They Say “You Can’t Go Home Again,” But…

I came back home two weeks ago, after I finished up my jaunt in Vietnam. Honestly, I had been ready to come home for awhile. The energy ran out and the bank account was skint. But I couldn’t live with myself if I went all the way to the other side of the world without going to Vietnam.

I am really glad I went, but I am also happy to be home. Coming home when I did allowed me to surprise my dad with not only my homecoming, but we also threw a surprise party for him for his 65th birthday. The party was a hit, and was celebrated a few days before Dad’s birthday on the actual birthday of my brother who turned 31 this year. It sucks when you have to tell people your younger brother is 31! We are all old.

Speaking of old, the number one worry of old people is starting to plague my family: slips and falls. Mom fell while out walking with Bro and Dad just a few days before I got back and managed to break both her wrists. She had to have surgery and stitches and two casts and everything. She can’t really use her hands well, so she’s become pretty useless. But at least she’s not in pain, and she is being quite the trooper. There is no good time to break both your arms, but mom timed it well with me coming home anyway.

So here I am, finally at home, enjoying “beautiful” February in Locust Grove, VA, hanging with the ‘rents, visiting friends up near DC, and reminiscing about my adventures over the last year and a half plus. I’ve had plenty of time on my hands to practice Spanish, so I have been making sure to schedule time with my tutors almost every day. And I have been experimenting with some off the cooking skills I have learned – I am already tried out two Thai dishes that came out pretty well! So I am still keeping it pretty international around here.

I have some trips I want to do, of course, but my goals for this year look a lot different than they did a year ago. I am starting to apply for jobs, which is everyone’s favorite activity. So hopefully in a matter of months I’ll be an employed, productive, maybe even home-owning member of society once again! Cross your fingers for me!


Incredible, Intrepid Vietnam

When I originally set out on my journey, I told people that I would keep traveling until the money runs out or the energy runs out. I said it a little jokingly, since I did not think it was possible for my travel energy to run out but guess what… it did. The heat and humidity of SE Asia sucked it right out of me, and my Asia-Pacific adventure had be moving at quite a rapid pace. Changing accommodations every night or two is a grueling pace – and very different from my leisurely jaunt around South America. So I was feeling pretty exhausted (poor me!) and definitely tired of living out of a suitcase – I swear if I ever see that turquoise fleece again I’ll scream.

And yet, I couldn’t leave that side of the world without going to Vietnam, which was probably the Asian country I had most wanted to see. I am not usually an organized tour kinda gal, but I just did not have the emotional and mental fortitude to navigate another SE Asian country where I didn’t speak the language. I had heard good things about Intrepid, especially when it comes to reasonably priced single supplements, and they were having a sale around black Friday. So I scooped up a headache-free Vietnam Express Southbound tour.

The whole thing, including the single supplement, cost $1,263 for a “10” (really, 8 as day 1 is arrival and day 10 is departure) day tour. Could I have done it for cheaper? AssuredlyWould I try to do it for cheaper? I would love to go back to Vietnam and do a self-guided/solo trip someday, but honestly – I found myself really enjoying the group trip. Much to my surprise!

It was nice after coming off three weeks of full solo travel in NZ to travel with others, and I think we lucked out with our group. We all got along well, even though the age range had a wide spread. There were a couple other youngsters I could hang with though. Plus, Intrepid max group size is 16, which is much more manageable than the 40-50 people on Gate1 (my parent’s usual choice of tour operator). And our tour guide, Huyen, was phenomenal!

She guided us expertly and effortlessly as we whipped around on motorbikes in Hue, visited the imperial lantern city of Hoi An, and got to know the bustling metropolises of Hanoi and Saigon. I went to train street, took a cooking class, learned about the Vietnam War, and ate everything I could get my hands on.

Much like my feelings in Korea, I was surprised at how far Vietnam has come given that up until very recently it was suffering through some extremely tough times. So it seemed like fitting bookends that I started this part of my trip in Korea and ended in Vietnam. Life has a funny way of working out beautifully like that.

To sum up: Vietnam definitely makes the list of countries I would love to go back to (although, there are admittedly few that don’t make that list). And now I’m dying to try out some of my recipes from my Peruvian, Thai, and Vietnamese cooking classes…

South Island Wonders – And How I Saw Them All For Free!

When you think about New Zealand, probably the first thing that comes to mind is spectacular scenery, glaciers, and Lord of the Rings – not necessarily budget travel. And while yes, activities are expensive, a night in a hostel dorm can set you back 20 USD, and gas costs a bit more than I am used to, I found a very economical way to road trip around.

And no, I’m not talking about #vanlife – camper vans, while extremely popular in NZ, are actually not cheap, and neither are the camp sites or the gas to run them.

I am talking about transfercar. Have you ever rented a car one way? It’s quite common and not only does it leave you as the renter with a whopping one-way rental fee, it leaves the rental car company trying to figure out how to get cars where and when they need them.

Enter transfercar, a website in NZ (Australia has it too) where rental car companies can post cars that they need relocated and willing drivers can pick them up and use them for free. Sometimes they even throw in a free tank of gas!

I put 3,417 kilometers (2,123 miles) on different transfer cars across the north and south islands of NZ, trying my best to see all the things. All without paying a rental fee! It felt good to hit the road, have the flexibility to do what I wanted – and learn to drive on the left!

I spent most of the time on the south island, taking in the wonders of seal colonies, glaciers, whale watching, and misty Milford Sound. Highlights included wine tasting in Marlborough Valley, rafting through a cave under a glow-worm sky, seeing the pancake rocks, and taking a ski plane and helicopter for a snow-covered glacier landing. And Abel Tasman National Park is a can’t miss.

However, if I am being honest, I didn’t love the south island as much as everyone seems to. Maybe it is just an issue I have in managing expectations with reality, but I did not find it to come to the level of what Patagonia has to offer.

The NORTH island, however, is underrated as far as I am concerned. The thermally active area around Rotorua is super cool (or super hot, rather?) Tongariro National Park was easily the most spectacular place I saw in all of NZ. Wellington and Auckland are lovely cities, you can visit Hobbiton, and I got to get my ZORB on! I gave a hard pass to bungee jumping though (you’re welcome, Mom). 

In the end, NZ left me wanting more – so I am definitely adding it to the list of places to return to.