What happens when you travel sober

March 23rd – Phong Nha, Vietnam
Time: Unknown (most likely between 10am-11am)

I arrive at the point where I know I’m awake, but don’t want to open my eyes. If anything, it’s curiosity that persuades me because I don’t remember where I fell asleep. First glimpses reveal I made it back to my bed somehow. Good start.

I try check the time on my phone to orientate myself further, but it’s not working. There’s a big scratch down the middle of the screen turning the few surviving pixels into multi-coloured uselessness. My skull aches way too much to worry about that now.

“He’s awake!” My travel-buddy notices my frail movements.

“Hmmuuurrr-“I let out a zombie-like noise which signifies the official start of my hangover.

“How ya feeling?” Her chirpy nature makes me want to punch a kitten. Square in the whiskers.

“How am I feeling!? Like I just went 12 rounds with David Tua. Who had cinder blocks as gloves. Aaand just smoked a cone of meth.”
Of course I’m in no mental state to come up with such similes, and just reply with another groan. Before I can even ask, I get the rundown.

“You were so funny last night!” My travel-buddy explains, “you spilt Hector’s drink, and instead of buying him a new one, you ran down the road and bought him a KitKat!”

Now that is something I would do. As my buddy cackles, a feeling of relief slowly creeps in. “If that’s the worst to report, looks like I got away with it…”

“You threw up all over the road as well,” she continues, “Matt and Hector carried you into bed.”  

Dam. Looks like there were bodily functions on display after all.  

My ankle begins to burn. This one I remember; I fell over while we were playing ninja. My drunken confidence threw me across the concrete in what was supposed to be a majestic dive. Ninja is an awful game to play during happy hour. Along with my pride, it also explains what destroyed my phone. The culprit: my own fat ass. 

I spend the next 24 hours whimpering, watching youtube videos, and attempting to sleep off the worst (and most expensive, if you add up the broken phone, doctor’s bills for the infected ankle, and KitKat prices) hangover I’ve ever had. Funny thing is, I conjured up the idea of an alcohol-free month of travel before all this went down.  


I love to challenge myself while on the road. It makes me feel like I’m achieving more than just looking at temples and eating Snickers ice-cream bars. After three months of casual (and not so casual) drinking, I was ready for a break. In true all-or-nothing Cleaver style, I committed to the idea of a whole month without a sip of alcohol.

April was the month in question. Predominantly to be spent in Japan, with a week of London on the end. It would save me money, save my voice for the music I want to record in London, but mainly I wanted to see if it could be done, and how much my travel experience would change.

I arrived in Japan on the 29th of March, so I did have a few days to have an Asahi on home soil, along with some sake. Which was pretty dam smooth to be fair. However April Fool’s Day loomed, and I looked forward to the cheaper, drier road ahead.


The first two weeks it barely bothered me at all. I was busy trying to get my money’s worth from the two-week Japan rail pass, which costed more than the plane ticket from Hanoi. I wasn’t staying in particularly social hostels, which were all booked because of the busy cherry blossom season. So really, it was over a week before I had to refuse a drinking situation.

I noticed I was still able to socialise without any difference. I had tea. They had beer. It seemed so simple, but to realize this was pivotal in the battle. Nothing had to change, as long as I still provided good vibes.

The other thing I quickly noticed was how much earlier I was getting up. 11am was common after a night out, but I started beating my alarm, and was getting up full of energy at around 8:30am. It suited the new nature of my days: sight-see from the morning until about 4pm, then head back to the hostel to relax until sleep. No parties or clubs or outings. I was in Nana mode, and I liked it.

To my surprise it was all going really well, until my last week in Tokyo. Unfortunately I made a whole group of new friends. Amazing, hilarious people who were also staying for about a week. One of them had a birthday on Friday night, and was taking everyone to Tokyo Pub Crawl; one of those multi-hostel booze nights where they pour shots down your throat as you leave each bar. Challenge accepted.

It felt silly handing over $30NZD for “free shots + entry” when I was to remain sober. Some clubs were $30 cover charge, which is how I justified it. Other crawlers didn’t see it that way.

“See? You’re not even saving money,” he said smugly.

“Yeah but for the whole month I’ve saved money,” I responded, “and I’ve gone too far to start now.”

He continued with a hint of hostility, “But you’ve paid for it now, might as well enjoy it.”

It was clear my sobriety was offending him.

“I’ve actually enjoyed it, and I’m not in a hurry to start drinking again.”

Mic drop. Had to end the chat, I could feel my good vibes evaporating, and I needed all of them if I was to survive the night.

I had gone from phone-breaking hangovers, to defending my orange juice on a pub crawl. I felt like Jon Snow who just burnt his black cloak, or Theon Greyjoy who just invaded Winterfell. (Man there is a lot of betrayal on that show… is it obvious I just started watching?) Iron thrones aside, I was a convert. I was having the same amount of fun, only for a lot cheaper, and without feeling like shit the next day.

London proved to be tempting as well. I felt like I had already achieved something by leaving Japan alcohol free, so found it tough to cut down any plans for the pub. Unluckily for my music, but luckily for my challenge I picked up a cold, so I had an excuse.

It has now trickled past the 1st of May. I did it, without a sip. However I’ve found I’m in no hurry to run to the liquor store. I’m sure that will change as I hit the road again and start partying in exotic places once more. Hard to avoid there. But I’ve learnt good vibes are more important than good beer. Good people are more important than good spirits, and falling over in Vietnam is the most expensive thing you’ll do there.


2 thoughts on “What happens when you travel sober

  1. Pingback: Do the rest of the world care about the All Blacks? | Shawn Cleaver

  2. Pingback: London to Rome by bus | Shawn Cleaver

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