When I was 16, I fell in love with National Geographic Magazine. I fell in love with the colours, the places, the history – all the wonder that a 150 paged, A5 glossy magazine could give me. One night after reading an issue and while running on an inspiration high, I began to write a few lists: books to read, local places to see, people to catch up with and countries to visit. On my list of countries to visit I wrote the following:
This year in August, I had the great pleasure and satisfaction of ticking number three off my list – Vietnam. It took six years to accomplish the dream of travelling to Vietnam and despite the prolonged years, I believe that when I went, I went in a ripe season in my life.
My plane tickets were booked at 2am in July on a work night after weeks of what felt like mundane routine – I felt like I needed to get out, explore and throw my routine upside down. To be frank, my work days had become an absolute chore. Every morning I woke up moaning an audible ‘bleh’ kind of noise – the day hadn’t even begun and I was already defeated.
And so in mid-June of this year, my brother, great friend and I were on a plane making our way to Ho Chi Minh City with only one 10 kg backpack each. We had no idea what to expect and had absolutely zero plans of where to go the moment we arrived in Vietnam. And that was basically the structure of how we did the whole trip – we hopped from city to city with no plans, bunked in hostels, slept in hotels, jumped on overnight trains, rode bicycles, slept on boats and went through city after city.
On the eighth night we were so physically and mentally exhausted that just the thought of having to find a place to stay for that night was too much to bear, so we used our backpacks as pillows and slept on the outside of the airport. I understand that for some, this lack of organisation and routine would be hair pulling stress, but it opened my eyes to the thrill of mystery and excitement. And I had to remind myself that routine was what I was having a break from.
During the ten day experience, we encountered predicaments that I can laugh at now, but when they were happening it felt like they were costing my sanity – I got food poisoning twice (from being stubborn and testing my limits), all of our money from our one bank account was stolen due to travellex fraud, one of our friends passport was taken (later returned at a monetary cost), I was bitten by a monkey which triggered a rabies scare. And there were just so many unbelievable things happening all around us that really made us appreciate home.
While overseas I brought my iPhone with me, although it was not connected to the service provider. This turned out to be one of the greatest lessons I brought back home: becoming connected through disconnection. Having limited access to the internet left my mind unoccupied; I didn’t realise how subconsciously I would check Facebook or Instagram and on such an unnecessary basis. Without the distraction of social media, I found that I didn’t constantly have my head down scrolling through various social media feeds, but instead Vietnam had my utmost attention. Every experience, both positive and negative, was done with 100% of my courtesy.
I am all for social media, the internet and all the amazing connectivity it can build. In fact, while in Vietnam I met with my friend Julia from Paris. We had connected on Instagram – she found my account through the hashtag ‘vscocam’, liked a few of my photos and we started following each other, only to discover a shared mutual love of art and travel. Through conversation we realised we would be in Vietnam for a holiday during the same dates, and became determined to meet each other.
On day four we met for dinner, drank coconut juice on the beach of Nha Trang and couldn’t stop laughing at the chances of us meeting in a country that was foreign to both of us. We are now great friends looking to plan a trip to Italy together one day.
Traveling has opened my mind; it has taught me the comfort of home and to never take it for granted.
Traveling has opened up a hunger in me to see the world and more so a hunger in wanting to share it with others that don’t have the privilege or ability to.
Six years after writing those lists I can proudly say that I’ve ticked three countries off, but since then have also added another few – and that is what this whole journey is about: adding to my dream and living it out with passion and freedom.
– image credits: Abegail Mazo