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The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto

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I will see the world with wonder, with gratitude, with respect.
I will strive to stay, though ever moving, right in the happy middle: the intersection of longing and contentment. I will not close my eyes to the harsh realities of life and will endeavor to respond with compassion and action, but I will keep my rose-colored glasses on hand, in my carry-on, and remember to count my blessings.

I will not count how many countries I’ve been to, though I won’t think poorly of people who do. I will try to resist the temptation to count because I don’t want the number to be my motivation. I don’t want to travel just to tick a place off a list. I don’t want to say: “My name is X and I have been to Y out of Z countries,” though there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I just don’t want to feel like I’ve left behind the rat race only to join the passport stamp race. I’m sure the number is much less than I would want it to be and much more than majority of the people in this planet will ever have the means to achieve.

I will travel because I want to, in the manner that I want to, and I will allow others the courtesy to do likewise. I hope never to catch myself saying those who can’t leave behind the comforts of home should stay home. I hope never to become the sort of person who thinks I have the right or omniscience to dictate who should and shouldn’t travel, and how. I hope never to get sucked into “traveler versus tourist,” a distinction that may have started as a well-meaning attempt to describe different levels of interaction with a place, but is now too often a none-too-subtle ploy to pat one’s own back: a traveler is me and a tourist is someone not like me. I will always endeavor to dive deep into a place, to hear the hidden drum beat to which it marches. But I will not judge those who rush from place to place, for it may be the only time they have, with the wealth they have or lack thereof, to see the places they’ve always longed to see with their own eyes. I will not be the sort of self-validating traveler who thinks he is better than people who have never been outside their hometowns. I believe — no matter what Mark Twain says — that a person who stays in one corner of the earth all his life can still be capable of “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men.” I believe a person’s passport does not define his character. And I believe people who have truly sucked the marrow of the road will have hearts too full to find fault in others.

I will challenge myself. I will talk to locals and fellow travelers even though I’m someone who usually keeps to herself. I will try to capture an experience, in words and in images, the best way I know how, but I will also take time to just savor the moment, that even if my notebook gets lost or my camera gets stolen, the memory will have been burned into my heart to keep forever.

I will not stop dreaming. Someday I will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, glorious lions in the wild…. And I will encourage people to dream. I will never tire of telling them: someday you will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, and glorious lions in the wild.

I will inspire by being ordinary. There are too many inspiring stories of people who leave everything behind in order to travel the world. I will tell stories of people who stay, who find contentment in what would seem a humdrum life, who work and go home and save $10 a month in their travel fund, most of the paycheck having already gone to milk for their kids and educational funds and utility bills…and who, after 10 years, finally go on a whirlwind 5-day dream trip to Paris. I will celebrate the courage of working with what you have, the heroism of looking at the banal and saying: “This is my life and I am happy with it.”

I will travel whenever I can, for as long as I can, and while doing so I will create a home worth going back to. I want to be excited to leave and happy to return. I will create such a home that when my children and my children’s children go out, in their turn, to explore the world, no matter where their feet may take them, they will always feel that the best place on earth to be is still home.

 

The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 

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She took the midnight train going anywhere

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There’s nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Oh, there’s romance in the notion of stepping from a wooden platform onto a steel carriage, from solid ground to motion, to adventure, to the dark.

There’s nothing romantic about not knowing where, exactly, in the designated platform of a rather long train, two people with a ticket that says “CNL 1319, 2 Liegeplätze, Wg. 186, Pl. 55 56, 2 Oben, Abteil, Nichtraucher, inkl. Zuschlag” should stand to wait for their car; nothing romantic about expecting the cars to be ordered numerically all throughout, then finding out they’re not, then having to decide — fast! — whether to go forward or back; nothing romantic about deciding, at the last minute, to board a random car and searching from car to car for the right car and the right compartment; nothing romantic about dragging your luggage along narrow corridors and having to wait for rowdy groups of people to settle themselves into their compartments so that you can pass by to get to yours.

There is, I suppose, something romantic about the thought of going to sleep in Paris and waking up in Venice, as if transported by dreams in a drizzle of pixie dust.

In unromantic reality, you wake up when the authorities need to see your ticket and your passport, and again when they are returned to you. Or if the air conditioning is wonky, you wake up every 30 minutes or so: when it becomes too hot, and again when it becomes too cold. That is if you can sleep at all, in your cramped berth, your 1 couchette in a crowded car of 6.

And yes, it might be romantic: the idea of 6 strangers seemingly thrown together by fate, their life’s journeys interconnected for a time altogether too brief.

What’s not so romantic? Not being able to sit up in bed, having to creep into it, and staring at the roof of the train just a few inches from your nose, because a 6-couchette compartment in a 12-compartment 26-meter car does not a penthouse suite make.

So honestly?

There is nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Just the idea of them.

And yet…

I still love them.

I love that the experience is raw and real, not a smooth ride contrived for my paying convenience.

I love that they remind me of why I travel: to experience the unfamiliar, even when it’s uncomfortable.

