Post Pandemic Travel and AF Culture

By Mocktail MO

It seemed like March 12, 2020, was a day that the entire globe shut down.  Little did we all know for how long the sudden stop would last.  It turned out that for nearly two years people shuttered themselves, if not exclusively in their homes, then within the confines of their city or town.  Yes, we adapted to our compartmented lives and, in some ways, flourished. From the comfort of our sofas and PJs we peered into our laptops and met people that otherwise would have remained a distant mystery.  People we only would have heard or read about, not had actual conversations with over ZOOM.  (Please raise your hand if you knew ZOOM existed before 2020.) The subsequent shut down from the pandemic had emotional and mental health consequences for us that will only be revealed by time.  However, as the initial fear passed during the global confinement what was most evident was the trouble that isolation brought on all our psyches. Humans are meant to socialize with other humans. We must have contact with others to live complete lives; and after almost two solid years of hunkering down we set forth to do just that. According to Travel and Leisure magazine, “This year, the United States travel sector is anticipating a 35.6% bump, compared to 2020. In total, travel is anticipated to generate nearly $2 trillion of the U.S. economy in 2022.” This need for getaway travel was satisfied in the alcohol-free space as well.

This year a world- wide parade of AF “happenings” took place from retreats that included frigid spirit building ice baths in Spain and floating dinner parties on the Thames River to quite a few zero proof festivals sprinkled along the European and North American continents.  People have begun to venture out and relish the fellowship of being in each other’s presence.  Where we felt a soul crushing sense of isolation in 2020, we now are making up for with communal exuberance. 

Like so many others, I also indulged my vagabond shoes and headed out for new adventures elsewhere. I took a long weekend trip to New York and rekindled a deep love for the city and whet my appetite for more travel.  On two occasions, Austin was the destination of choice. Both Texas trips were for AF celebrations. One to commemorate the actual “launch” of a new boozeless cruise entertainment company and another to spend the weekend with likeminded women enjoying AF festivities.

What stood out to me while travelling was that without alcohol, the level of joy and celebration was never diminished. The mocktails flowed at every destination and authentic connections were made minus the late-night booze inspired “tears and consequences”. 

 It was on my first trip to Austin that I witnessed firsthand the “no booze= no fun” archetype be absolutely obliterated.  At the Yacht Drops maiden voyage on Halloween weekend everyone embarked all dolled up in their costumes, and as I stood on the top deck awaiting our launch, I looked around and felt the undercurrent of excitement.  The sense that something truly significant was happening dawned on me as more people made their way to the top deck to what was soon to be the dancefloor.  The phrase “It’s happening” kept going through my mind. People from different walks of life but with the same intention were getting together for the same purpose, to party AF style. The typical subdued greetings and getting to know other passengers took place.  Complementing each other on costumes and meeting in person, people only known over electronics as per what usually happens in a social setting. Thus, the cruise began…and then the music started. The awkward few people stepped onto the dancefloor to set the pace like so many do. By the time DJ Missing Mei took the music up a thousand notches, everyone was out and literally dancing their butts off.  No Austin Halloween party would be complete without the famous Congress bridge bats taking flight at dusk, and we were all treated to airborne streams of bats soaring through the night sky.  A natural blessing that everything was as it should be. Then it was DJ Caliceaux Jack’s turn to whip the crowd into a whirling storm of synchronized bouncing bodies and smiling faces. To any onlooker it would have seemed like a typical Halloween party, which it was – with only one thing subtracted from the equation.  Nothing was missing, including photo mementos of the night with partygoers, AF drink in hand, dancing the night away. 

Two weeks later this cowgirl was headed back to Austin for a weekend-long Sober in The City gathering with the sole purpose of connecting in person and celebrating life without alcohol.  The entire weekend was packed with activities, dancing, speakers, and plenty of AF drinks to sample.  Although not actually a conference, it had that feeling of a large group of women learning with and from each other – minus the compulsory business meeting over too many drinks and wondering if you owe anyone an apology the next day.

I came late to the party, arriving on Saturday morning and heading directly to a dance/ exercise session titled “Disco Dance Party” that I thought was only a few blocks from the hotel.  Unfortunately, as I stalled at a food truck waiting for the class to begin and wondering why no one was there it dawned on me that maybe I was in the wrong place.  Suitcase in tow, I walked to the hotel and considered my options since I was there way too early for check-in.  A cluster of gold lame’ clad women were assembled at the front door of the hotel.  I instantly knew who they were and where they were headed; and after introducing myself to them without hesitation they swooped me up and packed me into their Uber off to the actual destination.  Afterwards we got to know each other over lunch. We all laughed and bonded as we shared family pictures and similar experiences of children, marriage, and living alcohol free.  It was so nice to be taken under their communal wings. My social anxiety never had a chance with such a warm inclusive group of women.  They were a pod of five women from the Sober Sis movement who until then had only known each other in Marco Polo information bytes. They knew each other well and yet, were still meeting for the first time; solidifying their connection to one another while folding me in temporarily. 

At the dinner party that evening I had the opportunity to reconnect with some now familiar faces.  Chris Marshall from Sans Bar, whom I’ve known since the beginning of my journey, spoke at the VIP lounge and later poured some devastatingly delicious mocktails. Jen Kautsch, the leader of the Sober Sis movement spoke at dinner about the significance of all of us simply being together alcohol- free.  And from the previous Austin trip, DJ Caliceaux Jack was back in attendance providing beats for all to get their groove on. 

As I flew home the next day, I was struck by what a blessing these trips brought.  My cup was overflowing from the benefit of connecting with a vast range of beautiful people whose commonality was letting go of alcohol.  Even though we all came from and array of backgrounds, the need to be in each other’s presence was undeniable.  There were no boundaries of where we were on the sober spectrum – it wasn’t important.  Inclusion and connection were the goal, and I found those in abundance at every destination.

Thankfully the time of shutting ourselves in has ended, even if the pandemic continues. There are more and more opportunities to gather and celebrate being alive AF.  And if you ever are given the chance to experience zero proof travel, I urge you to jump at it.

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