Introducing the “Passport to People” Travel Interviews where I’ll take you around the globe, via inspiring, creative souls I’ve met while traveling!
My first memory of Frances was during my time as the managing editor for the Vietnam tourism website back in 2016. While curating the website’s instagram feed, I had seen this bright, bubbly blonde traipsing around Vietnam and instantly fell in love with her smile. She did a beautiful job at showcasing Vietnam in all its glory and for a few weeks, it was a nonstop flow of adding her photos to the front page of the tourism website. As serendipity would have it, one of my closest girlfriends Kristin told me that a new coworker of hers was gushing over my Taipei video and it was none other than Frances! Frances and I soon met up for a blind “blogger” date and instantly clicked. We only were able to squeeze a few cafe sessions in before I headed back to the USA but for the last year and a half, Frances has stayed in touch almost every single day through Instagram and has become my little ray of sunshine with all her kind words. Frances has kept Vietnam alive in my heart, with her gorgeous photos of her extensive travels around Vietnam, and her instagram stories are jampacked with the best insider’s knowledge of Ho Chi Minh City. She was also covered by a local news outlet, Tuoi Tre News on her inspiring Honda Cub solo motorbiking trip from HCMC to Hanoi. I honestly adore this human being and am so thrilled to finally have her featured on this blog.
YAY FRANCES!!! You just completed a cross-country solo road trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. Tell me: what is your key to a successful trip?
…finding the balance between planning and going with the flow. Originally I was always a researcher, but I’ve learnt through some disastrous trips (both obsessively over-planned and seriously under-planned) that you need to find a sweet-spot which allows wiggle room for last minute adventures, yet doesn’t leave you feeling like you missed out on something you really wanted to do.
For those interested in motorbiking Vietnam solo, check out Frances’ post on “5 Tips for Motorbiking Vietnam.“
Did you have any epiphanies while you were on the road?
I used to always say that getting to experience and develop an understanding of different cultures was my favorite thing about traveling, but I think nowadays I’d have to say I love local interactions the most. Being able to communicate with locals without a shared language, laugh with them and even just share a smile is one of my favorite thing about traveling.
As a female solo traveler, you have to be empowered to do your own travel research. What’s your process?
I’m a big fan of using personal blog articles for research over more clean-cut magazine articles. When using blogs to research a new travel destination I prefer to take recommendations from writers who have a level of expertise in the country they are sharing (normally either an expat or local).
Your Instagram stories are littered with great music picks! What’s a song that puts you in the traveling mood?
Oh wow. I’m a huge music fan so that’s a tough one to pick. Two of all time favorites are “Where I Wanna Be” by Arizona and “One Foot” by Walk the Moon. Both are nostalgic traveling songs for me. I binge listen new songs so I find that many of my favorite songs trigger memories of where I was when I binged them; the binge listen on my motorbike road trip was “Runaway” by Ziggy Alberts which will never-not remind me of driving across my adopted home country, soaking up the sun and the pure freedom of not having anywhere to be.
You’ve traveled Vietnam extensively. Have you had any really odd experiences while on the road?
The “Duck stop” in Phong Nha is up there as one of the weirdest places I’ve been. I won’t say too much about it as the whole experience is shrouded in mystery. What I will say is there are ducks (a lot of them) and it’s an interactive experience. Be prepared to walk away with abs from laughing so hard!
Bahaha, I can only imagine! And do you have a favorite phrase in Vietnamese?
I love to come out with “oi troi oi” (oh my god) whenever something silly happens. You’re guaranteed to get a giggle from the Vietnamese around you, and if you do it in class you’ll often be greeted with a round of applause from the students for your Vietnamese skill.
Living abroad is not always rainbows and sunshine. How do you cheer yourself up on a bad day?
Ah I love this question! One thing I’m super proud of this year is that I feel like I’ve mastered the art of making myself happy. I know exactly what makes me tick: Give me an ice tea in my favorite cafe (trusty Dolphy’s in Saigon), a drive around the city on my motorbike with music on repeat (preferably with no shoes on) and either a day of blogging or getting stuck into a captivating crime thriller novel. Simple I know, but these are truly some of my favorite things and are bound to transform a bad day into a great one!
Was there a place that you really connected with while traveling around Vietnam?
