And Then Everything Changed in Vietnam

If anything, at the end of this Asia trip I will be able to say that this continent has changed me. I’m not certain of much at present, but I know that I will be a different person when I leave Asia than when I arrived- hopefully a slightly older, more balanced, more confident, more courageous version of myself.

In true clichéd backpacker fashion, I’ve learned a lot about myself on this journey. As much as I love to socialize and ham it up other travelers, at heart I am an introvert. I need time alone each day to process life: to take photos, to read, to write in my journal. If I’m surrounded by other people constantly I start to feel anxious and like I need to be “on” the whole time.

I’ve also learned that I’m a sensitive person who over-analyzes and over-thinks things. And while noticing the small details and being hyper-aware of my surroundings makes me (hopefully) a decent writer and photographer, it can also make social situations difficult- I’m too thin-skinned and I take negative comments entirely too much to heart.

When I’m traveling with others I wonder, Do they really want me here? Am I crashing their trip? Should I go off on my own?

So why is this post titled, “And Then Everything Changed in Vietnam”? Because after a month of partying hard with an incredible group of people and three months with a travel buddy, I’m now on my own. I’ve had to face the inevitable sadness that comes with the transience of travel- losing people who probably meant too much to you in the first place.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about travel in the past eight years, it’s that you really, really do have to enjoy each moment because you never know what will happen next- on the road, everything is ephemeral. A week ago I was traveling in a group of eight and now I’m alone. It was a sudden jolt into solo travel but strangely enough, I’m more than okay with it.

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At first, I was struggling with going forward- how could I travel Asia all by myself? And as this emotional turmoil was transpiring, I was falling in love with Vietnam.

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I’ll write more soon, but I but can’t help but adore Vietnam. The food is far and away the best I’ve had in Southeast Asia, and it’s such a vast cuisine. I find myself wondering, How am I going to try all these dishes in only two weeks?

So here are my plans at present. I’m going to spend the next two weeks in Vietnam exploring just the Central Highlands and the south so I can travel slowly and work along the way. Then I’ll spend four days stuffing my face in Singapore and a month enjoying a self-made yoga and diving retreat in Indonesia. From there I’ll most likely fly to Bangkok around mid-December and decide whether to fly home for Christmas or continue north to northern Thailand, Laos and Northern Vietnam. I also have a tentative plan to stop in Europe on the way home for six weeks or so to visit friends and family.

And I have a new vow- I’m going to make a conscious effort to nix my self-doubt and bolster my self-confidence. Too often I find myself second-guessing myself: Should I really be traveling right now? Am I ever going to make it as a writer? Will I ever have a lasting relationship?

But honestly, I should be happy with who I am and how far I’ve come. All of the things I dreamed about as a 17-year old, all the things I thought would never come true, I’ve accomplished: writing for a living, speaking three languages and traveling the world. I really am living the life of my dreams and remind myself each day of how insanely, absurdly lucky I am.

Travel has its ups and downs. Things change quickly but I’m breathing a sigh of relief- solo travel is exactly what I need right now. 

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

40 thoughts on “And Then Everything Changed in Vietnam”

  1. As I´ve probably said before, I loved Vietnam too. You HAVE to make it to the north. If you happen to swing by Europe like you said, let me know :)

    I often have the same fears and doubts. Just live it up on this trip, because even just doing that is enough. I can´t believe my trip is over and I´m not in Asia anymore. Sometimes I totally took it all for granted.

    And for goodness sakes, making money off your writing, three languages and backpacking solo….that´s amazing!

  2. I totally can relate to you on this. I’m an introvert at heart too so my alone time means A LOT to me. I was beginning to wonder the same thing about traveling, meeting great people along the way and having to say goodbye. But I guess thats what comes with it. And if they are meant to be in your life, they will be.

    Everyone you meet along your travels, there’s a reason for it. Even if its for a week or a single day. You learn something.

    You’re feelings are normal. I think you are being a little hard on yourself, we all are sometimes. But like you said, you are living the dream. I haven’t left on my RTW trip just yet but very soon I will be and I can’t wait. Embrace your emotions and then let it go.

    Oh, and once you adopt the ” I don’t give a shit what other’s think” attitude, life will be so much easier and happier.

    My travel dreams started around the same time as you so be proud of the accomplishments you achieved so far and that you did it! You said you would travel the world and you’re doing it!

    Lovely post, can’t wait to see more of Vietnam.

    xo

  3. Well you know my thoughts on all of this so I’ll just say that I love that you love Vietnam, and I’m thinking of you over here in Dubai and sorely wishing I could be by your side instead. But until then big hugs and many skypes xxxx

  4. Traveling has a way of being completely amazing while screwing with your head. But you are an amazing writer, blogger, and photographer and you are so young (God, i sound old lol). But seriously, I over think things, am thin skinned, basically everything you said about yourself and I really understand. But it all works out in the end. Maybe you won’t have a relationship now, but maybe you will in 2 years. And being single in your early 20s and traveling solo around Asia is way better anyway :)

    Enjoy your time, too!! Your blog has made me miss backpacking and Asia so much. Sometimes I can’t believe it ever happened. You chose the best country to travel slowly through. I am still kicking myself that I bought my ticket home so early and didn’t have enough time to properly see the middle of Vietnam.

