After 32 hours of travel, three continents, four countries, five cities, two trains, and one taxi, I arrived in Philadelphia after accidentally spending three months in Southeast Asia. In three months, I traveled to eight cities in Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi, Krabi, Pai, Phitsanulok, and Kamphaeng Phet. And I spent one month teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The first question everyone asks is: “How did you like it?”
As if the answer to this question isn’t obvious, I loved it. Would you intentionally decide to miss multiple flights home if you didn’t enjoy a place? I don’t think so!
It sounds crazy, so I’ll start from the beginning. I left for Thailand on Dec. 5, 2017, and I was to return on Dec. 18, 2017. I made my way back to Bangkok for my flight on Dec. 18 and decided I wasn’t ready to come home. My next date to go home was on Dec. 28, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t even make it to Bangkok at that time, so I got a flight extension. The final time I was to return, I got all the way to the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, looked around, and decided I just wasn’t ready to go through customs. So I pulled out my phone, found a hostel on HostelWorld, and left the airport.
Since I’ve been back, many people ask me why I decided not to come home. I chose not to go home because, in the end, we all end up in the same place. I hate to be morbid, but we’re all on the same path, headed to the same place. What does it matter if my road is dotted with international destinations rather than dotted with degrees and employment opportunities? In the end, my life is mine, and your life is yours. You’re entitled to use your time on this planet as you wish, just as I can. What does it matter that I used my early twenties to travel rather than jump right into higher education and a defined career plan? Eventually, I’ll move toward the idea of a Master’s Degree, a career, and a family. I’m just not going to do that right now, at 22 years old, and whether you respect my gangsta or not, this is my plan.
People also ask how I did it, and I tell them I jumped in headfirst. 50% of the idea to stay was mine, but the other 50% came from other travelers I met. There’s something about meeting a person with absolutely no plan except to keep moving forward. Whether it be by bus, train, plane, or motorbike, everyone I met was headed somewhere even if they didn’t know precisely where somewhere was.
But aside from all the spiritual hippie bullshit, I assessed my bank account and made decisions based on my budget.
I planned to only spend $7-$10 on lodging each night. I planned to stay at places that served breakfast or offered some type of free food. I stuck with my breakfast of two yogurts, a croissant and fruit, which cost a whopping $3.50. I cut down on partying, and I walked a lot of places. Once I decided I didn’t want to spend any more money, I found work using Workaway, which is why I ended up teaching English in Vietnam. In Vietnam, I was provided lodging, meals, and excursions, which vastly cut down my spending.
When I first started teaching in Vietnam, people would say they were proud of me and that I was brave. Of course, I thought that was bizarre because really all I did was skip a few flights to end up in the position I was in. But then I realized that fear is the main reason people don’t want to remove themselves from their sedentary and comfortable lives. Most people can’t fathom going somewhere and deciding not to return home when they are supposed to, and they really can’t understand leaving their job behind and working through their savings. What I did was easy as far as the steps I took, but it also took a level of courage that some people just don’t possess.
That’s not to say I wasn’t fearful at all, I just didn’t let fear stop me.
I knew the journey would be scary, but I also knew I could get through it. I’ll never forget when my Grab driver stopped the car and pointed toward a dodgy alleyway in Ho Chi Minh City. After getting out of the car, I stood on the corner for five minutes, totally confused, and began to panic. It was 90 degrees, I had a giant backpack and no clue where exactly I was headed. As my freak out hit a fever pitch, I remembered that people in the 60s, 70s, and ’80s backpacked Southeast Asia without cellphones, data, or wifi. I figured if they did it and lived to tell the tale, I could figure it out as a millennial with a $700 iPhone. After talking to three different groups, a lot of hand motions, and buckets of sweat, I found my way. Now, I know I’m not special. I know that millions of people have done and continue to do what I did. But that doesn’t make it any less wild. I’m not suggesting anyone drop everything and move to a foreign country, but I am saying you should do yourself a favor and step out of your comfort zone.
The fun part about this all is that I originally traveled to Thailand to visit the country and see how I would like it because I plan on teaching there for one year. Lucky for me, I loved it! I loved it so much that I booked a flight back before I even left, and I head back in one month. Now, how’s that for being courageous?