After sharing Julia and Fabien’s round the world trip with you, today we have the pleasure to introduce to you Lao, a hell of a little woman who has decided to make her dreams of travel come true and to embark on a solo round the world trip for her 40th birthday!
We met Lao just before her departure on a round the world trip during an informal aperitif/picnic that we had organized on the banks of the Seine river in Paris (when we were writing our book about beer and hiking in France).
I remember this day as if it was yesterday!
She had made a long trip from the suburbs just to spend a moment with us and discuss about travels and round the world trip. She arrived with a big smile on her face and we immediately got along really well.
A year later, just after she returned from her trip, she sent us an e-mail that I will always remember (we were in the middle of our 3-day hike on Gran Canaria). It was the kind of email that made us cry happy tears and really was the perfect illustration that all the content we produce on this blog makes sense.
So without further ado, we are very happy to share with you Lao’s beautiful story and how she decided to embark on a solo round the world trip just after turning 40. We hope that her journey and adventure will inspire you as much as it did inspire us. 🙂 Have a good reading!
Note: If you want to read other testimonies like this one, find all the backpackers experiences here
Backpackers experiences: Join Lao on her round the world trip
Could you introduce yourself quickly and tell us what you were doing for a living before your world tour? Did you already travel a lot before you left?
My name is Lao, a first name that does not sound very French, unlike my passport, which is very French.
My parents are from Laos and they have never returned. They certainly have their own reasons because they fled their country. If you are interested, I invite you to read about the secret war in Laos.
I was born in northern Thailand in a refugee camp and arrived in France at the age of 10 months. I think that even as a child I was predestined for travel.
I’m curious about everything.
Before going on a round-the-world trip, I worked as a quality engineer in a power electronics company in the Paris region.
I had already traveled a little bit in the past, usually 3-4 weeks away from France and weekends in France and Europe.
What were your motivations / expectations for going around the world? Was there a trigger that acted as a “click” to start this adventure?
To be honest, the trigger was my forties coming up.
As a child, I dreamed of seeing and exploring the world. Then time passed and I never had the guts to take action, I always made excuses for myself: I don’t have enough money, I don’t want to go alone, I’m afraid (but of what?)…
Deep down, I was very tempted by the idea of going on a trip around the world and I didn’t dare to admit it to myself.
I then discussed it with my husband, he was not at all ready for this type of trip but he encouraged me enormously to make my dream come true.
So I started reading a lot of travel blogs, and I came across Novo-monde.
I wanted to escape from this daily life where I felt like I was going in circles and I just wanted to go on an adventure like many others have done it before me.
So I gave myself the most beautiful gift for my 40th birthday: a trip around the world.
As for my expectations, I had no particular expectations except to discover what is hidden on our beautiful planet and who I am.
You told me that in the past, you sometimes came back frustrated from your travels because you hadn’t had time to do everything you wanted… what did this observation bring you to prepare your round-the-world trip?
I was frustrated because I was the kind of person who made long bucket lists for upcoming trip. And when I was coming home, I usually noticed that I hadn’t ticked everything off. Instead of fully appreciating everything I had already achieved, I became obsessed with things that were not done.
So I decided to rectify this feeling of frustration before the big trip.
So 6 months before the D-Day, I went alone 3 weeks to Japan without a bucket-list. I discovered what some people call slow travel in a minimalist way, I grasped the notion of enjoying the present moment. I came home satisfied and confident thanks to this “preparation journey”.
Before leaving, did you have any concerns / fears about any aspects of this trip (its preparation, the trip itself or the return)?
I prepared for to backpack around the world. I knew my weaknesses and fears and I worked on them before I left. I stopped reading and watching the news for the countries I wanted to cross (especially the bad news). I don’t have any health concerns and that’s a good point. I am quite comfortable in English and I practiced my Spanish before leaving so I wasn’t worried about communicating.
I had noted all the information found on blogs and discussion groups, which concerned transport, prices, entry formalities into countries, potential scams, small dangers. Everything else was done once on site based on encounters, common sense and the weather.
From my point of view, a little preparation for the start makes it easier to leave room for the unexpected. And I was never afraid of being bored during the trip.
Then I physically met Fabienne and Benoit just before leaving and they reassured and advised me a lot. It made me even more confident in my decision to leave.
As for the return, I preferred not to think about it.
Often the reactions to the announcement of such a project are quite mixed… How did your husband, family and friends react when you told them that you wanted to travel around the world? (by the way, I think you went on this trip without your husband, didn’t you?)
