Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | May 15, 2010

Travel Outside the Comfort Zone (or, I could have just gone to Florida like a normal person)

I will confess that the biking trip to Laos and Vietnam was not originally my idea.  In fact, I am not sure whose idea it was, although I am guessing it was my friend Sheila’s.  I think I got an email from Sheila saying something like “We are going to Laos and Vietnam in April!  The Aussies are definitely on board!  You should come too!” Matt thought it was a great idea, and next thing I knew, we were going.

Truth be told, I wasnt sure I wanted to go. Yes, it would be fun to have another trip with our friends, a biking trip no less.  What’s more, it was a trip to a part of the world I had never been to, sort of the cherry on top. But it was far, it was complicated, it was expensive.  My parents would have to babysit for two weeks  and really, asking someone to give up two weeks of their life is an imposition, even if it is my mom and dad. And did I mention the expensive part? It seemed like an extravagant expense.  We have kids going off to college in a few years, after all.  I imagined the conversation at the kitchen table:

“Mommy, can I go to a college like Cornell or Middlebury?”

“No, sorry, honey. Mommy and Daddy went to Vietnam instead. Community college for you. But we have great pictures!”

The deck seemed stacked, so many reasons not to go. But still, it was compelling. And compelling won the day.  As we were flying there, I kept thinking: this is a crazy itinerary: Chicago to Tokyo, then Hong Kong, Bangkok, then finally Luang Prabang, Laos.  Certainly, there are easier, more convenient locations, such as the entire Western Hemisphere. Really, we cant find a single vacation spot in our own hemisphere?  What about Florida? Lots of people go to Florida, and they have a lovely time, and they don’t have to take four planes and cross 12 time zones.  You can get to Florida on a direct flight, just 2-3 hours of flying time. We could zip down for a couple of days and save a boatload of money. Could even come home with a big stuffed Mickey Mouse for the kids. Disney’s Epcot would be the perfect solution, wouldn’t it? A fake trip abroad.

But then I think of all the things I would have missed if we had gone to Florida.

I am sure there is a fine Asian restaurant at Epcot, but I am also confident it does not have the character of these unique dining establishments:

streetside cafe Laos riverfront restaurant Laos

At Disney, grilled cheese and french fries are staples.  We would have missed out on these interesting menu items:

Frogs Bugs (And no, no pictures of dogs here, although I thought about it)

The monorail at Disney is pretty cool, but it has nothing on these colorful modes of transport:

tuk tuk boats in Laos another tuk tuk

Instead of driving along I-95 boxed in by trucks, we got to see motorbikes piled high with cargo worthy of an 18 wheeler:

I have been to Disney. I have seen the people there. They are not as interesting, and certainly not as friendly, as the people of Vietnam. Disney bills itself as The Happiest Place on Earth, but that is patently untrue. In my experience, most of the people you encounter at Disney seem quite miserable. Vietnam takes the cake on this one:

Three women Tuan

But most importantly, if I had gone to Florida I doubt I would have gotten this stomach thing that has been plaguing me for two weeks. I’ve dropped five pounds.  Try doing that at Disney.


  1. So…were there dogs at the market?

    • Yes. Woof. I averted my eyes.

  2. It’s hard to know what else to do in a situation like that – record it as a kind of anthropology and you wind up confirming a stereotype OR avert your eyes and leave everyone wondering. They eat dried monkeys in the Congo. Protein is protein.

  3. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


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