Trying to sleep in a train full of cockroaches and smelly socks.
Being yelled by dozens of taxi drivers at 9 in the evening, each one trying to scam you.
Desperately trying to communicate with people who don’t speak or understand the languages you speak.
Getting breakfast of fresh baguette from the local eatery.
Given a surprise meal to take with you from your Airbnb host.
The stories above are all from my trip to Vietnam with my sister two years ago. I was super excited at that time, because it’s my first time going somewhere without my parents’ supervision, it’s a place I’ve never been to before, and we had a pretty optimistic plan. Our plan was to go from the north of the country to the south in 10 days, by using only trains. Prior to going, I wrote two posts on Medium, this one and this one. The anticipation was overwhelming.
After that one trip, I traveled quite a lot. At least once every six months, I would be somewhere other than my home, sometimes staying for a month, sometimes only a few days. I was still a freelancer, so it’s not that challenging to get my work done wherever I went, as long as there’s an Internet connection.
You can imagine how desperate I get now, that I can’t travel anymore.
But I get to reflect on some of my experiences. Here’s what I found.
You can travel if you prioritize it
The Vietnam trip happened when I was still a broke fresh graduate. I budgeted some of my income for traveling, and I still do now. If it’s something that makes you happy, start saving for it. Then book your flights and accommodation according to your budget. Whether you’re staying at a 5-star hotel or a capsule hostel, it doesn’t matter. The whole experience will still be something that you treasure your whole life.
It’s nice to be spoiled, sometimes
I know I just said the opposing statement, but it’s important to know your limit, the level of inconvenience that you can handle. I learned it the hard way when I was staying in Bangkok for a month. If you need to sleep in a nice hotel, then book the cheapest nice hotel that you can find. If you eat cheap all the time, consider treating yourself to something nice and pricey. You’re traveling to reward yourself, after all.
Experience > destinations
In 2015, my family and I went on a Hong Kong, Macau, and Shenzhen tour. We were staying at 4-star hotels every night, we had a tour bus taking us everywhere, and we had our breakfast, lunch, and dinner arranged every single day. It was great, but it’s almost too convenient. I didn’t feel like I was traveling.
It felt like a school trip.
There’s always that random kindness
There’s always this fear every time I’m going somewhere new. But I always believe that everywhere you go, there will always be kind people who’re willing to help you out.
Remember the ‘yelled by taxi drivers’ story that I used to open this piece? It’s 8 or 9 in the evening at a small coastal city, we just got off from that cockroach-filled train, luggage in our hands, and all those yelling taxi drivers were offering us overpriced fare.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a pregnant lady with a walkie-talkie in her hand approached us. She didn’t speak much English, only enough for us to know that she’s trying to get us a taxi. So we followed her to another part of the station. We’re so relieved when the taxi picked us up and charged us a reasonable price.
Since traveling is not something that you do every day (unless you’re a travel blogger, then I want your job!), it’s only natural that you will encounter things you never encountered before. You’ll be forced to solve problems in front of you, sometimes in no time, or else you wouldn’t be able to return home.
In my case, on that Vietnam trip, I had to use Google Translate many times only to communicate simple things, like where you’d want to go. How I described the experience in my Medium post:
The driver couldn’t speak English, so we had to use Google Translate to communicate. (We didn’t know then, it’s REALLY hard to find Vietnamese that can speak English 😢)
Can’t wait to travel again
Traveling is something that I really love doing. I enjoy every bit of it, from planning to returning back home. It’s stretching myself, forcing me to learn new things every single time.
Now that we all can’t travel, I realize that it’s also something that I’ve been taking for granted.
I wonder how that first trip after all of this would feel like.