From NYC Chef to Cookbook Writer in Vietnam with Paul Kennedy

Paul Kennedy


In this episode of the Expat Empire Podcast, we will be hearing from Paul Kennedy. Paul’s expat journey began after vacationing in Greece with friends. This 10-day sailing vacation became the starting point of Paul’s travels around the world. Despite not fully grasping the importance of visas when he began his journey, his no-stress beliefs helped him to navigate the otherwise chaotic setbacks that are typical with travel. 

Gifted with an innate knack for identifying opportunities when they present themselves, Paul has operated several businesses before transitioning to become an English teacher in Vietnam. His latest project is writing a Vietnamese cookbook, which he hopes will serve to inspire others to travel.

Listen to Paul tell his inspiring story in this episode and find out the real difference between travel and vacation!

LEARN in this episode:

✔ How to get inspiration on where to travel to next

✔ How to spot entrepreneurial opportunities, no matter where you go

✔ The difference in experiences and impact you can have when you change your thinking about traveling and vacationing

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Welcome to the Expat Empire Podcast, the podcast where you can hear from expats around the world and learn how you can join them.

Hey guys, before we get to the interview, I want to remind you that we’re offering free 30-min consulting calls to anyone interested in moving abroad. 

Whether you’re thinking about retiring somewhere warm, starting an international career, or becoming a digital nomad, we’re ready to help you think through the next steps in your journey. 

Send us a message at to schedule your call today!

With that said, let’s start the conversation.


David McNeill: [0:00:46] Hi Paul. Thanks so much for joining us today on the Expat Empire Podcast.

Paul Kennedy: [0:00:49] Thank you, David. Thank you for having me.

David McNeill: [0:00:52] Yeah, it would be great to hear a bit more about your story. It’d be good. If you could start by telling us a bit about where you’re originally from, where around the world you’ve lived so far, and where you’re currently living.

Paul Kennedy: [0:01:01] I grew up in Northern Virginia, outside of DC. I went to school in the Carolinas; Charleston, South Carolina, and Greenville, North Carolina. Then I made my way up to New York City, which is where I lived before I ventured off to explore the world, which ended up being finally where I am now, and that is Hanoi, Vietnam. I didn’t really live anywhere else. Until I figured out what was happening, meaning the fact that I was enjoying this and didn’t want to return, I did have an apartment in Turkey for a week. Not knowing if it was going to be extended or not. I was in Turkey for a month and Greece for a month and Thailand for a month. I think I knew I wasn’t going to live there, but I had apartments until I decided to move on.

David McNeill: [0:01:52] Sounds good. Well, yeah, it’s definitely taken you to some interesting places. It’d be good to hear a bit about where it all started for you. You were in the United States and how’d you ultimately decide to leave and start this adventure?

Paul Kennedy: [0:02:05] I had a birthday trip that was taking me to Greece on my friend’s boat for 10 days. I thought I was going to possibly continue vacation, and extend it. I didn’t know how long or where or do what, but I thought that I might consider it when the trip was over when the 10 days were up. When the 10 days were up, I made the decision right then and there to not only continue the vacation, but it ended up turning into true traveling. That seamlessly went into me living in Vietnam.

David McNeill: [0:02:45] So you just sort of left everything there that you had in the United States and just moved on straight from this travel or did you go back? I mean, what were the real logistics there because it sounds like quite an abrupt change?

Paul Kennedy: [0:02:55] Well, because I knew I wanted the opportunity to possibly extend my vacation. I wanted to, and I did was eliminate any worries, any stress, anything I had or had to worry about. I left it so that I could return in the 10 days or I could keep traveling. I didn’t have anything I had to go back to. I didn’t have any belongings. I got rid of everything and I wasn’t downsizing thinking this. I was thinking, well, why not just get rid of anything I have to worry about? When you live in New York, it’s a little bit different because places are smaller and I don’t want to say you have less things, but it’s just an easier process. I did that and I had no limitations. I told work that I might be back in 10 days, but to feel free to replace me because I could be back in two months. I could be back in 10 days, I could be back in two months. I could be back who knows. Then it’s funny because they kept holding onto the spot for me thinking I was returning and after maybe six months, they said he’s not coming back.

