My Mom and I Became Digital Nomads at the Same Time — Here’s What Traveling Together Is Like

A mother-daughter guide to traveling Southeast Asia together for a month.

Mother and daughter hold hands walking down a pathway lined with statues and trees

Courtesy of Sophie Dodd

When I told my mom I was quitting my job and planning to travel full-time as a freelance writer, I figured she’d have some choice words for me. "I’ll come, too" wasn’t exactly what I expected. 

But the past few years have taught me that my mom, Lori, is full of surprises. She’s been undergoing a bit of a renaissance since she and my dad split during the pandemic, which ultimately saw her leave the life she’d built in Connecticut over the past three decades and start fresh in Seattle, where she has since found new love and a renewed desire to explore the world and herself. 

She was the one to decide on a monthlong Southeast Asia trip. Despite her tendency to take the lead in planning, she was keen to let me sort our itinerary since she’d never taken so far-flung a trip — a decision I think she mildly regrets after I booked some budget accommodations and lengthy transit days that pushed her out of her comfort zone.

Both of us were excited and unsure of how we’d fare traveling together for a month; after all, we hadn’t spent this much solo time together since the womb. Living on opposite coasts, we’ve managed to spend a handful of days together two or three times a year — time spent catching up, trying to erase the boundary of different time zones. Of the many parts of traveling together that I’m most grateful for, it was the unexpected joy of living day to day alongside my mom again, with all of the exasperation and typical mother-daughter tensions that that brings. Whether Seattle or Siem Reap, it’s still going to drive me wild when she tells me to make my bed (a fate turndown service often saved us from), and it’s still going to feel like beautiful, borrowed time when we get to wake up and have breakfast together every day. 

Here’s a breakdown of where we went, which places appealed to our respective sensibilities, and what to keep in mind if you’re planning a mother-daughter trip of your own. 

Where We Went

Bangkok, Thailand

While our trip focused on Vietnam and Cambodia, the cheapest flights we found were round-trips to Bangkok. Though that added on extra travel time, we loved having our trip bookended by a few days in the Thai capital.  

We kicked off our trip together at the Rosewood Bangkok, a spectacularly luxurious 30-story glass tower that was the cushiest landing pad we could have asked for after 20-plus hours of travel. Before we’d even stepped into our cavernous suite, my mom was nearly in tears over the glass water bottles we were handed upon arrival. It was such a nice touch, she said. This was one of the first things I learned, or maybe relearned, about my mom during our trip — the ways in which it's the small things that move her the most. The leather case for our TV remote was as delightful to her as our having a round-the-clock butler. 

The hotel has all of the luxury hallmarks you’d expect from a Rosewood property, from top-notch service to a tree-lined saltwater infinity pool to a speakeasy bar with a view over the steamy city. But it’s the "nice touches" that set the hotel apart from Bangkok’s nearly endless choice of high-end properties — elevator buttons recessed into sculptural podiums and tiny personal saucepans of butter at their drool-inducing breakfast spread.

When we returned to the city at the end of our trip, we stayed at The Standard, Bangkok. The two hotels perhaps best exemplified our respective tastes: My mom swooned over the clean, minimalist luxury of the Rosewood, while I had a hard time keeping my jaw off the ground as I explored The Standard’s ultra-trendy digs. 

The award-winning hotel, designed by Jaime Hayon and located in the iconic King Power building, is what I dream my nonexistent apartment would look like if I could ever achieve the whole decluttered, maximalism vibe. From a gift shop that resembled a Soho boutique to a geometric tearoom, each corner of the hotel was cooler than the last. It was hard enough to leave my millennial-pink bathroom to check out the hotel’s sky-high Mexican restaurant, Ojo, and hip 360-degree rooftop Sky Beach bar, let alone to actually explore Bangkok.

When we did make it out of the hotel, we spent our time eating everything in sight, from back-alley curries at Jek Pui to Michelin-starred street food vendor Jay Fai’s famous crab omelet. We also spent hours marveling in the kaleidoscopic splendor of Wat Phra Kaew before exploring Wat Pho and Wat Arun. On our last day in Bangkok, we finished up our temple touring around sunset and hopped on a local ferry boat straight from Wat Arun to Jack’s Bar, a divey joint on stilts where you can watch the sun go down on the Chao Phraya while nursing a cold Thai beer. 

Hanoi, Vietnam

Despite the all-caps warnings in every article about paying close attention to the Vietnam visa process, we ultimately ran into an issue with my mom’s (PSA: Your visa photo needs to be taken within the past six months). We ended up using Indochina Sun Travel, a fast and reliable last-minute service that managed to rush my mom’s visa for $250 (10 times the cost of the visa itself) and got us on our flight just in time. 

Once we made it to Vietnam, we were whisked to the newly opened Capella Hanoi, an art nouveau hotel that feels ripped from Gatsby’s Pinterest — but in reality is the brainchild of designer Bill Bensley. The hotel is outrageously fabulous, decorated in flamboyant 1920s style, with an orgiastic bar mural and themed floors ranging from The Starlets to The Drama. Drama is definitely served at the hotel’s mirrored swimming pool and in the sultry sake bar, Akio. A visit to the intimate teppanyaki dining experience at Michelin-chef helmed Koki is also a must — it remained one of our fine-dining highlights from the entire trip. 

