Viet Nam News
by Nguyễn Khánh Chi
A recent lunch date with my old friends from university turned into a stirring round-table discussion when one friend proposed that we all make a plan to travel together.
As we envisioned a change of pace, time together and the chance to explore, everyone seemed excited—but one woman looked a bit concerned.
“Does that mean we leave our kids and husband at home?” she asked in a low voice.
“Yes!” “Yep!” “Why not?” the others jumped in.
Vietnamese traditional family values dating back to the feudal period stipulate that housework is women’s responsibility. This view is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it leads to celebrations of Vietnamese women’s dedication and hard work for their families. On the other, it punishes Vietnamese women who dare to assert some purpose or passion in life outside of their home.
The persistence of this view makes it hard for many women to think of leaving their children and husband hundreds or thousands of kilometres away while they jet off for some fun in the sun.
But increasingly, more women are choosing to put themselves first and take a break without their families. Economic development has made Vietnamese women much more independent than in the past. Now they are winning for themselves a more balanced role in society at large as well as within the family as they ask men to share household responsibilities. They are taking defiant stances to prove their worth.
And travelling without family responsibilities has become an ideal choice for many Vietnamese women to revitalise themselves.
Ngô Thanh An, a Hanoian, said she had travelled at home and abroad many times with female friends and colleagues, once or twice a year. She’s visited Japan, Maldives apart from some local destinations like Sapa, Đà Nẵng and Nha Trang on such only-women-holidays.
The 40-year-old mother of two children under 8 years old said it was essential to make careful plans for the household chores and ensure all family members were comfortable with her absence.
“I usually inform my husband and the kids of my travel plans and help them understand why I want to travel some weeks ahead of time. I give them details about the trip like where I’m going, how long and with whom I’ll travel,” An said.
“Family is always number one so setting a plan for trips with friends means making another plan for travel as a family during the year. The practice clearly defines my own responsibility and illustrates my affection for family members.”
An said there’s no right or wrong choice for women wondering whether to go on holidays without their husband and children. Women have the right to strive for happiness in their own way; some prefer travelling with their families and feel uneasy about being without them.
She sees many benefits to travel sans-family, particularly a chance to unwind from daily stresses.
“Travelling with a group of close and like-minded friends or colleagues actually gives you best time away from work and family. You come home with completely good moods."
An said her husband was the person she wanted most to be supportive of her trips. But at first he wasn’t enthusiastic and tried to talk her out of going.
“Usually I arrange business plus holiday trips and try to manage house chores when away. After several trips, my husband is neither opposed nor supportive, but he accepts it as a part of our family life.”
Deputy Director of Hanoitourist Lê Hồng Thái said that over the past two years, the travel service provider had seen an increase in groups of female travellers who share tastes and hobbies.
“Women in the age group of 40 to 50 account for most of the group travellers as they now have a stable life and income and their children are all grown up,” Thái said. “They often travel in groups of four or five, either with colleagues or like-minded people.”
Through social networks, Thái said, many formed groups sharing hobbies and interests and want to go on holiday in a way that suits them.
“Many want to travel abroad for shopping, exploring and taking photos. Women feel they can enjoy that when travelling together.”
Trần Thị Bảo Thu, marketing and communications director of HCM City-based Fiditour said in the last two years travelling alone or on women-only group trips has become a trend, especially for single women.
“Single women in the age group of 25-35 who are financially dependent wish to travel alone to explore new experiences and renew themselves,” Thu said. “They are free to choose destinations and take their time to learn about new cultures and make new acquaintances.”
Women age 55 and above who are free from housework and childcare choose to travel with friends to relax after stressful years of working hard in their careers and homes.
Dương Thành Nam, a father of an 11-year-old son, said he would agree to his wife’s going on a holiday with her friends, provided that he is well aware of who she travels with and where she’s going, and assuming her health is good.
“Everything must be ‘put on a scale’ to see ‘she should or shouldn’t travel without family’. Obviously, were a wife away, her husband and children would have to shoulder all housework,” he added. When he travels with his friends, he also takes into account how it will affect the family. But because his wife still shoulders more of the burden at home, her absence is likely to be felt more strongly.
Stay cool, stay equal
Asserting that women going on holiday with friends and colleagues is a new phenomenon, director of the Institute for Social Development Studies Khuất Thu Hồng said, “This proves that there has been change in the thinking of certain women, as women used to travel with family.”
“Of note, this shows that women’s position has been uplifted and they are increasingly financially independent.”
“Travelling with family is often hard for women as they have to keep in mind what to eat, where to go, and so on. Travelling with friends doesn’t mean they don’t care for family, but that they will have time on their own and feel more equal and free,” Hồng said.
In her book Con nghĩ đi, mẹ không biết (Child, figure it out yourself, I don’t know), writer Thu Hà discusses her own life experiences to assert the importance of women “charging their own battery” to re-energise themselves for better parenthood.
“I have always awarded myself at least one holiday or vacation from the ‘parenting’ work since my kids were little as five years old,” the mother of two girls wrote.
“I must get away to a new place, meeting new people and speaking in a new language. I must be away from kids and household and spend time shopping, taking photos and gossiping with my girl friends.”
“The children need space to grow up independently and it’s good for them to be without their mother for extended periods of time. After each trip, we feel like we need each other so much, and the period of distance strengthens our bond.”
The author is emphatic that she wanted her children to think that their mother was a well-travelled citizen of the world with her own passions and perspectives, rather than feeling that “our mother had sacrified much of her life for us”.
I myself believe that being apart from children, escaping the drudgery of domestic life and having time to ourselves makes women better mothers. So there’s nothing wrong with wanting to take the alternative path and travel the world, though going away without your children isn’t for everyone.
As for me and my group of college friends, we chose Đà Nẵng as the destination for our very first trip. My friend who whispered the question we were all thinking needs some time to talk it over with her family members. She has promised to make a decision soon. VNS