My husband was my number one supporter and the most enthusiastic. He followed me from the idea to its realization and joined me for the last 3 months of the trip.
My family was a little anxious because I was traveling alone, and also because I was going to quit my job, which meant a difficult financial situation upon my return. Their reactions changed a lot during the trip. My parents were proud to tell people that I was on a round-the-world trip. They were delighted when I called them on video from the last village where they lived in Laos. They recognized my resourcefulness because this village is in the middle of nowhere and I don’t speak Laotian only their dialect. I found people who knew my grandparents and great grandparents.
And that can’t be anticipated, it must be lived.
As for my friends, my announcement of the trip did not surprise them, they knew me, what surprised them was that I was going alone. At that moment, they found me both crazy and brave.
I agree with what Fabien said in their interview, I was also told that I was lucky and quite brave to go on such a trip. And I gave the same answer, it was not luck but a choice I had made, and having the courage to quit my job to travel and answering the call of adventure, it’s exciting and exhilarating.
If I had to do it again, I’d do it a thousand times.
How was the beginning of your trip? I remember that when we had started our round the world trip we were travelling at full speed and then realized we had to slow down a little…
The euphoria at the beginning of the trip also made me start at 200 km/h. After 3 months, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I had trouble coping with the heat first in Australia and then in Southeast Asia, not to mention the high humidity there, and I also had to deal with cultural differences. Like you, I slowed down as I went along.
Following you on facebook, I noticed that you posted a lot of pictures of the dishes you discovered around the world 😉 … What place did the discovery of local cuisine had during your trip?
Good point!!!! and I haven’t posted everything 😉 I am fan and curious about the world food. I like to discover new flavours, to rediscover dishes that I already know. The discovery of local cuisine during my trip had a very important place. In my opinion, this is the first step in connecting with local culture, it is the first step towards the other. Through cooking, I met wonderful people and discovered unexpected things in some areas.
When the locals didn’t speak English, I used the translation app and wrote “I travel to taste your real local cuisine” and in 100% of cases, I found myself tasting simple and extremely tasty dishes, I sometimes shared a cook’s lunch, or I ate a guts soup in the early morning (I know I’m a player)… in short, Asia was an incredible culinary journey. I loved watching these everyday cooks at work, real chefs.
And in other countries, I made my meal. I find that the kitchen is a huge place to meet and share. Sometimes a broccoli can bring people together and makes them talk. For the anecdote, in Puerto Natales, I had cooked a large broccoli that I couldn’t eat alone and I suggested to the travelers around to help themselves and everyone then started to exchange naturally. The beers then joined the broccoli 😉
The daily life during a round the world trip is very different from the daily life of an employee (or even during a more “classic” vacation), what did you like most about this way of travelling? On the contrary, are there any things that you didn’t like?
What I liked about this way of travelling was the multitude of choices, I appreciated being on my own, not depending on anyone or anything, simply being free, and above all having the luxury of having time (and that I was aware of and benefited from it enormously). After the first few months at full speed, I opted for slow travel and it’s just enjoyable. When I saw travelers on 2-3-week vacations running around to make sure they didn’t miss anything, I thought I was exactly like them.
I no longer had a to-do list, I would look up some informations and then rely on the stories of other travellers or locals for activities.
I took an American and a German girl on an unforgettable mini road trip to New Zealand.
I trusted myself, I didn’t visit everything, I didn’t see everything or do everything, I did things at my own pace with my desires of the moment.
I certainly missed a lot of things, but what I experienced is worth all the gold in the world.
I took the time to meet, discuss, exchange and discover the places and people in greater depth. I tried as hard as I could to live a slow life. I realized how much I was running in my life before this trip.
I landed in countries that were not originally planned, thanks to encounters. I went to Singapore to visit my first room-mate I met months earlier in Buenos Aires, I discovered South Korea and its island Jeju thanks to a Korean hiker who became a friend and whom I met in New Zealand. Visiting a city, a country with a local does not have the same flavor as when you do it alone.
Taiwan was also a great expedition, I went there on the recommendations of a French woman I met in Vietnam. And I met a Japanese woman there who I saw again at her home in Osaka a few weeks later.
Long-term travel is not a relaxing experience, it is not a holiday as some people think. It’s a full-time job, especially when you’re alone. We decide, we manage a budget, we plan a little, we get screwed, we sometimes have problems, we take dangerous means of transport. In short, we travel, we don’t spend a holiday.
