I am on my way to Vietnam in only one week. There’s still a list of things to take care of, but I’m mostly ready to go.
The last document needed for my work visa is in the mail. I’ve bought my ticket and packed the items I’ll carry with me. I’ll be spending my last week in The States with my dear friends Kathy and Julia, outside of Albany, New York. We’ve got a few adventures planned, mostly involving wine, good food and a little sightseeing. Kathy and Julia rescued me off the AT when my foot was too injured to hike on. I am indebted to them forever and can’t possible express the kindness they have shown me.
Everyone says how jealous they are that I’m “footloose and fancy free.” But it’s not that easy. This has taken some careful planning, more time than I expected, more money than I’d hoped, and every ounce of persistence I possess. And I’ve given up most of my stuff. Here are a few random details for those of you who might consider an adventure like this:
EVERYTHING I OWN I’m not taking much with me. The first thing I did when I realized I was definitely going to tropical Vietnam was to shed all my warm clothing. I’ll be lucky if it ever drops below 60F. I’ll be carrying most of what I own on the plane. I’ll have two carry-ons—a backpack and a large handbag—which will have a change of clothes, my documents, electronics, camera, a couple fragile items and a few toiletries. I’ll check two bags, mostly with clothing and personal items. The first bag is free and I’ll have to pay about a hundred dollars for the second checked bag. That may seem pricy, but it’s less than sending it later, plus I’ll have the items immediately. That will leave about two boxes of things that my friend Kathy will mail to me when I have a permanent address. I’ll be sending items USPS. A box of 25 pounds will cost roughly $125. I’ll store my hiking equipment with Kathy, but not much else.
Please remember that I used to own a three story, two bedroom, two and a half bath condo, filled to the brim with stuff. I’ve shed most all my belongings. The folks at Good Will know me very well. All my books are electronic, my photos digital. Even the art my niece sends me is scanned and kept electronically. My clothes are horribly boring and all intermix. My hairstyle requires little more than a comb and my makeup routine takes a minute and a half. I have nothing decorative, nothing to dust, no furniture, no kitchen equipment.
Ladies, I only own four pair of shoes. And I might get rid of one pair.
Most of what I kept when I started hiking was stored in my friend Sue’s attic in Atlanta. Another friend who has shown unbelievable kindness and support.
CAR Julia’s husband, Bill, has arranged to sell my car after I leave. Bless him. It’s a 2001 Saturn with 200,000+ miles on it, so I’m not expecting much money. But it has served me very well. I can’t imagine what I would have done if dear friends Ann and Nelson in Snellville had not kept the car in running order for me during the summer while I was hiking the AT. Another set of friends I am indebted to for life.
TOURIST VISA I’m going initially to Vietnam on a Tourist Visa. Many countries require a visa, but most you can get on arrival (Visa On Arrival, VOA). Here’s the details for getting one in Vietnam. And this is the company site I used to get my letter.
WORK VISA I did most of my research about teaching English more than three years ago. The rules have changed and it isn’t as easy as it used to be. There are new laws, Hague conventions, which require more documentation than I was prepared for. Most countries that want English teachers require only two things: English is your first language and you have a four year college degree. That’s still true. And you can travel there on a tourist visa, though you can’t legally work on one. For the school to get a work visa for you, you have to prove you are not a criminal and that your documents are legitimate. Basically, I needed an FBI Background check and a copy of my diploma. And EACH had to be “apostilled.” An apostille is an authentication process. Quoting the FBI website: An apostille is a certification that a document has been “legalized” or “authenticated” by the issuing agency through a process in which various seals are placed on the document. So far it sounded easy, especially for someone who has no felony convictions and hasn’t even had a parking ticket in three decades.
The diploma had to be sent to my college, who verified that the diploma came from them, and then sent to the Illinois Secretary of State office for a seal and letter of authentication. It took 6 weeks and about $30. The FBI background check took FOUR sets of fingerprints before I got success. The first three were ink and were turned down as un-readable. The last set was digital. I paid a “channeler” $50 or more for each set, even the ones that didn’t work. According to the FBI customer service person I spoke with, “a high percentage” of inked fingerprints are turned down by the FBI, but digital prints “almost always work.” Please note that the FBI website gives instructions only about inked fingerprints. That took two months and more frustration and tears than I care to remember. It could have taken a year if I’d done it without the channelers. Then the background check had to have an apostille. If I’d had 2-3 months, I could have sent it to the US State Department myself. I paid a courier service about $200 to take care of it. I’ll have the document this week.
All of this to prove I have a real college degree and that the FBI keeps my criminal file in a folder marked “Harmless.”
LEAVIN’ ON A JET PLANE I’m flying out Monday. My dear, dear friends have agreed to drive me to Newark Airport rather than have me fly from Albany. It won’t save any money, but it cuts off about ten hours of travel time. It’s roughly 22 hours, with one stop in Hong Kong. Flights of that length, especially sitting in coach, are brutal. Though it’s important to move around when you can, I do my best to be unconscious for as much of the flight as possible. I wear eye shades, ear plugs and take a sleeping pill. I especially try to sleep on the NEW schedule of the country I’m flying to—it takes a bite out of jet lag later. I don’t drink alcohol as it makes jet lag worse. I won’t arrive until almost midnight Tuesday.
HOUSING IN VIETNAM That remains to be seen, but initially, I can stay at the school’s apartment. Many English schools in Asia provide housing, but this one doesn’t. On the other hand, housing is fairly inexpensive. I hope to find a small, furnished apartment. I’m sure I’ll have a couch for friends to visit. (Hint, hint) I’ll be 20 miles outside of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in a town called Bien Hoa. It’s the site of the former US military base.
TRANSPORTATION My school host, Thom, has promised to meet me on arrival to Vietnam. This is a true kindness. It will be midnight before I walk out of the airport outside Ho Chi Minh City. The apartment I’ll stay in initially is on the same block as the school and I’ll have use of a scooter. I expect to buy one after I arrive and get up enough nerve.
LEAVING MILLINOCKET, ME Remember than most of the above was arranged while working twelve plus hour days at a hostel near Mt Katahdin, the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. I’d like to say that my work/live stay at the Appalachian Trail Lodge was a lot of fun, though very hard work. I’d like to say that. Well, the hard work part is certainly true. While I won’t waste time or energy on details, I will say that my time with the owners of this lodge sucked from me much of the joy I initially felt about the Appalachian Trail. While I may be able to finish the hike eventually, I won’t be staying here.
I will miss my co-worker and roommate, Tie. She’d like to manage a trail hostel next year. No one would be better or harder working. Whoever is smart enough to hire her will be delighted with their choice.
THANKS Barring injury, hiking the Appalachian Trail (I initially typed the word trial. Freudian Slip?) is mostly mental. It’s hard to stay positive unless you have people behind you. No one hikes alone. I want to take this time to thank all of you who supported me in my hike north on the AT. I was blown away by trail angels, kind words on my blog, offers of support, soft beds to sleep in, cold sodas, donations to keep me on the trail, encouragement on social media and many smiles. It helps more than you can know. I didn’t finish the hike the way I would have liked to, but I did FOURTEEN HUNDRED AND FIVE miles. Nothing to be ashamed of. You helped.
Things I’m still working through:
- Insurance. I expect I qualify for travel insurance and have asked for a couple quotes.
- Notifying my credit card companies
- Canceling my phone. I’ll get a new service once I’m there.
So that’s the update. The adventure continues…..