The Casual Traveler

Streets of Saigon 2010: Getting myself psyched up to meet this traffic again.
Streets of Saigon 2010: Getting myself psyched up to meet this traffic again.

There’s something about returning to a place you’ve already traveled to that gives it more weight.  We don’t go back to places that bore us, places that don’t excite us in some way.  We go back because we are looking for more.  With this often comes great expectations.

With less than two days left before I board the plane for Vietnam, fear has sprouted its curmudgeon head, teasing me with this heaviness.

It’s not going to stop me, of course.  It only scares me because this feeling is so unlike the one I had before.  Like my expectations might crush what could happen before they even begin.

Last time I left for Vietnam nearly three years ago, I left two waitressing jobs, a mother recovering from a near fatal illness, and friends and family that took care of me while I was taking care of her.

Brittany, one of my best girlfriends from high school, was finishing up her year-long working visa in Australia and was headed over to Thailand for a couple of weeks of full-moon parties and buckets of booze that so many young Australian folks find Mecca in.

“Meet me in Vietnam?” she suggested casually.  Casual was all I needed.  Carelessness, spontaneity, fun in the face of everything I had been through over the past year.

I called up Sarah, my best friend from college, in San Francisco.

“Come with me to Vietnam?” I asked.  She agreed just as casually as I did.

We booked flights and within the month, we were 30,000 miles up looking down to a coastline and jungle-green as far into the distance as we could see.

The three of us took a three-day motorcycle tour through the Central Highlands of Vietnam (still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done), ate pho on little plastic chairs on the side of busy streets, rode on scooters, cyclos, and elephants, snorkeled, hiked and lived a classic “Lonely Planet” adventure for six weeks.

Vietnam was to me then what I suppose it might be to many of the five million odd tourists they receive each year.  A blend of foreign smells, local people with different manners and different ways of life that I had not yet experienced wholly.  Streets buzzing of motorbikes and portable food stalls.  Rice fields slated in a shade of green not found in Anglo-Saxon landscapes.

But, perhaps unlike the hordes of other visitors, I consistently experienced moments of lucidness,  proverbial “aha!” moments that reminded me of my father and that this country was a kind of home to me even though I had never been to it before.

Brittany went back to Australia and Sarah and I saw what we could of Laos and Cambodia before she, too, returned back to where had come from.  With no plane ticket booked back to the States, I felt compelled to just keep on going.   To make a long story short, places and opportunities continuously opened themselves up to me.

Except for a three-week visit last August, I still haven’t gone back the States.

Enter me now: writing this post on warm summer morning in Wellington, New Zealand, my newest home over the last two years – myself in a similar, albeit less desperate (yet more anxious), situation than nearly three years ago.

Last month, I quit my job.  And tomorrow, I will leave my new friends and family, alone and hoping to find more friends and family in Vietnam.  And, honestly, I am feeling mighty nervous about it.

Looking back, I now realize that I first went to Vietnam because I had to. I didn’t know it then, but it was the only option. It was Darwinism.  Self-preservation.

I wonder how I will feel three years from now about today – if I will be able to recognize some reasons and feelings in me that I am too busy or anxious to acknowledge now.

No point spending too much thought on it though.  Instead, I am trying to focus not on what may come, but what already is.   After all, solo travel should never be a chore done sullenly.

It’s time to reclaim myself as a casual traveler.  One ready, but not waiting, for things to unfold as they may.

April 2010: Sarah, Brittany and me with our motorcycle tour guides, Hoa, Nguyen (aka Wing Man) and Nam.
April 2010: Sarah, Brittany and me with our motorcycle tour guides, Hoa, Nguyen (aka Wing Man) and Nam.


2 thoughts on “The Casual Traveler

  1. It’s going to be a wonderful trip, full of casual and profound experiences, probably when you least expect them. I’m looking forward to meeting you there in March.
    Your 4’11” Norwegian-American Mom

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