There are a few places that own a slice of my heart. In Vietnam, Phong Nha-Ke Bang has my heart. Phong Nha is a national park towards the north of Vietnam, famed for its limestone peaks and vast network of caves (including the world’s largest cave!) I first visited when I was going through some major changes in my life (post break-up/quitting my job/trying to figure out what I was going to do with life) and I remember being there with my friend and realizing that actually, I was going to be absolutely fine on my own. I revisited in the summer during my motorbike road trip and the same feelings of love came oozing out as soon as we reunited.
For trip planning to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, check out “Visiting Paradise Cave Without a Tour.“
Onto some more general travel questions. Do you have a bucket list?
I do have a bucket list; not a physical one, but a mental note of experiences I plan to chase after. I’m a big fan of going somewhere with the intention of doing something specifically. So for example one of the things at the top of my bucket list is to take a cruise down the Nile river in Egypt. Another is to experience Holi festival in India, and I really want to learn to sail so I can sail around the Mediterranean.
Piggybacking off the bucket list question—you’ve just won a trip around the world! List 12 cities on your flight path.
Starting from my current home in Vietnam I would go around the world from Taipei (your trip sparked a desire to explore all over Taiwan) – Beijing (the Great Wall is a massive bucketlist item for me) – Kyoto (the epitome of traditional Japan, I’m obsessed) – Los Angeles (I want to see what all the hype is about and do a mini Cali road trip) – Havana (erm hello vintage cars, cuban food and learning to make cigars) – Mexico City – Lima (did someone say hike the inca trail?!) – Marrakech (Riads, tagines and indulging on north African shopping) – Cairo (cue that trip down the Nile mentioned earlier mixed with the pyramids) – Cape Town (with so many South African friends, I’m itching to visit their crown jewel) – Jaipur in Northern India (the pink city, hopefully with a side trip to Jodhpur, the blue city) – Kathmandu (the nature, cuisine, and traditions are calling me to Nepal).
If you were exiled to one country for the rest of your life, where would it be?
Turkey. For sure. It’s somewhere I visited regularly during my childhood and will forever have a hold of my heart. Aside from the nostalgia, Turkey has a rich history and culture, enticing cuisine, stunning natural beauty and some of the kindest people. I could quite happily spend the rest of my day in Turkey.
Do-it-yourself or pre-packaged experiences?
DIY every time! I will do everything I can to avoid going on a tour. I enjoy the planning stage, plus I like to have the flexibility for plans to change and morph which you cannot get from pre-packaged experiences.
Is there anyone in particular who has inspired your journeys?
I actually don’t think it would be anyone famous, but in fact, my grandparents on both sides of my family. My grandparents have always been adventurous whether it was my dad’s parents’ roadtripping all over Italy when my dad was only 2, or my gran taking my mum and her sister to Greece with no plans and camping in peoples gardens to stay within budget. When I was a child, my gran was regularly jetsetting around Europe (she still is even in her 70s now), and my dad’s parents were ticking off major bucket list experiences, like hiking the Inca trail, exploring the pyramids of Egypt, and even touring Vietnam. I get a lot of inspiration from their adventures and hope to be one of those cool grandparents when I’m older too.
Here are some photos of Frances on her adventures around Vietnam…
Onto some superlatives. Best purchase abroad?
A pair of handmade leather sandals in Greece! They’ve lasted multiple Vietnamese monsoon floods and have taken me all over the Asia.
Worst vacation experience?
During our trip to the Philippines, all 3 of my friends got hit by serious food poisoning. I thought I had escaped the viral poisoning, only for it to hit me during our 8 hour layover in Manila. Let me tell you, vomiting violently into a trash can in the middle of the mall of Asia was not a proud moment.
Best foreign curse word you know?
I work with A LOT of South Africans so the Afrikaans term “voetsek” (pronounced “foot-sak”), which means something along the lines of “fuck off” is becoming a regular in my vocab. I don’t think it’s the best, but it’s definitely a fun curse to say.
Most overrated country?
Okay, unpopular opinion here. I can’t vouch for the whole of Indonesia, but I found Bali to be very overrated. I can see elements to love but from my week there it felt like it was extremely focused on tourism and almost felt like mini-Australia. That said, the weather was poor when I went and I do want to return and try again but I don’t get the hype.
Biggest lessons learned on the road?
Not everything has to be perfect for it to be beautiful.
This year I’ve been practicing a lot of daily gratitude and I’ve found it to be so profound while traveling. Having appreciation for the small things will really transform how you view a destination, or experience. Plus writing down small details that you were thankful for everyday can be a great way to keep a track of the essence of each day during your travels.