And I love that they remind me of my favorite stories, the ones with happy endings. They give me hope that, someday, after the curveballs and the uncertainty and the discomfort and the pain, in the end I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

(In Venice, sipping a latte.)
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Mount Hamiguitan: The Philippines’ Newest UNESCO World Heritage Site

SGMT | Mount Hamiguitan —
It’s Monday and you probably have a million things on your to-do list, but here’s one thing you absolutely must make time for: exclusive photos of Mount Hamiguitan, the Philippines’ newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, by Jacob Maentz.

Screencap from jacobimages.com

Exclusive because Mount Hamiguitan is still mostly off-limits to the public; special permits are given to researchers, but that’s about it. Photographer Jacob Maentz was granted access to the national park only because he was working on a book about the country’s UNESCO sites, and the images he has captured have been nothing short of stunning. I can’t post too many screenshots here as I don’t want to infringe on his intellectual property rights, so do go over to his website and check out the amazing Mount Hamiguitan.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Thank you, 2016.

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When a blogger friend asked me about a year ago if 10 years hence I could still see myself doing this — traveling, writing, and writing about traveling — my answer was an unequivocal yes. Travel is the food of my soul, I’ve said; writing is part of who I am. This blog was the perfect convergence of both and not in a million years (or ten) could I imagine giving it up.

Which answer perhaps does not explain why I’ve only published three posts in the last three months and traveled not even once.

Sometimes I suspect I’ve simply lost the will to write; at other times I think I’m just too busy. Neither is completely true, though both have a grain of truth in them. Even the most dedicated writers have times where they just don’t feel like writing, and I’ve definitely been feeling a lot of that lately. I’ve also found it difficult to dedicate sufficient time to the discipline of wordsmithing, now that I’ve taken upon myself a bit of additional responsibility at home.

But also…I like to think that 2016 has simply been a hiatus of sorts.

A break, that’s all.

I like to think I’ve simply given myself permission to, well, simplify my life: to let go of things that don’t add joy, to take it easy on things that aren’t urgent, and to focus on those that are necessary and important.

To take care of myself and those who rely on me.

And if the blog falls by the wayside a bit, so be it. I can always pick it up again.

2016 has been a year of regrouping, of learning, of being still and taking stock, of healing, of building strength. It’s been an opportunity to pause and absorb and break and recalibrate and ask oneself the really tough questions. But for me, it’s also been a chance to partake of the smallest, purest joys of life, and to bask in the joy of life itself.

It was a good year. It was. Many people don’t think so but I do. Oh, 2017 will be something, for sure — I’ve lots of plans already, can’t wait — but 2016 was something else. And for that, and for all that I have…
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Especially this lot.

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…I’m thankful.

Happy new year everyone!

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Get A Multiple-Entry Visa to Korea Without Submitting Financial Documents

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Are you a BPI or BDO cardholder? A promo — recently extended by the Korean embassy to 2017 — makes it easier for you to get a multiple-entry Korean visa without submitting an ITR or bank certificate.

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The Embassy of the Republic of Korea announced last November 16, 2016 that it was extending its visa promo for the following cardholders:

  • BDO Gold
  • BDO Elite
  • BPI Gold Master Card
  • BPI SkyMiles Platinum Master Card
  • BPI Amore Visa Platinum
  • BPI Gold Express Teller Debit Card

Under the promo, visa applicants who have any of the cards listed above will not have to submit a bank certificate and income tax return (ITR). They will also be eligible for a multiple-entry visa to Korea valid for at least 3 years (although the embassy reserves the right to grant only a single entry visa upon the decision of the consul-in-charge).

Note: Employment certificate / business permit and documents other than Bank Certificate and ITR are still required.

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The Peace of Wild Things

Nadine shared this poem by Wendell Berry in her post “When despair for the world grows in me…” and I thought it might be something that many of you, like me, might need right now.
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When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

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Valentine’s Day Tickets to Paris for Only $480! (Yep, round-trip!)

SGMT | Valentine’s Day Tickets to Paris for Only $480!
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How does Paris for Valentine’s Day next year sound? ^_^

EVA Air, one of the top 10 airlines in the world, is currently offering round-trip tickets to Paris for only $480, for flights departing January, February or March 2017. That’s just a little over PHP 23,000 for tickets that usually cost PHP 50,000 or more! Take note these flights to Paris depart from Hong Kong but you can nearly always get cheap tickets to Hong Kong from the Philippines, so that’s not going to be a problem.

Here’s how to book:

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How Much to Budget for El Nido (6 days, 5 nights)

How Much to Budget for El Nido (6D/5N)) | SGMT
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An El Nido vacation can cost as little as ₱5,000 to as much as…I don’t know…₱5,000,000 or more. This budget, which we used for our Palawan trip last June, is somewhere in between. It’s nowhere near luxurious but it’s not exactly cheap either. It’s for smart spenders — people who are willing to pay, but not needlessly — who want to treat themselves to a nice, easy, stress-free holiday covering the best of both Puerto Princesa and El Nido.

