The Little Things on the Road

I’ve been keeping a set of notes in Ulysses on the little things. Things at home in California I could just do and before leaving I had wondered about on the road in my hobo mode. For the first two weeks in Japan, things were a mite different so I took care of the little things somewhat differently too. Now that I’m kinda sorta living in Hanoi one finds other ways to take care of the things. None of these are big things like eating or finding a place to stay or keeping in contact with my daughter. I have all those things but perhaps that one is a little thing which leads to a big thing. So here in my room on a Sunday afternoon relaxing after doing some walking in the city, I came up with some bullets.

  • Laundry and Cleaning. During my first two weeks in Japan, I took care of this by washing my stuff in the sink. Underwear, socks, t-shirts got washed by hand and then hung up over night. This worked out pretty well given I did not want to spend time with only two weeks or money getting the laundry done. When I got to Hanoi, things changed. Down the street is a place I visit every week and they do my laundry the same day. I pay a few dollars US and come back in the afternoon and its done. This makes taking care of dirty clothes so much easier. If I had to wash by hand, I learned some tricks but its nice not to. Two of the three hotels in Japan had laundry rooms but given that it was just more money to spend on things like detergent, washers, and dryers; it was just easier to do by hand and hang up.
  • Bottled Water Supplies. On yes a little thing which you want to take care of. Do not drink the tap water, brush your teeth in it in Vietnam. Just don’t. In Japan, the water is safe anywhere so its pretty easy. Here i go to either the place I get my laundry done or a small market two doors down where the lady is happy to sell me Hanoi Beer, bottled water, or whatever. If you are on the road walking, a word of caution about pricing. I have watched around Hoan Kiem Lake the prices go up from the street vendors on the busy weekends so I tend to find a Circle K. Most of the store workers speak english and its just as easy to find bottled water there and pay a price that seems more normal.
  • Travel to Airport and Back. This can be a ripoff waiting to happen. I use my friend Lucy here to arrange transport. She gets me to the places I need in a dedicated vehicle. Perhaps I spend more but I get more too. I feel better with how Lucy arranges things and she will email me back often about transport and pickup updates as the time gets closer to go.
  • Tours and Trips. I don’t like group tours too much. I don’t like Tour buses and sightseeing caravans. I like arranging my own trips where possible. Booking my own hotels, buses, flights. Some trips like Halong Bay or the Mekong Delta probably become a necessity for a tour but I was talking to the person that helps with water and laundry service and she said I could have done things differently for Halong Bay by riding the train there and then finding a cruise ship. Oh well. Live and learn. My main message is be careful and look for reviews and be sure when you pay you are getting what you want. I tend to use Viator sometimes to fact check and then do TripAdvisor checks on availability of tours. Every shop down the old quarter offers tours. Just be careful out there.
  • Personal Hygiene. Think of things like Hair Shampoo, Toothpaste, bar soap. In Japan, I used the room supplied stuff but I also had packed some stuff in small TSA bottles. That all ran out here so I hiked down to the Intimex store in Hanoi and picked up larger supplies of the main things. So much easier and the stuff is cheap. Just look for a supermarket or store like Intimex and it has the goods plus all kinds of other stuff you may or may not need or want.
  • Haircuts and beard trimming. Down the street is my barber. He does a good job and speaks some english. I found him walking one day and stopped in and he invited me back the next day for a trim. I will go see him again in early June before leaving Hanoi.
  • Cell Phone Services. A small thing that you can get easily in Vietnam but it really helps if you walk the cities. I got a data sim card in Japan too with NTT Docomo for my travels there. It was waiting for me at the Narita Airport postal office which was kinda fun finding when I landed but I plugged it in and it just worked with a few little changes for a profile that needed to be added. This is all for naught if your phone is carrier locked. I bought a used iPhone 7 plus on Swappa before leaving and verified with the seller it was unlocked. So much easier in Japan to have the data plan. In Vietnam, really consider getting a plan like with Viettel. Owned by the government and supported by every little store around. You buy these “topup” scratcher cards and send a code to viettel and then you have more. I will go in two days and topup for another 10g of 4G/LTE that will go for 30 days. Its rock solid service as I’ve pointed out before.
  • Communications and Technology. This is a small thing but it can turn into a big thing. I wanted a US phone number no matter where I was and one that could get text messages, be reached by my daughter dialing a US number that would ring here. Yes, its very possible and the service is free from Google. Google Voice does all this so my bank can send the pesky activation and security code numbers to a US phone number, I can make voice calls, I can do SMS and chatting using the Hangouts integration on my laptop and iPhone. All of this costs nothing to use folks and it works very well here. I found this to be invaluable to having a communication line with family and friends just in case and the number is a known commodity. It worked flawlessly in Japan and it works just as well in Vietnam. Perhaps some countries block this service. That leads me to the final thing to consider on my list of little things.
  • VPN Service. Yes. You need this. If you go to those open wifi cafes and coffee shops no matter here or there; its so easy to snoop the traffic folks. Get yourself protected and if you are gonna do something financial or personal and you are sharing personal information, get a VPN. I use ExpressVPN. Its not free but it works. It also means certain things which won’t work will work when I do a VPN connection but the main thing is the security and protection of your stuff.

That’s my little list of things I have compiled. I hope they help you. I am always adding and I’m sure as I move to southern Vietnam and then to Cambodia in September things will get added like about the Cambodia retirement visa extension I will get. More things to research on quiet Sunday afternoons in the room. More things to think about when I perambulate all over the city each day.