As I gaze out at the Golden Gate Bridge from our vacation rental, I’m planning our next adventure, our first trip to Vietnam. Some might think I should be out exploring San Francisco, but I know this city, having lived here for seven years dare I say nearly 17 years ago. Since then we have visited fairly often, but never for so long, three luxurious weeks. There is something about being away from home and the pressure of all the things you should be doing, yet being in a city that you already know where there is no pull to have to see all the sights that makes for a true “vacation”. As much as I love travel, a true travel addict, I’m the first to admit that travel is stressful. Adventure requires that you be on top of your game. But here life is easy and I have the freedom to plan our next adventure without the banister railing calling me to paint it or the garden begging me to weed it. Here I can just ponder, dream, surf through others’ adventures and make a plan.
Making a plan, however, is not so easy. I started reading a guidebook on the flight here and the task felt simply overwhelming. There are some who just go, leaving the details to when they are in-country and have a feel for the place. This works great if you have the luxury of time. Others skip the planning process and let the tour company do all the work. I find this solution too disconnected. For me, part of getting to know a culture is having to work within the local system to arrange the trip. Independent travel with a limited amount of in-country time, however, requires an itinerary framework. It does not mean that every day is fully planned out in advanced, like on a tour. It simply means that the travel arrangements are at least thought out and bought in advance when necessary, we know where we are going to sleep and have a rough idea of what there is to do in each area.
Where to begin? A great starting point is itineraries from other sources – guidebooks, tour companies, other travelers. Also consider UNESCO heritage sites. And above all else think about what type of things you enjoy seeing and doing. Just because it’s on everybody’s must see list doesn’t mean it has to be on yours. Or maybe you have a particular interest that you can add to your trip. That’s the beauty of planning your own itinerary.
Reading other peoples’ adventures has become a great source of inspiration and adds to the excitement of an upcoming trip. Here is who I’m reading:
Byron and his backpacks – Byron teaches in Korea and has great stories and photos from his adventures in Vietnam
An Adventurpreneur’s Manifesto -Traveled in Vietnam Dec-Jan 2011
The Overpacker – Extensive trip throughout Asia, including Vietnam, in 2010
Gordito’s73 Blog – Traveled in Vietnam in October 2009
The World As I See It -Lots of photos
As with Sicily I’m going to be trying Vietnamese recipes. I found that exploring the food before I went also got me in the spirit of the trip as well as enjoying the food more while I was in the country because I knew what to look for.
Using the Smithsonian tour itinerary as a starting point, I put together our starting framework. Since we will be traveling in late winter the weather will be getting warmer; therefore we decided to start in the South and head north. The trip will be broken into three general areas within Vietnam, with short stays in Shanghai at the beginning of the trip and Tokyo at the end. We will first be visiting Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) and the Mekong Delta, then on to the middle of the country around Hué and Hoi An, and finally Hanoi in the North with side trips to Sapa and Halong Bay. The next step is to research hotel options, travel arrangements and information on more specific places we will want to visit.
If you yourself have a blog on Vietnam or have any suggestions, please leave a comment.