Many scooters during rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

How to Practice Stoicism When Traveling

I’m tired of traveling. It seems no matter where I go, whatever the distance, it essentially takes a day of travel before beginning to settle into a new place.

In SE Asia, travel days can be far from perfect.

Instead of starting over in a new place, I’d rather stay in one spot as long as possible. This enables better development of stoic enhancing routines, like morning meditation and yoga.

While the act of traveling and getting settled isn’t always fun anymore, I can’t deny that I still enjoy the awe and wonder that comes with being in a new place.

Unfamiliar places come with new challenges. Practicing ancient stoicism helps in dealing with these immediate demands.

Man scooters use a wide sidewalk during morning rush hour, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Scooters utilize a wide sidewalk during morning rush hour, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

On this congested sidewalk, stoicism (indifference) works well.

Instead of becoming agitated because I had to turn around (I was on foot), I turned a potential negative into a positive by getting a kick out of how functionally normal this rush hour scene was. Up until coming to Saigon, I’d never seen anything like this.

I’ve been in mega Ho Chi Minh City for several weeks. While it’s my second time in geographically elongated Vietnam, Saigon is part of a whole new, hotter, tropical region. This far-eastern Asian republic has multiple climates as it stretches long and far.

Vietnam’s coast stretches 3,260 km (2,025 miles).

I’ve mildly twisted the same almost-fully healed ankle a couple of more times, yet it remains mostly healed. Sometimes late in the day, after putting many miles on the body and mildly sore foot, I notice that it needs a rest.

Instead of feeling bad, I rejoice that I was still able to move myself across vast, hot, tropical urban space, even power walking past people.

Although I must admit, I don’t power walk well in 100° F (38° C) temperatures with 70% humidity. I just move along and try to remember to focus on nose-only breathing and water consumption pauses.

Fortunately, along scooter-filled streets and slanted curbs designed for scooters to easily ride up on, I’m able to put copious kilometers on these heels. I must give silent gratitude for the ability to walk in extremely hot conditions.

Quiet side street with a few signs, buildings and scooters, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Quiet side street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

It’s not all organized chaos, there are plenty of quiet side streets and alleys, too.

Rambling on a compromised ankle causes strain, while the unforgiving tropical sun induces simultaneous body fatigue. Late siestas haven’t been a stranger. Taking a rest after enduring humid heat is a nice time to reflect on stoicism, or on as little as possible.

Pursuing anti thought (turning off the brain) is a worthwhile challenge.

Saigon sits at a mere 10° north of the equator. Heat, humidity and sweat must be embraced.

While exploring Ho Chi Minh’s hot, new streets on foot, Déjà vu set in. I’d experienced coffee culture in Hanoi and Da Nang, and quickly noticed that the scene was just as prevalent here in the country’s largest metropolis.

Some coffee shops are designed for comfortable laptop usage, and most have relatively flawless Wi-Fi. Several have designer, slow-pour coffee. They all ground their beans on the spot.

Wild wall Coffee Art.  Women has head submerged inside a cup of coffee.
Wild wall art inside Đen Choco Coffee, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

Just like in Hanoi and Danang, citizens seem to enjoy each other’s company immensely. There are lots of outdoor areas. Some smoke. It’s still OK in many public areas in Vietnam.

Everyone’s drinking something. It might be a standard Cà Phê Ðen (black coffee), or something as extravagant like an egg, caramel, or salted coffee loaded with milk, cream, sugar and whatever else might come with the heaping, usually ice-cold beverage.

Tea and juice are also available.

People tend to be friendly, humble, polite, and happy to see a foreigner. That’s Saigon’s reputation and I concur.

Two woman and I pose inside a small restaurant, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Portrait inside Ngọc Tường Chay vegetarian restaurant, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.


With a slightly sore ankle and the most chaotic pedestrian street crossing I’d ever experienced, I had a revelation.

Stoicism is the best option. Scooter drivers calmly say sorry in English when they almost crash into me. It behooves me to nod and practice the same stoic behavior. This energy is good for our human existence.

There are afternoons when I return to my rental room, hang my wet (from sweat) clothes, take a shower and find something interesting to listen to. Then I might rest and maybe nod off.

Recently, a Daily Stoic talk about Marcus Aurelias showed up first on my feed. I clicked play and listened. And it hit me.

I don’t handle daily dealings as emotionally well as I could. There’s room for improvement.

According to Holstee: Stoicism is a philosophy of life that maximizes positive  emotions, reduces negative emotions and helps individuals to hone their virtues of character.

I recently walked past a bus. People were loading up their stuff and getting on. I thought:

I’m so glad I’m not getting on that bus. I just wanna stay put.

