Vietnam: Overcoming First Day Fears #SayYesToTheWorld

One evening in January 2018 I arrived in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, to kick start my 3 week solo adventure trip across Vietnam and Cambodia.

That first evening after checking-in to my hostel dorm, I remember walking up to the bar on the hostel terrace, looking at the menu painted on the wall for longer than is required to read everything on it, scanning the room and watching the small groups of foreign travellers deep in conversation with glasses of beer in hand, and leaving the place within a couple of minutes feeling absolutely out-of-place.

Posing with the Sepoys, Tomb of Khai Dinh, Hue, Vietnam


For the last two months all I had thought about was this trip and how epic it was going to be- My first real international trip and my first solo trip- a deadly combination. I had researched things way too well and so wasn’t really worried about finding myself lost in a foreign land. I knew I would love the places, the scenery and the nature. The only thing I was worried about was- would I just see everything and come back home or would I meet some new people, have some real conversations to get to know them and their cultures and have a good time?


As I climbed down the stairs from the rooftop bar and took a seat in the lounge of the hostel reception, I pretended to be busy checking the non-existent social media notifications on my phone. I was wondering if this solo trip would remain solo throughout or would I meet some interesting people and have some conversations to know them and their cultures, the country they come from and the reason they travel for.

I knew I couldn’t let the current situation remain this way. I wasn’t ready to accept this as the default situation for the 3 weeks to come. The comfort zone of the ‘introvert me’ had to be stumbled over.

A few moments later I climbed back up to the bar- slightly more determined this time- noticed a guy who I had earlier met in my dorm and said ‘Hi’. This was immediately followed by ‘Hey’ from the two other guys and the girl sitting on the table playing some variant of Jenga.

‘Do you want to join us?’ asked one of them.

‘Yes!’ I replied and pulled a chair.

I didn’t know yet that this simple ‘Yes’ was all that was going to be required to embrace situations and open up an all new world for me over the next 20 days of the trip.

As I joined them on their table, one of them asked, ‘Where’s your free beer?’ and reached over to the counter to get a poured glass.

It was less than 3 hours since I arrived in this new country. It was less than an hour since I checked-in to my first international hostel stay. It was less than 3 minutes since I entered this bar. I was already being offered a drink!

‘Where are you from?’ I asked them. The lines of conversations started flowing in.

I don’t remember what they said about where they were from. I don’t even remember their names. It’s not important. What was important here was the fact that I had just successfully approached some strangers and initiated a conversation. I felt a sense of confidence. Things were going to get easier with each passing moment from now on. The next 3 weeks of my first solo trip were not going to be as solo after all.

A game of ‘Beer Pong’ began soon after. It was a simple game with two teams standing on opposite ends of a table and throwing small plastic balls into neatly arranged glasses of beer kept on the other end. A lot of shouting and cheering ensued as the two teams fought to win.

It had been a long travel day and I knew I wanted to see more of this new country than just the interiors of the hostel bar before I went to bed. It was seven in the evening and I headed out to explore the streets of Hanoi and get something to eat. If the lane my hostel was located in looked anything different from Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village sans the Vietnamese signage and flags, the shops on the street side and the major streets reminded me of India, just a little too clean.


I tried the Banh Mi that evening- the Vietnamese sandwich that was soon to become my favourite dish in the country. I tried Pho- the popular noodle soup that I didn’t find very appealing after the first try. I walked along the Hoan Kiem lake- a full circle- and a local guy, who got too fascinated watching me talking to the camera (I was vlogging!), started a conversation about how beautiful his city was, asked if I wanted him to show me around the best places to see and eat out and if Vietnamese women were more beautiful or Indian ones. This definitely was starting to become an interesting start to my trip.

Early next morning I left for an overnight cruise to Halong Bay, the most popular UNESCO World Heritage site of Vietnam, with 16 other travelers from around the world and a local guide who took pride in showcasing the best of his country to us. I was in the company of a nurse, a construction worker, a chef, a barista, an engineer and many more interesting souls. We had a crazy time fishing watermelons (instead of squids) and talking till the wee hours of the night. It was freezing in the middle of the sea but we sat there on the deck of the ship and talked about where we came from, what we did and how much we loved exploring new places. The next day when we left the cruise to head back on our individual journeys, I knew I had forged a few connections.

Our group at the end of the overnight Halong Bay Cruise, Vietnam
Our group of 16 at the end of the overnight Halong Bay cruise, Vietnam. January 2018

The first day fears of arriving in an unknown land, initiating a conversation with strangers, staying safe from the local tourist scams, and travelling by myself had all been overcome in those few initial hours. Over the next 20 days I was part of some epic adventures, conversations and experiences that will remain instilled in my heart for all times to come.

It was about holding the chopsticks and struggling to get two grains of rice on it but not giving up on the attempt to learn eating like a local. It was about the family dinner with Tien, Thuy, Diego and all other international travelers at the hostel in Hue. It was about hi-fiving small school kids at the Temple of Literature as they were too fascinated to see a foreigner- me!

It was about Quan, the guide who sang a never-ending Vietnamese song to keep us entertained on the bus to Mekong Delta. It was about the lady at the Saigon Post Office who pointed out I was mistakenly paying her a 100,000 note instead of a 10,000 one. It was about Ngoc picking me up from the Hue station when it was raining cats and dogs. It was about those fun conversations past midnight with Marcel, Felix, Mike, Joanna and Satya on the Halong Bay cruise. It was about the surprise meeting with Melissa and Jeff at the Hanoi train station.

It was about hiring bicycles with my dorm mate Jessie in Hoi An and getting to know all about the Dutch culture. It was about sharing a tuktuk with Lisa and Bart from the hostel in Phnom Penh and sharing cultures, stories and loads of emotions after visiting the Killing Fields. It was about meeting Aachman and Ashish at the Siem Reap hostel and struggling to find vegetarian food in the Angkor temple complex. It was about everyone I met at the hostel receptions and elsewhere who always smiled and were ready to help in any way they could.

Co-travelers at the Family Dinner, Freedom Hostel, Hue, Vietnam
What can be a better way of bonding than food? The Family Dinner at the Hue hostel, Vietnam. January 2018

These were the experiences, the conversations, the meetings, that truly made my trip as memorable as it became. Perhaps this was the reason why I came to love South East Asia, its culture and its people so much more. Perhaps this is what pushes me each day to be an open minded world traveler. To think of it in retrospect, all it required was a simple ‘Yes’ to love the world.

Do check out this video of how Lufthansa shares this open-mindedness outlook on life and wants to support people in doing so through travel:


Have you ever been on a solo trip? Were you nervous or scared about it? How did you overcome the first day fears? What is your reason for travelling and falling in love with the world? Do leave your story in the comments below!

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