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1/ How to get travel buddies: instead of staying in a hotel, you should move to a hostel where you have to share your room with others but it might give you a good chance to meet travelers from other countries and ask them to join your trip. Another way, go to couchsurfing.com to create an event to call people to join your trip or look for groups which gather people who have the same purpose as you.
2/ Preparing for the trip:
– Planning for the trip: you can use some apps such as Road trip planner to know how to reach your destinations and how many days the trip takes, etc.
– Getting a rental car: it is easy to get a rental car in the US. You should book a car early to make sure you get the one you want.
– Finding campsites: Most national parks do not allow visitors to camp freely. To look for free and cheap campgrounds, there is an app called “WikicampUSA”.
3/ You might ask me what I get from the $300 road trip. Well, if you get bored with your busy life, a road trip is a good option for you to escape the cities and feel your freedom. You will see another USA, which is not crowded with people, which is not made up by majestic buildings. It is beautiful by itself, by nature. I still remember the day I wandered alone seeing the wonderful canyons running around me, the day I got up early in death valley knowing that the sun is still to rise and people are still alive.
And the most beautiful thing is the people you met on the way, the stories you learned.
I still laugh every time thinking of Ben’s jokes. When we did a trek to Nevada fall and I worried that other friends would leave me because of my slowness. Ben said: “No Linh, they will stop to wait for us because we carry their lunch”.
I still remember the kind lady I met when getting lost in Yosemite. She took me and introduced me to her family, and then walked together with me to help find my campsite. She tried to cheer me up by saying: “Do not worry Linh, I bet your friends are cooking dinner and waiting for you”. We both laughed together when I said: “Nah, they may go seeking me because I am the cook”. When I got home, I saw Alina was there, at the check- in point waiting for me under the biting cold to make sure that she would not lose me again.
Another friend who traveled with a dream to see the US also impressed me. His name is Oleg. He kept moving by hitchhiking, slept in abandoned houses to save money. He carried a 32-kg backpack to be sure he had everything he needed. Many friends including me looked at him, questioning how he could travel like that. However, there is nothing wrong with a man who travels with limited money to see the world. I hope Oleg will be always safe and sound on his trip.
Someone said: “We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us”. I got back from the road trip with a new mood, new soul, new friends. I told Roger that I have learnt people in the US are very honest. There was no guardian in the campgrounds but everyone went to the check-in point with their money to pay for camping fee. Would it happen in Vietnam? No.
Roger laughed then turned to ask: “So, is it because Vietnamese people are less honest or because they are poor?”
Yes, I believe that everyone is honest. Just because they are poor…
It has been 7 months already since I arrived the US. Just 10 days ago, my friends & I enjoyed the road trip through national parks together. Now, we are going in different directions. Life is funny. People meet, stay together then separate. I wonder whether they are thinking of the trip like me at this moment.
One of my purposes when traveling to America is to hike to giant mountains, wander along vast deserts and wild valleys which lead me to nowhere to get the feeling of freedom. That was why I decided to do a road trip with friends from CS.
We did not organize well except trying to rent a good car which has enough space for 5 people to sit and sing together. Ben is from England, Alina from Germany, Angelika from Poland and Aurel from France. I sometimes felt lost because only I am from Asia. However, that did not bother me too much because they all loved and respected me. When I felt useless because I did not know how to drive a car, Ben tried to cheer me up by saying “Linh, you are the leader, if you did not make a fire for this trip, we would not be here together.”
A night when we stopped at Yosemite for camping, Ben had an idea to play a game. Each player was given 9 small slips of paper. Everyone had to write down a celebrity name on each slip. Names must be well known to players including real people in history, fictitious characters, movie stars, famous animals, etc. Players were required to not reveal the names that were written. We placed all of the finished slips into a bowl. Each member of a team respectively grabbed a slip from the bowl, used verbal clues to describe the celebrity name on the slip, and tried to get his or her team to correctly guess the name. Once the name was guessed correctly, 1 point was earned.
We divided people into two teams. Ben, Alina and I were in team A, Aurel and Angelika were in team B. I took the last turn, which means that there were just a few slips of paper left in the bowl. The difficult thing is that I realized I knew nothing about the world. I did not know what movies Jennifer made, what songs made Britney Spears famous, who Tiger Woods and Michael Johnson are. When I picked the slip with the name “Garfield”, I did not know how to describe and just stood to wait for the time to pass. Alina encouraged me: “Linh, if you do not know who they are, just tell me that is a man or a woman so I can guess”. I replied to Alina that I didn’t even know it it was a man or a woman (in fact, Garfield is the name of a cat – a fictional character from the comic strip Garfield created by Jim Davis). Alina laughed at me and said: “What! you don’t even know that is a man or a woman by looking at the name?”. My face turned red.
That night, I did not sleep well. Alina’s laugh was always surrounded and obsessed me. However, it was not Alina’s fault. She, Ben, Angelika and Aurel were not born and raised up in Vietnam where a day’s wage of middle class just equals an hour’s wage of the lower class in Europe. When Angelika and Aurel were enjoying the movie Garfield, my world was painted by fairy tales told by my grandfather. When Ben was a 17-year-old boy traveling around the world, I was just a little girl running along the fields after war collecting shell casings to make money. When Alina was spending time watching sports competitions, my job every day was to follow my mother to the market selling milk. I didn’t even have free time to learn about Conan, Harry Porter, Doraemon. When I got into college, I started writing books for children. I promised myself that if I did not have opportunities to read books like others, I must be an author writing books for them.
I remember the day Daniel taught me English, he asked me about Gandhi & Luther King and was very surprised when I shared that Vietnamese schools do not teach their students about these famous men. Yes, I grew up in a country where people are not allowed to hate our presidents and historical textbooks just talk about the Vietnam war. Students are taught how to remember every single word in those books without understanding what guerrilla warfare is.
The game over, my team was badly beaten. Definitely, it was my fault. I felt ashamed because of that. I even felt more when looking at my facebook page, googling my name in Vietnamese. There are thousands of young Vietnamese admiring me, there are bunches of articles praising me. However, who am I when standing next to friends from other countries?
To my international friends: I want to say thank you to you, who did not judge me when looking my background, always tried to help me to fulfill myself day by day. How many young Vietnamese people are lucky enough to get out of the country and go and see the world like me? Why after so many years, is my country still here where the world does not even know its name?
To the Vietnamese youth, who want to go far in the future: I know that it is not fair for us when being born and growing up in such a poor country that others might not know. However, the world never stays there to recognize our names. We need to go to write down our names on it. Therefore, let’s get out of your comfort zone, go to see the world through your own eyes.
To other Vietnamese people, who have lived and suffered greatly from the Vietnam war: I know that we had to experience a very difficult time in the past. However, if we, ourselves once stepped on a pile of shit, please do not let our children step on it again. Please!….
Vo My Linh