While this thought may seem innocuous. It’s not stoic, and it’s not optimistic. Negativity isn’t supposed to be a common theme in my existence. But here I was thinking negatively and not stoically.

One day, I returned to find my room had been made up. This was pleasant and triggered a dopamine hit. However, I also found that the Wi-Fi wasn’t working.

I couldn’t get the hot spot to work either. The phone’s SIM had run out of data.

I figured the Wi-Fi would be fixed when I got back. The plan was to get on the computer in the comfortable room. I went downstairs and asked the receptionist about it. She had no idea. The Internet had been fine in the lobby.

I got my things together to go to a café.

I passed her and tried a friendly comment about the Wi-Fi. It caused agitation.

Communication breakdown will happen in Vietnam.

As I walked to the coffee shop I felt mildly perturbed. After sitting down in a comfortable spot with perfect A/C, it hit me.

She’s overworked. She has to handle guests saying things in English that she doesn’t understand. She must have to deal with rude people. It seems that long hours have contributed to total burn out.

When I returned from the café, the ultra-fast, broadband Wi-Fi worked in the room again. She’d initiated what needed to get done. On my way out later that evening I took a positive approach and said in the clearest English I could enunciate:

Thank you for fixing that. The Internet works great now!

Her face illuminated a big, wide smile. I thought:

I created a positive moment. Well done. But I still need to examine myself and my actions.

The girl’s negative reaction isn’t the only thing that’s irritated me in Vietnam.

There’s a new language with complex (impossible) pronunciation. There are different, unwritten road and pedestrian rules. The coffee culture is different.

It’s not uncommon for travelers to experience culture shock.

At one of hundreds of cafés in Saigon, I said:

Americano. No sugar.

The girl said,


She said it in an almost perfect American sound.

I got an ice coffee since I’d forgotten to say:

Nóng (hot).

I wasn’t in the moment. My mind had wandered.

For a whole minute, I felt like I’d made a mistake. It was a blunder I’d made prior, one that I shouldn’t have made again. Finally, stoicism kicked in and reminded me that this iced-coffee error was nothing but a simple emotional write off.

How much worse could things be? A whole lot. And this wasn’t even bad. I can drink a cold coffee once in a while. This is the hot tropics. That’s why coffee comes iced by default.

Warm, black coffee smoothly soothes the taste buds and brings a feeling of warmth, while iced coffee doesn’t. I wanted hot. I got cold.

There's no utopia. I'm not utopia either. I committed an oversight. Let it blow away with the tropical wind, but try not to make the same error again.

Instead of settling for the cold coffee, I went up and pleasantly ordered a black coffee Nóng (hot), with cash in hand to pay again. The girl looked over and saw that I hadn’t drunk the cold one and said:

No money.

Eventually she brought the hot cup over and took the cold one away.

The hot one came with sugar, which I’d initially mentioned I didn’t want. This ubiquitous sweetner comes by defualt.

For a second I wanted to feel upset, but I reminded myself that the problem was still so minuscule. I just drank water instead and let the misunderstanding drift away with the cool air conditioned circulation.

I reminded myself that if this was a problem, then I needed to fully reexamine my perception of existence. And I probably do anyway.

If I want sugar I’ll order a freshly squeezed sugar cane juice from a street vendor. It’s one of the best drinks on earth and is practically on every block in Ho Chi Minh City.

Sugar cane juice vendor preparing a juice on a sidewalk, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
One of hundreds of Nuoc Mia (sugar cane juice) vendors, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

So, I got up and found another coffee shop.

A smoothly pronounced:


didn’t classify as knowing English. I’m not saying she should know English. If anything I need to get my Vietnamese from rudimentary to functional since I’m in Vietnam, impossible pronunciation or not.

After all, if there's no reincarnation and only one life? Why not attempt the impossible? 

Walking to the next spontaneous café took 30 seconds. I felt dejected for having wasted money on nothing. But it was very small money and a stress-free write off. A true stoic would wholeheartedly agree.

I quickly got my feelings together and chalked it up as ordinary.

As for disliking the act of travel, I’m reexamining my philsophy. Tomorrow I’m slated to take an eight-hour train ride in southern Vietnam. It’ll be my first ever Vietnam train experience, so I’m excited and ready to embrace the ride, the experience, the scenery. All of it.

My goal for the journey is to focus on stoicism. No matter what happens, I’ll remain completely calm and find the good in every situation that comes up.

In new countries and in life, random scenarios will occur. It’s how we deal with them that’s important. Practicing stoicism while traveling can only improve a person’s mental integrity.

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