I am behind on where I want to be in my blog posts for this trip. Physically, I am in Ninh Binh, Vietnam, but mentally I am back in Hanoi, trying to describe the overwhelming feelings of arriving in the city for the first time.
Sapa, you were beautiful, but damn did you throw a wrench in my schedule.
However, in a very uncharacteristic move, I am pushing all of it aside to talk about something else.....
Traveler's intuition and the importance of knowing yourself as a traveler.
There are so many places to see in this world and no person is ever going to see all of them. That is half the beauty of travel, and half the curse.
Even within Vietnam I often find myself hard pressed, staring at a map, and looking at my "must see" list. I always reach the same, disappointing conclusion: There is too much to see. I can't go to all of it. Even on my grand Asia trip, I will not be able to see it all.
As a traveler, this is a hard pill to swallow.
So how do you pick what do to? How do you skip one city in favor of another? These are the questions I ask myself more than any other.
The truth is, you can ask the opinion of as many people as you want, or read all the literature available on the destinations... but in the end, the person you need to be asking is yourself.
For example: I don't like big cities. I don't like waterfalls, and I don't care about caves.
How can I say these things? Well, I have been fortunate enough to visit many big cities, waterfalls, and caves in my travels, along with many other beautiful places. If I had to rank everywhere I have ever been, all waterfalls, caves, and big cities would be dead last. (note: by big city i mean really big city)
I prefer spending my time in smaller towns. I would rather be out in nature. Any mountains are pretty much the greatest thing to me.
These are truths I learned about myself from experiences. Getting to know yourself as a traveler is the greatest gift you can get from spending a lot of time traveling... and it would be a shame not to accept it.
So how does this all relate?
There are some caves in Vietnam that everyone from Lonely Planet to the girl who slept above me in our bunk bed in Hanoi said were an absolute must for Vietnam.
My hostel, which helped me book my travel arrangements, insisted that I must go to the caves after Hanoi.
I agreed, mostly because I was overwhelmed with where to go next and happy to take any opinions being given to me.... but, in the back of my head I kept thinking, "Maddie, you don't like caves. You don't have a lot of time in Vietnam, don't go to the caves."
... but everyone said I needed to go. So I booked my tickets and made it happen.
Fast forward 5 days. I am waiting for the shuttle to pick me up at my hostel in Hanoi to take me to the bus to the caves (Phong Nha) when the hostel got a call.
Phong Nha is flooded because of a nearby typhoon. There is no way to get into the city. I would need to go elsewhere.
Everyone around me was bummed.... but I was super relieved. Now I could go Ninh Binh.
From this, I finally accepted the importance of trusting yourself over everyone else. Even if someone is more traveled, or every guidebook on the planet says you must go somewhere... you are really the person who knows what you want.
Moving forward, I want to skip Ho Chi Minh City because I don't have a lot of time in Vietnam.. and I don't like big cities... and I heard it is just a worse Hanoi... and I know I would like other places more.
Everyone I have shared this with has been shocked. How could I not go to Saigon? In turn, this makes me doubt my choice.
Then I remember..... I am traveling alone so I can make my own choices. I am privileged to know myself best, and so are you. Get to know yourself, and then learn to trust yourself.
If you don't want to go somewhere, don't go. If you hate museums, don't waste your time in a museum. If you can't stand relaxing on a beach, you have the freedom to never visit a beach again.
On the other hand, if people say something is not worth it but you still want to see it, go see it! It is really that simple.
Tomorrow I am exploring Ninh Bihn and I couldn't be more excited!