How To Chang (Drink Alcohol In A Foreign Land)

Booze – it’s a thing!

I’m not gonna preach to you about the evils of drinking alcohol.

This post isn’t here to hold your hand and tell you to take it easy. When you’re travelling, chances are you’re  going to have ample opportunities to indulge in the world’s favourite social lubricant.

I’m here to tell you how to make the most of it.

Street cocktails
Mojitos Ahoy!

Let’s make good times abound!

I’ve had alcohol-related fun in huge range of places. Beach clubs. Penthouse balconies. Private villas overlooking mountain ranges. Hammocks in bamboo huts. Dirt-floored nightclubs. On the curb outside a convenience store at 3am. Sitting in the middle of a field during a full moon. On the floor of a hostel because chairs are bullshit.

Everywhere I’ve been, there’s a drinking culture. Or we’ve made our own. Chang’d it up, as it were.

I’ve found a good way to booze everywhere I’ve been.

Mojito bucket Koh Samui Thailand
Buckets of fun in Koh Samui

And you can too.

But trust me, you don’t want to let a good time turn sour. At best, you’ll kill off the fun vibes. At worst… well, we’ve all heard the horror stories. Three-day chang-overs are just the tip of the iceberg.

And yet, there can be a stigma associated with being a “careful” drinker. Have you experienced that phenomenon? People act like you’re not drinking fast enough/the right thing/for long enough. And somehow that means you’re letting the team down.

First up, peer pressure is bullshit. And you don’t have to put up with it. You’re way too important to endanger your time abroad because some boozer thinks you’re not consuming enough ethanol. If someone is pressuring you or someone else to drink outside their comfort zone, I give you permission to tell them to go fist themselves.

One choice is to cease drinking altogether. That’s a great choice. Some people choose to avoid alcohol while travelling to save money, or lessen the impact of travel on their health. Others don’t like the taste, while still others make the choice based on their faith. Everyone I’ve met traveling has respected this choice, whatever the driver.

Me? I want to find a middle ground.

Why drinking safely matters

Wine Glass Maraschino Cherry Martini
Is this the worst martini in the world?

And how to do it without being a dick.

Done right, a boozy night out can make for excellent memories, new friends and even open new opportunities .

Done wrong, and a boozy night out can turn bad. Fast.

Most of the points here are obvious. But when travelling slow, there are a few other ramifications you need to be aware of.

These include:

  • Time. I’m not switching hostels every three days. And I plan on being in the same place longer than most other travellers. What drunk-me does tonight will affect what sober me does tomorrow.
  • Money. It’s fun to blow a heap of cash in one hit. But after putting the effort into finding a place I want to stay, spending all my hard-earned funds in one night can seriously limit my options later on.
  • Reputation. My extended stay lets me forge relationships with those around me. And what I do will impact on their impression of me. And both the locals and my fellow travellers will remember. If I’m nice and courteous, I’ll get smiles and lowered prices. If I’m a right dick, chances are I’ll find myself excluded from the community – or worst case, evicted from my dwelling and deported.

So without further ado, here are the dos and don’ts for drinking when travelling slow.

The dos and don’ts of drinking abroad


  • set a budget – blowing all your money at once is a great way to make yourself unwelcome in the local community. No money = no value to them as a guest or visitor. And they’re not likely to accept your IOU.


  • take all of your ID, cash or credit cards with you – just take enough for a good time. When drinking, you don’t want your good time to result in a loss of funds. Or your means of egress from the country.
Tuak Palm Wine Malaysia
Tuak – palm wine that kicks like a shotgun.


  • try the local specialties – from the well-respected vendors. You never know when you might find your next big sensation/story.


  • buy hooch from the guy on the corner – it might be great stuff, but from experience, the best outcome is that I’ve had the worlds worst chang-over. Worst case, you end up like a friend of mine – she suffered acute kidney failure and had to get airlifted home.


  • go places with people you know – or failing that, tell the staff at your hostel. If you are in trouble, then people know where to send help. Conversely, if you’re fine, you avoid having panicked friends and relatives mounting a full-blown search and rescue when you’re just sleeping it off under a palm tree.


  • accept drinks from people you don’t know or trust – drink spiking is a shitty practice. And shitty people don’t carry a sign with them that says “hey I’m a shitty person don’t trust me”. Although that would make life simpler. So, feel free to refuse drinks. If that hurts someones feelings, they can go fist themselves. Your health matters more than their sore pride.


  • keep an eye out for specials – many places offer nightly deals to get the crowds in. Others may offer free entry, meals or complimentary service for foreign passports. These offers can be good value. They also attract a fair few tourists, making the venues involved great places to meet fellow travellers.


  • limit yourself to the top three venues on TripAdvisor – talk to fellow travellers and your local friends about their favourite places. Chances are that you’ll find more cool places than the internet will ever know about.


  • know where you’re going/how you’ll get back – I had a friend end up on the other side of a city after a night out. He turned up the following afternoon. Ripped shirt. Sunburned on one side of his face. And missing a shoe. He spent all of his weekly food budget getting back, and had to eat instant noodles for the remaining six days.


  • drive (or ride) drunk – I met a person who ended their friends’ trip early. They made the decision to drive home. They killed a local on their scooter. The friends were then escorted out of the country by the military.


  • look after your mates – new and old. If you see someone in obvious trouble, be the better person and help them out. That is, if it’s safe to do so.


  • start fights, or get involved in altercations – there are serious implications for this. Emergency services aren’t always readily available. Local authorities aren’t always understanding. And communications may be difficult – more so if you’re three sheets to the wind. You may be in the right, but you can still get kicked out or locked up or shot. If in doubt, pull your head in.


  • learn how to say cheers in  the local language – this can get you some serious cred in the travelling community.


  • be disrespectful of the local culture – or condone that behaviour. Travellers are guests in their host country. Even when travelling slow and establishing a local presence – you’re a guest. Act like one.



  • be a burden on those around you – if you’re like me, then you resent babysitting someone who’s put themselves through the wringer. If someone genuinely needs help, people are usually quick to offer assistance. If their predicament is self-inflicted, (such as being unable to stand up due to booziness) they’re more likely to leave the victim to their fate.


  • sleep with the bartender – or anyone else you fancy! If you like someone and they like you, then go for it. Please understand – this is hella common. Some people go travelling specifically to get them some strange. They can result in anything from a long-term commitment to a one-night stand. And that’s both okay and good!


The wrap up.

Doesn’t matter if you’re there for a good time or a long time – exercise respect. When your drinking overseas, use common sense before you start. Put your limits in place and stick to them. Make sure you look after yourself. And if you see others struggling, help them out if it’s safe to do so.

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