Our time in Hanoi was spent building up the courage to cross the motorbike-saturated streets, eating bowl after bowl of fragrant, herb-and-chili-laden pho while squatting on tiny stools, trying to locate The Haflington — an artful, dimly lit, museum-themed speakeasy — and ambling around the gorgeous grounds of the Temple of Literature. 

Sapa, Vietnam

From Hanoi, we took a car a few hours north to Sapa, a valley of rice terraces home to a number of communities at the foot of Vietnam’s tallest peak, Fansipan. I’d planned a homestay with a local family for us on the first night, followed by a half-day guided trek. This was the first hiccup of our trip: While our hosts were wonderful, the lodgings were a bit too rustic for my mom, and I wasn’t thrilled by the nonstop barking dogs that camped outside our room all night. The five-hour hike through bamboo forests and rice paddies — though absolutely marvelous, even out of season — was also a bit strenuous for her. It was a good learning lesson, though: Afterward, we were more collaborative about where we’d be staying and how intensive our activities would be.

A mother stands in a pool with arms wide and mountainous landscape in the background. A young adult female in a fun black and white room at The Standard Bangkok

Courtesy of Sophie Dodd

While I’d recommend going through a homestay to do a trek with a local guide, if you’re looking for cozier accommodations, we were enamored with Topas Ecolodge. A 45-minute drive from Sapa town, the property sits on a cloud-covered hilltop with unparalleled views of the surrounding mountains — when the fog subsides, that is. Back in town, there’s another extravagantly designed Bill Bensley stunner: Hôtel de la Coupole.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Mother and daughter hold champagne flutes at sunset on a cruise boat at Six Senses

Courtesy of Sophie Dodd

While you can drive directly from Sapa to the northeastern coast of Ha Long Bay, you pass right through Hanoi anyway, so we decided to break up the otherwise seven-hour drive with an overnight. In retrospect, we would rather have just gone directly — condensing the travel days typically felt less exhausting than traveling a few hours each day. 

Upon arrival in Ha Long Bay, we boarded our two-night, three-day cruise among the lush limestone towers and emerald waters. While there are dozens of cruises to choose from (including day trips and one-night stays), we went with Orchid Cruises because they sailed from Lan Ha Bay, a less-populated, but equally beautiful, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The days we spent kayaking up close to those majestic limestone peaks and watching the orange sunrise from our private balcony were some of our most magical in Vietnam. The cruise was also a relief to my increasingly desperate need for socialization — my mom went to sleep early most nights and I typically ended up following suit, rather than hitting the town solo. But aboard the ship, I met several young couples who were keen to stay up, play Uno, and indulge in the endless happy hour on the top deck when my mom wanted to go to bed.

Ninh Binh, Vietnam

Mother and daughter on a boat with a boat steward in Ninh Binh

Courtesy of Sophie Dodd

After bidding farewell to our new cruise friends, we hopped in a "tourist limo" — essentially a comfortable and spacious van — to drive 3.5 hours to Ninh Binh, known as "Ha Long Bay on land," thanks to its similar limestone cliffs, which can be explored by boat. While Tam Cốc paddleboats drift through the rice paddies, Tràng An rowboats focus more on exploring cave networks (best to skip if you’re claustrophobic) and ancient temples. You can cover most of the main attractions (like the Bái Đính Pagoda, Mua Caves, Hoa Lua, and Bich Dong Pagoda) in two days, especially if you hire a taxi to wait for you at each stop.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Ranked as one of the best cities in the world by Travel + Leisure readers, Hoi An was a must-see on our itinerary. So many people had told us it was their favorite place in Vietnam that we ended up making it the longest stop on our trip — something we’d both do differently in retrospect. On my mom’s end, she’d have preferred to stay longer at our next stop — a relaxing beach getaway; as a city person, l would have rather spent more time exploring Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. 

Famous for its lanterns and bespoke tailoring, Hoi An’s historic downtown is a charming place to stroll around and grab a drink overlooking the river. But after a few hours, we felt like we were walking in circles, seeing the same stores and constantly being stopped on the street or beckoned into shops. Mostly, we loved riding our bikes through the countryside and over to the beach outside of town, as well as taking a cooking class at Gioan Cookery, where we first picked up fresh herbs from a local market before whipping up banana flower salad, bánh xèo (a famous Vietnamese crepe filled with herbs), and chili-lemongrass chicken. 

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Vietnam

From Hoi An, we drove into Da Nang and flew to Cam Ranh, where we were whisked through baggage claim and driven to the Six Senses Ninh Van Bay lounge. Upon arrival, we freshened up with a cool lemongrass towel and a tea — another nice touch, my mom noted — before hopping on a 20-minute speedboat to perhaps the closest to paradise one can get. 

