My first impression of Vietnam was negative.
But it had nothing to do with Vietnam, or Ho Chi Minh City for that matter. I was in a bad state of mind. And even though I had written a blog post about it in the past and expressed how important it is to keep an open mind in order to not taint your experiences, my mind was not my friend – and it had not been for a whole load of hours before I landed in Ho Chi Minh City.
Up until February 2015, I had travelled together with my boyfriend, Ben. Even though we are both very independent people, we somehow always spent time together. And then, he ran out of money and decided to go back to the UK as he could walk straight into a job (which he literally did, two days after he arrived) – searching a job somewhere out here, could have potentially been a mission.
And he would have earned less.
When Ben left, I felt completely lost. I had realised something about myself: when I travel with him, I’m completely dependant. He has got orientation. I have not. He has fantastic planning skills. I have not. He knows how to navigate in a new place. I don’t. He never gets lost. I never not get lost. He is patient. I am not. He always makes things work. I don’t. He is organised. I am chaos. He never loses anything. I always lose stuff.
In other words: I’m a wandering disaster.
When we travelled together, I attached myself onto him like a leech. He was the boss and I was following. He organised and planned and got us from A to B. I dedicated my time I would have otherwise spent planning and organising to blog post writing or anything else that I needed to do to grow my business. I had my own personal navigator and with him around, I knew we would actually get there.
Then he left. And I had to do it all by myself.
The unthinkable happened next. Ben had volunteered to plan my trip to the airport the next day when I was flying to Ho Chi Minh City. He flew the night before and he carefully instructed me, with screenshots and all, how to get to DMK. All I had to do was to walk from my apartment to the Skytrain – take the Skytrain – take a bus and I would be at DMK airport – the airport from which all Budget airlines depart. He printed the tickets for me, and even sent me screenshots of how to get there.
I felt I could handle this. I felt prepared – thanks to him.
I remember listening to Muse in the bus munching on fresh Papaya that I bought on my way to the bus station (those amazing little bags of fresh fruit you get in Thailand…I adore them), and I posted this on Instagram & Facebook. I stepped off the bus and had an hour before I had to make my way to board. I had plenty of time. Then I stood in front of the screen. I not only could not spot my airline, I also could not spot Ho Chi Minh. And this is when I panicked. I had a sneaky feeling I was at the wrong airport.
As my anxiety level started to ramp up, I wandered around trying to find an information booth. Nothing. Where the hell was it? So I stopped this guy in a uniform who looked like he worked at the airport – he didn’t speak English but waved at me shaking his head when he saw my ticket. He runs off with my ticket in his hand and gestures to follow him. Ah! He is taking me to the information desk. Thanks goodness for that. I am sure there is a simple explanation for all of this.
Maybe the screens are broken and the Vietjet flight will soon magically pop back up.
“You are at the wrong airport”.
“WHAT? No No. You don’t understand. My boyfriend used to work as a planner. He doesn’t do any mistakes like that. I’m flying with Vietjet. It’s a Budget airline. They always fly from DMK”.
“No Miss. Look. It says BKK. You are at DMK. You need to take a taxi asap”
“But a taxi is going to cost me a fortune. Is there a cheaper way?”
“Yes. There is a free shuttle bus. But you won’t make it in time”.
“Oh for Christ…OK. Can you help me find a taxi please?”
So the friendly gentleman in a uniform takes me outside and starts to have a conversation with the taxi driver for about 7 minutes (way too long if you are pressed for time and need to catch a flight miles away from where you are stood).
“Can I take this taxi? Can he go quick please?”.
We drive on the highway, where I need to pay toll fees three times, leaving me to pay about 10 Pounds in the end for my trip from one airport to another. Considering I am on a budget of 15 Pounds per day, this is pretty annoying.
Long story short. I made it onto my flight.
But only just – because in those 15 minutes I had left at the correct airport, I casually wandered around at the airport in the quest of finding food and almost missing my flight as I was munching away on Mango & sticky rice. Yes, I almost missed my flight again. I was clearly not fit to travel on my own.
I was puzzled.
I had relied on someone else to plan something for me and it went wrong. I wasn’t mad with Ben – mistakes happen. But I was annoyed with myself for not double-checking. For having become so incredibly dependant on someone else, that I blindly walked into the wild without knowing what I was doing. I was not a child for goodness’ sake. I am an adult woman and need to organise myself a bit better.
I had worked the night before and ended up struggling to fall asleep which meant I only had a few hours of sleep in the end. I was looking forward to going to bed early the next evening. I selected this really quaint looking hostel and even paid a bit more for it. A girl’s only room – it’s going to be great. Women are generally a bit more considerate than guys, I thought.
Why I thought this, I don’t know.
