This time last year I celebrated the holidays with my family in England knowing that there were just a few weeks left till my departure date and a new life on the road – I had no idea where I’d be in a year’s time. Now, here we are in Vietnam after our first Christmas away from home. As we prepare to see in the New Year we also reflect on how far we’ve travelled this year and how much we’ve learned in the process.
Christmas on the Road
Our first Christmas away from the UK was certainly a strange, quiet affair. The day dawned hot and the sky was a clear blue streaked with cloud. We rented a tandem bike and had fun cycling around the city, amusing the locals by insisting on wearing helmets for the occasion. We picked up some fresh bread from the bakery, some local Dalat yogurt and fruit for a picnic down by the lake. As we ate we watched people float along the water in swan-shaped pedalos while Vietnamese tourists posed for photos in cowboy hats on a nearby horse.
Afterwards we wandered through the streets marvelling at the swaths of colourful decorations being laid out for the coming flower festival. We skyped our families and received some free Christmas cake after dinner; it might have been sponge cake rather than fruit and topped with whipped cream rather than thick sugary icing but we appreciated the warm gesture all the same.
All in all it just didn’t feel like Christmas this year without the cold frosty winter mornings, drizzle and dark afternoons we’re used to back in the UK. The plastic tree in our hotel lobby didn’t match up to the spectacular Christmas lights we’d normally enjoy back in London and we missed the chance to spend time with our families. It was the little routines of Christmas that I pined for most of all; visiting the festive markets in London and enduring a boozy, tragic work do before heading back home for the traditional roast dinner and pudding followed by board games, Christmas TV and my mum’s party food.
The Gifts of Travel
Spending Christmas away from home did however allow us to reflect on how grateful we are to be travelling and still enjoying this journey after the most incredible ten months of our lives. We feel truly spoilt by the gifts that travel has given us – in particular the gift of total freedom that we’ve enjoyed since we left the UK. We feel so lucky to be able to truly go where we want when we want and spend our time exactly as we please.
Travel has also allowed us to experience things we dreamed of doing back in our ‘normal’ lives; be it scaling a mountain, jumping out of a plane, camping out in the jungle or simply strolling down a deserted beach. Travel has allowed us to meet new people, to learn about and experience different cultures – it has truly opened our minds to how diverse and incredible the world really is.
Through travel this year I’ve also come to some realisations that I don’t think I ever would have back home. For years my itchy feet left me unappreciative of just how amazing the UK is and how lucky we are to call it home. Now I know that one day we’ll happily return to live permanently in the UK, there’s nowhere else we’d rather settle down; it’s also a great place to explore Europe from.
Another thing I’ve discovered during the last ten months is that life isn’t all about work. Sure, we all have to make money to survive, but after freeing myself from a rigid office routine back home I’ve realised that we don’t have to define ourselves by our professions. Before leaving the UK I was stuck on following a strict career path that I’d studied and worked towards for years and I was far too scared to veer off that course – in fact it simply never occurred to me that I could. Now I feel that it’s alright to do different things in life; all experience is good and valuable. So, in 2014 I’ve decided to take a TEFL course and try teaching English in Asia, something I never would have considered doing a year ago. Teaching and living in a different culture is a daunting prospect for me but it’s also a challenge, which is exciting.
To a New Year of Travel
We’re now in Ho Chi Minh City and looking forward to the extravagant New Year’s Eve celebrations in a few days’ time. While 2013 was a year we’ll never forget, filled with the extreme highs and lows that only travel can bring, we look forward to a brand new year filled with fresh travel plans, adventures and experiences. We can hardly wait.
Merry Christmas Everyone and a Happy New Year!
Where did you celebrate Christmas this year and what are your plans for 2014?