For the Palawan itinerary covered by this budget, see:
El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers.

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Airfare – ₱1,322

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We got our round-trip Cebu-Puerto Princesa tickets during a Cebu Pacific seat sale. Philippine Airlines and Air Asia also fly to Puerto Princesa while direct flights to El Nido can be booked with AirSwift.

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Accommodations (5 nights) – ₱5,884

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This price is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room, and covers:

For more accommodations options, see these lists:

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Firefly Watching Tour – ₱1,037

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This activity starts at around 6 PM and is a great option if you have a free night in Puerto Princesa. You can save a few hundreds if you go DIY, but the tour package, which we booked through AsiaTravel, already includes hotel pick-up and dinner as well as the tour itself.

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Dolphin Watching Tour – ₱1,000

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Another half-day Puerto Princesa tour, this one takes place in the morning and is a wonderful last-day activity for people whose flights don’t leave till the afternoon. After canvassing prices, we booked with Dolphin and Whales Travel & Tours and had the best time.

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Island Hopping Combo Tour – ₱2,000

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After considering the pros and cons of single vs. combo tours and comparing tour operator prices and reviews, we decided to go on El Nido Paradise’s Combo Tour A & C. Our rationale in a nutshell: a combo tour saves both time and money. Separate tours would have taken two days and cost ₱2,600. The drawback is having less time in each stop compared to a regular tour but we decided we would rather do all the sightseeing in one day so that we can spend the whole day after that just chilling and beach bumming. No regrets: we loved our island hopping tour — you can check out our experience in Island Hopping in El Nido: Combo Tour A & C so you can decide for yourself — and we got to spend the next day lazing around Nacpan Beach, which some people have called the most beautiful beach in the world.

You can check out El Nido Paradise’s other tours here.

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Van Transfer – ₱1,150

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To avoid hassle, we also pre-booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. Each van transfer (PP-EN and EN-PP) costs ₱550 and we also paid a ₱50 surcharge to be picked up from our hotel in Puerto Princesa. It’s a 6-hour ride so check out: How to Survive the Van to El Nido.

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Meals – ₱3,200

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There are tons of dining options in El Nido but meals in restaurants and cafes can prove to be rather expensive. We didn’t want to scrimp on food so we budgeted ₱400 per meal for a total of 8 meals. Whenever we went over ₱400, we re-balanced our budget by eating at a carenderia next time. Luckily, we enjoyed free breakfast at the inn/hostel/hotel we stayed in and the tour price for island hopping already included an absolute feast for lunch.

Our go-to place for good food in El Nido was Trattoria Altrove. Art Cafe was also good. For cheap meals, try the carenderia across the Catholic church in El Nido — a meal of rice and delicious chicken adobo only cost us ₱60 there.

In Puerto Princesa, we enjoyed dinner at Kalui, which certainly lived up to its reputation as the no. 1 restaurant in the city.

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Miscellaneous – ₱1,407

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Some of the expenses we took out of our miscellaneous fund are:

  • ₱500 – transportation to and from Nacpan Beach (₱1,000 per tricycle, negotiated down from ₱1,500)
  • ₱150 – transportation to and from Marimegmeg Beach (₱300 per tricycle)
  • ₱25 – transportation from the El Nido van terminal to Spin Designer Hostel (₱50 per tricycle)

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Total Budget – ₱17,000

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For a frugal traveler like me, ₱17,000 can sound like much but, when you think about it, it’s for 6 days, it already includes airfare, and it enabled us to have the most unforgettable experiences in both El Nido and Puerto Princesa. Anyway, if you were going to spend nearly ₱20,000 on travel, wouldn’t you rather spend it on your own country so your countrymen can benefit from it as well? And Palawan is absolutely worth it. If you haven’t been yet…go! You won’t regret it.

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The Painted Hall

SGMT | Painted Hall, London
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Exactly a year ago, at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, London.

It was our first day out and about in London. Our friends had asked us where we wanted to go and we’d said we’d like to see their favorite places in town, so Adam took us to Greenwich. The Painted Hall was one of our first stops. Originally conceived by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining hall for naval pensioners, the Painted Hall has since been described as “the Sistine Chapel of the UK,” and its painted walls and ceilings by Sir James Thornhill are indeed a sight to behold. Mirrors, such as the one pictured above, are strategically placed around the building, enabling visitors to examine Thornhill’s masterpiece without having to keep their necks in perpetual hyperextension.

Fast forward a year later. I haven’t traveled overseas in a while — and I haven’t written much lately either. There’s just been so many things going on, responsibilities, old and new. Travel while you’re young, they say; travel while you can, before life’s commitments start weighing you down. But oddly enough, I don’t feel chained by my responsibilities at all. In a way, I’m glad that there’s more to my life than just me, than just what I want. I’ve said travel is the food of my soul, and it still is, and it always will be, but now my spirit draws sustenance from many other things too. And just like a simple dining hall can end up being a grand work of art, the little things in life, if you pour your heart and soul into them, can turn out to be a greater adventure and give you greater joy than any trip in the world.

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