Twenty-two-year-old Nguyen Thi Khanh Huyen, aka Huyen Chip, caused a sensation among Vietnamese young people and travellers when she made a two-year trip to 20 countries on a budget of $700.
As the author of the recently published travelogue entitled Xach balo len va di (Pack Your Bag and Go), Nguyen Thi Khanh Huyen has been featured in many newspapers. The attention, she says, can be a bit overwhelming.
Huyen plans to release the English version of Pack Your Bag and Go some time this month. A second instalment, chronicling her trip through Africa, will hit bookstore shelves in December, and she'll be on the road again in February next year to South America. She speaks with Huong Le.
Inner Sanctum: When did you get the idea of going across the world as a backpacker? What did your parents say?
First of all, I don't care if it's "across the world" or "as a backpacker" or whatsoever. I don't care about the title. I don't care about the style of travelling. The only thing I care about is travel.
In May 2010, I was working in Malaysia in online marketing, a "dream job" for a girl like me: decent pay, good colleagues, and colourful bean bags lying around at work. Everything was perfect, except for one thing: my boss and I had very different ideas. Once, after a long day at work, I decided to go for a holiday in Brunei.
Quitting my job meant that I would be left without laptop. I decided to ease the pain by buying myself a netbook, slow enough to make me not want to do anything other than writing and surfing the web. I lost my camera a few months back so I had to buy a new one as well. My budget quickly shrank to about 700 bucks.
At the time, I was just a 19-year-old girl: naive, broke an "well-uneducated". When I said I wanted to travel around the world, it was just like a five-year-old kid telling his mum he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up.
Inner Sanctum: Are you surprised that the book Pack Your Bag and Go has been very well-received, especially among youngsters?
I knew that the book would be appreciated by those who had been following my journey. I also knew that some people would be curious. I just didn't know that the book would be able to keep its momentum going even after people had read it. It's overwhelming to see that a lot of people are still recommending the book to their friends.
Honestly, I don't know why people care so much about my trip. In the preface of my book, I asked the same question. Maybe because they find themselves in me, they find their dreams in my trip? The title is a phrase that I use a lot. I don't know how it got in my head. It's just something I tell myself when I'm about to hit the road and need a bit of encouragement. It's not always easy to leave everything behind. "Alright, now it's time to pack my bag and go," I tell myself.
Then I go.
Inner Sanctum: Young Vietnamese people see getting employed and getting married as perhaps the two most important tasks a person should do after graduating from university. However, this conception has been changing in recent years. Do you think there's a new trend here?
I think these two tasks are still very important - not only for me, but also for a lot of people I know. The difference is that people can look at them with more control. We can do it when we feel ready, not when convention tells us to.
Inner Sanctum: What advice can you provide for other young Vietnamese who want to embark on a trip of a lifetime like yours?
I'm an awful teacher. I don't know how to teach lessons without sounding too corny. I can only share my experiences. I always ask myself three big questions: "Is this what I really want? What is the worst scenario? Can I deal with it if the worst scenario happens?"
If I can answer all those questions, I'll do it.
And only do things when you are ready. Don't do anything just to prove that somebody else is wrong, or just because everyone is doing so.
Inner Sanctum: Did you ever think of giving up during your trip?
Yes, many times. I used to think that returning to Viet Nam was giving up, but now I look at it as a break. It has been worthwhile and I will soon get back to the road. — VNS