A Room of One’s Own, A Place to Call Home

As perpetual travelers who are constantly pulling up stakes and heading from one city to the next, we’re always looking for things we can toss to lighten our load, not ways we can add to it, so this somewhat trivial shopping outing is really anything but. We don’t buy things unless they’re absolutely necessary, are easily portable, and will get a lot of use. Whatever preconceived notions you might have of long-term travel, know this: for us, a yoga mat and two “normal” (read: not quick drying) towels count as a luxury. Oh how these months of travel have...

On the outskirts of District 1 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, tucked away in the coiling alleyways known locally as hems, there is a bedroom with walls painted a delicate shade of yellow, not unlike freshly churned butter. In it a massive double bed dominates most of the room, but there is enough space for a wardrobe, a tiny fridge, a pock-marked wooden desk, and a television with exactly four English channels and approximately 40 other channels that seem to feature nothing but schmaltzy, schmoopy Viet-pop videos. Despite what seems to us an abundance of furniture, there is still just enough floor space that I can, muscles aching and straining, make it through a yoga routine, though at times it is a stretch… then again, I suppose that’s the point of yoga (see what I did there?). As I heave myself into a forward warrior pose, my knees creak ominously and I groan in pain, the smooth tile of the floor cool but unyielding against my joints. When I have finished my workout, Tony looks up from his laptop and says he has found the address of a sporting goods store nearby—since I seem to be making a habit of starting my days with yoga (or my closest approximation of it), later today we will go and see if we can find me a mat to make the process less (unnecessarily) painful. Maybe while we are out, we’ll pick up some real bath towels, too. Fluffy ones that dry our bodies in seconds but will take hours themselves to dry and take up a prodigal amount of room in our packs.

As perpetual travelers who are constantly pulling up stakes and heading from one city to the next, we’re always looking for things we can toss to lighten our load, not ways we can add to it, so this somewhat trivial shopping outing is really anything but.

We don’t buy things unless they’re absolutely necessary, are easily portable, and will get a lot of use. Whatever preconceived notions you might have of long-term travel, know this: for us, a yoga mat and two “normal” (read: not quick drying) towels count as a luxury. Oh how these months of travel have changed us.

So why, as January and a new year dawns, have we experienced this change of heart? Why are we throwing caution to the wind and picking up frivolous accouterments? And why have we hung up our clothes and, emptied of their contents, stuffed the husks of our packs into the bottom shelf of the wardrobe like two bungling hit men trying to hide a body?

Because for the next three months, this humble room will be our home.

I know, I know. For nearly 1.5 years Tony and I have been rambling about Asia eschewing the need, or even the desire, for something even slightly resembling a permanent base. We’ve become commitment-phobes to everything and everyone but each other, and the thought of staying put in one place long enough to have something mailed to us always had us hastily getting the hell out of dodge.

But it seems the eventual fate of long-term travelers and rolling stones alike that at some point, you just have to slow down, properly unpack, and gather some moss. It turns out that despite all our deking and darting about, even Tony & I can’t outrun this destiny. Exhaustion has nipped at our heels since June; it’s taken us about six months to accept that its mantle has settled upon our shoulders and resists all efforts at being shrugged aside. And although many travelers relay battling feelings of homesickness early on in their journeys, it’s only in the past few months that we’ve found ourselves truly wistful for the comforts of home. When we found ourselves repeatedly pining for things from the life we left behind like late night video game and movie marathons come the weekend, having time to read books, going for walks with no agenda, having a roster of tried, tested and true restaurants where the owners know us (and our orders) on sight, or even the long-fought nemesis of adventurous spirits—a day-to-day routine—we knew that this, in combination with increased mental and physical sluggishness, was a sign that we needed to make some changes to our lifestyle once more.

Now, before you start panicking that we’re unpacking our bags for good or getting ready to turn in our passports, let me assure that this is absolutely not the case. We still want a life of travel—it’s pretty much woven into our DNA at this point—we’re just going to approach it differently for a while.

If you’ll permit me a moment to navel gaze, the initial goal for our trip was to see a bit of the world and have a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. We really thought we would be satisfied by racing through countries at the speed of light, checking out their big ticket attractions, doing the touristy stuff that people do on holidays, and just barely scratch the surface of a place before crossing it off our list and moving on to the next one. Skipping from one country to the next like a stone across a pond, gathering a handful of postcard memories would be enough. It was meant to be a lark, hopefully an enriching one, but primarily, this endeavor was focused on us seeing some cool things, eating some great food, and having fun.

