Well, happy new year, guys! We made it through 2020, and boy, nothing I thought or planned for this time last year remotely came true. Let’s recap: where I was, some lows, and some highs. Working on a post with some challenges I have for myself in 2021!
Where was I?
Crazy to think, but I was in the US for all of one month in 2020. Trust me, if I’d known that was going to happen, there are about ten things I would’ve bought or done beforehand!
For most of January I was in Norway and Sweden visiting friends. Funny enough I think I only meant to go home for a week or two to sort out the normal paperwork before headed off to Asia until mid-June at least. But I kind of dragged my feet and enjoyed being home, so it took me longer to sort through everything and instead of spending a few weeks in Penang and a few weeks in Saigon, I opted to spend over a month in Saigon before going to Korea…
Which, lol. Because as well know when March hit, the world as we knew it ended and this post-COVID world exists and I never did make it back to my second home. I feel lucky though because I think the visa situation is a lot easier than it would’ve been if I’d been stuck in Malaysia!
Anyway, I arrived in Saigon on, I believe March 3rd or 4th and…. have been here ever since. This is truly the longest I’ve been in one place since I taught in Suncheon.
Luckily for me, Vietnam has been the country to be in for a pandemic because they do not mess around. This means the borders are shut and we’ve had freedom of movement within. Which has been great because Vietnam is a very long, very scenically diverse place, so it’s not exactly like I’ve felt bereft of travel while here.
Beyond getting to know Saigon so well, I’ve been to:
And now I’ve ended the year back in Saigon, and am currently at my kitchen table writing this post out.
6 Lows of 2020
Like my friend I said, I definitely had the best 2020 of most people I know. That said this year wasn’t without its lows, so I wanted to share them with you guys (and maybe just write them down to help me process)
1. Losing my dog
By far the biggest low of 2020 was finding out my dog had a brain tumor in June, followed by my mom’s call that they were putting her down about a week before my birthday. Last year I wrote that I loved being able to spend more time with her because she wasn’t exactly young anymore, but I really didn’t expect to lose her this year.
There’s something about losing your pet that’s very different to losing a family member or friend. I feel like pets are the purest individuals in the world, and Maggie was truly the best dog you could ever ask for. Literally, anyone who met me could tell you I was obsessed with her.
If I’m being 100% honest, she’s what drew me home pretty consistently. I love my parents and my siblings, but in normal times, they’re fully capable of getting passports and flying to meet me anywhere in the world. Also, I didn’t exactly have cuddle sessions with any of them while Maggie and I were attached at the hip whenever I was home. It actually still makes me upset whenever I remember she’s not here anymore, and she won’t come bursting up into my arms when I walk through the front door.
2. LOLing at all my 2020 plans
Reading this post again honestly cracks me up. I had so many plans! And hopes and dreams! Business wise, I set this really crazy goal of making $100k USD somehow, and I’m sure if you ask any travel blogger they’ll tell you how much money we did not make. I feel like 50% of what I had planned for myself career wise has either been put way back on the back burner or isn’t even a thing anymore!
3. Covid and the month of isolation
The month we had a total lockdown in Vietnam was honestly pretty rough for me. Which I feel like such a twat saying because I wasn’t experiencing nearly as much hardship as so many other people were. I could afford to be in Saigon. I actually landed a decent freelance gig that gave me something to do each day and helped make-up for my dwindling revenue otherwise. Plus in terms of clients, I really only lost one while everyone else kept me on.
But I felt very, very alone. Sure, I messaged and video chatted with friends and family a lot, but I essentially knew no one in Saigon when lockdown happened. The one person I knew was dealing with their own stuff and they lived about 30 minutes away by motorbike anyway. For a month the only human-human contact I had was with my Airbnb owner and the grocery store clerk across the street. I spent a lot of afternoons just listlessly sleeping and random nights crying while listening to a bunch of songs with “lonely” in the title.
4. General feelings of loneliness
To be honest, I feel like I’ll go through waves of this no matter how good or bad things are, so it’s more about me learning to cope and recognize the signs than anything else. As happy as I am to be in Vietnam (more on that below), it’s really fucking hard to basically start fresh in a new place when you weren’t planning to.
Most people I meet here have been here a long time and/or they came here with someone else. That means they already have their set communities or people they prioritize. It’s not like I can meet someone a few times and expect them to fold me into their life and treat me like they do their closest pals. And as much as I understand that, it also really makes it hard to navigate new relationships and figure out what to give and what to expect.
This means I often felt really, really alone wondering if I was insane feeling left out or if this was a perfectly normal reaction. Luckily, for the most part, I’ve been able to combat this a lot, and I’ll get into that below in the highs!
5. Returning to being deeply insecure about my relationships with other people
This kind of makes me sad because one of the things I wrote in 2019 was that I was becoming more confident in my friendships, and I have to say being thrust into a new city has really unraveled that confidence. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my close friends who I message almost every day for one reason or another, but they’re in their respective countries and I’m, well, here. And, ya know, FB messaging just isn’t quite the same as grabbing coffee with someone or collapsing on their carpet in existential dread.
Over all, my experience with expats in Saigon has been a rollercoaster. As I’m writing this it’s on the up and up, but it’s gone up and down so many times this year, a part of me is perpetually a little scared for the next drop. It’s just that so, so many people I’ve met are really flaky and forgetful. When you add that to what I said above about how many people already have established communities, a lot of times I question whether they’re just flaky or if I’m so unimportant in their day-to-day thoughts that I’m not worth remembering.