That was the approach I took. I wanted to be responsible enough that other people would not count on me because I didn’t want the stress. I wanted to be on a boat where I wasn’t…I knew if I kept my job, that I would be in constant communication with them, and I would be constantly worrying. It just wouldn’t be fun. That was the important part for me was eliminating any responsibility in the US. I did that and it made it easier for me to keep moving.

David McNeill: [0:04:29] Yeah, I can imagine. Did you have any challenges getting adjusted to that traveler’s lifestyle coming from, I guess, living and working in New York City?

Paul Kennedy: [0:04:38] Not at all, not at all. I loved every second of it. I’m very Zen, but I’m Zen because, or I reinforce that with the fact that I try to eliminate stress. If things stress me out, I just remove them. I take the obstacle out of the way. With changing the life, not at all, not at all, because it was all an experience. Everything I encountered was just another experience so adapting was super easy, super easy. I’m easy going too. I’m easygoing.

David McNeill: [0:05:11] You were coming out of that trip and then you decided to elongate it. Where did you decide to go to first? How did you decide where to go? Did you have a list of places in your head or written down somewhere that you wanted to check off the list or was it just the cheapest flight you could find? How’d you do it?

Paul Kennedy: [0:05:27] I had this imaginary list. It’s so unrealistic. the night before I left, so I didn’t have a passport until a couple of days before I left; the week that I left. I’ve never really traveled, I’ve never left the country. The night before, I’m completely green to this where I was. The night before I was leaving, I was saying goodbye to some friends and I told them my dream was, oh, I’d love to go to China and go hiking in the Himalayas. If I extend my trip, this is what I was thinking.

My friend goes, I’m surprised because even the birthday trip itself was within a month prior, for the most part. My friend goes, I’m surprised that you could plan all this and get all your visas in time. I didn’t even know what a visa was. We had that little awakening with what a visa actually is because I didn’t realize it’s a requirement in those countries. That kind of deterred me from those dreams, that imaginary plan. The plan was, if I keep traveling, maybe I’ll go to these imaginary places I did no research about and even though I knew nothing about traveling or visas, it was just unfounded, completely unfounded, just truly a dream.

How did I decide? I ended up when I left my friends in Greece on the beach, when we said goodbye, I made the decision at that moment to keep traveling. It was in Greece. I passed a sign for a hostel, I decided to take the chance and stay at my first hostel as well. The hostel experience was uneventful, but I stayed in another one thinking, I always hear about hostels, let me try one more time. That’s where I started getting the encouragement to keep traveling and where to go. That hostel I was in for three weeks, I met a lot of people. They encouraged me to go to Turkey. People in Turkey encouraged me to go to Thailand and cumulative. People had said, well, maybe after Turkey might want to go to Thailand. All the information piled up, that’s where the decisions were made, but it was usually last minute. It was typically when I was in a routine.

At one point in the hostel one of the guys said, what are you doing here? If you can go somewhere, why not leave now? I said, you know, where? That’s when Turkey came up and I left for Turkey the next morning and that’s kind of how it all worked. It wasn’t flights, it was just, I don’t even know where to go. I don’t even know anything about traveling. I don’t even know. I don’t know any of this. I get lost in New York City. I have no clue what I’m doing right now. I have a backpack. It was encouragement from others, inspiration from others. You keep traveling and they would give me advice, the people that I would meet along the way.

David McNeill: [0:08:21] So do you feel by now that you’re a pretty professional traveler? I mean, have you learned all the ropes?

