Only Fools Runaway : How backpacking in Vietnam changed my world view.

Only Fools Runaway

After months of sacrificial savings and scouring every pant pocket for loose coins, I finally found myself staring outside an airplane window listening to a voiceover that said ‘Vietnam in eight hours’. Finally, my long awaited escape was here – only eight hours away. Coming from immigrant parents who only knew a life of struggle, it was naively believed, or rather instilled, that the purpose for life was to have a typical nine-to-five job that was able to pay bills and mortgage loans sufficient enough to support a family that would soon inherit the same empty tradition.

Over the years, I cultivated my own idea for success – forcefully teaching myself that the end goal for everyone is to be like everyone else, to succumb to the mundane, settle for the okay and to just be good at being ordinary – and so as miserable as it may sound, by those definitions, I was ‘successful’; real successful.

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I remember one day looking up from the papers on my work desk and thinking why? And more so, why not? It was as if I had blinked and my youthfulness was gone and buried with memories. Then somehow I blinked again and found myself purposelessly working an uninspired job and studying some degree that I made myself believe just because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. Time was no longer a game but a chore and opportunities were nothing but a painful daydream. Was that success? There was a label on my tie but no new stories to tell, there was petrol in my tank but nowhere to go, and everything was almost at arm’s length but nothing truly satisfied. I was living in commonality. I was stuck in it.

So, with my tiny chair leaned back and an irremovable smile on my face, I said goodbye to the routine of life and eagerly waved hello to overseas foolishness. I travelled with two equally clueless friends (both like me, needing an escape from life). We had no planned itinerary, practically no money, no accommodation, no idea and best of all, no worries.

Now, backpacking through a developing country with nothing but whim may seem like an adventure (and it no doubt is), but in the short space of ten days our endurance was quickly tested: food poisoning is basically on the menu there, both my passport and money got taken, there were rabies scares as well rape fears, and as unbelievable as it may sound, even a slight hostage situation took place. Yet in spite of all the now laughable grief, there never was or even will be a time where I wished things were different. We were chasing change and that’s what Vietnam delivered.

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Temporarily running away from agenda into a completely foreign environment was the perfect cure for our un-fulfillment; we spoke with only our hands and eyes, trusted strangers with photographs and directions and playfully ran wild with our free time. Looking back now, this joyful experience will forever be embedded in my head as one of my favorites – I can imagine myself sitting my child on my knee and telling them wild stories of my youth, telling them I didn’t have it all but I had fun.

Returning home, things changed. My appreciation for my own country was largely increased, my perspective on the world widened and my zeal for life renewed. In my opinion we spend too long dwelling in possibilities always under the impression of ‘its too late or its too far away’. We cripple ourselves before we even decide to run after anything; it’s a sad reality but a true one. With eyes now opened and a hip pocket still bleeding I understand the necessity of maintaining a young spirit (even if that is at the expense of a delayed conformity).

It’s deemed foolish to do what I did, and I can somewhat see how it comes across that way, but from where I stand now, as a career-less man with super glue holding his shoe together, I am happy.

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