When I was 19 and finishing my first year of university, my best friend and I decided on a whim to go on a 6-week backpacking trip around Asia. Our knowledge was limited to the ramen noodles we ate in Montreal’s Chinatown and not much more. My friend had already backpacked for two weeks in Europe. As for me, nada. Sure, I had travelled a lot, but always with my family and mostly in hotels.
What attracted me to Asia was the unknown. I wanted to discover new cultures, breathtaking landscapes and live the backpacking experience far away from my comfort zone. I am quite stubborn, and when I have an idea in my mind, nothing and no one can change my mind.
“Mum, Dad, I’m going to Asia this summer.”
My parents exchanged puzzled glances, and then they looked at me with big question marks in their eyes. They finally answered: “Where? How long? With whom? With what money?”
I tried to reassure them by telling them that I would not go alone, that we would be two 19-year-old girls together for 6 weeks during our travels in Vietnam and Thailand. And as for the budget, Southeast Asia was really affordable (as in I heard that my “salary-as-a-student-who-worked-in-day-camps” would provide enough savings for the trip.)
My parents didn’t seem convinced. They were worried about this being my first trip out of the country on my own (asides from a few weekends in the US) and, most importantly, about the fact that we were just two young girls. They tried to dissuade me by telling me about the possible risks and by offering me other destinations “less far from home,” but I told them:
“The plane tickets are already purchased.”
Silence. Yes, I had already made my decision behind their backs, faithful to my “rebellious teenage” side. I was leaving, whether they wanted me to or not (and they didn’t seem to be happy about it at the time).
A few months before the trip, my parents gave me a magazine to prepare for my first backpacking trip and some accessories that would be useful to me. I took the gesture as them accepting my decision, but they remained worried (which I understood.)
Then, there was the incident of the allergic reaction to the oral typhoid vaccine (resulting in a couple of hours in the hospital after a little fear when I stopped breathing) and the fact that I forgot to take my second dose of the vaccine for hepatitis A. So, I left for Asia without full protection and in fragile health (oops!)
The day before the big departure, we had a family dinner and did final preparations. We agreed that I had to give them updates AT LEAST every 2 days, inform them of my arrival itinerary with the addresses of the hostels we were staying at and get a SIM card as soon as I got there. Deal.
After almost 30 hours of travel, which seemed like an eternity (because at 19, you choose the cheapest flights with lots of stopovers), we arrived in Ho Chi Minh. I texted my parents (thanks to my new SIM card) that we were alive and on our way to our first hostel.
Another little scare
Barely two days after our arrival, I began to have a skin reaction, reaffirming Mum and Dad’s worries. The skin on my face was thick, rough, and covered in little red dots. I self-diagnosed (which is not always the best idea) an allergic reaction to the Asian sun.
I felt relatively good, apart from this skin incident. My face returned to normal a few days later. Then another health problem arose. This time it was excruciating stomach pain. I was bedridden in a hostel in Hoi An and felt guilty about preventing my friend from enjoying the city.
We went to a pharmacy not too far away, where I explained to the owner that I had a huge “pain in my stomach.” Our conversation came down to him asking me: “Vomit?” Diarrhea? To which I answered: “no, no.” The owner, who seemed to have deduced the cause of my stomach ache already, handed me 20 rainbow-coloured pills. “Two days,” he instructed in English. I made him clarify: “two PER day?” And he replied that no, I had to take these 20 unknown pills over the course of two days (10 per day).
When my parents heard about this, they worried (with good reason) about me taking these mystery pills. As did I, but I ended up taking them. My stomach ache miraculously went away. I couldn’t have been more grateful for Vietnamese medicine!
To get to the next town, we met up with the “easy riders,” a group of motorcycle guides associated with the hostel. These guides would take you on their motorcycles wherever you wanted for the day, allowing you to discover local gems and other fun things along the way.
“Hi mum and dad, tomorrow we’re going on a motorbike to our next destination. Don’t worry; we’re not driving.”
Again, this is the kind of message that might make your parents have a heart attack. But what could they do? I was LITERALLY on the other side of the world, and they knew I had a good head on my shoulders. After my parents had digested the whole motorcycle episode, I opted for scooter rentals here and there.
After these adventures, the inevitable happened; my SIM card stopped working. We were in Sapa, in the depths of the mountains of Vietnam. So I couldn’t update my parents for 4 days (until I found a cafe with WIFI). At this point, they had no choice but to trust me and hope that I would come back in one piece.
“Sorry, mum and dad. I know I scared you quite a bit.”
Aside from those few issues, it was my best trip ever. Asia allowed me to discover the backpacking lifestyle and get out of my comfort zone. I was able to face and overcome all the unforeseen events, and above all, I fell in love with two cultures so different from mine.
I can’t wait to return, but I will be more experienced next time and, most importantly, older.
PS: If your parents and those around you are not able to prevent you from leaving, at least go with Safetywing Travel Insurance!
Have you freaked your parents out with your travel plans before?
This article was originally published in French and adapted in English by Britney Claveau.