My fearless female traveler of the week is Barbara of the frank and funny The Dropout Diaries. Read along as she tells us how she found love in Vietnam, where her dream bicycle trip is, and more!
GGG: Barbara! Welcome to Girls That Go! Where are you from and how did you start traveling?
Hi, I’m thrilled to be here at GTG!
I’m from a small town in outback Australia called Mount Isa. It’s quite an isolated town, so our family traveled quite regularly.
We visited our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in Brisbane at least once a year, a trip that required a very expensive 2.5 hour flight or a two-day drive. We usually drove.
My parents were quite adventurous, so they took the family exploring our local region and some of the most beautiful part of Australia. We traveled through Cape York, central Australia, to Darwin and over to Asia.
But my dad’s favourite spot was always Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. We had many family holidays there and when I was in my final year of high school my parents moved there. Mum is still there and it’s a fabulous place to call home.
I think that small isolated town I grew up in helped give me my sense of wanderlust. It was a mining town, a place that attracted people from all over the world. At school, I was in the minority for not speaking another language at home.
Back then, Mount Isa was proud of the fact that it had more than 50 ethnic clubs, and they were all pretty active clubs too.
So in one sense, even though I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere, I grew up in a very global town. And that made me insanely curious to go out and see the rest of the world for myself.
GGG: Nothing like home to inspire travel. What has been the biggest obstacle you faced in becoming a true “dropout,” and how did you overcome it?
The biggest obstacle was fear, really. Fear of the consequences and a deep anxiety that I would run out of money and end up dressed in rags, crouching in a gutter with suppurating sores begging passers-by for scraps of bread.
I spent so many sleepless nights worrying about the most outlandish what-if situations. In hindsight it was a complete waste of energy.
Nothing that I was worried about eventuated and the less-than-positive experiences I’ve had I’ve dealt with with hardly any fuss. Like many people, I am my own worst enemy sometimes.
The first time I dropped out of the rat race I only had to worry about myself and ensure I had enough of a cushion to buy a flight back to Australia.
The second time I dropped out, I had a family to support. Now I need to have enough of a cushion to pay a few months rent and buy three tickets back to Australia.
If we decide to head home now, we’ll have to wait for Darling Man to get a visa and we really haven’t properly researched what our options are.
So there is a lot more pressure on my now, financially. But I also feel much more confident in my ability to earn money, no matter where I am in the world, and home now is wherever my little family is.
GGG: So, how did you meet your Darling Man?
I met Darling Man when he crashed my office Tet party; one of my colleagues brought him along. They arrived very late but I really needed to be saved because people were getting a bit drunk and one of my bosses was becoming slightly lecherous.
After that first meeting, Darling Man kept turning up to after work drinks. (I had no idea my colleague was playing matchmaker.)
I was working for a newspaper, finishing work well after midnight, so it took quite a bit of dedication on Darling Man’s part to turn up to these after work drinks and then get himself to work the next day at 8 a.m.
GGG: A very successful matchmaking endeavor! 🙂 One of your side projects is a street food tour! What’s your favorite street dish from home and what’s one from your adopted home?
Yes, we are just starting street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City. I am so excited about being able to share my favourite parts of Saigon with travelers and some of my favourite Vietnamese dishes.
Our website has just gone live at www.saigonstreeteats.com. Australia doesn’t really do street food, although there is nothing better than eating fish and chips on the beach at sunset.
Most beach places have fish and chip places near the water, and it’s a bit of an Australian tradition. It’s not the healthiest eating option but everyone who visits Australia should do it at least once.
In Vietnam, my favourite street food changes for day to day and from week to week. There are so many dishes here that I regularly stumble on new things. I seem to be always declaring this dish is my new favourite.
But whenever I eat ngheu hap xa (clams steamed with lemongrass) I end up saying “Oh, forget what I said last week, this one is definitely my favourite”.
GGG: On one of your trips, you traveled with your toddler for five-and-a-half weeks. Can you share one of your happiest days of that trip?
That’s a tough choice. We had so many great days.
The happiest day would have to be the day we cycled from L’Isle Sur La Sorgue to Fountaine de Vacluse in Provence.
It was happy in a bittersweet kind of way because we had planned a month-long family cycling and camping trip through France to Switzerland, but the French government denied my husband a visa so I was a solo parent in Europe.
It was just such a beautiful day. The weather was perfect, the views were amazing and the land was nice and flat. The route I chose was the perfect distance too, not too far yet far enough to feel a sense of achievement.
The day was topped off by meeting a wonderfully friendly French family, who we spent several hours hanging out with at a park on the river. French people have a reputation of being snooty and arrogant but the entire time I was in France I was blown away by how friendly and gracious the people are.
I love France and French people, I just hate the way the French government refused to let our family travel together because my husband has a Vietnamese passport and has been a house-husband for two years.
GGG: Speaking of cycling, you’ve done a lot of it! Where would your dream bike trip be to?
My dream would be to cycle from Asia to Europe. Sadly, that’s not really affordable or feasible right now, with our daughter being so young.
But still, a girl can dream. And hopefully do shorter cycling trips over the years. I haven’t been on the bike much since we got back to Vietnam.
I am trying to take my daughter to day care by bicycle but it’s rainy season now and we are not morning people, so I usually end up riding the motorbike.
GGG: You’re in the process of learning Vietnamese. What’s your favorite word you’ve learned thus far and why?
My favourite expression would have to be di vòng vòng. I guess you could call it a word, it’s a verb that means “to go around”. Đi is “go” and vòng vòng means “around”. It’s pronounced halfway between varm varm and vom vom, which I think sounds very groovy.
In Ho Chi Minh City, đi vòng vòng is a popular past time. It basically means to get on your motorbike, often with your boyfriend/girlfriend or family, and drive around.
It is the thing to do when the Christmas lights are up in downtown Saigon or when the Tet flowers are on display. There is something extra special about motorbike cuddles when you are đi vòng vòng.
GGG: Cool! Any plans for your next trip in the works?
Yes! After months of feeling a bit bereft because we had no travel plans (Vietnam was the end point of a HUGE year-long odyssey) we are planning a trip to the Mekong Delta and Cambodia.
I am very excited about it and we are just trying to work out how long we will go—bearing in mind that we’ve just started a business. My Mum is going to visit in November so we need to work around her and she hasn’t decided on dates yet.
In the more distant future we’re hoping to visit Myanmar and I want to go home to Australia as soon as we can afford it. I haven’t been home for a year, and last year’s trip was not so enjoyable.
It was a rushed trip home for my dad’s funeral. I’d like a proper trip home next time to be able to catch up with friends and family.
Thanks so much for catching up with us, Barbara! To read about life in Vietnam with a “darling man and deliciously funny baby,” check out The Dropout Diaries online, follow on Twitter or connect on Facebook!