I’ve always had a big fat feeling of wanderlust sitting in my belly, just under my ribs. Every few years it rears its head, looks around and gives me a prod. Get off your butt, it says. Let’s go on an adventure.
Usually I sate the beast with trips back home (India), or around New Zealand itself – there’s so much to see after all. 60km of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, 10 adventure packed days in the South Island over New Years, a sunrise hike of Mount Taranaki, the Whanganui Journey…but it’s never enough, and though appeased momentarily – that wanderlust is a hungry little f*cker.
June marks 10 years in New Zealand for me. 10 years! If there was ever a perfect time to uproot my life and go on an epic journey of self-discovery, this was it.
Luckily Barry and the team at Xero were super supportive. My extended family on the other hand, had varying reactions.
“Why though? One month? Alone? That’s so long!”
It’s not really.
If you’re reading this in any other part of the world, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is. Where you’re from, the OE is a rite of passage thing. But in my family, we’ve always been encouraged to go to school, finish University (get a respectable degree), get a job, and maybe then think about travelling.
But I’ve never followed a traditional path, and wasn’t planning on starting anytime soon. Bring on the adventure!
But first, where to go?
I have a bucket list of places I want to travel to. South America. Morocco. Japan. Taiwan. Nepal. Canada. Not necessarily in that order. But I had been fixated on Vietnam for ages, it was cheap, flights were on sale, it would be hot in June (whereas it’d be winter in New Zealand and I’m a tropical creature!), I love the food and as a non-English speaking country it would be completely outside my comfort zone.
Conquering fear while travelling
But I didn’t want this to be just another holiday: a few selfies by the beach, couple of cocktails and then back to life in New Zealand – what a waste!
This was an opportunity to conquer fears…and inspire others to do the same. We’ve always maintained that Break the Resistance is bigger than us!
Resistance is different things to different people. But to break it, you need to embrace it. For me, travelling alone (into the unknown) was already Breaking the Resistance, and I made sure that in the next 4 weeks, anything I hesitated about or that scared me, I would do.
1 – Putting myself out there
When you’re travelling alone, you really have to put yourself out there. You have to be the one who introduces yourself to others, who initiates conversation, who makes the first move. It can be exhausting, terrifying and confronting. Sometimes people will brush you off, sometimes people will embrace you with open arms.
It would have been so easy to just book into AirBnbs – get a room to myself and enjoy some solitude. The prices were super cheap compared to New Zealand after all – but that would have totally defeated the purpose. Richard Meadows, FairFax Media journalist and blogger, talks about the first stage of solo travel being fear (seriously, read that blog post, it’s awesome). He’s not wrong. We’ve become so paranoid when someone we don’t know talks to us, that it’s scary being the one to initiate the first “Hi”.
I found most people were travelling in groups, so it was extra intimidating.
But I did it anyway.
Making friends in Sapa
Halong Bay adventuring
And you know what? I met some awesome people, shared my story, listened to theirs, and even got to practice my rusty ol’ French and German.
2 – Jumping off all the high things
Rock climbing has gone a long way to cure my fear of heights, but the glimmer of it is still there, still as real as ever. I haven’t met too many people with acrophobia trying to do anything about it, but it’s never been that black and white for me. I’d always hated it and always wanted to conquer it. The first time I did canyoning in Queenstown, I adamantly refused to jump off anything remotely high, so when I leapt off the second story of our boat in the Cham islands, or did the 7m cliff jump in Da Lat, I was pretty proud I had made a sliver of progress!
A newfound love for cliff jumping
3 – Being a ‘yes’ person
If you hadn’t already guessed, I’m the teeniest bit introverted. That means sometimes I hold myself back and even though I’m an adventurous person, I can still be a little reserved. This experience was about seizing every opportunity that came my way and making it my adventure. If I wanted to to hike, I did it, if I wanted to chill out – I was okay with that, when I wanted to mingle, watch the football or head to the bars, I did that too.
I jumped on a bike to explore cities purely because I knew I hadn’t ridden one outside the gym in YEARS. And when I hesitated about booking a photography tour I realised what I was doing and went for it. That half day ‘On the Tracks’ tour exploring Hanoi off the beaten track turned out to be the best thing I did in 4 weeks of exploring Vietnam.
Technique practice 1
Technique practice 2
We also practiced a few cool photography techniques, such as the one illustrated above, with the subject in focus and the background a blur. There’s so much interesting stuff happening on the streets of Vietnam that you could stand for hours trying to get the perfect shot.
But it does take a lot of practice: you need to make sure your shutter speed is slow (1/30), you’re tracking the subject for the right amount of time, and press the button at the optimal moment. Too late and you’ll get their back, too early and you’ll get their face. You want their profile. (My 35mm prime lens was a little tight for what we were trying to achieve…but that’s another story!)