Paul Kennedy: [0:08:28] Well half the trick is just rolling with the punches. That’s really it because you can’t really plan and be a traveler at the same time. If you do, then you’re entering a destination with blinders on. I must go see this. I must do this. I have this time constraint. A huge part of traveling is going there without planning. If you have a backpack, and I don’t want to say necessarily an open schedule, but if you have a backpack and definitely an open mind, that’s pretty much the essentials of traveling. That’s it.

David McNeill: [0:09:00] Sounds good. Is there anything in your backpack that you think is a must-have that you’d recommend other people pick up before they head out?

Paul Kennedy: [0:09:08] Well, the backpack itself is a must. A friend advised me on this before I even left, not realizing I was going to travel, travel. He just said, don’t bring luggage because if you lose it, your whole trip’s ruined. I started with that advice. It’s a 40-liter, lightweight backpack without wheels. He was very specific. He did a lot of traveling. He was right on the money. The wheel breaks where you’re stuck with all the plastic parts of the backpack and you want it as lightweight as possible because you will be carrying it everywhere. The backpack itself is probably the biggest. The other part you can only fit so many outfits in there. It’s really just about the clothes.

I always recommend Imodium. You don’t want to be away from your hotel or your homestay, or your hostel or on a tour bus, or somewhere that you’re just not familiar with. You can’t just run to a CVS or Duane Reade or whatever pharmacy you have. That’s really the biggest. Obviously, your passport and money, backup plans for both, but the backpack and the Imodium will get you around the world.

David McNeill: [0:10:27] Sounds good. Good advice indeed. How did you end up making the move to Vietnam? How did you find that to be the place that you wanted to settle down, I suppose?

Paul Kennedy: [0:10:36] Have you been here, David?

David McNeill: [0:10:38] To Vietnam? Yes. I’ve been once. Yes. I really loved it.

Paul Kennedy: [0:10:40] Don’t you just love the vibe?

David McNeill: [0:10:43] Yeah, I loved it.

Paul Kennedy: [0:10:44] That’s it. The southern part of Vietnam reminds me more of Thailand where a lot of the culture is already gone, but a lot of the culture and it’s so… Like Hanoi, a city the size of New York, there’s still a lot of culture. That’s what I appreciate is, it’s a city, but it still has a culture and you can easily get out of town, meaning in 20 minutes you can be in a tiny village where they still cook outside by fire only. It’s such an amazing experience. So, that’s why. I love the hustle of the city and the abundance of culture, because with that comes everything. It’s complete overload like a kid in a candy store.

David McNeill: [0:11:34] Do you feel any of that decreasing at all as you get more used to the city? It sounds obvious that you still love it, but I just wonder if part of that also comes with it being so new and fresh. Of course, there’s something maybe that changes a bit and obviously your perspective as well, as you’ve lived there longer, but I’m curious if that changed at all for you.

Paul Kennedy: [0:11:55] It hasn’t waned. It is because it’s new obviously. I mean, you don’t have Vietnamese people going, wow, I love looking at someone wearing a rice hat. Yeah, it is new, but there’s so much new because it is so different. They’ve hung onto their culture for so long. A lot of countries don’t have that. A lot of regions don’t have that plus it’s a city. I’m not living in the middle of nowhere experiencing this. I’m living a city life experiencing this, which is nice coming from New York. There’s no shock in that aspect where suddenly there are only the same 20 people around me. There’s a constant influx of people.

David McNeill: [0:12:36] What did you decide to do when you first arrived there? It sounds like you had started some businesses. Where did things take you and how’d you get your start?

Paul Kennedy: [0:12:44] Yes, I opened up a hostel first, followed by a hotel and then the travel agency. The hostel was mostly by chance. There was a guy in the first hostel I stayed at in Greece or the second hostel in Greece, who was a digital nomad. I was asking him how my field of hospitality would translate to a nomadic profession. He said, all professions translate to a nomadic lifestyle, and then when I told him, mine was hospitality, I’ll never forget it because he said, well maybe not all fields translate because you couldn’t think of what I could do. You can cook, but it’d be very difficult. You had to find a job where it’s not only a position that they’re looking for. They’re seeking someone with Western food experience. Also, the pay. Such a substantial difference.

