Early in July 2022, Tran Huyen Trang, a girl born in 1993 in Phu Tho province, visited the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan – the 82nd country in her 10-year journey to explore the world.
“I have gone on different trips; the longest lasted 10 days, and the shortest only 1.5 days. Regardless of the duration, each trip brings me invaluable experiences and gives me greater motivation to travel the world,” Huyen Trang says.
Currently, Huyen Trang is working at Emirates, one of the most luxurious airlines on the planet. For work-related reasons, she has lived in Dubai (UAE) for 8 years.
|Huyen Trang experiences wearing traditional costumes and staying in a mobile wooden tent of the Kyrgyz nomads (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
First overseas trip
Ever since childhood, Huyen Trang has harbored the dream of visiting different cities and countries around the world that she has only seen on television or in books. At the age of 19, during her freshman year at the Portuguese language department (Hanoi University), she seized the opportunity to participate in a one-month student exchange with a university in Macao. “That was the first time I had freely explored a new land. I went to school in the morning and roamed the streets of Macao with my friends in the evening day after day without getting bored”, Huyen Trang recalls.
The 19-year-old girl was overwhelmed by the sleepless, vibrant, well-lit city with numerous skyscrapers and a lot of extraordinary things. “Macao people waited in an orderly queue to get on the bus. The road infrastructure was so convenient and modern that we could walk a couple of kilometers without getting tired. Public transport was readily accessible if you were tired anyway. The school and dormitory area were as enjoyable as a three-star hotel,” she adds.
During her time in Macao, apart from learning Portuguese, she also had the opportunity to hone and develop her English communication skills. Returning to Vietnam, Huyen Trang pursued her dream of continuing to explore other countries. In the summer of her sophomore year, she signed up for a non-governmental project for students, which offered her two months to live with indigenous people in the Philippines.
“Differences in geography, culture, and people really pique my curiosity to explore and learn more,” Trang notes. In her senior year of university, Huyen Trang had her first true international trip of 5 days and 4 nights to Thailand.
|Huyen Trang at the world’s natural wonder – Machu Picchu in Peru (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
Becoming a flight attendant to fulfill her dreams
“Dreaming of going to different places and new lands, I started looking for jobs matching my abilities and interests. Flight attendants are one of them. At the age of 21, after passing the Emirates entrance exam, I left for Dubai to start my probation,” Huyen Trang recounts.
In the first two months of arriving in Dubai, Trang virtually had no time to admire and explore this extravagant city. For two months, she was snowed under with training, studying, and exams. After passing the exams, Trang continued her probation period for 4 months.
“During the probation period, I was able to visit some places that the crew members flew to. However, when I returned to Dubai, I could not leave the UAE without the airline’s permission, even if it was on a holiday. It was not until I became an official flight attendant that I had 30 days of leave annually. Since then, I have made plans on how to spend my vacation to visit my family or travel,” Huyen Trang says.
According to this flight attendant, her airline has flights to more than 100 different destinations. More than half of them are short flights, close to Dubai and the layover is less than 5 hours, so flight attendants are not allowed to leave the plane. For flights with a longer layover, Trang and her colleagues could take some time to explore the airport area.
“Being a flight attendant is hard, but as a reward, I get discounted airfare and find it easier to apply for a visa,” Trang reveals.
After officially becoming a flight attendant, Huyen Trang chose Tanzania’s Zanzibar Island, regarded as the Maldives of Africa, as her first destination.
“What I found interesting is that, while many people in Vietnam might not learn of Zanzibar at the time, people in Dubai viewed it as an unspoiled tourist destination. Plus, Tanzania allowed for visa application right at the airport at a cost of only USD50 (about VND1.2 million), that is why I decided to go there,” Huyen Trang shares.
Zanzibar is a charming tropical island with a variety of pristine beaches and colorful quaint towns. But in 2015, there were no electric lights on many of the island’s streets. “In the evening, I took a taxi of a local man through a long, dark, empty street. Looking back, I think I was too reckless,” Trang says.
Traveling solo for the first time, Huyen Trang spent a lot of money on booking rooms or taking taxis; there was also no one to take photos for her. “Although the first solo trip was a bit challenging, Zanzibar’s spectacular natural scenery and friendly people lifted my spirits. From there on, I have been traveling to different Asian, European, and American countries and making friends along the way so we could share some expenses,” Trang says.
|he Vietnamese girl wears traditional ao dai during a trip to Singapore during the Lunar New Year (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
Trang’s most extended trip, which lasted 10 days, was to Peru and Bolivia. Accompanying her were two Vietnamese colleagues sharing the same passion for travel. “The trip to Bolivia was really demanding,” recalls Huyen Trang. The Bolivian capital, La Paz, is the highest capital in the world with an altitude of about 3,640m. Upon arrival, Trang and her friends got struck by the height; they even had to carry hand-held oxygen tanks to keep on breathing while walking and exploring.
