Summer Recovery Tips: Packing the Beach Cooler

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Summer is here.

That means you’ll have plenty of chances to spend a Saturday or Sunday at the beach. And if there’s not a beach nearby, then your go-to picnic/chillax/summer recreation spot might be a lake, a river, a quiet, shady public park, or a swimming pool. When you’re new to sobriety, it’s important to learn how to spend your time away from work – or whatever keeps you busy – doing simple, wholesome things.

Like taking day trips to your spot of choice.

Funny thing, though – many people in recovery realize that at some point along the way, during active addiction, they lost their ability to plan the most basic activities, such as a simple picnic. And they may also have forgotten how to do some of the tasks that accompany those activities, such as pack a picnic basket.

Okay, that may sound like an exaggeration, so we’ll explain.

If you started drinking or using substances early in life – like your teenage years, for example – you may never have learned to plan a day trip or pack a cooler. You were drunk, high, and along for the ride, so you never had to. Everyone else did it for you. And if your alcohol or substance problems began later, you may have those little skills back in your memory, somewhere – but sometimes the fog of addiction can make your memories elusive and hard to access.

That’s why we’re writing this post: to either teach you something new, or jog your memory about something you know how to do, but you need a quick refresher.

The Cooler(s) Should Be Cool

Just to complicate things, we’ll start off by saying that in the best of all possible worlds, you need two coolers: one for drinks and one for food. And both need to be kept cool, if not cold. The drink cooler should be packed with as much ice as you can fit and still have room for your drinks. The food cooler should have hard or gel cool packs you can get from any grocery store. Also, in lieu of a food cooler, an insulated grocery/food bag works perfectly. An insulated bag can actually act as a stand-in for a cooler, but they’re not to be filled with loose ice.

What to Pack

This really depends on how long you’re going to stay, but for the sake of argument, let’s say around four hours. Which means you’ll need plenty to eat and drink but you won’t necessarily need to pack a full meal.

Let’s start with the food. Remember: we’re keeping it healthy. No junk food, no candy, nothing heavy on processed sugar, chemical sweeteners, added flavorings, or food dyes. And yes – avoid high-fructose corn syrup, which is used to sweeten more processed foods than you probably realize.

Snacks to Bring (Easy)

  • Granola bars
  • Jerky
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fruit bars
  • Nuts/nut mixes
  • Seeds (i.e. sunflower or pumpkin)

Snacks to Bring (that take a little more effort)

  • Cheese
    • Regular: cheddar, swiss, American
    • Funky: Brie, Camembert, Blue, or for the adventurous, Gruyere.
  • Deli meats
    • Hard sausage
    • Turkey
    • Ham
  • Breads
    • Sandwich bread
    • Rolls
    • Scones
  • Fancy Extras
    • Olives
    • Pickles
    • Peppers

That second list is for the ambitious among you. The first, easy list, is really all you need to keep yourself grazing in a happy healthy way all day.

Next up, the drinks.

Drinks to Bring

  • Water
    • Consider bringing water in your own bottles, in order to reduce plastic waste.
  • Iced Tea
    • Green tea
    • English tea
  • Juice
    • Look for juices that are not made from concentrate and do not contain high-fructose corn syrup
  • Seltzer (plain and flavored)
    • La Croix
    • Polar
    • Perrier
    • San Pellegrino
    • Spindrift
  • Sodas (that aren’t too sugary)
    • DRY
    • Blue Sky
    • Fever Tree

One last thing to remember. Okay, two last things. Bring napkins, wet wipes, and hand sanitizer. Also, bring a garbage bag: pack it in, pack it out – you can’t always count on there being adequate garbage cans or places to throw away your stuff.

Why Go to the Beach?

In this post, we recommend you go to the beach. Or the park, lake, river, or pool. But here’s the thing: in this post, the beach – and the lake, park, river, and pool – are really metaphors for healthy, sober, summer activities. Likewise, the cooler packing lists are metaphors for your process of returning to the balance, responsibility, and sense of normalcy you may have lost – or maybe never had – while you were in active addiction. You may remember planning all your days around when you were going to drink or do drugs. It took a lot of energy, and in the end, it took more than energy: it took you. It took you away from the simple joys of life that sustain us all. The pleasure of a warm summer day, the beauty of nature, and the companionship of good friends and family were most likely secondary to maintaining your addiction.

Now is the time for you to get back to basics.

Like picnics at the beach.

We’ve offered a template – now it’s up to you to make it your own.


The materials provided on the Pinnacle Blog are for information and educational purposes only. No behavioral health or any other professional services are provided through the Blog and the information obtained through the Blog is not a substitute for consultation with a qualified health professional. If you are in need of medical or behavioral health treatment, please contact a qualified health professional directly, and if you are in need of emergency help, please go to your nearest emergency room or dial 911.