveler by Yihwan Kim of Mile Writer, who voluntarily experimented — mostly driven by curiosity — with what life would be like traveling for a month without consuming alcoholic beverages.

He pronounced his experiment as a great success, citing that “as you might’ve guessed, in the end I saved some cash – a lot, actually. I slept more soundly and woke up more refreshed. I looked better. I felt better! I didn’t end up losing any weight because I ended up starting a new bulk/strength cycle, but whatever.”

Those reasons sound great — well, except for the part of not losing any weight — but here was the compelling reason, in my opinion:

“But what was so striking was how much quitting alcohol affected my view of travel, especially frequent travel. If the connection seems far-fetched to you, it caught me completely off-guard. Here’s what really stuck out for me during my short-lived sobriety.”

Alcohol Wildly Inflates the “Value” of So Many Travel Benefits

I have long suspected this; but I had no real way of proving it.

Coveted benefits to being a passenger seated in the premium class cabin of an airplane or having access to a lounge — airport or hotel — include complimentary alcoholic beverages. I would not be surprised if the consumption of alcoholic beverages is the most costly expense to companies who offer those amenities; but I have no definitive proof at this time that that indeed is that case…

…and the offering of complimentary alcoholic beverages is a major reason why a seat in the premium class cabin aboard an airplane or access to a lounge is not all that important to me — and it is one of the reasons which I cite as to why I would not pay $59.00 for a one-time visit to a Delta Sky Club.

“My point is that when it comes to valuing most travel benefits, free alcohol inevitably becomes part of the equation”, Kim rationalizes in his article. “And this makes sense. If you’re going to drink anyways, you should consider opportunities for free things you would’ve paid for otherwise.”

What I find interesting is that it took Kim to stop drinking to realize something I — as a person who does not consume alcoholic beverages — innately knew all along: what is actually the value of a seat in the premium class cabin aboard an airplane or access to a lounge without alcohol. Sure, the space is quieter and more roomy. Yes, there is some free food — although that can be hit-and-miss. More personalized service and a more comfortable setting is usually part of the experience…

…but those things are rarely worth the extra expense to me — regardless of whether or not I pay with cash, miles or points. I do not drink alcoholic beverages. I typically — but admittedly not always — do not like when someone dotes over me, as I prefer to do things myself. I am not overweight. For those reasons and more, I hesitate to “treat” myself to an experience where I am uncertain that I will receive what I perceive to be full value — a return on my investment for what I personally want and need — as a result.

Of course, that perceived value varies not only subjectively per person — no one is right or wrong — but also on the product and service being offered. Some lounges are excellent; while others are lousy. Pay extra for that privilege and you could be doing little more than “rolling the dice.”

You may not be surprised, therefore, that I find the following statement from Kim to be refreshing as well as reinforcing: “But with alcohol out of the picture, I considered myself crazy to pay anything at all. I discovered I’d much rather hand over a few dollars for a reliably strong cup of black coffee at the Starbucks next door. If I needed assistance with a reservation, help was usually just a tweet away. And for all the hullabaloo over the “enhanced” lounge food offerings by a certain major airline, the fact remains that you’re eating over-engineered, filler-injected, food-inspired by-product that was likely shipped and re-heated in the same clear plastic bag. (I may be judging a little here.)”

That is why I would rather take that $59.00 which Delta Air Lines charges for using a Sky Club once and instead plunk it down on a premium dining experience in a quiet corner of a restaurant — without alcoholic beverages, of course, which would significantly drive up the cost on that final bill — instead of on “pretzels and carrot sticks”, as eloquently stated by Kim. Five dollars can get me pretzels and carrot sticks.

Complimentary Alcohol Makes it Scary Easy to Drink in Excess

Obviously due to my severe lack of experience in this “department”, what Kim wrote about in this section was foreign to me at best.

“Before I knew it, I would’ve blown through the official definition of excess drinking before landing home. Now admittedly the 2-hour limit allows some leeway here, and I wasn’t exactly getting hammered on my afternoon commuter flight. But see, that’s the scary part.” Basically, Kim refers to two drinks per day for men. “I was drinking a hell of a lot, but I wasn’t getting that drunk. It never occurred to me how much I was drinking, partly due to the small servings over a long period of time, but mostly because my wallet wasn’t complaining about the free drinks.

This part of his article was rather personal; and I would rather not repeat any more of it here. All I can say was that it opened my eyes, as I had never really thought about any of what he wrote.

The Negative Effects of Drinking While Traveling Creep Up on You

This section of the article was equally as foreign to me.

I have discussed in numerous past articles about my good health overall and my propensity to do as much as I can within a day while traveling without sacrificing quality, as I can be quite energetic when I travel. I am not about to attribute my good fortune to not drinking alcoholic beverages — again, because I have no experience or proof — but Kim wrote about how he was not eating right; sleeping well; or exercising enough…

…and yet: “When my break from alcohol extended into my travels, I was pleasantly surprised to find I had so much more energy. Long red-eyes didn’t seem so tiring anymore. It felt like I could pack more hours in a day. I even took up the habit of jogging through every new city I came across, which was way more stress-relieving than beer from a musty hotel lounge could ever be.”

