Story submitted by traveler Hannah
During this month, Duyen and her family showered me with kindness and generosity every day. They took me out for karaoke nights and prepared banquets of bánh xèo Hoi An in their kitchen. On my birthday, Duyen surprised me with a cake and we had a shared celebration between myself, Duyen’s eldest daughter, Lisa, and their other tenant. Three birthdays within days of each other, what are the odds!
One day Duyen asked me if I could help her list the two spare bedrooms on Airbnb. And when I say spare bedrooms, I actually mean the only bedrooms in the house. Whenever Duyen has tenants, she and her family sleep together downstairs in the one reception room to accommodate guests. I’ve noticed this is fairly typical in South East Asian homestays.
As I wrote up the listing, the platform prompted us to block out dates when the room wouldn’t be available. So I turned to Duyen and asked her if there were any times that she planned to be away on vacation.
Duyen looked surprised and said, ‘We are always here - we wouldn’t take a holiday.’
She didn’t say it with any sadness or negativity, it was stated as a fact. As was her admission that the family doesn't hold passports. Duyen then went on to tell me that she has taken one holiday in her life, that was a trip to Sapa with her husband for their honeymoon. She told me that in the future she would love to take the girls up there. However, for now, her priority was their education.
This short conversation really made me think about my own relationship with travel.
Travelling is the thing that makes me tick. I still remember my first taste of travel when I was 10 - the same age Lisa had just turned. My parents took me on a train and then a ferry to a Scottish island for a week of hiking, seal-spotting and scrambling around castles. Everything from the anticipation of the trip to actually experiencing it awakened my love of exploring. Although it was a few years until we got our first passports as a family, our travel around the United Kingdom more than satisfied my thirst for travel.
After that week in Scotland, the travel bug well and truly bit. Throughout my twenties, the prospect of my next adventure motivated me to get up and go to work every day.
Ever since that conversation with Duyen I make a conscious effort to appreciate that travel was so accessible to me. Although there are many destinations that will always be beyond my humble budget, there is always somewhere that is attainable.
During my month living with the Nguyen family, they would ask me all about my home country. Genuinely curious and wanting to know what the food is like, how cold it gets, what the landscape is like, what we watch on TV. I’ve had encounters with tuk-tuk drivers or local guides who exclaim when I say I’m from England and want to know which football team I support and if I’ve ever met the Queen.
I really feel that my ability to travel is such a special privilege and one that I never want to take for granted. I’m not saying that every person we meet in a developing country is unable to travel. But, the reality is that for many families - such as the Nguyens - acquiring a passport or having a weekend getaway isn’t a viable option. Since living with Duyen, I’ve had similar conversations which have reminded me how fortunate I am to be able to travel in the way that I do.
This motivates me to be as considerate a traveller as I possibly can be. I’ll always try my best to ensure my money goes directly into the hands of an independent business or family-run property. And whilst I appreciate a fair price, I’m definitely not one for exploitative haggling. But I think just as important is taking the time to stop and connect with people and hear what they have to say. Whether or not you can travel, the very act of talking about travel and hearing about different cultures has some element of magic to it. For me, the power of travel is the voices that I’m fortunate to hear whilst in a new country - no matter how brief the conversation.
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