I don’t know where to start, so I’ll just dive right into it. Being in Vietnam was wild and I’m not even quite sure what happened, as I’m feeling a bit whiplashed, jet lagged, and in disbelief that I got to go there at all. I know I ate a lot of noodles. I know I loved the coffee with condensed milk. I know it was 96 degrees and humid most days and that I was chugging bottles of water in 10 seconds flat because of it. I popped motion sickness pills like they were mints. I was fully embraced by every person I met — even as an American! Sometimes traffic lights are just a suggestion. There is no limit to what you can strap onto a motorbike. There was a massive language barrier, but we all made it work…most of the time. Pig ear doesn’t taste bad, but it doesn’t taste good either. I met a guy who wouldn’t eat banh mi because he couldn’t decipher exactly what meats were in it, and that to me is not a life well lived. I loved the north more than the south (although my knowledge of the south is unfairly limited to Satan’s gate, Ho Chi Minh). The lower the plastic stool the better the food. My preferred mode of transportation is now a scooter. I missed my therapist, Heather. I came home more in love with people I already loved so much. If I don’t eat bun cha soon I’m going to have a meltdown.
To coherently link my thoughts together so they flow nicely is to tackle a feat I am not quite ready to tackle, so I’ll divide the lessons I took with me through Vietnam into bullet points. I’m also not going to discuss the obvious: that Vietnam is, at the very least, amazing with gorgeous scenery, friendly people, and delectable food — you can get all that from the video.
- The idea of traveling alone, as a woman, doesn’t faze me in the slightest, but I fully understand it’s something that intimidates most people. I’ll do anything by myself, except parasailing — I will not do that alone, but for reasons that don’t include fear. Eventually I’ll attempt to write more about this, because traveling alone doesn’t have to be scary. It’s actually really great, and sometimes if you want to do something, you can’t wait around for other people to join you.
- About a week into my trip, a friend messaged me saying, “you must be having the time of your life!” and another said it looked like I was “having so much fun!” Of course I was having the time of my life and of course I was having so much fun! But there were also times I felt lonely and insecure, and plenty of times when I felt confused and lost (literally). All of that is why I planned a 3.5 week trip to Vietnam — I went there to feel joy, to reflect, to be thrilled, inspired, sad, lonely, excited, intimidated, etc, etc. I wanted all of it, good and bad. Travel shouldn’t be a one-dimensional experience (unless you’re at a beach resort in Cancun) — being alive is too vast for that. You can have the time of your life while also feeling varying levels of discomfort, and believe me, I was uncomfortable quite often. Embracing a full spectrum of emotion is the only way to truly learn, grow, and the get the most out of an experience.
- I’ve tried running from my insecurities, but those assholes will follow you straight into hell. Along with an existential dread that I’ll never be worthy of requited love or see my career goals come to fruition, I’m insecure about a few surface things too, like…the surface of my face. My skin hadn’t been clear for a few months and it was haunting me all the way to Vietnam. Then of course being near the beach reminded me of the various insecurities I have regarding my body. What is that thing called? Body dysmorphia? In complete seriousness, I am fairly content with what my body looks like, but I do sometimes struggle with a hefty dose of “why does my butt look big in these pants…? Is it because it has… a life and mind of its own…?” (It does.) I let these insecurities plague me for a brutal 18-or-so hours, but then I pushed them out of my mind. Somehow, my skin cleared up and I started feeling fitter due to the six to eight miles I was walking every day. I also got food poisoning and couldn’t eat for a week, but that’s not something I’m celebrating.
- If you can’t tell from my video, I shy away from tourist traps. I did not go to Halong Bay, which was maybe a cursed decision on my part, but it just didn’t sound like something I’d enjoy very much. I went to Halong Bay’s slightly uglier but more wholesome sister, Cat Ba Island (a description I know is wildly inaccurate, but I’m too jet lagged to come up with a smarter comparison). I did not go to Sapa, but I did go to its rising star cousin of the north, Ha Giang (my favorite bit of the trip, and a destination not featured in the above video as it deserves a video of its own). I did go to the Imperial City in Hue, but I was bored and hot out of my mind, which proves my point. I focused more on food, hiking, motorbiking, and people watching. As a raging introvert and a nervous nelly riddled with social anxiety, I don’t often initiate conversations with other people, but I love to observe them. The interactions I do have, which are sometimes so beautiful I want to cry for years, happen completely organically and that’s the way I love them to be.
- When I went to the beach in Da Nang for the sunrise, expecting solitude but finding swarms of people having their morning swim and exercise, I discovered a deeper softness for people than I’d known before. I had an influx of sadness surrounding a recent experience that I won’t speak about publicly (yet) and it was intricately laced with the awe I felt watching the lives around me having such a pure, peaceful morning. It was emotional, but it was also rejuvenating. I never thought a beach full of humans could ignite within me a feeling other than pure irritation.
- Right before I left for Vietnam, I was “seeing” an Aquarius from the Midwest who was, in many ways, a liar. In my last therapy session, Heather and I talked about the men in my life and the role they’d play during my trip. I’ve been known to, figuratively, take my romantic interests with me into all of my experiences. When I went to Thailand five years ago, I spent every moment desperate to find wifi so I could text my boyfriend, or to check to see if he’d texted me. Being a toxic and abusive relationship anyway, that situation was perhaps not indicative of my normal behavior today, but the concept of it is still a little “on brand.” Heather asked me what I could do if I found the thought of Jack (not his real name, but it does rhyme!) pulling me out of my current experience, although at that point I was pretty positive that weight-lifting toolshed of a man would no longer be pulling me out of any experience. Then she asked if I thought I’d talk to my real crush,* and if that would have any negative impact. Given my real crush actually makes me feel happy instead of making me want to just *die,* I was confident he wouldn’t be a problem. So basically, if someone you love pulls you out of an experience like traveling to Southeast Asia, maybe you shouldn’t love that person (a lesson I didn’t learn easily or quickly). Don’t trust any man who talks badly about his ex, especially if that ex turns out to be his current girlfriend (men talking shit about the women they’ve dated is a red flag, and you can’t convince me otherwise). If you love someone while loving both of your lives separately, as individuals, and not only what your lives are together, that’s a love I imagine is worth holding onto.
- Going to the other side of the world made me appreciate my home even more. For the first time in my life I wasn’t thrown into an abyss of dread at the thought of returning to it, because I finally have a home I’m not desperately trying to run away from. Is that…#growth or is it just me being tired at 29? It’s neither of those things — I actually feel more alive and energized at 29 than I ever have (spending a good portion of your life feeling dead inside is a serious topic for an entirely different essay). I spent my 20s running away, never quite sure of what I was even looking for. A few weeks before I moved back to Vermont from NYC last year, I was sitting at my friend’s swanky midtown bar when a self-proclaimed “old witch” recognized me as a fellow witch and asked me, “what are you running from?” He didn’t realize he was asking that question too late. Who knew that all of my running away in my 20s would lead me back to Vermont — and while Vermont certainly might not be my final destination, I’m okay being here right now. Being so far away also made me love my best friend more, if that’s even possible, and it made me yearn (because yearn is my middle name) for my real crush in new and devastating ways. I say devastating because it is, in many ways, an unrequited crush.
*A crush means I’m anywhere from “in like” to “in love,” but the word definitely holds quite a bit of weight. I’ll continue to have fleeting, inane crushes until my real crush realizes he’s obsessed with me (lolollllllll jk).