I am extra excited to be talking to my first interviewees who happen to be my sister and brother in-law and are just about to embark on their first ever overseas trip. I can remember my first trip, which came out of the blue, and the excitement (panic) of not knowing what to expect, and can only imagine how excited they are!
You guys are about to embark on you first international trip ever! You must be really excited!
Yes. Very, very excited. We had resigned ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t be going anywhere for years to come!
Your trip came about very unexpectedly, which, thinking about it, was the same way in which my first trip happened. Given you’ve never travelled outside of Australia, how did you decide which countries to visit?
We wanted to go somewhere that felt far away but wasn’t too far. We didn’t want to spend 20 hours on a plane for our first overseas trip so our trip is made up of stopovers and when we found out one of the stopovers to Vietnam was in Singapore, we decided to extend our stay there (as a certain sister of mine who will remain nameless has been hassling us to go to Singapore and just happens to be there at the same time AND for New Years Eve – how could we not!). We wanted to go somewhere for a long time that wasn’t too expensive and was within our budget. We had watched Top Gear – the Vietnam Special years ago and since then, it had been on my To Go List. Finally, we wanted a range of city hustle and bustle, culture, landscapes and relaxation, so Vietnam was our place!
You are visiting Ho Chin Minh City, Hanoi and Hoi An – how did you decide which cities in Vietnam to visit?
That was tricky. I started wanting to add more places like Phu Quoc Island and Sapa but we would have been racing around and spending so much of our time travelling and we didn’t want that (so they are on our ‘next time list’). We had heard so many wonderful things about Hoi An and we felt it would have a nice mix of culture and relaxation. Hanoi, being a major city would be a good place to start and it happened to be closer to Halong Bay, where we are doing a one night cruise after a three hour drive, so we thought we would be able to see more this way. Ho Chi Minh city had been recommended but we chose it more because it was part of a stopover, so thought why not stay for a couple of nights.
How have you found the process of planning and getting documentation in place? And what resources have you used to do so?
There is soooo much information out there it is hard to find the good information. It takes a lot of time to sift through and not just read one or two reviews, but many and then make a personal choice about that place. I have listened to others that have travelled about their troubles and successes so I took all that on board. I have used Agoda and Trip Advisor a lot to check accommodations and reviews. I have looked at Smart Traveller as well. We were recommended to use Vietnam Visa Corp for our Visa on Arrival and so far they have been very helpful and responsive. The airlines and accommodations we have chosen have been very responsive and helpful and so willing to help. So far it has been a good process. I have ended up in a few panics as there is so much to think about and as you go more information pops up and you can feel a little overwhelmed, especially if you are planning your own trip like we are. If it all works out I will feel very proud though!
And you’ve done most of the research yourselves?
I have listened to a lot of other people’s suggestions and have found things myself also. My husband, Michael and I came up with a list of things we wanted from our trip so that really helped to guide me in my planning. I found it so valuable reading all the positive and negative information as this helped me in my selection. Reading the negative reviews quite often left me thinking that sometimes we can expect too much from other countries, so I have decided not to have any preconceived ideas of what to expect. As long as we have our health and each other and keep in contact with loved ones at home, then we will work it out!
Have you come across anything you weren’t expecting in planning for your trip?
Just the assumption that everyone has done it before. As a first time traveller there has been so many websites that do not really spell things out so this has added so much time. I think that each travel provider should have a ‘first time traveller section’ which tells you everything like a 3 year old! You end up wasting so many hours researching and trying to get every little detail you may need to know!
Have you researched Vietnam much?
Not as much as we should I suppose. I read up about the Vietnam war but still don’t feel like I know as much as I should, I have read Lonely Planet’s guide and have really gone with other people’s knowledge. I did read up about scams – some of those are eye openers hence our decision to organise hotel transfers from the airport instead of taking taxis. Some of the taxi drivers can be in cahoots with scammers and tell you that your hotel has moved or is full, then they take you to a ‘pop up’ hotel that looks and is called the same name but is definitely not what you have booked or paid for and they add all these made up charges! Glad I read about that one!
What are you expecting?
The unexpected. I am expecting to be blown away. I am already feeling a sense of how blessed and lucky we are to have been given the opportunities that we have. I am expecting to feel crowded as I like my space, but this is all part of the experience! I am trying not to build up any expectations – I just want to experience where we are and be part of it all. This is why Michael has not wanted to know much about where and what we are doing. he doesn’t want any preconceived ideas or expectations.
And what about language barriers? How are you expecting to deal with those?
We have translation programs on our phones and I believe that our hotels have some English speakers too. I have taught many children who have no English so I know what can help to describe and show people what I mean. It will be so valuable being on the other side, when I am the minority and experience what it is like. I hope it will help me in my teaching as well.
What do you envision of Singapore?
I expect amazement. We have made our Singapore part of our holiday jam packed so I think it will be full on, exciting and busy. I am really looking forward to it! I am so happy that for my first overseas experience, I will be near someone who has done it before – my security blanket!
What are you looking forward to the most on your travels?
Learning, landscapes, experiencing other cultures and having a long holiday! I think New Years in Singapore will be a highlight!
Do you have any concerns/worries/anxieties about any part of your trip?
Yes, but I keep reminding myself that we can work out any problem and with all the technology these days, I don’t see how we would find anything too difficult. I am trying not to focus on this otherwise it could stop me from experiencing the moment.
What’s the best piece of travel advice you have received/heard?
Educate yourself about the place you are going – pros/cons and make an informed decision. You will get what you pay for (in terms of accommodation and tours), so if you don’t want to spend much, then don’t expect the best. Spend time researching prices and then you know what a good middle ground is.
Well, as if you haven’t heard enough travel advice from me, here’s my favourite for Ho Chi Minh city – have a stiff drink before you head out to attempt crossing the streets!
I’d love to speak to you again when you return to see how it all went – can I have a chat to you then?
Why not! There will be photos….