Traveling Sober

7 minute read

Traveling Sober

In July 2017 I had an experience that changed my life and how I view what I put in my body. I had a treatment of Kambo–a traditional South American medicine used by the indigenous tribes in the Amazon Jungle of Peru and Brazil. The medicine is made from the secretion of a large tree frog with no natural predators and is gathered with very little stress to the animal and generally harvested ethically and sustainably. As with most native peoples, they treat the frogs with respect and release it back into the wild in the exact spot they found it.

Now you might be thinking, “Oh man, this guy is going around licking frogs and getting high”, but I can assure you it is not the psychedelic experience you get from the Colorado River Toad (which secretes 5-MeO-DMT through glands on its skin). Kambo is legal, non-psychoactive, and doesn’t take you on a “trip.” Quite the opposite, actually. It’s a painful and purgative medicine (it makes you vomit). The experience lasts 30-45 minutes and after it’s over you feel like you’re walking on a cloud for weeks (yes, WEEKS!)

Kambo is traditionally used to treat depression, migraines, chronic pain, and addiction. Western scientists are currently studying this frog poison and working on developing medications based on discovered cancer and Alzheimers fighting properties. Most people in Western culture aren’t interested in a painful vomiting experience… they just want to take a pill.

But I don’t want Kambo to be the focus of this post. The effects of Kambo have really changed my life, including the biggest change:

I stopped drinking alcohol

You read that right. I no longer consider alcohol to be something I want to put in my body. Alcohol was never a problem in my life, but I’d consume 2-4 beers a night, 4-5 nights a week. I have come to view alcohol as a poison… something detrimental to my life (and as I’ve observed: to the lives of many of my friends as well). There was a steady gradual decline in my drinking over about 2 weeks after my first Kambo experience.

I’m definitely not here to tell you that you shouldn’t drink. This is a personal decision I’ve made at this point in my life and I believe personal decisions (much like politics, religion, and spirituality) shouldn’t be pushed on others but talked about from an individuals’ perspective and let the listener make up their own mind.

I also don’t believe in absolutes. I value experiences in life and want to be exposed to as many things as I can. This includes food and drink. So if I’m out with friends and they’re ordering something I’ve never tried, I’ll ask for a sip. Similarly, if I’m traveling (when am I not traveling?) and there’s a regional specialty I’ll see if I can get a small sample from the waiter. However, I’d never never order a full glass for myself. I’m not an AA advocate, but I realize that many people need that support system and can’t ever let alcohol touch their lips or they spiral back into drinking again. That’s not me.

Holding a Phyllomedusa Bicolor frog

Being drunk and being around drunk people is simply not fun for me anymore.

This can present some challenges when traveling and being the social person that I am. I want to engage with other travelers at hostels, go out with my friends, or hang around the bonfire at skydiving events. But it seems that all these activities revolve around consuming alcohol.

While I appreciate the gesture in someone offering me a beer, when I decline I get mixed responses that range from “Oh, OK. Want some water or a coke?” to “I’m sorry, your life must not be any fun” and “Oh come on, you can have one drink. Live a little!’’ Since I’ve made a conscious decision to stop drinking about 10 months ago, I’ve experienced more peer pressure than all of middle and high school combined! Saying “no” to people like that is a simple matter of knowing who you are, what you want in life, and what you’re willing to do to get it.

I’ve learned a lot over the past few years and one of the major perspective shifts I’ve had from traveling and experiencing so many different cultures is that there’s a million different ways to live life. One way of living isn’t inherently better or worse than another (with the exception of radical fundamentalist religion).

Some people like to take short breaks from drinking. It’s a great way to detoxify your body and save your liver from long term damage. So if you’d like to give it a try, let me tell you why I think traveling is the best time to experiment with abstaining from alcohol.


Hangovers are the worst. I hate having plans to go see or do some cool thing in the morning only to stay up too late drinking and have a hangover the next day. I enjoy experiencing new sights with a clear head and energetic body.

Generally, this causes me to retire for the evening earlier than everyone else and I’m OK with that. Peer pressure is real but I have an iron will and can resist even the most belligerent of drinkers.


Drinking is expensive! Even more so when you go out to a restaurant or bar. Have you ever added up how much you spend a month on alcohol? For me it was a significant portion of my food budget (I’ve been enjoying the more expensive craft beers for more than a decade) so cutting it out has made my wallet thicker. Not buying that $7 craft beer with dinner (plus tip!) gives me the opportunity to put that money towards something I feel is more beneficial in my life.

Drinking while traveling can be even more expensive than at home since you probably won’t know where the cheapest bar in town is. I spend a lot of time in Norway and Switzerland where alcohol can be extremely pricey.

Maybe you’re traveling to a country without high standards of water quality… you’ll think, “drinking beer is safer than water!” You could just invest less than $100 in a SteriPen and not worry about the water ever again. I used one of these for 10 days in Panama and 3 weeks in Peru. I didn’t have a drop of alcohol and never got sick from SteriPen sterilized water.


I don’t need a beer in my hand to have fun with everyone else. Though in social situations, having something to hold onto can ease some of my social anxiety-especially when mingling with new people. So I typically order an Arnold Palmer from the bar. It’s 1/3 the price of an alcoholic drink and most people won’t even realize It’s not a beer since they generally put it in the same type of glass. It also givers me something to do with my hands and to “cheers” with.

For those not in the know, the Arnold Palmer is a drink popularized by its namesake, a famous golfer. Traditionally, it’s 2/3 iced tea and 1/3 lemonade but I prefer the 50/50 mixes.

Long term health

“Too much of a good thing is a bad thing”

I believe balance in life is critical to longevity and a positive outlook on life. I can’t imagine working at the same place, eating at the same restaurant, or eating the same foods for 40 years. Humans evolved as hunter/gatherers moving from place to place so our bodies are used to changing diets over time… eating what’s fresh, in season, and abundantly available.

I was meditating a few months ago and started to contemplate the silly thing parents sometimes say to their kids:

“You are what you eat!”

I think they say it in an attempt to get the kids to realize that they need to eat healthy, but I always wound up saying, “I don’t want to be broccoli!”

I realized that this statement has a lot of truth to it! The things we put in our bodies quite literally become us. The proteins, sugars and carbohydrates that make up the food we eat are transformed into energy and form new cells and keep our bodies running. We literally transform food into who we are! Studies have shown that our diet can even impact our mental health. It makes total sense because I don’t think our brains are meant to run on Twinkies, Doritos, and alcohol.

I can’t claim to be the healthiest eater out there, but I’m trying. I don’t want to make things worse by ingesting something I don’t think will benefit the way my body works over the long run.

Life is a beautiful ever-changing tapestry. The way we understand the world changes from new experiences, people we meet, lovers gained & lost, heartbreak & triumph… I don’t know if this will be a permanent change in my thinking, but I sure hope so.

Since my initial Kambo experience, I’ve done it 4 more times, both in the United States and in Peru. Please reach out to me if you’d like to talk about it!

Mark Rickert is a skydiver, wingsuit flyer, BASE jumper, and world traveler


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