In that respect, we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. Because it has been fun, immensely and incredibly so. And for the past year having fun has been reason enough to sustain the trip.

When we find ourselves tapping into the pulse of a country, that is when we now get the greatest thrill.

Just so I’m clear, traveling hasn’t stopped being fun for us, nor have I suddenly taken up arms against the notion of doing things just because you enjoy them. It’s just that in the midst of it all, we’ve both fallen helplessly in love with Asia, and this passion we feel for it has changed our priorities ever so slightly. We’re no longer interested in a casual dalliance or fleeting flirtation as we hopscotch our way across the globe—we want to delve deeper into the places we visit, uncovering their secrets and stories so we can share them with you. When we find ourselves tapping into the pulse of a country, that is when we now get the greatest thrill. But in order to gain access to the heart of a place and its people, we know we need to give ourselves time to patiently observe and be absorbed into the daily milieu. We want to truly revel in what it means to be in this slice of the world, not as tourists, but as people opening their minds to a life lived slowly and deeply.

More than that, we also want to push the margins in terms of what we do here on the site; we want to expand the boundaries of what we’re capable of when it comes to telling deep, meaningful stories and taking you on photographic journeys. We want to hone our skills, nurture our passions… we want to burst into bloom. But first we need to allow ourselves to take root.

We can’t imagine going back to the way things once were, but if we want to stay out here in the world, we know we need to start developing tangible ways to actually do so.

Staying put also serves another purpose for us: when we set out, we honestly believed this was our one chance to live a big life rather than a small one, that the pursuit of this travel dream would be finite in scope, miles and length. Now we know that this need not be the case, nor do we want it to be. In the most fundamental of ways, traveling has given us back our lives, and as far as we can see the two are now inextricably linked. We can’t imagine going back to the way things once were, but if we want to stay out here in the world, we know we need to start developing tangible ways to actually do so. Money makes the world go round and it will also keep us going around the world, so we are hoping that by slowing things down, we can lay the foundation for streams of income that will help keep us traveling indefinitely. Not only does slowing down our travels a snail’s pace lessen the strain on our savings, but it also gives us the time to channel our inner ants so that we can live a grasshopper’s life. To that end, we will spend the next three months focusing on building our graphic and web design business (if you’ve been toying with freshening up your own site’s look this year, want a new logo, or have any other design needs, check out our Design page to see what we can do for you!) and I will be trying to secure some writing gigs that will pay for the copious bowls of soup I’ll be gorging on here in Vietnam.

There will still be traveling, or perhaps more accurately what I mean is exploration, while we’re here in Saigon. It’s a massive, sprawling city in a state of pupation much like ourselves, with plenty for us to dive into and discover. We’ve already managed to break free of Pham Ngu Lao, the backpacker’s ghetto and the only part of the city we really saw last time, so that seems promising. We’re also within easy reach of the Mekong and sundry beaches; with a scooter at our disposal, we plan to take plenty of weekend jaunts to keep things interesting.

We might discover that we cannot make this work. We might fail. But the fact that we are so in love with the life that we have right now means we have to try this so that we can hold on to it.

As we stand on the threshold of bona fide self-employment, I truthfully have no idea how things will work out or what the next three months have in store for us in that regard. I suspect there will be a lot of hard work along with some tears, frustration and disappointment, and there is always the chance that three months from now we’ll have nothing to show for this investment of time and ourselves that we are making. It is a gamble that may not pay off. We might discover that we cannot make this work. We might fail. But the fact that we are so in love with the life that we have right now means we have to try this so that we can hold on to it. The fear of failure is nothing compared to the possibility of losing what we have traveled so far (both metaphorically and literally) to find. Finding something that means more to me than fear is how I know it is worth putting this new dream on the line and furiously going after it with both hands once more, just as we did back when we first concocted the idea of traveling around the world for one year.

From day one we have always viewed this trip as a journey, meaning nothing about it—not us, not our location, not even the adventure itself—would stay fixed or unchanging. It seems fitting and feels right that after all the adventures we’ve had in 2013, we are kicking off 2014 by navigating a new one. In the spirit of a fresh start, we’re also going to shake things up narratively speaking here at 20YH: although I wrote just a few months ago about being ok with how far behind our site is, and I still stand by that, it does sometimes bother me that our tardiness has choked off some of my more “of the moment” reflections and posts I might wish to write. While we’re here in Vietnam, I’m going to try punctuating our back catalog of stories from the past 12 months with more timely reflections of this phase of our trip. I’m hoping this experiment will encourage me to write more frequently and more freely. Lately writing has felt a bit like a chore and I worry blogging has become too self-serious for my own good, so I’m going to try a new approach where I just write what I want. I’ve never tried this before because I was worried things might feel muddled or schizophrenic, but I suppose there’s only one real way to know for sure.

