When the universe—and a friend—gives you Vietnam
This blog post has two purposes: to
brag excitedly share the news about my upcoming surprise trip to Vietnam (hang on, let me do a little spazzy dance—I’m going to Vietnam!!!) and to declare my undying love for the Toronto Travel Massive. And the two are intimately connected.
If you’re not familiar with Travel Massive, it’s an international group of travel writers, photographers, videographers, bloggers and industry professionals. Basically, if you are involved in the travel world in any way, you should attend. There are Travel Massives around the globe—28 cities in 11 countries at last count. The first one took place in Sydney, Australia (take notes, this will be important later on) and the Toronto branch started up exactly two years ago this month by the fabulous Mariellen Ward of BreatheDreamGo and Alicia Taggio of My Life Untethered (who, by the way, were also my awesome roommates at TBEX a few months ago).
I started coming to Toronto Travel Massive (also known as TTM) last January. I had emailed Mariellen, seeking advice on breaking into the travel writing industry, and she told me to come out to the next gathering. It took all of 30 seconds for me to decide I would be a regular attendee.
Joining the TTM crew has been one of most important moves in my career. I’ve made friends, made connections, landed work and found a community that is made up of some of the friendliest and most inspirational people in Toronto—and that level of kindness took on a whole new meaning for me last night, at the second anniversary party for TTM.
There was a Twitter trivia contest running for a part of the night, and I tied for first place with fellow TTM long-time member Meredith Howard. We were called up for a tie-breaker and told that the prize on the line was a 15-day trip to Vietnam with Intrepid Travel. No pressure.
I used to be one of those people who would yell at the TV during quiz shows, “You moron! How do you not know this answer?” I can now say that when you’re standing in front of a group of people and a trip to Vietnam is on the line, you can forget holding on to any knowledge you thought you had. We were shown a picture of endless birdcages hanging in the street and asked to name the city, with the hint that it was where Travel Massive began (did you take notes?). After staring dumbfounded at the contest hosts, I finally shouted out Australia. Pause. Meredith yelled out Sydney, Australia. They wanted the city, so Meredith won.
I wasn’t bitter, and was genuinely happy for her. It was all in fun, she had won, and I was given a great runner-up prize of three city tours, courtesy of Urban Adventures.
A few minutes later, after the party resumed, Meredith came up to me and handed me her Vietnam certificate. “I’m giving this to you,” she said. “I wouldn’t have even guessed Sydney if you hadn’t said Australia first, so you got the question. It’s yours.”
I burst into tears.
I was so touched, so flattered and so appreciative. It wasn’t the trip (although that’s awesome!). It was that someone would be so generous. I told her I couldn’t take it. She insisted. I tried again, she insisted again. We hugged, we posed for pictures, we hugged again, I cried again, and Alicia made an announcement to the group about Meredith’s kind move, which elicited a collective “awww.” I cried some more.
Do you believe in the universe giving you things when you ask for them? Sometimes you don’t even know you’ve asked for it, but then you find gifts that seem too fateful to be coincidences. Coming to TTM that cold January night was one of them, as it sparked my career in a field that had felt at the time like an impossible ambition but has since become a reality. And now, Vietnam.
Vietnam had never been a country on my radar until I read The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb, which takes place in Vietnam in the years before the Vietnam War. Gibb has long been one of my favourite writers (she may find me slightly stalker-like if she ever finds the amount of praise I’ve bestowed to her on Twitter every time I read one of her books). She writes in the way I dream of one day writing, and I attended a reading and author Q&A she gave at York University last year. She talked about Humanity, and why she felt a need to write about the country after visiting it on vacation.
No one knows much about Vietnam other than the War, she said. And it’s true. The only things I’ve ever known about the country have been directly related to that time period. And the way she presented it in the book brought the country so vividly to life for me that I suddenly felt the need to see it with my own eyes. After the discussion, she signed my copy and we briefly chatted about writing and travel. And just like that, Vietnam jumped to the top of my travel list.
So my trip to Vietnam feels like a gift in so many ways—not just from Meredith, but from life in general. That’s part of the reason the tears flowed so much last night.
But the other part, of course, was Meredith. I can’t thank her enough, and I love that this is the attitude and atmosphere of TTM. They are a supportive group, a kind group, a group that is about helping rather than competing. They are incredible, and to Meredith and Intrepid Travel and Urban Adventures and every member of TTM, I say, thank you, thank you, thank you.