Trang woke up early in the morning for sunrise in the world’s largest salt flat – Salar de Uyuni. This place stretches over 10,500m2 and is 3,650m above sea level. “The weather in Bolivia during the day was warm, even hot, but the temperature dropped to 20 degrees Celsius at night or early in the morning. When I reached the salt flat, I had a heat stroke. My feet went numb as they got frozen by the water,” recalls Huyen Trang. “I was exhausted back then but was energized later when the sun came up. I was then able to roam around and take pictures all over the place” Trang says.
Trang typically travels to each location in around 4-5 days. However, she has also gone on a “super short” trip of only 1.5 days. “The 1.5-day trip to Egypt came out of the blue. I absolutely had no plans in advance,” Trang adds.
At that time, Trang had just finished a nearly 20-hour flight from New Zealand to Dubai. Two close colleagues unexpectedly asked her to apply for a visa and spend their days off visiting Egypt, about 3 hours from Dubai.
“I applied for a visa right away without hesitation. After completing the procedure, I went home and rested for a few hours. By the end of the afternoon, we had got the visa and bought tickets to Egypt for the night,” Trang says. “Since I did not have much time, I booked a day tour, went to see the pyramids and museum, and rested for one night. The trip was short, but I was captivated by the ancient beauty and mystery of Egypt. I will definitely be back soon,” she says.
|Huyen Trang visits the pyramids of Giza, Egypt (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
Huyen Trang loves to explore little-known destinations and countries. “I have been to tiny, sparsely populated countries in Europe like Liechtenstein and Andorra. I had not known about them before but getting there blew my mind away. Liechtenstein is a small but rich country with a high standard of living, no less developed than Switzerland and Germany. Andorra has stunning natural scenery and breathtaking snowy mountains. The more I travel, the bigger the world is to me and the smaller I see myself,” Trang says.
|Tran in Liechtenstein, a small but rich country located between Switzerland and Austria (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
Huyen Trang has also made many trips to African countries to learn about life and culture.
|Trang in Accra – the capital of Ghana (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
|The Vietnamese girl came to Russia at the time of the 2018 World Cup (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
Covid-19 – a stopover to look back
The outbreak of Covid-19 interrupted Huyen Trang’s work and travel. In 2020, she made only one trip to the Maldives, followed by a long period in Dubai for social distancing. “Never before had I ever imagined that I would not be able to fly and travel for years. I was not used to this change at first, but I slowly adapted and began to see that Covid-19 gave me the opportunity to rest, to look back and reflect on the journeys I had made on a deeper level,” Trang shares.
After Covid-19, she returned to Vietnam to spend more time with her family. While she would take photos and videos and send them to her parents when reaching an amazing place in the past, she now cherishes the dream of taking her parents to travel with her. “My parents have only been to Dubai to visit me and have never had a real trip abroad,” Trang says.
In early August, Trang took a leave of absence and returned to Vietnam to take her parents to Singapore and Malaysia. “I have been to Singapore many times. If I travel alone, I will look for new, less popular places and move from one place to another whenever I feel like it. But when my parents are with me, I need to make a detailed plan and go for a travel itinerary that fits their health and hobbies”, Trang confides. During the trip, Trang identified herself as a supporting character, mostly working as a free photographer for her parents.
“The destinations were not new to me, but the feeling of traveling with my parents really set the trip apart. It was heart-warming to see my parents with big smiles on their faces”, Trang recalls.
|Photos of Huyen Trang’s family during a trip to the lion island nation in August 2022 (Photo: Tran Huyen Trang).
Trang admits that although she has visited the 82nd country, she has not spent much time exploring Vietnam. “I will soon return to Vietnam to discover the beauty of my homeland, to visit Sa Pa, Nha Trang, and Da Lat. When I was young, I would prioritize trips that helped me experience and explore local people’s lives despite the fact that traveling to experience was sometimes even more challenging than going to work. Later, given the conditions and time, I will return to my favorite destinations to relax,” Huyen Trang shares her plan.
Also, according to Trang, the journey to explore the world has changed her personality. “The more I travel, the more opportunities I have to interact with different cultures and lifestyles, thus freeing me from prejudices and discrimination. I now live more modestly and never allow myself to judge or criticize other people,” Huyen Trang confides.