Anyways, along the way, people had mentioned that there are ex-pats that often open hostels, so that seed was planted. I looked into it and it’s relatively easy to open it. The difficult part is that you’re operating a business in a foreign country and all the micromanagement that comes with that especially if you don’t speak or read the language. The government here pretty much almost insists, they encourage that you have a Vietnamese partner. It makes sense because if they’re collecting the electric bill, they go door to door and they don’t speak English. You pay them cash. There’s a lot of that. When they collect taxes, it’s door to door, cash. You need someone. 

Anyways, I opened up the hostel, then the other two, but I always preface it with luckily. Luckily they closed because, I found myself enjoying it because I’m an entrepreneur at heart, but I was more in the rat race than living in New York, more in the rat race. I was constantly overseeing everything because of the language barrier. Constantly. There’s almost a sense of paranoia because you have all this information in front of you, but you can’t discern what is what. So you end up hiring people to tell you what the other person is saying. Then, you need someone else to translate what the first person said to make sure they said the correct thing. So, it’s a constant juggling. Very, very difficult. 

You can let it go. You can let go of some of the micromanagement if that’s your style. I know for a fact, that the ones that I do know are really getting ripped off by not micromanaging. It’s a big risk. I preferred micromanagement, but I’m so glad COVID came. I’d probably have a fourth business. I would just keep going and I would be in the rat race. I would forget why I’m here. 

Anyways, on the very day that I closed the last business, which was a hostel, they were all open for about a year. On the very last day, I was thinking what should I do? I’m trapped here. That’s not a fair word to use during COVID because I’m very lucky to have been here during COVID, but we couldn’t leave the country and get back. So, I was trapped here essentially.

That day, I saw people who were expats teaching I sent out 40 resumes and pretty much got 40 interviews. It’s a much sought-after position and very easy to get hired. I did that instantly. Instantly, the next day teaching. No downtime. I didn’t plan it like that. I thought it was something I would look into. I didn’t realize it’s a very, very sought-after position here. I’ve been teaching online and in-person depending on if the schools are open or closed for COVID. We are just now going back to the classroom. I thought I was going to be late to you because we just switched back to the classroom for this class today. I’ve been teaching ever since.

David McNeill: [0:16:44] You mentioned your entrepreneurial mindset or drive. I’m curious if you always knew that you had that or what sort of unearthed that for you? Was it this experience or did you have other entrepreneurial experiences?

Paul Kennedy: [0:16:56] Yeah, I had a restaurant in New York. I think it’s the control with the creativity. That balance, where you kind of have to, and especially in hospitality, the majority of restaurants not only are owned by people who don’t know restaurants or business, but they also fail because of that reason. That’s why they have such a short lifespan, which is very unfortunate. But people just feel like, oh, I’ll open a restaurant because I like eating out or because I like cooking.

It’s just, you don’t go, oh, I’m liking my haircut. I think I’m going to open up a hair salon or whatever it may be you just don’t do that. With the restaurant business, people feel like they can and they often do. It’s partially with that too, where I’ve seen so many bad choices from owners or people high enough up that don’t belong in the business, making poor decisions where you realize the only way to control this is to own.

David McNeill: [0:17:59] Do you feel like your entrepreneurial drive has sort of shifted and maybe moved to another area as you’ve moved into working as an English teacher, for example, or do you feel like that scratches the itch in a different way? I can imagine it’s a big change from having three businesses to manage, to being an English teacher.

Paul Kennedy: [0:18:15] No change, because my instant thought…the second I started teaching that week, I started thinking about opening a school. Instantly, just automatically, that’s how I think. Then, I started planning it out and I think about the cost, but then it goes back to, ugh, I have to deal with the police here. There’s a lot of stories related to opening businesses in a foreign country. Things we don’t think about. We don’t have the same rights or regulations. The oversight is completely different. Well, I’ll just say, in the hotel we had the police come in and tell all the guests to leave just because they wanted money. That’s a tough thing to balance, but it was over and over, over as a concept because A) I am a foreigner – I learned to stay out of the picture, and B) a profitable business. There’s a target on my back essentially. 