And so I sit here, in a room with daffodil walls dappled with sunlight, a room of my own—at least for three months—and prepare to set out once more unto the breach. Dear friends, won’t you join me?

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35 comments Leave a comment

  1. The best part of this news for ME is that you’ll be there when we arrive later this month! Woo hoo!!! And then we can eat all the VIETNAMESE food! And have a proper goodbye.

    Even though we’re doing a much more scaled down version of this, the reasons behind us staying in Siem Reap for a few weeks is to do a lot of the same – get to know the place, read, catch up on the blog, and generally just feel “at home” for a bit. So far, so good (outside of the days-long wedding taking place right outside our hotel). I think you’ll do great at whatever you put your minds to because you’re both talented and hard workers.

    I’m also jealous of your yoga mat.

    Jan. 3 2014 @ 3:07 am
    1. Carmel author

      Siem Reap is a great place to relax! We spent the bulk of our time in Kampot and Kep, BUT I think SR probably offers a little more variety (especially on the dining front) and is just a nice place to unwind.

      Also: no yoga mat, yet! We haven’t been able to find one at any of the sports stores… maybe by the time you guys arrive? (I am already making a list of the places to take you for food, btw…)

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:23 pm
  2. I think this is such a great point of evolution in almost every long term traveler. The want to settle, just a bit, to stay in one place, become familiar, and dig in a little bit further has become my favourite part of travel. It is what is behind our long term focus of becoming ‘serial expats’. I’m excited to see what you come up with, how you like focusing on one area for while and, of course, hearing about all the food!! Cheers!

    Jan. 3 2014 @ 6:57 am
    1. Gillian author

      I’m a bit nervous about this, only because we’ve yet to be in any country longer for 2 months, mostly because we start getting restless and want to push on, so having a base in one location (never mind one country!) will certainly be a dramatic change of pace. I also don’t know if we’re going to ultimately make the most of our time here in Saigon because there is so much to see and do (and eat!) and I feel like 3 months is still not enough for all of it, but I figure so long as we enjoy ourselves and accomplish some of what we set out for ourselves (or at least try to do so), I will have to be satisfied with that!

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:26 pm
  3. Interesting…very interesting. How do you feel about having a houseguest in March? 😉 (also, hooray for setting down temporary roots, it’ll feel so good to get caught up!)

    Jan. 3 2014 @ 7:00 am
    1. Edna author

      You know we would be ecstatic to host you if you make it here during your triumphant return tour of Asia! I so hope this happens!

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:27 pm
  4. I knew this was coming and it can only be for the best. I’m glad you decided to slow down a little bit and staying longer in a country you like to live more and know more about. I’m sure these 3 coming months will be incredibly nice, different and most definitely inspiring for you two,. On the other hand it means our so wanted reunion has to wait.. Enjoy guys! 🙂

    Jan. 3 2014 @ 7:34 am
    1. Franca author

      I still do really badly when adopting and embracing change, so I was nervous about this move, but you are right that it will ultimately be for the best. Part of me never wants to waste a minute that could be spent exploring by being stationary, but I know that if we take this time to recharge and re-define our focus, it will mean that when we do get out there and start traveling again, we’ll do so with renewed purpose and vigor. And really, there are way worse fates than living in Vietnam (one of our favorite countries!) for 3 months!

      Who knows where we’ll head after this, though? That long awaited reunion might be closer than either of us thinks!

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:30 pm
  5. So awesome to see you guys make the changes necessary to maintain the lifestyle you want. It’s been very interesting to watch your adventure and outlook transform into what it is today.

    Hope you enjoy your “normal” life for the next three months!

    Jan. 3 2014 @ 8:03 am
    1. Sim author

      Perhaps it’s ironic to talk about journeys when we’re staying still for 3 months, but I guess that’s what this blog is really tracking: not just our physical movement through the world, but our personal evolution as well! It makes sense that the Steph & Tony of today would want different things than we did back in 2012… we’re older and wiser and (slightly) different people now!