Perhaps not drinking alcoholic beverages is a reason why I seem to be able to withstand “long red-eyes” and being seated in the economy class cabin better than many other people?

“It turns out the benefits of cutting back are cumulative as well. I decided to channel all my extra energy into something more productive than nit-picking over spirit options at a generic executive lounge. After months of training, some sessions admittedly more painful than the worst of hangovers, I hobbled my way through the finish line at the Stockholm marathon not too long ago, and I’ve already signed up for my next race in Portland later this year.”

All I can say is wow — another eye-opener for me.


Please do not misunderstand me — I am not by any means advocating the total prohibition of alcoholic beverages. I know that there are people who must have a certain champagne to traditionally celebrate such accomplishments as the welcoming of a new year or the conclusion of a hot air balloon ride. People travel from around the world to places which are known for wine specifically for tastings paired with fine food. Getting together and drinking is widely accepted around the world as a social event. I get all of that and more…

…but the excellent article written by Yihwan Kim had me wondering what would happen if more people tried his experiment. Would the results be similar? Could it cause some people to reassess their overall consumption of alcoholic beverages?

I realized that I have generally taken for granted much of what Kim wrote in his article. Yes, I do write occasionally how much I appreciate my good health, energy and relatively low costs for travel — but I have thankfully known no other alternative; and I hope that that good fortune continues well into old age for me, as I want to travel for as long as I possibly can.

As for the cost aspect of travel, Elena Nikolova of Muslim Travel Girl wrote this informative article about how she can afford to travel so much — but one item which she seemed to have omitted was the cost of consuming alcoholic beverages. If I did so while I traveled, the cost of traveling would surely increase for me — especially as I would be more wont to upgrade and visit lounges.

While I will continue to travel the way I have been traveling all of my life — free of alcoholic beverages as part of that — how you travel is of course up to you, for I do not intend to definitively tell you how to travel

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Brian-

    Thank you for bringing my attention to the stealth presence of alcoholic beverages which can be consumed free of charge in the life of a frequent traveler. Upon reflection, I can say that my consumption of alcoholic beverages while making my way through airport club lounges and other airport terminal facilities has declined.

    For me, the cause of this decline in alcohol consumption can be attributed to taste. As I have aged, the alcohol I drink at home, or in a restaurant in my area of residence, has become of better quality, reflecting an increase in my income over this time. That has made the ‘free’ alcoholic beverages available in airport clubs and lounges, or even onboard a commercial airline flight in first class less appealing.

    It is now rare that I consume an alcoholic beverage in an airport lounge.

    1. That is very interesting, Greg — and you are correct: tastes do change as we get older for a variety of reasons.

      I remember when my great grandfather said when he was ordered to adhere to a low-sodium diet when he was in his 80s — he loved salt — “What is the point of living if you cannot enjoy what you eat?” I would venture to say that what he said probably would also apply to the consumption of beverages — alcoholic or not — so please do enjoy that finer quality of alcoholic beverages and be as discerning as you like.

  2. I’ve been on a diet (lost 5 lbs to far in a week) and have been avoiding any type of alcohol. Definitely not an issue when traveling in Y but when in F on a top-notch premium carrier (ex. Singapore) the temptation of Krug/Dom might get to me…

    1. If you do not mind my saying so, J, there is nothing wrong with having an indulgence once in a while; so if you happen to be a passenger aboard an airplane on a flight operated by one of those carriers, do consider enjoying one glass of Krug or Dom Perignon, as it should not interfere significantly with your diet.

      Congratulations on losing five pounds in one week!

      Bad joke alert: you can lose substantially more pounds much faster by betting at a race track in the United Kingdom…

  3. Like you I never drink alcohol, solely because I don’t like the taste. I was tempted to have Krug on Cathay First Class just because I could, but that would be pretty stupid given that I would just spit it out. Luckily, not drinking saves a lot when on the ground! It amazes me how much people spend on drinks when they eat out, which is often when travelling.

    1. When I used to travel in a corporate environment, Matt of Canada, I usually had no problem expensing a meal simply because I did not drink.

      I am as amazed as you as to just how much money can be spent on alcoholic beverages during one meal — especially when dinner is in a group at a fine restaurant.

  4. I certainly enjoy alcohol — especially while traveling — but I also very much appreciate a new perspective. This will certainly give me something to think about on my next journey abroad in October. And very well-written, by the way. You must also have an MA collecting dust somewhere in your home 😉

    1. I am not sure what you mean by MA, Andrew; but thank you for the comment.

      There is nothing wrong with enjoying alcohol; and you should continue to enjoy it — but if you do decide to do anything different with your enjoyment of alcohol during your travels, I would be interested in reading about it.

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