For the first few weeks of living here, neither of us had been particularly frugal with our spending. It was the expensive (by Vietnamese standards) meal at the weekend and the second cocktail at dinner that helped us make it through the daily grind of teaching while we settled in. We were also still in holiday mode, excited to be in Vietnam and desperate to try everything it had to offer.
Recently, we reminded ourselves that this is not a holiday. We are living and working here and hoping to save enough to travel for as long as possible after teaching. While we still want to enjoy Hanoi, we have to do so in moderation rather than blow our paycheques on burgers and IPA at the Hanoi Social Club. So we sat down and worked out how much we would be spending each week, keeping a diary of all of our outgoing costs. Now that our spending has settled and we’ve bought everything needed for the flat, we have more of an idea about how much we are likely/need to save.
Because we’re travelling as a couple, we already have a bit of a head start; rent is automatically halved and eventually we will just be using one moped between the two of us to get around. We have budgeted ourselves about £2 each for food every day, which sounds meagre but is easily kept to even when eating out every night. We attempted to cook in once but found this to be more expensive, more work, and less enjoyable than soaking up the street life buzz that comes with eating out for dinner. Our record so far has been a 70p meal; a big bowl of noodles, fried fish and other unknown meats. It was delicious and filling. We have compromised eating out every night by making our own lunches during the week (scrambled eggs in a baguette or rice and vegetables bought from a local market). It’s all about discovering local eats off the beaten track, which we are finding more and more of. In our month here, we have rarely eaten at the same place twice, always discovering new and tasty places.
Budgeting is all about balance; keeping ourselves happy, well fed and rewarding ourselves at the weekends and evenings after long weeks of teaching. But also remembering the reason we are here and the purpose of spending these months in the classroom working hard is to travel guilt free at the end. Earning $20 an hour cash in hand will ensure we reach that target, but it doesn’t mean we won’t have to work hard for it. It’s a little tough right now to be strict with ourselves and keep to the budget, especially when there is so much of Vietnam we haven’t seen. We do feel in need of a holiday already, which we won’t get until the Tet festival at the end of January next year.
Over the past few weeks we’ve come to feel more and more restricted by the teaching, which has prevented us from exploring. We’re only able to get out of Hanoi for 2 nights at a time at the weekends, due to teaching commitments, and can’t request any extra holiday days. The expectation seems to be for English teachers here to have done some travelling beforehand, but we’ve dived straight into it before satisfying the travelling bug. The idea of waiting until May before we can see anything outside of Northern Vietnam made us question whether it was worth seeing out our 9 month contract with the Washington Language Centre. If we completed the contract we would get some financial bonuses and but nothing significant enough to stop us from seriously considering leaving sooner. As long as we give 30 days notice and pay back our work permit, it would be relatively simple. Some of the teachers have already moved on, or changed language centres for various reasons. The TEFL system is much more fluid than we had expected, with centres employing teachers all year round rather than just at the beginning of school semesters. New job opportunities are always popping up online as and when teachers leave and with some experience under our belts, we would have a big head start.
So we sat down and looked at our options, concluding that we would see out the rest of the year here before leaving Hanoi and taking a brief travel break between the school semesters. The plan is for January to be our last month teaching in Hanoi, with the Tet festival marking the beginning of our adventuring! By January, we will have had taken home 4 pay cheques and saved enough money, plus gained enough teaching experience, to justify about a month of travelling around Vietnam (and a cheeky trip to Myanmar). We haven’t set anything in stone yet, and we may feel differently in a few months time, but for now, the idea of working until January seems much more manageable and less daunting. Committing ourselves to shorter stints of teaching allows so much more freedom and less pressure, which is exactly what we wanted to achieve coming out here.
We still enjoy the teaching, and love living in Hanoi, but we’ve realised that you get so much more out of living in a city rather than passing through as a tourist. We would love to have this experience somewhere else and find and fall in love with another Vietnamese home. The most likely option will be moving south to Ho Chi Minh to continue teaching for the remainder of the school year (so we would resume teaching again from around March – May). It’s all very exciting planning our early 2017 travels and it’s difficult not to wish away the next few months, but we want to soak up as much of Hanoi as we can before moving on. We have some fun weekends to look forward to (blowing our budget slightly) such as a trip to Ba Vi National Park, Quest Festival, Naomi’s birthday celebrations (fancy hotel TBC) and Ha Long Bay.