Last July, I hastily booked tickets to a month in Vietnam with two friends. They already had a three month South-East Asia trip planned and, through a mixture of FOMO and realising gap years are shorter than one may think, I bought the cheapest tickets I could find.
Four quick months later I was jet-setting to what is now one of my favourite countries, and here’s what I learnt along the way.
1. Never forget your middle name
This first one may be stupidly specific to me, but the morning of the day I was to leave, I tried checking in online, and was met with a ‘incorrect middle name’ alert.
After ten phone calls between the airline and the travel agent, I yelled across the house to Mum that I was leaving for the airport ten hours early, in an attempt to sort my shit out.
I waited for hours to be able to talk to someone and spent hours (politely) arguing with airline staff, until they finally let me sign a document that would let me on the flight, but meant they weren’t liable if I was deported or murdered or something.
I made it on the flight eventually, but you can avoid all of this if you are not an over-excited idiot booking your tickets and just make sure all your details are correct.
2. Don’t overbook yourself
When I arrived in Vietnam, all I had booked was my first hostel. I knew I was going from the north to the south, but everything else was up in the air. This was the best way to backpack. You have no idea how much you’re going to enjoy a place, or no idea who you’re going to meet.
My friends and I met a German guy on our second night and ended up doing the entire trip with him. He taught us German, and we taught him how to do a shooey, and now we have a friend on the other side of the world.
This mightn’t have been the case if we had somewhere already planned where we needed to be desperately. This could be irresponsible advice but honestly, just wing it!
3. Lie to yourself about how confident you are
You’ll realise that once you arrive at a hostel, all social norms and cues that were once ever-present back home, are thrown out the window. Someone may strike up a conversation whilst getting changed in front of you in the dorm room. A stranger may force you to skull your drink before saying hello.
Embracing this culture can seem nerve-wracking at first but realising the endless possibilities of meeting new people through this way of living far outweigh the urge to constantly be solo. Fake it till you make it.
4. Learn about the country
I’m not going to bullshit you and say that there’s not much drinking and partying involved with backpacking because there is, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You are young, and you should let your hair down through a gin and tonic or five.
However, if you’ve left the country or countries of your choosing without knowing anything else about the culture or history, you’ve done yourself a disservice. Go to a museum. Talk with the locals. Eat weird foods. A massive part of travelling is realising how small of a place you fit within the world, and the beauty that lies within that.
5. Travelling is actually the best thing you’ll ever do
For so long, I’ve known that travelling is cool, and I’ve told people the same. It wasn’t until I went on this trip that I really started to believe what I was preaching.
Before, travel was a priority that always came after work and after study, but I now value the three in completely different ways. If you’re young and you’ve got time, go on a gap year. Go on two gap years. Go see the world because I promise, it will change you in the best way possible.
I was only away for a month and I acknowledge that I’m giving away the advice of seasoned and ~sage~ traveller, but all I can think about is my next trip. The career rush and anxiety I had as an 18-year-old, fresh out of school is essentially gone.