A specific instance that I’m honestly still annoyed at is when two people forgot about plans they made with me for my birthday. I didn’t ask for these plans, and yet somehow I felt like the clingy, crazy one when all was said and done!
But yeah, that’s where I’m at with my confidence in friendships. It’s not great, but like I said the roller coaster right now is on and the up and up and, of course, I can rely on my friends abroad who have made it clear they remember I exist and actually like my company.
6. Hurting my knee
Hurting my knee this year was SUCH a bummer! I know it may come as a shock to many people who knew me pre-2020, but I actually was moving around quite a lot. Walking instead of get a Grab, running, swimming, going to the gym, etc. Hurting my knee really threw a wrench into all that for a good month, and even now there are some things I’m hesitant to do.
9 Highs of 2020
1. Finishing my book challenge!
Y’all it was a close one. I finished my 52nd book of 2020 at about 10:00 PM on December 31st. The speed reading was unreal because I was also with people lol. But I finished! And, even more impressive, is how much I physically read vs. listened to on Audible. I would say back in 2018 when I started this challenge, I was still listening to at least 75% of the books I completed! I’ll do a full breakdown of the last quarter of my 2020 reads as well as a kind of overview of it soon!
2. Getting into a fitness routine
You know what’s kind of nuts? I spent this year actually exercising regularly. Sure there were some weeks I wasn’t super active but over all, I stuck to working out at least a few times a week whether it was running, walking, swimming, kickboxing, or, my favorite, going to my gym here in Vietnam. Last December I started walking/running more and while I dropped it a bit in Norway and Sweden, I did still do something there.
Back at home, I got into working out a little bit with kickboxing and Youtube videos, and then as soon as I got to Saigon I joined a gym. Even during lockdown, I did kickboxing (Christa DiPaulo!) and a little of different Youtube exercise videos. Once lockdown eased, I started running and walking outside as well.
Then in I think late June or July I was invited to check out Hustle, a gym in Thao Dien, and I’ve been going there ever since! I’ve also been trying to mix in swimming and walking/running, especially now that my knee is about 99.9% back to normal.
Even when I traveled, I made sure to get on the treadmill or swim some laps if I wasn’t doing something active already. All in all, I’d say this was a successful year!
3. Feeling pretty
This sounds SO vain, but I do think it’s nice to be at a point in my life where, in general, I actually like the way I look. I started to feel this way last year too. Idk, we live in a world that constantly tells us how not attractive we are, so I think when you can get to a point where you can comfortably call yourself pretty, not cringe and immediately criticize every photo of yourself, and wear whatever you want, it feels like a success?
Anyway, yes, feeling pretty is a high of this year! Also chalk it up to the fact that I’ve been living in eternal summer, so I’ve had a nice, dark tan and I’ve been able to wear shorts and dresses instead of having to get out pants and sweaters!
4. Accidentally calling Saigon home
I wanted to come to Saigon to get to know it better, and boy did I get a lot more than I planned! One month is now ten, and I’ll be here for at least a year if not more depending on the pandemic. I actually feel really lucky to call this city home for the year and that I’ve had time to get to know it so well. I actually feel more comfortable here than I would in Seoul?! Isn’t that crazy?!
Anyway, Saigon is such a fun city. The energy here feels really young and frenetic with new shops popping up and something always going on. I feel like this is the kind of city I should’ve spent my early twenties in because in a weird way I feel younger at 28 than I did at 23 in the middle of teaching small children in the Korean countryside!
5. Making friends in Saigon
I know I complained about how fickle expat relationships can be in Saigon above, but I also did say things are on the up and up! I’m eternally grateful for the friends I’ve made while being here because otherwise this would’ve been a pretty depressing 10 months!
If you had told me how social I’d be with going out, meeting new people, putting myself in situations where I knew either no one or one person… I would’ve legitimately thought you’d lost your mind!
6. Feeling good about my finances
I am extremely lucky to be in a stable position with my finances especially after this year and how the travel industry is pretty much in the toilet. I think I’ll be able to pay off my private student loan by at least the end of the first quarter of 2021, and I’ve been keeping my CC bill close to $0. Now let’s just hope Biden does something about our government student loans. It’d be nice to be debt free before I turn 30!
7. Working with some amazing places in Vietnam
Being in one spot for so long means I’ve been able to make a lot more connections than I normally do flitting through a city for a few weeks at most, and I’ve really enjoyed it! Whether it’s been working in Sapa with Topas, Victoria Hotels in Phan Thiet, Odys Boutique Hotel and Hammock Hotel in Saigon, Hustle on Instagram promotion and photography, and, most recently, Azerai La Residence in Hue, I’ve had a lot of fun working with companies this year!
8. Becoming more conscious
At the beginning of this year I did start to rebrand a bit to focus on being a more “conscious” travel blog. I definitely do not think I’m perfect in the least bit, but I do think I’ve made small strides even when I’m not so great at other things (my take out tendencies….)! I have some little 2021 challenges for myself to help me get better.
9. Studying Vietnamese!
I love my Vietnamese class! There’s four of us and our teacher, and we meet every Friday, and it’s just fun being able to communicate more and breakdown this language that seemed like total gibberish when I first arrived. I’m only annoyed with myself that I didn’t start this sooner.
I think that about wraps it up for me. As always, I’m grateful for all of you who read this blog or follow my social media and actually send me messages or comment! Makes me feel like There She Goes Again is somewhat useful to someone out there! Cheers to 2021!!