I had taken a round-the-world flight ticket with the possibility of changing the dates at no extra cost, which allowed me to be more zen for transatlantic and transpacific flights. Once in Asia, I managed on my own.
What I liked the least was having to leave a place, lovely people, a country. I had to move forward, continue the journey.
What amazed you the most during your trip? On the contrary, what shocked you the most?
What amazed me the most during the trip was the diversity and beauty of the landscapes.
Despite global warming, natural disasters and pollution of all kinds, there are magnificent places to discover and above all to maintain. I was amazed by everything I discovered.
I was thrilled in Patagonia, as well as in New Zealand or Hokkaido in Japan and in many other places as well. I was stunned every 500 meters.
We become more humble in front of this nature and these immensities.
I found on my way French families traveling with backpacks or motor-homes, they are incredibly inspiring.
I crossed the path of travelers I had met weeks or even months earlier on another continent, in a random or sometimes planned way, and that is really the magic of traveling like this, the reunions are done in simplicity and authenticity accompanied by a good dose of conviviality.
I was very moved when I arrived in the village where my parents lived. I felt like I was coming to where it all started. The loop was thus closed.
I really appreciated the ease of talking to locals and other travellers. My state of mind was totally in phase with the trip. I had let go. Travelling alone encouraged me to open to others. I even celebrated the Laotian New Year in Luang Prabang with one of your faithful readers.
What shocked me the most was the behaviour of some travellers or vacationers in certain parts of the world.
I have seen indecent behaviour and clothing as in Southeast Asia. I heard disrespectful and sometimes racist comments (once about me, by French people who thought I was Chinese and when I answered them politely and calmly in French they found themselves a little stupid). I’ve caught people doing illegal things. I heard people complaining while they were on holiday in the sun. I have seen rice fields completely destroyed to make way for future luxurious hotels that will have seen what will remain of the rice fields. I have observed people living in difficult conditions and misery by my Western standards but these people were happy, at least that is how it was reflected in what I saw and heard. Young children were chasing me and shouting “money money money” at me. I crossed beaches and parks filled with garbage, plastic was omnipresent.
Being Asian in Asia has sometimes had its share of surprises. I was constantly thought of as a tourist of Chinese origin, from a rich country like Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States, Australia or Canada. As a result, I was systematically given an exorbitant price that I simply refused with a smile.
I guess when you travel solo, there must be ups and downs… Was it hard for you to find yourself alone on the roads? Did you have any minor down periods during your trip?
Loneliness has never really been a problem for me, either before or during the trip. I think I’m a loner even if I share my life with someone. I like to be both alone and accompanied.
Actually, physically I was never alone because I stayed in a youth hostel, I traveled by bus, I was in the middle of other hikers, travelers, or locals, sometimes the hardest thing was to be physically alone (laughs).
I am rather positive and persevering by nature, and I experienced a little down period after 4 months of travel, so I made the wise decision to go home and surprise my husband on Valentine’s Day night (a holiday we have never celebrated). I had to invent a scenario to make sure he was home because I didn’t have the keys. He didn’t suspect anything. I let you imagine the emotional tsunami when he opened the door and saw me. After 10 days, I left, full of resources, to continue my journey.
I’ve learned to accept these lows. I listened to myself, I was tired and I needed a break at that moment. My remedy was to go home to recharge my batteries, I had planned a budget for that “just in case”. It’s part of the challenges of solo travel.
After that episode of low morale, I didn’t have any more of it. The next hardest part was to travel together after 7 months of solo wandering (laughs).
Even if he didn’t leave with you, it seems your trip around the world inspired your husband… can you tell us more about it?
He had been present during the preparation of the trip and I think he was starting to regret not leaving with me (laughs). He finally decided to meet me in Japan where we wanted to stay for 3 months.
While I was on the other side of the world, he told me about a European exchange programme in his company, a kind of Erasmus programme for professionals. I encouraged him to apply. Funny thing is, he applied where he wanted to live, Lisbon and Rome, and not for the mission. He still had a huge preference for Lisbon, which he knew a little bit about, but I had only visited Rome. And two weeks before he joined me, he told me that after Japan, we would go almost directly to Lisbon. The return to France was quick, we took the time to see our families, some friends, and prepare our new life in Portugal, and this until the end of May 2020. For the moment, we are living his dream of living and working abroad. Then, we will see, we have broadened the scope of possibilities.