With teaching, I started thinking, oh, I want to open a school and I get carried away and then, all of a sudden, I remember, no, don’t do it. With the traveling, I started thinking about paying forward essentially, because on my birthday trip I made a theme of inspiration. I don’t know why. It just became such a headache inviting friends on the trip. I said I’m going to say on my friend’s boat. I love their story. They’re going to inspire me. I don’t know for what. They don’t even know this, but that’s going to be my theme. Now that I’ve experienced traveling because I hated vacationing. I hated it. I didn’t look forward to it. Didn’t hate it. I never look forward to a vacation. I didn’t really understand it.

Traveling, I love. I think everyone needs to and I think you grow so much from traveling. Now, I’m at the point where I don’t think it’s a big shift for me, not a new business because I started a cookbook. It’s more of a light-hearted book on the culture and food here. To pique people’s interest in traveling is really my goal. It’s similar to opening a business where you have this platform and you can do whatever you want. I can sell food in a restaurant where I’m showcasing my skills or new foods or my creativity essentially, or someone’s creativity. It’s the same with the book but this time it would be with the purpose of inspiring people to travel.

I don’t know about you. I knew nothing. Well, granted I researched nothing. No part of my trip, but I didn’t know anything about Vietnam except for the war. I knew none of this. I thought I knew what bon me was. That’s just from living in New York because that’s a very culturally rich city, but I didn’t know anything about it. My goal was maybe I can put something together to teach people something that they don’t know or things they don’t know about a country they might consider. Well, I didn’t realize that. Maybe I can travel. Maybe I should, maybe I will, not necessarily here, but just to make them think.

David McNeill: [0:21:31] Could you talk a bit more about the difference between vacationing and travel as you’ve described it and why you didn’t really look forward to the vacation part, but you seem to have really fallen for travel? It’d be good to hear more about that.

Paul Kennedy: [0:21:44] Well again, I didn’t realize what the difference was either. A vacation by definition is a break away from something. The vacation is temporary and it’s an escape from your normal routine, which is what a vacation is. You can still work on vacation, but it’s a temporary break and escape from your normal routine. The traveling is more of, you go in with the intent of learning of some experience from that culture. To travel, you have to want to maximize and be able to maximize the intent to learn, to receive I guess, what’s out there. You may have the same experience. You may go to whatever it may be. 

You know Vietnam or you’ve been here, so you may say okay, someone can go to Sa Pa, which are the mountains in northern Vietnam on a vacation. They can go to Sa Pa as part of their traveling, but one person is going there as an experience as part of their vacation, as part of their getaway and the other one is going there more of a wandering mindset. Where I’m not really locked into anything, but I want to experience it. My goal is to experience everything they have to offer. 

I was saying earlier on that it’s very difficult to vacation when you plan something in advance. Then, you end up just filling in the gaps with your wandering time, when you want to truly experience. You don’t have the ability to appear in Sa Pa, you can’t just stay longer in Sa Pa because you have a time schedule. That’s pretty much the difference is the intent. If you’re vacationing, you don’t have the intent to learn from it. You’re definitely not maximizing the intent to learn from it.

If you’re traveling, you are. There are red flags. You almost need a backpack if you are traveling. It’s things like that, where if you were in Sa Pa, you say, I want to stay here another week or a weekend or a month because I want to experience this. I don’t want to get back to go onto another tour. I want to experience this and I want to experience it now because it’s here in front of me. The other part is, that you have to go by yourself because you can’t maximize the experience if you have a distraction. That’s what another person is. They are a distraction. They want to go home earlier or back to the hotel earlier. They want to eat this. They want to go there. You’re going to be talking to them instead of listening and hearing the sounds, they’re a distraction. You have to travel, you have to be by yourself. Those are the differences, I think.

