Its been four months since I retired and have left the states. All told I’ve been to Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. In Japan, I visited Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Osaka and was fortunate to ride the Shinkansen Nozomi Line since I had pre-bought the tickets prior to leaving. In Hong Kong, I only had about three days to wander around. Then there’s Vietnam. Way back when I decided to spend six months in Vietnam. I wanted to start out in Hanoi and then travel south on the train but also do shorter trips here and there combined with my walking and photography hobby. I spent three months give or take a day in Hanoi and also did a few day tours and then longer trips to Halong Bay, Hue, and Hoi An. Each place has something that I will remember. In Halong Bay it was the first day’s sunset and sharing a beer with the tour manager as we watched the sun go down.
In Hue, it had to be the history and wonder of the palace and the day tour I did to see the three tombs I got to see. I also found some really good local food plus had one of the best Indian dinners and a burger there.
In Hoi An, it was walking in the evenings in the city with the lantern and lights going full force. It was nice not having a lot of scooters zooming around but in retrospect I could have done something else and been satisfied. I liked Hoi An but I was not after getting a suit or clothing and that’s really what its about there.
Finally Ho Chi Minh City. Initially I decided to spend three months here but then changed and decided to go to Da Lat which is in the central highlands and have cooler temperatures and spend my last few months in Vietnam there. I redid my travel plans a few times to what I wanted. Cancelled airline tickets, found a hotel in Da Lat to stay in longer term and then started doing the shorter trips out of Da Lat again.
I was thinking back on how things have gone because a friend asked me how I could possibly be gone forever. There is a certain mindset to traveling solo in the way I am doing it which is completely different than the usual tourist or RTW or digital nomad or gapyear person. Its not that I don’t have goals or things I want but I found a few things which I just take for granted now that took me a bit to get to.
The first thing is losing the sense of rushing. I don’t want to rush to places only to spend two weeks and move on or a month or whatever. Rushing through a place leaves you with a memory that is rushed. You don’t recall that day where you did not have an agenda or a must or shall do. I lost the sense of purposeful travel with goals and places and things I must do.
The second thing that took me a longer time was not working. I never thought it would take so long to sink in after so many years that I do not have to work! I never have to work again. My life is encompassed in not working at all and just taking the steps and the wandering each day provides.
Another thing was minimizing things. I am not a minimalist and will never be. But I did get rid of things, donated things, selected the remaining things that I thought would work. Some things did but others were left behind or tossed or given away. I had to redo a few things which seemed like good fits like how to charge devices and have my ex-wife ship me new things. Clothing was another one. I thought at first that jeans were the way to go. Do not take jeans to Southeast Asia. You will burn! So I minimized and re-bought things in Hanoi which seemed better. Things of mine now should fit into a Tortuga 45L outbreaker backpack and a fake North Face duffel. And they do. So just proclaiming I am a minimalist is not true. I have never been one. What I am is a realist. I cannot pack two laptops, 5 phones, 14 t shirts, and a expensive set of toiletries. All that goes bye bye.
The final thing is finding value. Sometimes its best when you think there is no value to consider what it is that you have instead of what you don’t have. Its worth re-thinking on that after a beer or a big Vietnamese dinner at the homestay. What is it that is valuable in my life? What are the things that I find value in and how do I get them? I have to say that the things with no value were left behind much like I donated those shirts with collars, ties, shoes, socks, whatever it was. I was left with things I do value. Between this one and the one above, I think you find the golden mean.
Traveling is not this…
I’ve dealt with a few ideas since I retired. One is traveling. I’ve come to realize that what I do is not traveling. I don’t have itineraries and plans and agendas or real bucket lists although I did write down things I had to do in Hanoi. Traveling seems to have a meaning of getting to and from a place. When I traveled for business before, there were expectations and requirements. Must do things. The company wanted things from me if they paid for travel. Rarely did those things and what I really wanted line up.
So I tossed out the idea of traveling on 28 February. But tossing something out and not being reminded or feeling grabbed by it are universes apart.
I’m left with what this is. Upon reflection this is that purposeless wandering with camera in hand I have always wanted. The steps taken each to find a thing and the tired feeling in the legs after doing more steps. The taste of that one cold beer or ice cream at the Vincom Center or wherever. The random steps ensure that this is purposeless. I am empowered to be random. I can turn a direction. Go down one of those mysterious Hems in Vietnam and see the guard smiling and waving. See some of the mystery of the Old Quarter in Hanoi and District One in Ho Chi Minh City.
All these things separate me from the traveler. Trying to put them into words with someone on a schedule of 30 countries in 45 days is hard. If you are hitting the road, perhaps you should read what Robert Louis Stevenson said about travel,
I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.
Its the moving that counts folks. If you move with purpose you may miss the little random life things that are tossed up at you. My advice?
Try to slow down. Don’t just be a minimalist because it explains away things. Be a realist. Can you pack the 10 pairs of shoes and 20 t shirts and jackets and all that in a carry on bag? Look at your expectations when you hit the road and dash them all to bits. Start with a clean slate and don’t re-think them all. Forget the goals. Delete the bucket list. Be that random person you know you can be.
Most of all; slow down. That side street may not wait for you.