    And if you’re in Europe at any time let me know so we can have a Michigander reunion :)

    • Thanks so much for your sweet words, Amanda. And yes, I would love to see you in London! My brother’s studying there next year so I’m definitely planning on visiting. I’m sure we’ll get together and eat lots of delicious things!

  5. I’ve often wondered if I’m too thin-skinned; I am friendly but definitely not the most outgoing person (thankfully my boyfriend more than makes up for that). It’s good to know you’re successfully traveling while maintaining that balance.
    And Vietnam looks beautiful – I can’t wait to see more!

  6. Some downtime is always appreciated after a month long party. I find it helps to reflect and appreciate the things we do and the people we meet so that we don’t take it for granted.

    Can’t wait to hit SE Asia in a couple of months. Save some for me!

    • You’re going to have an amazing time! It’s so much fun out here. And yes, I definitely needed some downtime after partying so much… it’s sometimes so necessary to just take a break from it all!

  7. I have the same introvert-induced self doubt and anxiety. And when I get anxious, I get awkward, and when I get awkward, I get more awkward. I’ve always felt most comfortable on my own, and I always find it interesting that some people prefer the company of others over their own… I had a friend like that once who had to be surrounded by other people all the time and she didn’t understand how I could be so happy to be on my own. That said, people are one of my great loves. The problem often is that other people don’t feel the same…
    Your plans sound great. Can’t wait to read more! :)

    • I definitely think that we’re all part extrovert and introvert and it’s necessary to have both time alone and time with others… you’ll go crazy with too much of either! Thanks for your thoughtful comment Colleen, I’m glad you liked the post!

  8. My motto is do what you love and the rest will fall into place. I think you will be more than fine, Ashley! And I can’t wait to hear about all the Vietnamese food!

  9. I totally know what you’re talking about here. I’m much more introverted than most of my friends (and most people I meet travelling, it seems). Even so, I’ve set off to travel solo before but I’ve never felt alone beyond the first week or so. I’ve never had a problem just taking the night off socialising.

    Also, you’re making me want to get to Asia again! I’ve only ever been to Japan and I think I need to change that!

    • Now that I’m traveling solo I think that it will be much easier to take time off to rest or work- I just can’t stay in when everyone else is going out! And definitely come back to Asia- it’s so much fun here!

  10. Ashley, always be yourself. don’t be what others expect you to be.And never take anything personally.

    Love,

    Gamma

  11. As a fellow introvert, I was totally nodding along in agreement as I read this post! It is always nice to have travel buddies, but I think it can be really rewarding and amazing to travel alone, too – and I’m looking forward to hear what you do while flying solo in Vietnam!

  12. Great post, Ashley.

    We have a lot in common with the introversion and the self-doubt that comes along with hanging with new people on the road. But, like you, my time spent has traveling has begun to erode these negative feelings and has made me a better person as well. This is what travel is about- learning about yourself while you get to learn about the world.

    “it’s that you really, really do have to enjoy each moment because you never know what will happen next- on the road, everything is ephemeral”

    This the truest thing in this post. You HAVE to try, as best as you can, to enjoy the moments you have without looking into the future. The moments on the road are so short and sweet that if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss ’em. A good lesson that can be applied to post-travel life too, I think.

  13. Ashley,
    I loved your post! I was just at a party and I couldn’t wait to get home and use my computer and then go read a book ALONE! Maybe your own father is an introvert. Be safe out there alone on the road. Keep in touch, Love Dad

  14. Thanks for sharing your awesome Vietnam adventure. All countries have their own beauties and are also worth visiting just like others. It’s really lonely to travel alone but it can bring us into knowing ourselves more and to explore deeply with out hearts and instincts.

  15. Ashley! Please know how wonderful your writing truly is. I have read countless travel blogs, and none inspire me or connect to me as much as yours does.
    I am a 20 year old college student who has been day dreaming of mountain climbing in Europe and walking through the streets of Tokyo since middle school. My parents and friends always laugh when I tell them where I was looking up plane tickets to this week; but you give me inspiration!
    How will this ever happen for me? Will I ever be able to travel after I graduate? Am I ever going to set foot off of America? Please keep writing and being honest and opening up your heart to your blog. It is such a blessing! And know that you are being prayed for while you are abroad! Much love to Vietnam.

    • Wow Brigid, your comment honestly makes my day. If you want to travel so much you definitely will do it- it’s all about wanting it so much that you make it happy! :) Let me know if you need any travel advice to get started, I’d be happy to chat with you :)

  16. Nothing cliché about this post or your feelings as a traveler. You’ve picked what I consider the best path to conquer self doubt, solo travel. I prefer solo travel. I like the freedom and the reflective thought that occurs more often because of it.

    Expect more change! :)

  17. I really enjoyed this post! I also started my solo traveling in Vietnam- I had been with a friend for 4.5 month but we had planned to go our separate ways in HCM. It was so much easier than I thought it would be! It was such a liberating experience and made me feel like a more confident person in general. Also, as a 24-year-old traveler I have the same doubts as you when it comes to relationships and jobs and what I should be doing with my life. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one!

    • It’s definitely bittersweet to part with a travel partner after so much time together… and it’s good to have someone who relates to me on the young traveler/not sure about the future thing. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one!

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