smalltowngirls romeyou can do it too_travel

Enter your email address to subscribe to Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains -- travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams.



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.


Continue reading

She took the midnight train going anywhere

SGMT train station

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.)

Caledonian Sleeper_15


Continue reading

From “Why” to “Why Not”

© Gaya | 
It’s a few minutes before midnight. I’m sitting here at an airport lounge: munching on nuts, coffee already gone cold, laptop open, no immediate plans to sleep despite the lateness of the hour, having already taken a 30-minute nap in sitting position earlier while people around me were having dinner. And I’m wondering: why does this not feel unnatural?

Why does it not feel like a disruption of ordinary life?

Have I really gotten so used, in the stretch of a fortnight, to waiting hours for flights and fueling on coffee and falling asleep in the midst of strangers?

Because that’s not me. Not at all. Not ordinarily. When I’m home, I’m a homebody. My personal three-word horror stories include “knock on door” and “unexpected phone call.” Heck, even expected phone calls fill me with dread. And I’m extremely private: a friend says poker is the natural state of my face.

But travel seems to signal a temporary key change. The rhythm of who I am and what I do shifts: suddenly, I talk to strangers (sometimes) and dance (okay, just once) and eat gelato (normally too expensive). Stripped of my usual surroundings, my usual “why?” becomes an “eh, why not?” It’s almost like having an alternative life. It’s not a radical transformation — obviously! Dancing just once, tsk — but travel does seem to make what’s not normal almost normal.

Keyword being “almost.”

Would I like it to be my new normal though?

Hmmm… Nah.

Because I like my old normal just fine: my little ordinary life. I would seriously cry if I had to travel for a living. For me, travel is a treat. It’s like, oh, tiramisu. I love tiramisu but if I ate it all the time, it wouldn’t be as special. (Didn’t stop me from eating the lounge’s last two slices earlier, but you know what I mean.) Or like…cherry blossoms. They’re beautiful and they would still be beautiful if they bloomed year round but it’s their transience that makes beholding them such a treat.


I’ll savor this treat while it lasts, dance however clumsily to this new rhythm, and when the last notes die I’ll happily go back to ordinary.

Until the next time, of course.

Second Impressions

SGMT | Hong Kong — 
It’s been more than 10 years since my last (and only previous) visit to Hong Kong and my sole memory of the airport was the moment we left it. We’d thought, wrongly, that Hong Kong would have the same weather as the Philippines and were caught unprepared by the blast of cool air that greeted us as we left the terminal. Now I’m pleased to say that I have more than a thin shirt on and I’m collecting more (and warmer) memories of the airport, where I’m currently spending the day.

Here’s a quick unedited look:

I love the lines of the Hong Kong airport: the light they let in, the shadows and silhouettes they create. I love how spacious the interior feels, almost as if it were an open-air structure and not in fact a carefully regulated environment. And I love how helpful and pleasant people have been so far, because my other memory of Hong Kong was of tons of people just bumping into me at the trains.

It’s nice to get the chance to form new first impressions.

Catch up later.

How to Save $400 on Philippine Airlines Flights to London


Four words: fly through Hong Kong.


Because of…reasons…a Manila-London-Manila ticket will actually be cheaper — and not just cheaper but cheaper by 400 US dollars — if you tack on a Hong Kong-Manila leg and a Manila-Hong Kong leg.

Continue reading

The Sumilon Island Bucket List

SGMT | Sumilon Island —
Sumilon Island is one of my favorite places in my home province of Cebu. It’s nearly 4 hours away by bus — plus a short boat ride courtesy of the resort that operates the island — but the experience has always been worth the extra effort and expense. Some people dock on Sumilon’s sandbar after swimming with the whale sharks nearby. It’s also possible to go on the Sumilon Bluewater day tour package that includes lunch, use of the facilities, and boat rides to and from mainland Oslob. The latter I’ve done twice and enjoyed very much, but last year I finally indulged on a 1-year Bluewater Resorts membership, got to stay overnight, and at last had all the time in the world to check off all the things I wanted to do at Sumilon.

My Sumilon Island Bucket List

Starting the day with a welcome glass of iced pandan tea at the resort pavilion in mainland Oslob, waiting for the boat that will take us to Sumilon.

A guided trek around the island. The trail took us past a lighthouse, an old fort, and a wooded area overlooking the island’s marine sanctuary.

Kayaking in the lagoon.

Table with a view. It’s nice to have a meal here and pretend, even for just a single day, that there’s nothing more pressing to be done than partaking of good food and looking out to the sea.

Curling up in one of the oversized chairs with a book (or just one’s thoughts).

Deciding where to take a nap. Inside the cool villa? In one of the native mini-huts? In the hammock? (The hammock won for me.) What a treat to have that be the only decision you have to make for a while.

Having a Dawson’s Creek moment at the rickety wooden pier.

Having the sandbar all to yourself. Spotting the zigzag waves. Swimming.

Finding pockets of quiet. Staring into space. Being still. And just being.

And just eating! Lol. The buffet breakfast at Sumilon is heavenly. The pudding and the made-to-order glass noodle soup were my favorites but everything was delicious really.


The one thing I wasn’t able to try: having a massage here.

Oh, well, an excuse to go back. 🙂

Book a room at Sumilon Bluewater Resort here.


P.S. This is not a sponsored post. 🙂



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

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.

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…

Especially this lot.

…I’m thankful.

Happy new year everyone!



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

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.

SGMT Watermark Logo_Hibiscus_Colored_BlackSGMT
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.

Continue reading