We were midway into our trip to Vietnam. We had ventured to Halong Bay, a fairyland of limestone peaks. It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to and I felt like I was dreaming. As we headed into a smaller boat from our cruise liner for a day of kayaking in the caves, a Vietnamese worker on the boat looked at us – a group of five American women with no men in tow – and called us “Independent Women”. A big smile swept over my face, and it remained with me throughout my travels.
Every which way you look in Halong Bay, you see pure, raw beauty. Water, caves, blue skies, lagoons. It’s magical. We spent two nights on a boat. During the day we kayaked, went swimming in the bay, hiked up hills and did tai chi at sunrise. We had luxurious Vietnamese meals full of pho, spring rolls, fried tofu and other delicacies. We met three American doctors and spent hours upon hours talking about education, work, traveling, politics and living life to the fullest. They were fiercely independent women and as we spoke, I learned about life in Rawanda, living in Peru and saving children in Algeria. My new friends were well-traveled, to say the least, and their ability to get up and go wherever they pleased struck me as unusual and terribly exciting at this stage of my life.
For nearly two weeks while traveling through Asia, I was reminded of an inner spirit and sense of adventure that I felt had been lost since having kids. When we first met the three doctors, we told them we were traveling without our families. We talked about the fact that we weren’t feeling one ounce of guilt since arriving in Asia and how I had been dreaming about coming to this part of the world since my children were born but could never leave home for this amount of time. I had been waiting for my mother to be able to come spend enough time at my house to take over my duties so I could venture out into the world on my own.
While we travel with our kids often, and I love sharing my wanderlust with them and my husband, I wanted to be able to enjoy long walks around villages and markets, have leisurely meals and be able to taste everything without complaints, visit historical sites that don’t necessarily hold their interest for long enough and not have to stick any type of schedule including having early nights. I wanted to live in the moment and experience a culture in full that I had never experienced before without having to take care of anyone. I needed to take care of myself, and that meant fulfilling my dream of going to Asia for two weeks.
When my friend (also a mother of two) decided to join me, it made the experience all the more sweeter and for months we talked, planned and dreamt about the trip. The night she walked into the hotel room in Hong Kong, I had fallen into a deep, deep sleep after roaming around the city all day but had enough energy to embrace her when she walked through the door. She would be my partner in crime and together we would wake up each day with a sense of vigor and adventure we had not experienced in years. Throughout the two weeks that we traveled, we constantly turned to each other and asked each other in disbelief, “Can you believe this?” It was truly surreal, in only the best definition of the word.
In response to our remark and quandary about not feeling guilt about leaving our families back home to explore the vast country of Vietnam, Michelle, one of the fearless doctors, responded, “It’s a three-pediatrician prescribed trip!” All three women were in full agreement that we needed this trip, we deserved this trip.
Without kids, we were able to explore Hong Kong, our first stop, and then Northern Vietnam inside out. We woke up early, jumped out of bed, looked at each other and ventured into the unknown. With my backpack attached to my body, I felt young and free again. We had collected trip ideas from friends before we left and had a nine-page document with places to visit everywhere we went, and we were determined to hit each one. Each day was full of meaningful, rich adventures, new cuisines and memories that shall remain in my heart forever.
Both China and Vietnam have excellent Wifi opportunities. It’s free in so many places, so I checked in with my family via Facetime and Skype often. The two weeks went pretty quickly for my family and they managed to survive. They were as happy for me as I was for myself, for being able to have an experience that I had been longing for.
In Hong Kong, we found a delicious dim sum restaurant next door to our hotel and made it to our regular. We quickly learned that the English menu was double the price of the Chinese menu (genius!) It was in this restaurant that I became a foody, tasting the likes of steamed glutinous rice in a lotus leaf, steamed bean curd wrapped in fish maw, steamed turnip cake, steamed rice flour balls with shredded chicken and more. Is your mouth watering yet? We loved Hong Kong, and we explored it from one end to the other. The beauty of traveling without kids is that there was no holding us back. We started our days early, ended when we were ready to finish, early or late. And the food in Vietnam was even better. As I think about it, my mouth is salivating. Without kids in tow, I was able to really stretch my eating choices and devour and appreciate every taste and flavor.
In Hanoi, everywhere I looked, I wanted to freeze the moment. There is so much to look at in the shops alone: shoes stacked on shelves, coffee beans, souvenirs, tomb stones. As you wander through the streets, motor bikes cruise quickly around you and keep you alert. I’ve never seen so many in my life. To the left, a woman wearing a large, straw hat selling oranges. To the right, ladies selling pineapple, held on a stick propped on both shoulders. Then a flower seller, with his goods packed in a basket on the bike of his bike rides by. I took my head out of my guide book and looked up. A new friend told me not to “chase Hanoi” before I left. Once there, I understood and I watched. Because I could.
Traveling on my own gave me time to think about my life and the things I want to accomplish. My eyes are open wide and my heart full of gratitude. I have come back a slightly changed person. I gained perspective on how people live in third world countries and perhaps I will put my social good efforts to work to help the women and children in Vietnam as they left a huge impression in my mind and I can not forget them. I have places to visit, people to help and a world to tackle.
How about you? Have you ever traveled without your kids? Would you leave them for two weeks? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.