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How to Vacation Without Being a Hungover Mess the Whole Time

Travel experts tell us how to eat, drink and even breathe better to make sure you can spend your trip as drunk as possible

More often than not, I find that my vacations quickly turn into weeklong booze fests. Basically, one late night leads to a day of sippin’ local beers, which leads to another late night, which leads to another afternoon of beer-drinking, which leads to a vicious cycle that continues for days, or until I suddenly can’t wait to get home to detox, have a nice sober sleep and not touch alcohol for two weeks.

This is particularly on my mind lately because I’ll be traveling to Spain for my honeymoon in a few months, and the anxiety I have about being rendered useless from overindulging in Spanish wine is already tangible. I want to relax and see the sights, but I also want to drink and have fun. To figure out how to better balance the two — something that’s escaped me on nearly every other trip I’ve taken as an adult — I reached out to some travel experts to see what they do when they find themselves hungover as hell, but not wanting to waste a day of vacation restlessly pounding Pedialyte and aspirin in bed.

Start Eating — and Never Stop

“When I’ve been hungover on vacation, I use it as an excuse to try some local greasy food,” says Becca Siegel, the woman behind the travel and photo site Half Half Travel. “In Prague, it was grilled kielbasa. In Vietnam, it was a bowl of nourishing pho ga (chicken noodle soup). In China and Taiwan, it was tomato-fried egg over rice, which is filling, sweet and full of protein. And in Mexico City, it was any type of taco (or three), which I’d pick up on the street or sit down for in a local taco joint, choosing to sweat over some salsa picante.”  

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Reach for an O’Douls

“One way you can lessen your hangovers on vacation without feeling like you’re depriving yourself is to order one non-alcoholic yet fun drink after every alcoholic drink you order,” says life coach Stacy Caprio. It’s a great way to cut the amount of alcohol you imbibe in half, she explains, while still experiencing the culture. Even if it’s essentially a mocktail you could get at home, you’re at least “drinking a smaller amount of alcohol than you would have otherwise.”

Don’t Stay Up After Midnight

“From what I’ve seen across dozens of countries, there’s not much that happens past midnight that’s unique to any certain place,” says Patrick Gallagher, founder of the travel app LGND. “So I always plan my vacation activities earlier, including anything involving drinking. That means spending my afternoons and early evenings seeing the sights and indulging in local beers, having dinner to soak it all up and then drinking an excessive amount of water. If I end up being hungover, it’s likely when I’m already asleep or close to it.”

Breathe Deeply

Strap in for this one. “My partner Kaitlyn and I were travelling Vietnam,” says James, from the travel and lifestyle blog DopeHome. “We’re big foodies, but we also enjoy a big drink from time to time. So we make our way onto one of the strips with all the food vendors parked up on the side of the road, and start cracking open beers and sampling the local cuisine. After dinner, we have a couple shots of spirits because apparently it kills any bacteria that might give you food poisoning, but probably just because we wanted shots. As the night goes on, the street starts to thin out, and finally, there are just two sets of patrons at the restaurant: Us and two other Americans. We start drinking and chatting — and drinking and chatting, and drinking and chatting. It’s approaching the end of the night when they propose that we go back to their place for more drinking. Naturally, we obliged.”  

“What transcended was a terrifying manifestation of inebriation,” James continues. “I spent most of the rest of the night retching and woke the next morning with a greatly magnified hangover. Any body movement or vision of light caused a recoil of pain. I’d even burst blood vessels under my eyes from the heavy puking. It was a new low for me.”  

After attempting to drink water only to throw it back up, James remembered the Wim Hof method — a type of breathing technique. “I realized that nothing could make my current condition worse and decided to give it a go,” he says. “The thought is that inflammatory proteins called cytokines are likely a cause of major hangover symptoms, and the Wim Hof Method has been scientifically proven to reduce inflammatory proteins as well as cause an immune response and epinephrine release.”

“By all accounts, my attempt was very sloppy,” James continues. “I didn’t do the full 30 cycles one is meant to do, rather going in rounds of 10, but the improvements were really there. The tiredness and headache were masked by the increase in adrenaline in my system. I still felt a bit sick in the stomach, but I was able to venture out onto the street, collect some food and water and tentatively consider going out on the town again later.”

Become a (Long-Term) Hedonist

“The psychologist Albert Ellis believed in something called ‘long-term hedonism,’” says Neil Walsh, a travel expert and addiction specialist. “It’s basically the philosophy to have fun for the rest of your life by knowing your points of moderation. It doesn’t tell you to stop drinking or stop doing drugs. It just says, ‘Where’s that point for you? And what can you do to stay behind it?’ It’s a great approach to not just vacation, but life in general.”

Walsh runs a travel website that specializes in sending people to Japan, including matsuri, or festivals that typically involve a lot of “ritualistic drinking” and Japanese tradition. “For example, you might participate in carrying what’s basically a float, and every 10 minutes, you have a shot of sake. After a few hours, you’ll get very, very drunk, and along with the endorphins that are being released from the pain that comes from carrying the float, you’ll get a very real high.”

“So know your line, and pull back from it — at least one drink less than your limit,” Walsh advises.

He speaks from experience as it’s how he keeps hangovers from turning debilitating, especially when he’s in Paris. “I go to Paris all the time because I love the clubs. I love eating at night. I love the fact that bars are open ‘til every hour. But I also want to see the museums the next day,” he says. “So you party a little bit less, without sacrificing too much. If I can get up early enough to beat the crowds at The Louvre — and see Mona Lisa when no one else is there — I’ve succeeded. And that’s what keeps me from having another drink.”

Just Bite the Bullet and Plan a Hangover Day

“Sometimes there’s absolutely no cure other than a day in bed,” says Nikki, of the travel-hack website Brit on the Move. “It’s often a part of our overall vacation!”

Case in point, a trip she took to Scandinavia last year with some friends: “We knew that once the rest of the gang landed, we’d be getting trashed, but we also had early flights to northern Finland the next day. And so, we planned accordingly: We stayed up all night to avoid a hangover. After the flight, we spent the next day napping in a fabulous cabin in the middle of nowhere. This was all by design, as we had nothing scheduled for that day.”

“Last year in Cuba,” Nikki adds, “we planned to have one massive blowout. We knew it was going to be a long night and made sure not to schedule anything for the next day. In fact, we spent the following day in bed watching Netflix and recharging! Honestly, it was just as relaxing as anything else and something we don’t get to do at home.”

Overall, it’s become travel dogma for her. “If we go out on a major night out, the sauna or a day in bed is the only way to go.”

As for my honeymoon, perhaps the first test of our marriage will be convincing my wife that actual travel experts recommended burrowing ourselves in our hotel room eating Spanish delicacies all day after a long night out.