My partner and I first started dating in the winter 0f 2014. Just over a year later, we jetted off to go backpacking across Southeast Asia and Australia. Having only been together for a year, we knew deep down this trip could make or break our relationship. We had each longed to go on a travel adventure for years prior, so it was a no-brainer to try it out and tick it off our bucket lists. Just a few weeks into our journey, we made the decision to motorbike across Vietnam, from the north all the way to the south… in just 10 days.
When we planned a rough outline of our travel route a few weeks prior, we had wanted to spend a lot longer than 10 days in Vietnam. However, when we were in Laos trying to cross the border into Vietnam, we discovered there was a national holiday and that meant there were no staff working who could give us the visa we ideally would have wanted. We had to choose: to try to do the trip in just 10 days or to skip it altogether. This part of our adventure was what we were most excited about and so skipping it didn’t really seem like a good option. We grabbed our 10-day visas and headed out to locate some motorbikes.
Finding motorbikes was a super stressful experience. As we wanted to first visit the famous Ha Long Bay, we ended up motorbike shopping in the city of Ha Long rather than in the city of Hanoi, where most other people have great success sourcing bikes stress-free from other travelers. We were quickly passed from shop to shop where different men kept making phone calls and telling us they knew someone who was selling a couple of bikes. When we were finally shown two bikes for sale, we very quickly realized we had no idea what we were buying. We test drove the bikes and they worked, that was a start. We then began to haggle and after some time, the bikes were ours.
As buying the bikes took a lot longer than expected, we were behind schedule. We then had to find a bungee cord to tie our backpacks to our bikes before heading to our next location. As we were asking around for some cord, a man with a huge scar under his eye advised us to get a cord without hooks on the ends as they were dangerous. A few markets later, our hook-free bungee cord was strapped around our bags and we were on our way to our next location… in the dark. That’s right, the first night on our ‘new’ bikes and we were riding in the dark on the way to a village we knew nothing about, and we also hadn’t booked any accommodation.
Once we arrived, we found a hotel that had vacancies and headed inside. We were then struck with our next challenge: no one spoke a word of English and there were no other tourists in sight. We relied on our phrasebook to secure a room for the night and some questionable dinner (we had no idea what we had actually ordered). Heading up to our room covered in road dirt and freezing cold from spending so much time on the bikes at night, we were confronted with a room full of bugs and no hot water. We were exhausted and stressed out and at this point, we had wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.
The next few days had their highs and lows, from our bikes getting flat tires and breaking down to sunburn and sickness to stopping at stunning viewpoints and incredible hidden villages. For the first half of our trip, we actually didn’t see any other tourists and relied on our phrasebook to get by. We ate interesting food and tried to submerge ourselves in the culture as best we could considering the short time we had in each location. Once we had gotten to the end of our journey, selling our bikes was even more stressful than buying them. We took quite a loss in our budget as we just had to get rid of them before we needed to leave the country.
Although our 10 days biking in Vietnam is one of our best traveling memories to date, it certainly wasn’t easy and far from stress-free. We often bickered over directions, we had frustration with language barriers, we debated over what accommodation we should stay at and our budget as well as whether we should book in advance or not. Our time in Vietnam not only tested ourselves but each other and our relationship.
Here’s why I think these intense 10 days made us stronger, brought us closer, and set us up for an incredible year and a half of backpacking adventures:
- Teamwork – as cheesy as it sounds, teamwork was 100% a huge factor in strengthening our relationship and making our motorbike adventure as incredible as it was. We made sure we were both putting in equal effort with research and planning; we made important decisions together and we were fully committed to trying to make the trip a success, no matter what came at us.
- Trust – for the first of half of our journey, we truly only had each other. We were in a new country with no other English-speaking people around. It was daunting for our first travel experience together and we really relied on trusting each other to support one another, no matter how tough things got.
- Commitment and honesty – the trip really wouldn’t have gone well if we both weren’t equally committed to pushing through challenges and making the most of every situation. We were always honest with each other which really helped with decision-making and trust.
- Understanding – we quickly learned that we had to understand each other as well as our differences. Sometimes, one thing that completely stressed one of us out didn’t really affect the other one at all. This could often be difficult to navigate, especially at the start when there wasn’t a strong understanding. We had to make sure we were honest and communicating with each other to gain this understanding.
- Acceptance – and finally, probably the most important of all, acceptance. Accepting that this trip wouldn’t go 100% how we planned it in our heads, accepting that this wasn’t one huge high and that there were going to be many lows, and also accepting that we just had to find the positives in all situations, even when we were sunburned, exhausted, dirty and sick.
Also by Anna: My Partner & I Stepped Out Of The Rat Race. Why We’ll Never Conform Again
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Photos: Anna Ashbarry