David McNeill: [0:24:27] Yeah. Makes sense. Now that you’ve been there in Vietnam for a while, I’m curious if you’re able to pick up any Vietnamese or if you’ve had a chance to try that. It obviously sounds like a very difficult language, so I wouldn’t blame you if you haven’t gotten very far, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Paul Kennedy: [0:24:44] Yeah. It’s a tonal language and I just do not have the skillset. I took private lessons before COVID hit and it was tough. That was another red flag for me personally, I couldn’t find time to do things like that. I finally got the businesses to the point where I could do something besides work, and that was learning Vietnamese. I was just horrible. I don’t have the ear for it. But at one point, my tutor just said, what’s wrong with you? Everyone else gets this. Why can’t you say it? I said I don’t know. I do almost everything with somebody else here. I just have to. I can go out and get some things. I went to get a ream of paper for my printer. Even with a picture on my phone, they gave me Depends undergarments. It can be very difficult so I need to bring somebody. 

I’ll order ice tea, they’ll bring me strawberry ice cream. I don’t have the ability. I try and try. At some point I gave up. It wasn’t giving up, but I realized it’s not the right time because as much as I’m trying, I’m wasting time or diverting it from the actual experience. It was similar to researching places while you’re in a hotel, like, where am I going next? Spending two or three hours, check out prices and reviews. It was the same with the language, where it’s a priority, but it’s not a top priority to learn the language. When I had the tutor, it was. I would spend at least two to three hours a night working on it. I realized that was just a bad combination. 

Yes, in the long run, it would be beneficial, but not right here right now. I couldn’t, but I kept doing it. If again, luckily for COVID, class got canceled with him because I would’ve kept going. I probably would be as far along as I was then. Not far at all. I’m glad. I’m often very glad when things like this happen because I will just keep going. So, I’m glad when things like this happen, very thankful.

David McNeill: [0:26:58] There’s some kind of divine intervention.

Paul Kennedy: [0:27:00] There’s a silver lining in my COVID cloud. There’s a silver lining there.

David McNeill: [0:27:06] In terms of the friends that you’ve been able to make in the time that you’ve lived in Vietnam, has it been mostly other foreigners or locals or mixed? How have you tried to tackle the personal relationship side of things and what successes or challenges have you found?

Paul Kennedy: [0:27:20] All locals and friends with my former employees. That worked out also well. I run into and I speak with foreigners, just to clarify to anyone who is listening. We call ourselves foreigners here, not ex-pats. I don’t live in a foreigner neighborhood and I don’t typically associate. Nothing wrong with these people I know, but I’m not looking for that experience. If their personality was so great, maybe I would. Again, nothing against them, but I don’t see a reason to. I don’t want to live in that area. I don’t want to go to that area. That’s not what I’m seeking.

I don’t know the comparison of living in the states, but maybe I have no desire for Disneyland. So, I would probably pass if someone invited me to Disneyland, just not what I want to experience. It’s the same. I just don’t want to experience that area. You made a reference about this getting old or not. I still, every night, every day, it’s something new, and I feel like if I took myself away from this and not in some sort of sad way, I feel like if I stopped this life, I would miss out on a lot because every day is amazing. It’s something new too. We’re going on four years this year.

David McNeill: [0:28:48] You’re working on your Vietnamese cookbook now, and I’m curious how you came across those different recipes or how you built them or created them yourself. Also, how this is sort of taken it from your experience back in the sort of restaurant business and hospitality and now giving it a new venue to be able to show your creativity there. It’d be good to hear how that’s coming along and how you’ve developed that project.

Paul Kennedy: [0:29:11] Well, the project came about the exact same way as me with the hotel or hostel or travel agency or wanting to open a school. There was a friend, again, things are a little bit different here. The friend has land and the police will take it if you don’t have a business on there, kind of deal. She offered it to me for free, me and my friend, the same partner of the other businesses. Then, I was like, oh yeah, of course. A restaurant is even easier for me than a hotel, hostel, or travel agency. 

