While in Singapore, Olivier Drouin suffered a terrible motorbike accident, leaving him hospitalized for 5 days. While some may have felt frightened or defeated, Olivier decided to use the situation as a catalyst for change: he quickly reevaluated his travel plans, committing to make the most of his time abroad regardless of circumstance, and took time to consider his life goals, determined to create a fulfilling existence for himself.
Describe your trip.
My trip was a one-month long journey through Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore. A friend and I had a list of cities we wanted to visit together in Vietnam, so I decided to organize my trip around those. The plans changed numerous times for different reasons, as much during the planning as during the trip itself. The final itinerary was the following: I started by visiting Hong Kong, then passed by Macau to grab a flight to Hanoi, Vietnam with a friend. We boarded a cruise in Ha Long Bay, visited Nha Trang’s beaches, off roaded in Mui Ne, and finished it off in Ho Chi Minh before exploring Singapore.
I had planned on concluding my trip in Thailand on my own, but ended up hospitalized in Singapore for 5 days. I had gotten an infection from a scooter accident that required IV antibiotics, and also caught a bacteria that developed into a lung infection and flu. It forced me to change my plans and return to Hong Kong after my hospitalization.
Scooter accident sounds scary! What happened?
A friend and I rented a pair of scooters and were trying to find a gas station to fuel up our tanks. Being an avid mountain biker, I was used to the right trigger being the rear brake and the left trigger, the front brake. To my dismay, I learned that the brakes are inverted on a motorcycle. Arriving at the gas station, I braked using the right trigger and found out quickly that it jammed the front wheel instead. Since the asphalt was covered with small rocks and sand, I lost control, fell on the side and slid for a few meters with the scooter piled on top of me. The injury was minor at the time: only a few scratches on my leg and some bleeding. But I didn’t clean the injury adequately and an infection set in. My foot swelled dramatically and regular antibiotics were not strong enough to stop the progression of the infection. I needed intravenous therapy to completely eradicate it.
You mentioned that you had to change your travel plans because of the infection and hospitalization. How did you adjust – emotionally, mentally, physically – to those changes?
In my hospital bed, I dreamed up various scenarios depending on the day I would be discharged in order to optimize my last days of travel before my flight home. I laid out all my options, comparing flights to various destinations with the budget I had left. I knew exactly what I was going to do when I was discharged based on the day that would be. Even though I had very little energy left, I tried my best to experience my trip to its fullest – even if that meant a change in plans or a cut to the itinerary. I wasn’t going to waste any time.
Mentally and emotionally, I felt fine. It was difficult to be alone on the first day, but the following days were filled with optimism. Thanks to the hospital’s Wifi, I was able to plan ahead and dream big by watching stunning videos of the world on Vimeo. Those videos constantly inspired me.
Of the countries you made it to, did you have a ‘favorite’? And of all the places you visited, which 3 would you recommend to other travelers?
All of the places I visited were memorable for different reasons. Singapore is absolutely impressive for its modern architecture and the synergy between its different ethnic groups and languages. On the other hand, Hong Kong is interesting because of how it was shaped over time whilst being at the core of a prolonged battle between the Chinese mainland and the British. And what can I say about Vietnam, scarred by its past and its political regime. The laid-back atmosphere, beautiful landscapes and tontines soups made me fall in love with the country.
In terms of recommendations, I would first encourage people to visit Hong Kong to experience its sheer massiveness, impressively efficient infrastructure, and wonderful balance of urban and green areas. Second, I would recommend Mui Ne in the south of Vietnam for the diverse adventures that are offered, including surfing, sand dunes, quad riding, and inexpensive Jeep tours. Finally, I’d say Ha Long Bay, also in Vietnam. The scenery is absolutely unforgettable.
Describe some of the differences you noticed between countries. Were you surprised by those?
A lot of Westerners unconsciously place all Southeast Asian countries in the same boat before visiting them; however, it’s astonishing to see how the countries are so different from each other due to numerous social, cultural, historical and political factors. Seeing those differences between countries and taking the time to truly observe them is a delight. Of course, there are major economic differences between Hong Kong and Singapore – megacities – as compared to Vietnam. Vietnam’s history of communism definitely structured its present identity and rhythm of life. You sense that people in Hong Kong and Singapore work a lot and live a more “westernized” lifestyle; however, Vietnamese seem to take life at a much slower pace, sitting on their typical small plastic stools and gathering between friends and families around Phở soup. This lifestyle, developed over time, really brings you into another world with a completely different set of values.
What did this trip teach you, either about yourself, the world, or travel in general?
Being hospitalized thousands of kilometers away from any friend or family is an intense experience in and of itself. Many people assume that it ruined my whole trip, but it taught me more than I ever thought possible. It gave me time to think; something I think we often neglect to do in today’s incessantly busy society. The accident made me stop, take a break and reflect; to think about life – both the present and the future.
One of the first decisions I made while in the hospital was to stop depending strictly on institutional education and to instead start investing my time in personal projects. I decided that I wanted to take on opportunities and endeavors that would help me work toward my dream career: working as a photographer. I dreamt up and planned different projects that could serve as the first stepping-stones to that goal.
I also took the time to think about how I could become a better person toward myself and toward others. I made resolutions, similar to what some people do on New Year’s Eve, but as a guide for my life. For example, since my hospitalization, I’ve been trying to say a minimum of one compliment per day to another person. It makes me happier and it makes the others happier as well. I also decided to remove negative language from my vocabulary.
Bizarrely, I am truly grateful for the pain I endured and all the events that occurred because I now know what I want to do with my life and how I want to live it. Coming out of this experience, I learned that every experience can be viewed negatively or positively and we are the only person who can make the switch between looking at it through the lens of pessimism or optimism. We are the sole person responsible for the perspective with which we view and live our lives. We all have the power to make those choices. Isn’t that freedom the most amazing thing that nature gave us?
What tips or recommendations do you have for other people who may not have taken the leap and traveled outside their home countries yet?
Have you ever imagined the intensity of the emotions you would feel being completely free at the top of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere, away from everything you know? Add to that a jaw-dropping scenery that words can’t even describe to a tenth of its beauty.
I see traveling as education; an education where you are forced to learn more about life and about yourself simply because you are seeing new things, meeting new people and experiencing life outside of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone – your daily life at home, at school or work, and with friends and relatives – certainly helps you develop your character; most of what you learn in life is from those people and environments. However, there are other things that you simply cannot learn by being cozy. When you are pushed to new limits, towards the unknown, you are challenged to see things in a new light and to develop new outlooks and ideas.
Learning doesn’t always happen quickly or suddenly when traveling; it take time. For example, it took me a long while to really learn what it meant to live in the moment; to ground myself in the present and appreciate the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of now. It was something I heard people talk about all the time, but it wasn’t something that came easily to me. It took practice – intention – but now I feel as though I can truly enjoy each moment, one minute at a time, absorbing all the beauty around me. I think that’s because I am no longer worried or anxious about the future.