At a time when the question of environmental protection is on everyone’s lips, do you think that the benefits of such a trip offset its negative effects on the planet? (Obviously we are not in a good position to judge you but the question deserves to be asked and your opinion on the matter interests us 😉 )
Very good question, a question I also asked myself before and during the trip.
I agree with Fabien in his answer, I also have a lot of difficulty justifying these many flights taken during this round the world trip. I know it’s not at all ecological and not all the benefits of the trip will compensate for its negative effects.
However, I have seen things up close. They were not images or a report broadcast but reality. I feel more concerned and involved now.
Thanks to this trip, I had the chance to meet a Belgian journalist who has been travelling the world for a few years to report on what is being done in terms of sustainable development in cities and countryside, energy transition and informing and communicating about climate change around the world. I learned a lot from her.
I have seen some very interesting initiatives in some countries from which we can learn a lot. In France, actions are being taken and I think we can do even more.
I am aware that at my level, I will not be able to reverse the effects, but I can minimize them by doing my part. I started doing things a few years ago and I will continue to do them, i.e. consume less, such as clothes, meat, products that come from far away, water, energy, cosmetic products, etc., and acquire new reflexes when it comes to plastics.
This trip proved to me that we didn’t need a lot of equipment to live well and happily
I have not become marginal, I am more aware in my way of consuming.
And unfortunately, I will continue to fly.
We may have read on the internet that the return from such a trip can be difficult, but it is not necessarily easy to prepare for it until we have experienced it… How did it go for you when you came back?
Well, I want to say that you’re never really prepared for the return.
The return was painful because it was very difficult for us to leave Japan and especially Hokkaido after more than two months spent there, we had our habits, our friends, we lived mainly near the mountains where we went hiking almost every day.
For the last flight, not everything went as planned. My husband, having travelled with another company, arrived in France at the scheduled time and day, not me. I spent one last night alone in Helsinki, a sign that I had to finish this trip as I started it, that is, alone. I was sad to think that this trip was already over.
As soon as we arrived in Paris, we had to take the train to the Basque Country. Well, I cried when I got on the suburban train and then on the subway to join the TGV. I wondered what I was doing here in this urban jungle. I felt completely lost. I had no landmarks left.
To extend the trip a little longer and feel less alone, I saw other travelers I had met elsewhere in Paris. Oh, it felt good to remember the good memories over a good meal and a few drinks.
If you had a lesson to learn from this trip, what would it be?
I learned humility. I learned to smile every day, not to complain or complain about trivial things, to be more patient, not to be afraid to miss things, to say things, to open up to others, to venture outside my comfort zone and off the beaten track.
I have simply learned and will continue to learn and transmit
I took full advantage of this trip to faraway places. I was amazed by everything and by everyone like a child.
I came home enriched, with stars in my eyes, a warm heart and a head full of beautiful memories and smiles.
I will never be the same person again.
I am serene, full of hope despite global warming, the damage caused by excessive consumption, tourism of “very large” masses, the behaviour of some privileged people, the race for millions of euros or dollars or many other currencies.
I left with 10 kg on my back and I am now in Lisbon with 10 kg of belongings. I got rid of the superfluous. I feel better, I feel more myself and more responsible for each of my actions.
I acknowledge how fortunate I was to have grown up and live in France. I am convinced that if my parents had not fled their country, I would not have had the same life that I had and that I have today: going to school, working so I could travel, and reporting my experience.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice right after you made the decision to go travel around the world: what would it be?
Hang on, open your eyes and heart wide, take the big leap because you’re going to have fun, it’s going to be sensational, transcendent
I will simply say to myself to make the most of every moment, to enjoy every encounter.
Something you want to add?
Thank you very much for your hard work, for your valuable advice and support.
Thank you very much for your interest in my adventure.
Your experience inspired mine. And I hope you will continue to inspire many other travellers and future travellers.
I wish all your readers to live and/or relive this extraordinary experience.
Finally, I would like to thank your readers for reading me.
It is our turn to thank Lao for taking the time to answer our questions in such detail! We found her experience fascinating and we hope from the bottom of our hearts that you will find inspiration and courage to embark on the adventure of your life (even if you are no longer 20 years old 😉 ). We wish her much happiness in her new adventure with her husband in Lisbon and we sincerely hope to have the chance to see her again soon (in Lisbon or elsewhere).
And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave her a little comment below.