Again, I’d reel myself back in but during that process of that bipolar moment where I’m like, yeah, yeah, of course, I’m going to do this. Then, the reality of step away, walk away. Don’t do it. Remember the police. Remember the government. I’m already working on recipes with that. So, that was an easy segue to the book. The difficult part is the actual making of the cookbook. That’s super difficult, but I like a challenge. This is very, very frustrating. I don’t know if it’ll make it. I don’t know what’s going to make it. I don’t know if you’ve written a book. It’s like ripping out your toenails, right?

David McNeill: [0:30:29 ] It’s pretty hard. I don’t necessarily plan to do it again.

Paul Kennedy: [0:30:33] I might have to pick your brain on some things afterward. Yeah, you don’t know what’s going to end up. In my intro, I actually said, which the intro probably won’t make it either, but I mentioned, I didn’t want to write a cookbook and I regret it because it’s not as fun as it sounds. I wasn’t writing it to be a cookbook. I was writing it as some sort of platform to inspire people to travel. That’s just what I know. Now I know the culture here and I find it very intriguing, plus I know the food. That, I thought was going to be an easy segue. The end result will hopefully be something that will still inspire people. I do not recommend writing a book.

David McNeill: [0:31:20 ] Especially one with a lot of photos. That’s what I didn’t do.

Paul Kennedy: [0:31:24] Well, it’s funny because you put in all the photos and then they say, well, we don’t know if we’re going to use them because we like using our… It goes on and on. It is. The stories with writing this book, I have as many stories with this process as I do with having the businesses here, like the police. Oh, there’s some stories in this whole thing, but that’s the good part. I don’t mind these experiences if it’s something where someone benefits, hopefully me. Now, I’m not talking about financially, just like in general. You can become a better person or you help other people or something good comes out of it in general. That’s the end-all. That’s where you keep pushing forward going. It’s for a purpose. That’s what keeps you going.

David McNeill: [0:32:08] You still definitely consider yourself a traveler of course and you’ve been to a lot of places. Now you’ve been there in Vietnam for, I believe about four years you said. Do you see yourself staying there for the foreseeable future? It sounds like it’s still an exciting adventure for you. Or do you find the call of travel and adventure, maybe in other parts of the world, pulling at you as well?

Paul Kennedy: [0:32:29] I haven’t really been able to really think about it too much because we haven’t been able to leave the country. They said they reopened it last week. They didn’t. I think I’m at the point, I definitely want to travel more, without a doubt, but it’s so appealing here that I wouldn’t mind considering this a home base and it’s so cheap. That’s part of the appeal. It’s so affordable here. So affordable. With all places, there’s good and bad, but if you want to have a home base, cheap is good and the place that you enjoy in general. I’m not saying just cheap and these are horrid conditions. This is cheap and I love it anyway. I probably will definitely travel in the future. Definitely. Whether or not I keep this as a home base is to be determined.

David McNeill: [0:33:19] As you’ve been able to stay there, these last couple of years, how have you dealt with the visa aspect of it? Has it been sort of going in and out of the country, do you have a long-stay visa, especially as you were starting businesses? I can imagine trying to figure that out is probably of some importance to maintaining those businesses and different ventures long term, but of course, COVID has probably thrown a wrench in some things as well. It’d be good to hear your thoughts on how do you manage the immigration and legal aspects of it?

Paul Kennedy: [0:33:50] The second I started thinking about a business, I went straight to an attorney and I relied on them. We don’t have the same legal rights here, but I didn’t want to sidestep that and just assume that I could do it on my own. So, I had no problem investing in an attorney and they took care of everything and they still take care of everything. I had a tourist visa. I don’t remember. I think I did three months and then I switched to a year before switching to the business visa with one year. It was a one-year tourist visa. I think I was supposed to leave the country every three months. I didn’t. I didn’t understand. It wasn’t a three-month tourist visa, it was a one-year, but I still had to leave every three months on a visa run. I just didn’t know so I paid a heavty little fine at the end of the year. 