      Now, if only we could get a PS3 here in Saigon, I think we might never leave! That (and the dogs!) is the one thing we miss so badly and can’t really find a good solution for!

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:32 pm
  6. I think this will be one of the best decisions you guys have made on the road. I still cannot believe you’ve been at it as long as you have. That is a long time to be on the go constantly, so I’m sure this time will restore you in ways you didn’t even realize.

    I look forward to your more spontaneous posts! Enjoy getting settled, and happy new year!

    Jan. 3 2014 @ 10:04 am
    1. jenn aka the picky girl author

      It’s funny because when we meet other travelers (even just short-term ones), they ask us how we aren’t exhausted all the time. A couple months ago, we started just laughing and telling them that we ARE exhausted most of the time!

      We really love this life that we’ve carved out for ourselves and for a long time were really resistant to settling anywhere for fear of sliding back into our “old ways”. But now it feels good to know what parts of our old life we really cherished and made us happy and get to reincorporate them back into our day-to-day as best we can.

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:35 pm
  7. Those sound like awesome plans. I’ve definitely had the “this is my one chance to live a big life” thought. Even though it’s not true, it can be helpful for getting butt in gear!

    Jan. 3 2014 @ 7:09 pm
    1. Kate author

      Yes, the “once chance” mentality can be great for motivating you and taking big leaps, but ultimately, it’s not sustainable. When you realize that life is just one big chance to do what you love, you start to approach things differently and perhaps with a little more investment in long-term goals. I still want to live a big life, but I’ve learned the value of the small moments too.

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:38 pm
  8. I love that you’ve continued this adventure long past when you thought it would be over, and that you’re evolving along the way!

    Jan. 4 2014 @ 11:34 am
    1. Amanda author

      As our friend Carmel (see first comment) is always reminding us, the only constant is change! 😉

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:41 pm
  9. I have a good feeling about this in my gut, and I hope that counts for something. I just know you are going to do great things, and I’m happy for you that you have come to this liberating decision with such contentedness.
    As for the schizophrenia and muddled feel of a blog… I write whatever I want whenever I want and a) no one seems to mind and b) it makes writing a lot more fun. So take it from me – you are an artist; do what feels right. We will read.

    Jan. 4 2014 @ 12:25 pm
    1. Colleen Brynn author

      Gut feelings count for so much around these parts, so I’ll take yours as a good sign!

      I think you’re right that the key with blogging is to have fun with it. We’ve been approaching it like a job so that we can grow and improve, but I think the writing, although I want to challenge myself, never needs to lose its joy. And lately it’s felt a bit like slamming my head against a wall rather than letting my fingers dance across the keyboard. Hopefully by loosening the restrictions I’ve placed on myself I can get back to a place where the writing completes me rather than weighs me down.

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:44 pm
  10. This is so exciting! We can definitely understand where you guys are coming from, and even though we travel pretty slowly, sometimes we feel like it still isn’t slow enough. I find it personally difficult to balance my wanderlust and never-ending bucket list with my desire to get involved in local communities, volunteer, and invest in my hobbies. Saigon would be an awesome place to call home for three months- can’t wait to see what insider tips you discover 🙂 And best of luck investing in your personal businesses! We are still doing the same thing, and while it is incredibly rewarding, it’s also not easy. You guys are both so talented though that I have no doubt you’ll be awesome 🙂

    Jan. 4 2014 @ 1:02 pm
    1. Casey @ A Cruising Couple author

      I think the key for us is that when we started, the trip really was 100% about traveling and adventure. And now, we’re trying to figure out a way to just live the best lives we can, which means having a healthy dose of travel and exploration built into the framework. For a while I never wanted to stop traveling and stay anywhere for too long, but now I realize that I was just really ready to move on from the life I was living before. It was time to not be a graduate student any longer, time to no longer live in Nashville, time to shake things up. Now I know what’s really important to me which means I can put my energy into pursuing those things!

      Jan. 4 2014 @ 10:46 pm
  11. I can totally relate to this post. Last year I was travelling constantly from one place to another and hotel rooms became my home. I tried to make myself comfortable in every single room I stayed that time.

    Jan. 5 2014 @ 9:39 pm
    1. Agness author

      We’ve gotten used to bare-bones living so most hotel rooms wind up feeling like home for us too… but there is something different when you know you’ll be staying somewhere for a really long time. Being able to unpack, everything having a place, it’s like a huge part of your brain frees up and you have room to concentrate on other things!

