Why I Went to Vietnam

Everyone has their reasons for traveling to certain places. Take the beach, for example. Although it’s not something I can do for days on end, some people really seem to enjoy sitting  in the sun and watching the waves roll in. Some say it relaxes them, some go to get a tan, while still others use it to justify their day drinking. The one place everyone seems to ask me about traveling to is Vietnam. Other than having nearly twenty years of conflict with America and much of the rest of the West, people don’t generally seem to know much about the Southeast Asian nation.

I have to admit, that growing up, I didn’t know much about Vietnam either. I knew there was a conflict (my mom was a history teacher and was always quick to point out that the USA never declared an actual war), and I knew somehow Jane Fonda was involved. Beyond that my knowledge of the actual “goings on” was fairly limited. It wasn’t until I was in college that I took an Asian studies class and learned a bit more about the bigger picture and the events in the 1960s and 1970s and why it was such a difficult time for America, Vietnam, and the rest of the world. I thought it was interesting, but it didn’t really create a burning desire for me to travel there. That came later.

I was at my parents’ house one weekend being lazy and flipping channels, when I started watching a documentary that was showing on what I seem to remember being NBC. I was captivated. It was called Vietnam, Long Time Coming, and it was one of the first documentaries that I had ever seen that had a powerful, emotional impact on me. It resonated with me for weeks afterwards. It focuses on a group of former American and Vietnamese soldiers that team together to ride bicycles through Vietnam for 16 days, and 1,100 miles of difficult terrain. Some had physical impairments (blindness, missing limbs, etc) as a result of the war, but all of them had deep psychological scars that haunted them, and this ride and was their redemption and their forgiveness. The film cuts between the journey of the bicycle trek and the personal stories of the individuals, all playing out in the backdrop of the truly stunning beauty of the jungles, mountains, and beaches of Vietnam.  Here’s a preview:

 

I was floored and by the end of the two hours, I shed a tear or two. I also knew that I wanted to go Vietnam. I needed to go to Vietnam. However, at that point and time, getting to Vietnam wasn’t the easiest of options. I was in college and didn’t have much money. Once I graduated, I had a job, but still didn’t have much money. As I began to investigate the possibility of putting a trip together, the issue of weather also became a problem. If I traveled during the summer, it would be the rainy season, and that would mean a wet and miserable trip. There would also be the issue of finding someone willing to make the journey with me. Vietnam, and Southeast Asia in general, isn’t really someplace that’s high on most Americans’ list of locations to visit. Ultimately, I had to put the idea on the backburner. It was always there, as a location that I was going to get to….eventually.

Nearly 20 years passed before I could actually make the trip to Vietnam happen. You can read about that here, but the wait was worth it. The point of all of this is to say that if you really want to travel, you can’t let little things like time or money destroy your dream of going there. Save your money, and plan, and you can work around such distractions. It took me twenty years to get to Vietnam and nearly as long before I visited India, but I had to plan and wait until the conditions in my life were right to make that happen.

A few tips to help you get to your dream destination:

Money

Travel can be expensive, especially flights. Save your money. Put together a saving plan based on your goals and stick to it. If you are worried about not being able to stash money away on a regular basis, try having your paycheck automatically deposited, and then have regular transfers set up so that a sum of money is taken out of the deposit immediately and put into a separate account. It could be $50 a month or $500. The key is to put that money into an account and forget about it. Let it continue to grow over time and before you realize it you’ll have your dream trip paid for.

Timing

Life can throw curve balls at you.   Be prepared. Your trip savings account shouldn’t be your emergency fund, savings account, or checking account. Keep it separate. Once your money is safely accumulating, start your research. You don’t want to show up somewhere in the rainy season or in the middle of the hottest, most miserable time of year. Plan to travel accordingly. Also, you must make sure that the place that your are visiting is safe. For example, this probably isn’t the best time to visit Iran, Libya, or Afghanistan, no matter how badly you want to jump on a plane and explore those parts of the world. It may mean you’ll have to wait until events settle down, but your trip will be far more enjoyable and appreciated by you if you don’t have to worry about being kidnapped, robbed, or worse.

Patience

Have patience. Don’t rush into a trip simply because you feel like it’s a now or never situation. So many people take rushed vacations and aren’t really aware of what they are stepping into. They may not have enough money, or the conditions are terrible. No trip is worth doing if it is going to hurt you financially or make you miserable. Travel at the best time for you, but do it when it will be all benefit, and not harm you or your checkbook.

 

To learn more about Vietnam, Long Time Coming, click here.

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Categories: Asia, My View of Things, Stories

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