Sean and I have been living on our own in Hà Nội for a little over two weeks. To explain what we’ve been up to during that time, I’ve broken things down into three parts.
Step One: Finding an Apartment
Our first problem to solve was to find a place to stay for the two months we plan to be here. We found that our easiest option was to find an apartment through Airbnb but we weren’t satisfied with the prices since we have a strict budget. We ended up directly messaging around 10+ Airbnb hosts, asking for a significant discount, making sure to mention our great reviews from previous stays at Airbnbs and our desire to rent long-term (at least for Airbnb standards). Most of the hosts got back to us with counter offers that were still out of our budget but we ended up getting two offers that worked for us. We picked the one that we thought we’d like more based on the host conversations and post and stayed for a night to make sure everything was as expected. To our pleasant surprise, our chosen apartment has gone above our expectations and we’re only paying $200 per month plus electricity. We ended up getting about 25% off the original monthly price due to our negotiations. If you are a digital nomad (or even if you aren’t) looking to rent through Airbnb, I highly recommend clicking on “Contact host” prior to booking in order to ask about a discount, especially if you plan to stay for longer than a week.
Step Two: Getting to Know the Area
The second thing we wanted to do was familiarize ourselves with the area we are living in since it can be pretty overwhelming living in a foreign country where English isn’t always an option. Since we wanted to avoid the higher prices of living in the popular areas for tourists like the Old Quarter of Hà Nội, we live in a more residential area on the west end of Ba Đình, near Công viên Thủ Lệ (Thu Le Park). The problem with living in a less popular part of town is that there is less information in English on the area so finding places to eat, drink, and shop is slightly more difficult. We are still trying out new places all the time, that’s one of the best parts about traveling, but it’s definitely comforting to find a handful of restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores you know you can count on. My number one tip for this is to walk everywhere for at least the first few days and don’t be afraid to take some risks. Whenever we are going to try a new place, we make sure there are other local people eating there since this tells us that it’s probably affordable and fresh.
Step Three: Building a Routine
This was and continues to be one of the most challenging but rewarding steps for us. We quickly realized that Vietnam has a pretty strict eating schedule and if you want fresh food, you have to follow that schedule. We have basically created our daily schedule based on eating times.
Sean and Christina’s Daily Schedule (generally)
8:00 Wake up, warm up exercises, meditate for 15 minutes, get ready
9:30 Bánh mì for breakfast
10:00 Go to a cafe to work on our laptops
1:30 Go to a different cafe to work on our laptops
Back home, we wouldn’t eat dinner so early but you have to here or else you’re left with very few options or have to go to more expensive restaurants. For lunch and dinner we usually end up getting either phở xào, mì xào, cơm rang dưa bò, or phổ tai, all costing about $1.50 per dish. Only when we are truly craving non-Vietnamese food will we splurge a bit on some Japanese, Korean, or Thai food.
Another important note about our schedule is the meditation. We were meditating pretty regularly back home before starting our travels here but completely dropped it while we were on vacation with our friends. I am so glad we have picked it back up. We were both struggling with the anxieties associated with traveling, mostly the constant language and cultural barriers. It was stressful not knowing if, when, or where we would be able to eat not to mention getting a lot of stares almost everywhere we went, being Americans. This can still be a struggle but we have gotten used to a lot of it and have been able to gain some clarity and calmness through the meditation. Interacting with the locals and realizing that people are simply curious about you when they stare has helped a lot too. Another big issue for Sean in particular has been comfort or lack thereof since Asia (or most places for that matter) was not made for a 6’6” guy. Whenever we choose a new cafe to work at, the top thing of our list of priorities is good seating. By the way, if you are in Hà Nội and looking for good cafes, we have found HanoiHideaway.com to be super helpful!
When we first arrived, steps one and two tended to take up a lot of our time. As we settled into our new neighborhood however, we realized we needed to add some more structure to our days so that we could achieve our goals for the trip. While these aforementioned goals are still taking shape, I think I can explain the gist for you now. We are both taking this time to not only immerse ourselves in a foreign culture but also to prepare ourselves for when we decide to reenter the job market or create our own jobs depending on how things unfold. We are both studying computer science, though Sean is continuing his years of study and I am only just starting. I have also put a lot of time into my other interest at the moment, digital art. I had the idea of opening my own Etsy shop a long time ago and now seemed like a good time to do it but unfortunately, due to a technical issue, I will have to postpone opening my shop. We hope to solve the issue in China so I plan to pick that project back up in February.
I cannot express how grateful I am to have the opportunity to take this time to explore my interests and career options. I have so many interests but I’ve never felt like I had enough time to fully explore them until now. Now I have no excuses and it feels great to finally get some answers. I mean, my jobs in the past have been in retail and security… if you know me at all, you’ll know that these are not my passions in the least. I don’t mean to say that I did not gain valuable skills at these jobs but I think it’s safe to say that I got everything I could have gotten out of them and left craving more of a challenge and personal fulfillment. I hope to come out of this trip with greater clarity about my life and career goals. I feel like I am at least on the right track, just being here.
As always, thanks for your support and for following along as Sean and I discover more and more about ourselves and this beautiful, crazy world.