      Jan. 6 2014 @ 7:51 pm
  12. I’ve never understood how people could do that hop-scotch for so long, and I totally understand wanting to settle in and see things a little more closely in Vietnam and Asia. I think you two will have a wonderful time and by the end of the three months, will feel refreshed enough to start running again. And honestly I can’t wait for your posts about the more “mundane” and less about putting one destination into a single post. It’ll create more depth in your blog, the small, the big, the near, the far. And the movie marathons. 🙂 I’m just super excited for you guys on all levels! Yay!

    Jan. 11 2014 @ 11:40 am
    1. Sally author

      Thanks for the vote of confidence! I have, of course, not written anything about our time here in HCMC yet, but I have a few posts stewing in the back of my brain, so now I just need to sit down and write them. As our journey continues to evolve I do want to share that transformation with everyone as it’s all part of the adventure (even if that adventure is a little quieter!).

      Jan. 12 2014 @ 5:01 am
  13. We know exactly how you feel guys, we did the same in Chiang Mai. I think it happens to every long-term traveller; it just happens at different times. Enjoy your new home! It was great to meet up with you guys in Saigon! 🙂

    Jan. 12 2014 @ 12:12 am
    1. Andrew author

      Yes, so fun to meet up with you and Amy! Saigon is turning out to be a great base for us, and not just because we are getting to meet up with so many wonderful people (though that is a huge perk!). We have started to discover favorite restaurants that are really easy on the wallet and I think Saigon is just a great “living” city. I still haven’t found much here that I find super interesting as a tourist, but as someone who’s here to work and decompress, it’s great!

      Jan. 12 2014 @ 5:03 am
  14. Congratulations on your new temporary home! It’s so important to stop and take stock every once in a while, to reconnect with ourselves and rest. As eager as I am to hit the road again, I have really enjoyed these last few months in the States. I bought a shiny new tea kettle and am not in the least ashamed by how happy it’s made me 🙂

    Jan. 13 2014 @ 8:55 am
    1. Heather author

      Yes, you are so right! When you are constantly on the go, it’s really difficult to connect with yourself and take your emotional temperature, so to speak. It’s easy to get into ruts, routines, and habits that may not be all that healthy and to ignore the things that we really want. At this point, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of being in foreign places and of traveling, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important to take a break and recharge every now and again.

      We also have a kettle! Though it came with our room and we don’t get to keep it when we leave… still, it is a constant source of joy! 🙂

      Jan. 14 2014 @ 9:46 pm
  15. Good for you 🙂 I’m excited to see where this new adventure takes you and am really proud of you for continuing to have the balls to try something new and strive for that life you really want. I know when we saw you in Cambodia you were completely in love with Saigon so it seems like the perfect place to see down some temporary roots. Have a fantastic time really getting to know the city and best of luck with your new ventures.

    Jan. 14 2014 @ 1:04 pm
    1. Maddie author

      Thanks, Maddie! We’re almost 1 month in and still feeling good about our choice, so that is something! I’m not sure if we were totally in love with Saigon before or even when we returned, but we did love Vietnam and we wanted to explore this area of the country more, so it made sense for us as a base. Of course, we’ve yet to do any real exploring since we’ve been back, so we need to get our butts back in gear! 😉

      Jan. 14 2014 @ 9:53 pm
  16. I’m looking forward to following your next phase. Our only real ‘slow travel’ was done volunteering in Europe, and that was much needed as a change of pace. A trip any longer than our six month one and we’d definitely have to slow down a lot – but when you’ve got a finite amount of time, you do want to get the most out of it.

    Jan. 15 2014 @ 1:16 pm
  17. I’m looking forward to all of your future writings, plans and travels! The picture of you sitting on the bed is so cute. You look so happy just sitting there with your laptop! The bedding looks really Asian haha!

    Jan. 19 2014 @ 2:40 pm
    1. Angela author

      I am very happy to have a place to work so comfortably on my laptop (despite the fact we have a desk, I still work on the bed 99% of the time). And I’ve really come to love our Asian bedding! 🙂

      Jan. 20 2014 @ 5:41 am
  18. Paul Kuehn

    I was there when it was all a war zone, so your commentary is extremely interesting for me . . .in 1970 I could not imagine someone related to me, would be traveling through some of the same places. I completely enjoy all your insites and comments . . .Pop

    Aug. 26 2018 @ 5:42 pm

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