I switched to a business visa and that’s a strong visa here. It gives you a lot more, I don’t want to say control, but it’s a much better visa and I don’t have to do a work permit. I don’t have to go through any of that. There’s many advantages to it and the business is technically not closed, it’s paused. It’s similar to the US, so, I can still hold onto that. I still have my business visa. I would definitely without a doubt…another great decision was getting the business visa, it really helps a lot.

David McNeill: [0:35:21] You’ve shared a lot in this conversation about your advice and tips for people who want to travel abroad and maybe ditch the vacation but start traveling and also, of course, moving there to Vietnam. Do you have any other particular piece of advice or anything that you’d like to share with our listeners before you head off and I guess get back to formatting and working on your cookbook, which I’m sure is a big-time suck?

Paul Kennedy: [0:35:44] I could just talk about that actually. Advice for traveling is just do it. My take now is, to be clear when you return from vacation, everyone always just says my vacation was good or bad or nothing life-changing. It’s just a simple description. When you describe how your traveling was, it’s so great that you have a difficult time putting your words. That’s where I am right now, that’s where I am with you right this second is, do I have any advice? I’m still grasping for a way to describe how important it is for everyone to travel because it’s that much of a great experience. It’s that life-changing. 

Now, don’t go stay out of Marriot with your friend in Bali and say, well, I didn’t get anything out of this. Well, you didn’t travel. When I say travel, truly travel. I know people that have traveled by themselves, who have gone on vacation by themselves, who also did not get anything out of it. That’s not what they did. They stayed at a party hostel. You choose a party hostel. Well, your goal is to meet other people that speak your language and you hang out with them and you go where they go. That’s not a vacation. You’re not experiencing the local culture. You’re with other people that speak English. Completely different. What I am saying is, if you follow these rules, you will have a great takeaway from it. 

What advice do I have is just do it because it’s such a great experience. But you have to truly travel. Don’t go through all the trouble and then not understand why you didn’t receive anything from it when you didn’t really travel. You need to really focus. I hear people saying, don’t take selfies. You can’t travel. You can take selfies. You can stay in a hostel, just not a party hostel. There’s a lot of do’s and don’ts set. There seems to be confusion. It’s not about collecting passport stamps. There’s no time limit. It’s really just going there with the intent of no distractions. 

As I said, I didn’t realize what I was doing, but I left the states knowing I didn’t want to have me think about work. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing, but I would be consumed if I did not quit and say, you can replace me. I may not be back. If I didn’t word it like that, I would’ve returned to New York. I would’ve felt obligated, and responsible to get back there and finish what I was doing. I would’ve been on the phone with them or emails every day. You have to just completely eliminate, you have to cut off all distractions. So, what’s my advice? My advice is truly to look into traveling because why wouldn’t you?

David McNeill: [0:38:44] Is there anywhere that our listeners can find out more about you and what you’re doing, and of course get on board for the cookbook as well?

Paul Kennedy: [0:38:50] You can definitely provide your email address on my website and I can notify you when it’s ready. It won’t be until the end of this year at the earliest. My website is but you can find me on social media and my social media links are on my website. My Twitter is Paulinvietnam and the Instagram one is on the website. Definitely if anyone has any about traveling, feel free. I’m an open book. I would like to encourage anyone to travel. If you have questions, if I can help, of course I’d love to.

David McNeill: [0:39:25] Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Paul, for sharing all your adventures and tips and advice. I look forward to seeing where things take you and I’m excited about the cookbook as well.

Paul Kennedy: [0:39:32] David, pleasure. Good talking to you.


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As the founder of Expat Empire, David McNeill is focused on inspiring people to move abroad and showing them how to do it. David started Expat Empire because he has a genuine passion for living abroad. He left the United States in 2014 and has since lived in Tokyo, Berlin, and Porto.