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay sits in a startlingly blue cove, with secluded accommodations peeking out from the palm-fringed beach, perched up on the mountainside, or in between the rocks — all offering expansive views over the sea. The intimate villas feel at once immersed in nature — with open-air living rooms, outdoor showers, and private pools — but with all of the luxury comforts you could dream of, from a bespoke pillow menu that my mom fawned over to a personal Guest Experience Maker who is on call to help you make the most of your stay. 

The property was the backdrop to some of the most blissful days my mom and I have ever been lucky enough to spend together. While our respective energy levels sometimes meant we moved through cities at different paces, we were perfectly aligned in our few restorative days of relaxing along the beach. The property also curated incredible experiences for us, from massages over a burbling brook at the jungle spa to a hike to learn more about the resort’s conservation efforts with langur monkeys.

But the most moving part of our stay came during a sound meditation session led by Ms. Phan, the property’s Integrated Wellness Practitioner. The experience left me with a sense of calm that couldn’t have come at a better time — after weeks of picking up and moving to new places every two to three days. While that’s a type of chaos I enjoy, I didn’t realize how much I needed a moment to slow down and soak it all in, and that’s exactly what Six Senses allowed me and my mom to do. 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I teared up leaving Six Senses, a place that put me back in touch with myself in a deeper way than I’d imagined possible and gave my mom and I space to truly unwind together. From there, we hopped a flight to Ho Chi Minh City for an overnight layover on our way to Cambodia — another instance in which it would likely have been better to bite the bullet on a long travel day, rather than break it up overnight.

While we had a marvelous time in Ho Chi Minh City — Madam Kew was a standout for Cantonese food by chef Bao La and cocktails that are works of art — it felt rushed and we’d rather have had another night or two, or saved it for another trip entirely. But our visit to the War Remnants Museum felt impossible to miss, a heart-wrenching yet crucial account of the atrocities of the Vietnam War (referred to as the American War there). It was a bittersweet way to gain a deeper understanding of the beautiful country we’d spent the last three weeks exploring.  

Koh Russey Villas, Cambodia

After a brief visit to Phnom Penh, we took the brand-new expressway from the capital to Sihanoukville, Cambodia’s main seaport that’s now only two hours away by car. Our destination was Koh Russey Resort, one of a smattering of island properties that offer a relaxing alternative to the backpacker’s paradise of the Koh Rong islands. Geometrically designed to channel the traditional Khmer scarf, the resort is one of the most affordable in the area for the level of luxury it delivers. While it was only partially reopened during our stay — many of the pool villas and the beach dining restaurant were undergoing renovations — we enjoyed a few days of walking the copper-sand beach and sipping fresh juices by the pool while catching up on work. If lounging around doesn’t appeal, there’s snorkeling, paddleboarding, and the option to island hop locally.  

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Mother and daughter cooking together in a class and the same mother and daughter posing at Angkor Wat

Courtesy of Sophie Dodd

There’s perhaps no more stylish way to be picked up from the airport than in a 1962 Mercedes that previously belonged to the Cambodian royal family. That’s how our Amansara journey began, and we felt like royalty from the moment we arrived at King Sihanouk’s former guest residence for VIPs like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. With a name that means "heavenly peace," the resort awed us with the '60s Khmer architecture of the main courtyards and the canopy of lush green trees. I felt so giddy watching my mom take it all in — she teared up over the stationery, of all things. 

While it’s hard to muster up the energy to leave the property’s quiet oasis, we managed to rouse ourselves at 4:30 a.m. to see Angkor Wat at dawn. Amansara offers unparalleled access to the ancient temples, bringing you and your private guide in via an empty backroad while crowds gather on the opposite side to catch the sunrise. To approach the temples in the moonlight and watch daybreak with no one else around was a privilege my mom and I won’t soon forget. 

What to Keep in Mind for Intergenerational Travel

Budget some time to adjust to jet lag.

My mom’s body clock needed a bit longer to reset than mine, and we were glad to have two full days of downtime on the front end to get ourselves ready for a month of nearly nonstop movement. 

Consider the length and frequency of your travel days.

While I would’ve been keen to hop on a night train to maximize our days in Vietnam, my mom would never have been able to sleep through the bumpy ride. Instead, we often tried to break up eight-hour travel days with overnights — something we both would do differently in the future, as it meant we had very few days when we weren’t traveling at all. For extended car travel, be sure to ask about air-conditioning. 

Have a frank conversation about budget.

Be upfront about where you prefer to cut costs versus splurge, and where you’re willing to compromise. There were several places I’d found that my mom wished we’d spent the $25 to upgrade to something more comfortable — a relatively small price to pay, but one that adds up over a month. 

Allow space to pursue individual pursuits.

For my mom and me, it’s wonderful and exhausting to be each other’s primary companion for so many weeks, from sharing beds to sharing stomach bugs. (Pro tip: Ask for separate beds whenever possible, and bring Imodium.) Taking time apart felt crucial to our enjoying each other’s company. We made sure to book hotels with pools (an easy and affordable task all around), so she could swim while I went to explore town (or hop on a motorbike with the Grab app — shh!). Solo time also gave us fresh things to discuss at dinner each night.

Take the trip.

Like we reminded ourselves on days we perhaps got a bit sick of each other, we will never look back and wish we’d spent less time together. 

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