Without the distraction of alcohol, a globetrotter discovers travel’s power to transform.
California native and former Marine Carlos Grider is a 37-year-old travel blogger and fitness expert currently based in the “hipster haven” of Canggu, Bali, where he surfs every day. Grider has been documenting his four-year journey as a solo— and often sober—traveler on A Brother Abroad.
This interview – as told to Ashante Infantry – has been edited for clarity.
In 2017, I bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. I wanted to hit some items on my bucket list and go to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a monastery outside Chiang Mai, to do silent meditation for a week and see if it helped resolve the issues I was having. I’d been laid off from my job, I was going through some issues with a relationship and family, and I realized that there was some latent PTSD that I hadn’t paid attention to.
When I came out of the monastery, there was a crispness to my vision and my thought, in large part due to the time I’d spent in silence. But I also realized that there wasn’t that extra “influence” on top. I wasn’t pouring alcohol on top of social situations at the end of the night to make them smooth. There was no point where I said, “I’m a sober traveler, I’m never going to drink again.” I like a glass of wine. I have a few beers that I like. At the same time, my intentions with alcohol have changed.
I joined the Marines when I was 18, just after the twin towers fell, and I worked in some capacity in the government until 2012. In that period, I deployed to the Middle East six times. I didn’t realize at the time how heavy the drinking culture was. We’re all supposed to be hyper-aggressive, super-masculine, testosterone-filled males who don’t talk about our feelings. So telling my buddy “Hey, man, there was a time that I nearly got hit by mortar and almost died, it got to me”—you can’t say that. But what you can do is have a beer and say, “I love you, man.”
There’s something about watching summer roll into fall that gets us thinking about change in our own lives and beyond. So to honor this time of year, we partnered with guest editors Heather Greenwood Davis and Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon to bring you this collection of stories about transformation of all types—big, small, and everything in between.
After the monastery, I went to Vietnam to ride the Ho Chi Minh trail. A buddy from the States met up with me and we rode all the way up to the Chinese border and then down into Laos. But he was drinking heavily, and I was focused on adventure. My days were filled with exploring and my evenings were filled with reading and learning. If we got going late because he was a little hungover I’d think, “Well, we’re going to be an hour late at the next place, and that’s one less thing I can see.”
About a third of the way into the 2000-mile journey, he ended up leaving because he physically couldn’t keep up; the drinking was holding him back. He was a fellow veteran, so he was probably dealing with some of the same issues I was, but we didn’t talk about them. Seeing the repercussions directly related to drinking—how they affected us and me—definitely changed me. I finished the trail on my own and rode down into Cambodia. I left my bike there and continued on to Myanmar and then Nepal, where I hiked to Everest Base Camp—another bucket-list goal.
I think it normally takes between 12 and 14 days, and I made it a goal to do it in seven. That meant I’d be putting myself at risk, and alcohol was absolutely a no-no because it masks the symptoms of altitude sickness and can lead to brain swelling or fluid filling your lungs. But I didn’t even care about drinking alcohol; I didn’t want it.
Over the course of my travels, whenever I went into a big city like Bangkok or Buenos Aires or Lisbon, one of the first things I would do is go to my hostel and ask “Hey, what time does the pub crawl start?” It’s a quick and easy way to make friends; pull out the beer and all of a sudden everybody loves you! Now, I just go in and say “Hey, how are you doing? Where are you from? Tell me about your last adventure.” And people are usually just as willing to share, even when they’re not going to have a beer.