Well. It turned out to be awful. The hostel was great but the girls I shared my room with were so incredibly inconsiderate, it made me hate hostels. Two nights in a row, this one girl, with clearly not needing much sleep, proceeded to go to bed late (2am) and getting up early (5-6am) and every time she woke up she was rattling with her bags for about an hour – leaving her lamp on and merrily minding her own business. See the problem with that is: I’m an insomniac. It takes me forever to fall asleep and it doesn’t take much for me to wake up.
In other words, sharing a room with other people could mean I don’t sleep at all.
After the initial shock, of now having to navigate myself around depending on my own skills, I was fine. I did travel to Australia when I was 17 on my own (and I booked the whole trip myself too), I backpacked and camped in Namibia when I was 21 and I was fine. What happened? I feel much younger in my ways today than I sometimes felt back then. Somehow I am more anxious as I used to be and feel almost incapable of doing things on my own. Why is it that way? What changed? I don’t like this fear of my own independence.
I never had to fear. I was always pretty much dependant of my own – since I can remember. Since I’m a little girl.
You see, Ben is the first person I ever fully trusted. Even if he messes up at times – I still trust him. I never even trusted my own parents. A story for another time – but I had every right not to ever trust my parents. I grew up quickly – I had to, in order to survive. I always had to look out for myself. Plus, I had a million guardian angels to protect me.
But generally, I was naturally born with a sensible portion of well-functioning instincts and a huge dollop of luck.
I never needed anyone.
Now this man comes along and I feel like I can’t tie my own shoe laces anymore. Why? Well, because for the first time in my life, I learnt what I feels like to have someone take care of me. I no longer have to hold things together. I can simply breathe and relax and someone will take care of things. And as much as it annoys me – I also really really enjoy it.
It’s nice not having to worry. It’s nice to have someone look out for me. When I get lost, when I’m confused, when I don’t know what to do. Even if I’m far away – he’s got my back. Like when I stupidly travelled to Vietnam during TET (Vietnamese New Year) and every onward travel possibility was exhausted – leaving me with having to organise my travels for a whole day – failing miserably at it as my anxiety literally paralysed and clouded my thinking to such an extreme extent that the only thing I managed was to sit down and stare at my screen with panic.
Well guess what happened? Despite being so far away – my trusted navigator sorted it out for me. He booked my flight. All I had to do, was to take care of my bus. And I managed. Together we fixed my panic. That’s what Ben does – he fixes things. Always has.
He solves problems and he is damn good at it.
But I also hate these moments.
Because I was fine before he waltzed into my life. I was fine being SOLO throughout my life. Even when I was in relationships, I was still solo. I had my shit together. Maybe I needed to fall apart in order for some light to shine through. For someone to take care of me.
After a few days of travelling alone, things felt much more natural. But I felt unable of being around people for too long. I needed my space. I had spent three months with Ben non-stop. All I craved was some ‘me’ time. And I was a rude solo traveller, I’m telling you that. This one evening, I was happily minding my own business – about to order my dinner at this street food stall, looking forward to half an hour of uninterrupted simply being with myself, when this dutch woman sits opposite of me. Eurgh. Really…what is it with people? I would never ever do that. If I saw someone sitting there on their own, I would not just waltz into their bubble and install myself smash bang in front of them.
There is a reason, they are there alone.
A few months on I realise it’s called ‘being social’ and that is what solo travellers do – it’s perfectly normal.
Then she starts rolling her eyes when I ordered something with meat – she is a Vegetarian and like so many of them, she needed to express her disgust at it. That just immediately made me want to ignore her even more. Look, my best friend is a vegetarian and she has never ever lectured me on my eating behaviours.
The other day I met a girl who is usually a Vegetarian, but since she has been travelling she eats meat as in many SE Asian countries, this is what is being eaten- she doesn’t like to be picky. She prefers to adapt to the culture she visits. This, I thought, is awesome. It’s refreshing to see that even Vegetarians are open to acknowledging the cultural aspects of meat-eating and respecting that in many cultures throughout the world, meat is a very integral part of people’s diets. Being a Vegetarian is not a natural thing for a human. Our ancestors are carnivores – let’s not forget that. Yes Yes, I know the whole ‘well people thought the world was flat for a long time…it’s called progress’.
Please, just leave me alone with your lectures – just for now.
Anyway. So I continued ignoring her while texting my best friend who is currently in Spain. She just walked out of a Dr’s consultation as she had a mild panik attack – THIS was more important than engaging in a conversation with a person who just rolled her eyes at me. After 10 minutes, after finishing her meal, she gets up and says “Bye” looking very irritated “you were a great company” she says in a passive – aggressive sarcastic way.
To which I replied “Yes Yes Bye” and turned my head to continue with my conversation with Rocio. First she rolls her eyes and then she gives me the passive aggressive treatment because I did not fulfil her expectations. Right there and then, I wanted my peace.
And eat my pork.
Does this make me a bad solo traveller? Am I taking ‘solo’ a bit too literally? I don’t know. But this is what I’m needing right now.