My eyes were glued to the Skyscanner page as I checked over the flight details for the fourth time. The only thing left to do was click confirm payment, but my finger lingered over the mouse as I realised what I was about to do. ‘Ahhh that’s it, I’m going to Vietnam!’
I’ve had a burning desire to travel since I can remember, and as I studied English at university, doing a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course made sense. With a bank balance corresponding to that of a recent graduate, it was also the best way to travel on a shoe-string budget. I was going on this adventure with my best mate from uni, and it felt like a life-time of researching, planning and organising everything. We managed to secure jobs with the same language centre, and they arranged all the important stuff (visa, teaching contract and accommodation) before our departure. This dissolved some of the butterflies in the concoction of nerves and excitement that brewed in my belly. The countdown was on. After some teary farewells and bone crunching hugs from the family, I was off. I did that melodramatic thing, which I’m sure most people do discreetly at the start of a journey, when you gaze intensely through the plane window, pondering all that’s past and all that may be. Apart from a one-way ticket, a rucksack and a three-month probationary teaching contract, I had no set plan, and it felt wonderful!
Anyone who’s been to Vietnam knows the roads are bedlam. Millions of motorbikes dashing around in all directions. Road safety? It’s unheard of. A family of four, their dog and a ward-robe wedged onto one bike is a normal sight. For the first few days I thought shit, what have I let myself in for? But the chaos somehow works. Within three weeks, and to the dismay of my mother, I was amongst the tooting bustle of drivers. The difference in horn-honking etiquette in the east and west still amuses me. In Asia it’s mostly a non-aggressive way of saying, ‘Oi! Just so you know I’m right behind/in front/beside you.’ Whereas here, it’s an act of sheer road rage; a way of hurling an imaginary middle finger at someone (often accompanied by an actual middle finger).
I was teaching my first class the day after arriving. I was excited, but also terrified. A Vietnamese teacher called Ms Vy picked me up at 5.30am on her motorbike. It was a day of firsts, because I’d never been on the back of a bike before. I clung onto her waist for dear life as she zigzagged through the traffic; not the usual commute that’s for sure! As we walked through the gates the children ran towards us shouting, ‘Hello, teacher!’ We must’ve set the world record for high-fives because within five minutes I’d basically high-fived the whole school. The bell rang and it was time to face the music, or in this case forty very energetic children sat waiting for the lesson to start. I was convinced they knew it was my very first lesson. Ms Vy was there to observe and assist if needs be, but it went surprisingly well, and she gave some really helpful feedback. I was so sweaty after all the singing and dancing, but I felt a huge sense of relief. Most importantly, I couldn’t wait to teach again. To this day, ‘Baby Shark’ and the ‘Gummy Bear Song’ still echo in my mind.
That one way-ticket turned into seven months of living in Vietnam and six months travelling around Asia. I then came home for a year to save up for another six-month trip, and now I’m on a working holiday visa in Australia. They do say once you catch the travel bug that’s it!
Saving up to quit your job and travel requires commitment, weekends in and less spending on things in general. But it’s also a huge privilege to even have the opportunity, and it’s one I’m very grateful for. There are loads of ways to travel on the cheap if you’re not in a financial position to gallivant around the world for months without working. Look into working holiday visas in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Seasonal work is also popular. A few of my friends worked in bars and housekeeping at ski resorts and had a blast. Volunteering is another option, and a great website to use is www.workaway.info. It has thousands of hosts across the world looking for all sorts of help with projects including eco retreats, schools, wildlife conservations and permaculture.
I’ve met some incredible people and experienced some amazing things on my travels, but it isn’t always as glamorous as Instagram portrays. The photos shared in those little boxes don’t show the tears, the homesickness, and the situations that stretch your character and put your limits to the test.
Packing up and setting off with a rucksack isn’t for everyone, but if there’s even a slight tingle to travel under your skin, please do it. I would say it’s the best gift you’ll ever buy for yourself, but that would be an understatement. Travelling is one of the best investments you’ll make. You won’t have anything flashy to show for the amazing time you had. In fact, you’ll probably be skint, have no job and have to start over again, but that’s ok. The exposure to new cultures, flavours, sights and places; the people from every walk of life you meet; the plans that don’t go to plan; the last-minute decisions you have to make; the learning to trust your gut feeling; the food-poisoning; the language barriers; and the sweaty coach journeys and perpetual numb bum. It’s the good, the bad and everything else in between that make travelling worth it. You return with more confidence in yourself, more appreciation for the little island we call home, a lifetime of stories that get progressively funnier every time you share them, and friendships bound together by shared highs and lows.
It’s easy to compare yourself to others, and I’ve questioned whether I should be focusing on other things, i.e. a career, instead of travelling and working in different countries. But people have their own definitions of success, and it’s a dangerous game when you use others’ lives and achievements as a measuring tool for your own. What I have learnt is that getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow. Travelling pushes you out of your comfort zone, without a doubt. In some ways, when you come home you may feel like you’ve grown up or gained a new perspective on things, yet it feels like everything and everyone hasn’t changed at all. When you’ve finished catching up with family and friends and the initial buzz of being home wares off, you slot straight back in and it almost feels like you never left. It definitely takes a little while to find your feet when you come home. But if anything, having the ability to pick up where you left off or make a life somewhere completely new makes you more adaptable and welcoming of change, in many areas of your life.
Note: The travel bug is insatiable. Once it’s been fed, there’s a high chance it’ll never leave your system. Don’t worry though, out of all the bugs it’s the best bug to have. It’s harmless in nature and simply increases your thirst for adventure.