4 – Asking people if I could take their photo
A photography course is one thing – you’re with a photographer, you feel like it’s totally all right to take photos of everything, even him. But documenting on your own is different – The first day I arrived in Hanoi and went off to explore the city, I had my Fuji at my side, but I was taking pictures of locals going about their lives from the back, from the side, surreptitiously. I thought that’s what street photography was about, sliding into spaces unseen, capturing moments as they happened, being careful not to invade someone’s personal space by sticking a camera in their face.
Street vendor from the back
I didn’t know that the real magic happens when you get personal. When you break the resistance, smile, and ask someone if you can take their photo. You might get rejected (and I have) but you might get a moment that’s worth all the other rejections.
Mama san. All the women around laughed and said “What about me?”
Plus, it’s a great skill to develop – approaching strangers with a smile, asking or gesturing politely, and thanking them afterwards. The more I’ve done it, the more confident I’ve become, and the better the photos have gotten!
7 adventurous ways to #breaktheresistance in Vietnam
Even though New Zealand is world-known for its adventure experiences, I was super impressed by the tours and quality of everything on offer in Vietnam. There was a lot that I didn’t get to do, such as the rock climbing in Cat Ba, one of the only places it’s available (the reviews aren’t a bit sketchy but still…) or rent a motorbike and explore the country on my own two wheels…but if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam anytime soon (and you should!) here are a few great adventurous experiences you shouldn’t miss:
Hiking – Sapa (Northern Vietnam)
I’d read about Mt. Fansipan in Northern Vietnam (3143m) and immediately knew I wanted to head in that general direction. The travel agents deterred me from going there, saying it was too hard and too expensive (I shouldn’t have listened) but ended up doing a 3 day 2 night hiking tour around Sapa in northern Vietnam.
Hiking in Sapa
Overall it was a great experience, not as hard as I would have liked but the homestay was authentic and I felt like I was doing something active and different! Rainy season meant it poured quite a bit, and we trudged through a lot of mud – nothing that we shy away from in New Zealand! Mama san even tried to sell us some of her “happy flowers”, which was really surreal (they grow it in the area).
Mama san helping ‘de-seed’ the male plant
Happy flowers in the hills of Sapa
Caving – Phong Nha (North Central Vietnam)
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park contains the oldest karst mountains in Asia. Unfortunately the outdoor climbing scene is severely underdeveloped, but the area is known for its extensive cave systems. I wanted something that would require a bit more activity, so opted for the Tu Lan 1 Day Experience, by Oxalis. It was super fun, with a short jungle trek and cave swimming included. Again, not as hard as I would have liked, but super fun!
Newfound happy place
Our guides zipping ahead with the supplies
Stunning views of the area
Motorbike riding – Hai Van Pass (Central Vietnam)
Whether you get a guide or hire a bike and do this yourself (I did the former) the stretch from Hue to Hoi An is pretty breathtaking. I did the 5 hour journey between Hue and Da Nang with Easy Riders. Hai Van Pass is probably the most famous part, an approximately 21 km long mountain pass that winds up and over a fortress of mountains. Top Gear even called it “one of the best coast roads in the world”.
Selfie with my guide!
Stunning views from Hai Van Pass
Snorkelling and diving – Cham Islands (Central Vietnam)
I’ve dived in Great Barrier Reef which is supposed to be one of the world’s best diving spots, but the diving experience with Hoi An Diving Center in the Cham Islands was incredible! The water was so clear, the coral was so vibrant and alive. I did two 25 minute dives for the total of NZD 126 which was a steal!
Snorkelling in the deepest blue water
It was super fun, with a short jungle trek and cave swimming included. Again, not as hard as I would have liked, but super fun!
Canyoning – Dalat (Central Highlands, South Vietnam)
Everyone raves about the canyoning in Dalat and it’s definitely a great 1 day experience. We went with Highland Sport Travel and spent a half day learning to rappel down 3 cliff faces, water slide and cliff jump. It was epic fun and all the photos were provided free of charge afterwards as well.
Canyoning happy face!
I’ve gotten a few raised eyebrows from people trying to understand why I was adamant on going off on my own and not letting anyone come with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m supremely grateful that I have people who can put up with my idiosyncrasies for 4 weeks, but in my opinion, everyone needs to experience solo travel at some point. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 18 and fresh out of school, having a quarter life crisis, or even just taking a break at the height of your career – travelling alone is one of the most freeing, BEST things you can do for yourself.
- Reconnect with yourself
- Develop a fierce sense of independence
- Improve your self confidence (and conquer fear)
- Not have to make compromises to accommodate anyone
- Have the ability to create your own adventure – and that’s the most powerful thing of all.
A lot has changed for me since my trip. Mentally, I’ve never felt better. Coming back, I decided to quit my job at Xero, which was a huge deal after nearly 3 years at the company. I’ve taken up freelancing for a while, forsaking the security and comfort of a full time job for flexibility and freedom. I suppose that’s Breaking the Resistance in its own way, and it feels great. I also know now that I want to make travel a huge part of my life. And any extra time I have at the moment, I’m devoting to Break the Resistance. I think it’s going to be an epic year, and I can’t wait to show you what we’ve got planned!