Why I Spent 2 Weeks Alcohol-Free in Nicaragua

Nicaragua has a reputation as a party place, and San Juan del Sur specifically even more so. It’s basically the happy hour capital of the world (and trust me, I know my happy hours)… yet it’s also the place where I chose to go alcohol-free for 2 weeks.

Why in the world would I choose to pass on two weeks’ worth of rum tastings and pitchers of sangria?

drinking in Cholula, Puebla

The reason is simple: I realized some ugly truths about myself and my relationship to alcohol.

I was drinking WAY too much: at least a glass or two of wine on a nightly basis, and at least a bottle of wine to myself on each night of the weekend (or anytime something happened that I wanted to forget or to celebrate). This little habit was turning into more, and wreaking havoc with my waistline (alcohol packs on the pounds for me), my health, my yoga, my relationships, and my work (who wants to stare at a computer screen when they’ve got a wine hangover? not me).

drinking in Rome

I realized I have an increasing dependence on alcohol to relax, to calm, to soothe, and to have fun. And that’s not how I want to live my life. I want to be thrilled with the everyday details, not feel the urge to numb myself to reality.

Beyond that, I often find myself to be a weepy and/or angry drunk. Which isn’t cool and not who I want to be. I care deeply about the people in my lives, and I don’t want to hurt anyone with unmeant words fueled by drunken emotional reactivity.

Hotel Birger Jarl Stockholm Sweden
robe + bubbly = relaxation and celebration in Stockholm for me

I thought the two weeks alone and solo traveling through Nicaragua would be the perfect time to skip the booze and focus on myself, my work, and my inner journey in tandem with my outer journey.

I was totally right.

While I was tempted at every turn (Happy Hour here, rum cheaper than water over there, Sunday Funday!), it truthfully wasn’t as hard as I’d worked it up to be in my mind. In fact, choosing water at dinner became as much of a habit as having a glass of booze usually was.

Vegetable skewers
that glass back there? filled with delicious water

I realized I’d succeeded in my goal two weeks in, the night before I was set to fly out, when a pair of guys next to me offered to buy me a drink, and asked me where the cool spots to go at night were.

“No thanks, and I don’t know,” I answered, a bit sheepishly, and added “I don’t drink.”

And it was true.

They were astonished and amused, laughing at me and asking, “How can you NOT drink in San Juan del Sur?”

“It’s actually pretty easy,” I replied., and that was true, too.

one of the many beaches I spent the whole day at, NOT hungover

Every day in San Juan del Sur, I visited a different beach. I spent hours wandering, walking, dropping into shops, and trying out new restaurants. I saved a ton of money, and all of my mornings were clear-headed. Drinking isn’t everything. Even when traveling. ESPECIALLY when traveling.

Once I got on a roll of not drinking, it was just as easy and natural-feeling as drinking… but without the negative side effects.

I don’t think my urge to drink is triggered by a place (like San Juan del Sur, for example, but it could just as easily have been Las Vegas or Bangkok or Grand Rapids, MI or anywhere else), but rather by the ease of availability, the comfort of habit, and most importantly: negative emotions popping up and pushing me towards numbness.

Whiskey at Distillery drink
it’s a lot more comfortable for me to pop back a few of these than to actually deal with my discomfort in the moment

If I could bypass some of the best happy hour deals in the world, skip Sunday Funday, and successfully return home without having consumed a drop of alcohol in Nicaragua, I knew I could do it everywhere. Anywhere.

The question is just this: will I?

It’s going to be a constant struggle for me to maintain a healthy relationship to alcohol, to not over-imbibe. I realize that. I enjoy alcohol, I do appreciate the escape and flavor and the fun of happy hour with girlfriends. But I’m trying to find the balance where I don’t feel like I “need” it, or have intense vomit-inducing hangovers, or say and do things I regret.

Like pretty much everything else in life, it’s all about finding a balance.

Interested in exploring your relationship to alcohol and society’s hand in pushing you towards it? I HIGHLY recommend reading “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace.

What’s your relationship with alcohol like?


A short vacation in Thailand turned into a life abroad with a canceled ticket home. Nearly a decade later and after living in Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, Puebla, and Puerto Vallarta, Steph is on to her next adventure and living back in beautiful, cosmopolitan Mexico City. She is living, traveling, and working (both as an expat therapist and an international health insurance representative) around the world to find the beautiful, inspirational, and interesting while sharing it with you!

Find me on: Web | Instagram | Facebook


  1. May 1, 2018 / 2:21 am

    Hi Steph, thanks for sharing your story. I think it’s one many of us can relate to.
    I love wine — developed an appreciation for it shortly after moving to France, meeting winemakers and seeing their passion — but for a few months over the winter, wine became a Friday night habit of mine out of comfort. It was wine time and I’d find myself popping open a bottle out of routine before sitting down in front of my computer. Yes, I like it, but did I need wine or could a hot cup of tea have filled the same need for me?
    It’s because I like wine so much that I decided to swap Friday night wine at home with tea and save wine for special occasions or only when out. I want wine to stay special for me, a treat, and not something I consume out of routine every weekend. It’s a deliberate choice to stray from my routine but I know it’s for the best. 😉 Sending you support from afar….

    • Steph
      May 9, 2018 / 11:00 am

      Hi Diane!! Thank you so much for sharing!! I have been replacing my nightly wine with tea… and I honestly do NOT miss it, especially the feeling in the morning. I also want wine to be something special and not just a part of my routine.

  2. Bel
    May 1, 2018 / 7:02 pm

    Nice work Steph. I’ve only had one drink since Ruda was born. I don’t miss it. I do like a Happy Hour though when I’m on holidays and away from my normal life 🙂

    • Steph
      May 9, 2018 / 11:02 am

      Wow that’s awesome, Bel!! I’m guessing I will definitely be having a happy hour cocktail when I’m on vaca next, but I do want to consume less then, too. I have too many holiday mornings ruined by hangover feelings in my past haha

  3. carla boe
    May 12, 2018 / 6:16 pm

    I truly appreciate your honesty! It’s not an easy topic to talk abut. I have read the Naked Mind… I am still working on the balancing act!

  4. LB
    April 5, 2019 / 3:51 pm

    Good for you! One day at a time and you will feel so much better. I can speak for 7 years of sobriety experience.

    • Steph
      April 6, 2019 / 8:15 pm

      Congratulations on 7 years!

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