On February 11, 2020, we set off to travel the world.
We had this plan that it was going to be a whirlwind adventure. We thought we were going to spend a lovely month in Vietnam, a week in Cambodia, and a week in Malaysia, then head over to Turkey for a month. Then we thought we were flying to Germany before heading to the border of France and Spain to start our Camino.
I had this whole trip from February to May mapped out in a spreadsheet. It was going to plan.
Enter mid-March 2020.
The spreadsheet went out the window. The flights were cancelled. I cancelled our accommodation. I hoped perhaps it would simply be a couple of months set back and we could rebook or hang out and travel Asia until April 2021.
I didn't think for a minute that we would still be in Vietnam in February 2021. Phu Quoc Island was never on the plans, or the dream location list. And yet, here we are. Enjoying island life.
How about experiencing rainy season and the Biblical Central Vietnam floods during October? That was something to remember for the rest of our lives.
Surfing on a beach that had never seen surfboards (not so much me, but the boys)... Wow. Just wow. Going into secret caves was such an adventure. We saw one of the worlds rarest snakes and even took a bunch of scooters on a bamboo boat across a river.
My husband never expected he would become a certified PADI open water diver. And we never planned to visit the islands off the coast of Hoi An. We never expected we would have the opportunity to stay at luxury villas on the beach at An Bang, and we never expected to go anywhere in the North. Hanoi? No, that wasn't on the trip list. Sapa for three weeks? No, that wasn't on the list (but probably should've been). Ninh Binh was good enough that we will probably go back!
We took a ride on a local bus to the border of China, an experience that was well worth the trip and something that most visitors don't do because it's not exactly convenient.
And what about Angel Eye Mountain?! That is one of the most breathtaking moments of my life (literally).
I broke my number one rule to never ride a motorbike in Asia. Not only that, I LEARNED to ride a motorbike in Vietnam. On Cat Ba Island. Oh the freedom. I'm so proud of myself!
We were fortunate to take a luxury cruise in the empty Ha Long Bay, with only ours and a sister ship in the bay for the night (I hear this is unheard of in pre-covid times).
We even took a little trip to the top of the highest peak in Indochina, Fansipan!
There were also some of the not so pretty experiences. I wasn't impressed with Ba Be Lakes district, the trash in that lake broke my heart. We experienced bed bugs in Sapa and I was having a breakdown while trying to put everything through a drier to kill anything that might've snuck into our stuff (fortunately nothing did).
I didn't enjoy the VIP van transfer from Sapa where the driver seemed like he had a death wish. I had moments where my kids tested me out, and sometimes broke me! I cried under a palm tree on my birthday. I had mothers day come undone by first driving the e-bike into parked motorbikes (in front of the local barber shop where I had to do the walk of shame every day for the next three weeks) and then second when one of my lovely children threw a rock at another kids head and then another kid threw a hotwheels car at the TV and broke it. Now we like to stay at places that don't have TVs. Now I limit the amount of time we spend in luxury stays. I'm currently looking at how I can incorporate more shitty stays, just so the kids can appreciate just how lovely we have made this adventure!
Although our trip didn't go to plan, it ended up perhaps better than the original plan. It forced me to experience slow travel. Deep travel. An experience that has made me realise we must go for the longest visa possible wherever we go. And spend longer in each country. I'd like to say we will spend 6-12 months in most of the countries we go to after this one. I still have no idea what is next though.
2020 was a curve ball. For many it was a tough year. Some days I felt guilty to be living in an alternate universe. A bubble away from the craziness of lockdowns and arguments about masks and freedom. A world away from conspiracy theories and upheaval.
I remember early on (late March, early April) feeling really guilty as we would ride our bicycles through the rice fields each day and fly kites, knowing that people in many places around the world were in strict lockdowns where they couldn't leave their buildings. It was surreal to be more or less free to wander about and be out in nature while there was so much suffering going on in other countries.
Some days I was divided about posting the magic that was happening. Other days I just wanted to share our travel as if nothing else was going on in the world. Some of the big time travellers had their frowny faces on because we hadn't 'gone home'. But we didn't have a home. Our backpacks had everything we owned in them. And I looked at it with the eyes that said, 'once, I was looking at your travels with longing eyes and no way to do that (yet), so why would you look at my travels differently'. Fortunately, I found a beautiful community on Instagram who I feel like are my soul mates. I'm so grateful for the families we connected with who were in very similar situations and also decided to remain abroad.
Eventually, I stopped looking at the news completely. I stopped checking the world situation. I stopped noticing what was going on and could almost forget about it.
Living in Vietnam during Covid has been one of the greatest blessings on this adventure. Every day I am grateful to be here. The people are amazing, the food is delicious, the hosts who have had us stay have been generous.
What I've learned is if you think you don't like a place, maybe you just have to look a little further (two places we initially wanted to abandon and move on from, Sapa and Phu Quoc, turned out to be some of our favourite places in the country).
I've also learned we are being led on our journeys. I go with my intuition. I trust my guidance. I'm learning to understand time and acceptance of what is outside of our control! I've also deepened my faith. Because I now know that I am supported. We've had some tight spots, and we have always miraculously met the right person or had the right conversation that has ensured we could keep travelling.
I look back on this year with such gratitude and happiness. I am proud of us. We did it. One year into the world. Another year in front of us. And we are even more excited about what's ahead for us as our possibilities continue to expand!
My thoughts for the coming year (some of which I'm still in denial about). We will probably only change countries after Singapore Airlines lets us know we can extend our flight dates beyond 31 December 2021. If this doesn't happen, we will probably stay in Vietnam until September then fly to Turkey...
If Singapore Airlines does extend, and this is what we are hoping for, we will plan to spend another year in Asia. If this is the case, we will aim to see Cambodia, Thailand and then I feel like Bali, Indonesia will be one of the places we live for at least a few months. All of this depends on if the countries are open and if the entry requirements make it ok to visit.
Other places on my list are Mexico, Japan and Egypt. Wow. So many ideas, no idea how to make it work or where we will be this time next year...
So with all the uncertainty, I think I'll leave it at that. Here's a video from our time in Phong Nha. One of our FAVOURITE places in Vietnam. If you make it here after Covid, make sure you go to the one and only Phong Nha Farmstay and visit Ben and Bich. They made this place our home for over four months. And we are so grateful to them for providing adventures in jeeps, surfing, caves, motorbike tours, eating, more eating, and plenty of laughs. I'll be forever grateful for our family over there.