Journey of a digital nomad: Vietnamese traveler's reflection on 50 countries

By Tu Nguyen   February 17, 2024 | 07:30 pm PT
Phan Thanh Quoc returned to Vietnam in late 2023 after exploring Ecuador, marking the 50th country he visited since quitting his programming job three years ago.

Looking back on his travels, Quoc, also known as "Ke Du Muc" (The Nomad), sums up the experiences as "worthy."

The 32-year-old started his journey to travel worldwide at the end of April 2021. After spending about six months exploring Nepal, India, Oman, and Sri Lanka, he returned to his home base in Ho Chi Minh City.

Despite his initial plan to travel for a longer time, the regulations back then mandated another Covid vaccine within six months for continued international travel.

In response, Quoc headed back to Vietnam to get his third shot. As a programmer, Quoc has the flexibility to work anywhere.

However, in a moment of contemplation, he decided to quit his job to concentrate on traveling and exploring the world.

After leaving his job and feeling a bit unsure about what to do next, Quoc's love for Vietnamese food took him straight to Hanoi. Then, he set off on a trip back to HCMC, enjoying the diverse regional cuisines all over Vietnam.

Quốc chụp ảnh cùng những người dân ở Burundi. Ảnh: Kẻ Du Mục

Phan Thanh Quoc takes a photo with people in Burundi. Photo courtesy of Ke Du Muc

Quoc expressed no regrets about leaving his job. Although he recently received an interview offer from Microsoft, he turned it down because his main focus is on exploring the world. Thanks to the money he saved before quitting, travel expenses weren't a worry for Quoc when he started traveling.

He started his journey slowly, driven by a desire to understand each place rather than merely ticking them off a list. In some locations, he said he didn't take any photos to fully immerse himself in the experience.

In 2023, Quoc visited around 15 countries, including El Salvador, Mongolia, Belize, Panama, and Ecuador.

Mongolia left a lasting impression for Quoc, as he experienced the nomadic lifestyle by riding horses for the first time, and spending a week in the Terelj Steppe in July.

He went deep into the steppe where there were mountains and grassy areas with no phone signal. At night, the temperature reaches about 0 degrees Celsius. With limited resources, Quoc had to rely on water from the Tuul River, either boiled or filtered using a handheld tool.

While wandering in the area, he learned how Mongolian nomads, despite lacking modern amenities, adeptly use nature for sustenance.

On this trip, Quoc had a bit of trouble when a horse trod on him while he was checking his camera's memory card. The card got trampled, and he ended up losing many pictures from the 7-day trek across the Terelj steppe.

For Quoc, every journey, whether smooth or challenging, carries valuable experience. In addition to acquiring knowledge and survival skills, Quoc met many people with captivating stories. These interactions helped him grasp the real meaning of each journey and life in general.

During his trip to the Amazon jungle, he connected with indigenous people who maintained a primitive lifestyle. Having only interacted with modern society for about 40 years, they still harbor a dislike for it. They feel sad because their home, the forest, has been destroyed. Rejecting government support, their desire is simple - to live in peace.

"Their happiness is strange. I believe those who know less might be happier in our society," he said.

Quốc và Sunghwan tại Mexico. Ảnh: Kẻ Du Mục

Phan Thanh Quoc (L) and a friend he made on his way named Sunghwan share a meal in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ke Du Muc

Last September, Quoc met a man named Sunghwan from Korea while traveling in Mexico. Sunghwan had never traveled alone before his Mexico trip, but he decided to try something new after facing some challenges in his life. They became good friends after a few chats and began exploring various Mexican cities together.

Even now, Sunghwan keeps Quoc updated about the places he visits, with the latest being a photo from Argentina. Through his journeys and meeting people, Sunghwan realized the importance of living at a slower pace and listening to himself.

When Quoc reflects on trips to African countries like Kenya and Burundi, he still feels a bit stressed due to the lack of comfort and fears of potential theft when walking the streets. Despite these concerns, he chose to stay because he wanted to truly understand how people cope with difficult circumstances.

"Maybe it's because when I was a child, my family was poor, so we knew how to endure hardships," Quoc said.

Quốc chụp hình tại Guanajuato, Mexico. Ảnh: Kẻ Du Mục

Phan Thanh Quoc snapped a photo of himself while taking in the views of Guanajuato, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Ke Du Muc

In between challenging trips, Quoc frequently selects a few places to unwind and recharge. After his African adventure, Quoc opted for Myanmar as his next destination. Despite power outages at the resort where he stayed, he discovered relaxation in the local daily life.

Reflecting on life after quitting his job, Quoc describes the feeling as being free. Since technology has always been his childhood dream, he is not disinterested in his programming job. However, Quoc finds it challenging to pursue both hobbies.

Currently, earning money while on the go is a common practice, with a rising trend in "digital nomadism" – individuals working remotely, allowing them the freedom to travel while still fulfilling job responsibilities.

Quoc encourages young people to pursue their dreams while underscoring the importance of preparation and having backup plans for significant undertakings, such as global travel.

This year, Quoc is thinking about going back to Mongolia because a week on the steppe wasn't enough for him to really understand life there.

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