Travel Is My Soul Food

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I still remember the exact way I felt: climbing up the stairs of Champ de Mars station with bated breath, catching my first glimpse of the soaring Eiffel Tower, walking my first few steps along the River Seine, and thinking to myself — with a heady mix of wonder and contentment and heart-squeezing longing — “Wow. Wow. I could live here.”

I’m happy where I actually live. Cebu, my beloved island in the heart of the Philippines, is my little corner of the world. My family is here; it is Home. But like a tree firmly rooted in fertile soil, whose branches nonetheless spread joyfully into the air, I constantly long for the experience of immersing myself in a different world.

The thing is: I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not one of those people who can afford to skip, hop, and jump across countries with nonchalant ease. I can’t name-drop Prague or the Galapagos Islands like they’re just in the next barrio. I also can’t quit my job and backpack my way across the world. I have bills to pay, mouths to feed, rainy days to save up for. I have responsibilities, ties…and it’s not that I can’t give them up, it’s that I don’t want to give them up, not for the world. And yet, despite that…

I still dream of catching — as the song goes — a midnight train going anywhere. I’ve done it before; I know I can do it again. I know it. If you’re like me, a small-town girl (or guy!) with big travel dreams, I hope the stories, tips, and tidbits in this site help you catch your own midnight train. Welcome, fellow wanderer!


small-town girl travel_you can do it too

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About Me

I’m a Cebu-based travel writer who’s always dreaming about going somewhere. My family is the most important thing in the world to me and one of the items on top of my bucket list is to take them all to Rome, and maybe a few other European cities, in the next 2 years. I believe in kindness, thankfulness, integrity, and the importance of being able to laugh at yourself. (The latter will get you through anything, I think.)

You can read about my travel philosophy here: The Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains Travel Manifesto.

PS – I’ve noticed people have been stumbling a bit on how to address me as I haven’t got my name displayed anywhere. Please call me Gaya. 🙂

194 thoughts on “Travel Is My Soul Food”

  • Hi 🙂 Mind if I ask a few questions?. My father once worked for pal too, and I was just wondering how I could avail a “free” ride? Also, do you have any tips on how I can get my ideal flight schedule? ^^

    • Hi Allison, fellow airline kid. 🙂

      Your father will know what to do! I believe they have to get a trip pass approved (by the PAL HR, I think) and they then exchange that for the actual ticket. If you get the 75% discount, it’s all up to chance, but if you just get the 50% discount, I think you can lock in your booking a few days before ETD. Also, if you can, it’s best to choose off-peak flights — middle of the week, middle of the day, or red-eye. Hope that helps!

    • Hey B,

      You guessed right, I hadn’t been notified. (It’s twice now I’ve noticed this: I only get notifications if a specific post gets linked to, but not if it’s the home page.)

      Anyway, thank you very much! 🙂 I am so lazy at these things but I will do my best! xx

  • Hello! Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog, mainly because I got to check out your blog which I think is great! I see that you live in Cebu and would love to meet up sometime if you are available. It would be great to chat about travel and blogging!

      • Hi Rachel! I think that’s a lovely idea, I’m just not sure if I would have the time to be very actively involved… To give you an idea of my time woes, I have movies in my laptop from 2 years ago that I still haven’t watched till now. 😀 So count me in, but don’t count on me too much. 🙂

  • I love your intro and I can truly relate to it… If only we can fly like birds, let the wind take us to wherever it may be, or as Mark Twain said, go forth and catch the trade winds in your sail, BUT, in big letters, we have responsibilities… I have a big time dream though, I hope I can have it before I retire… buy my own little ragged yacht…hopefully by then… Im free to sail… 🙂 keep up your lively spirit. God bless you!

  • Love reading your blogs. Great travel tips, useful for our travel to Europe next month. Btw, I’m a Cebuana too with a big travel dreams. Cheers to more travels! 🙂

  • So glad you stopped by my blog! Gave me a chance to explore yours…loved what ever little I have read so far. Was very intrigued by the name of your blog though – any particular reason?

    • And thank you for stopping by mine. 🙂 I first thought of starting a travel blog when my sister and I were planning a trip to France & Italy, something I had never even dared to dream about because I always thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it. We were going on 3 sleeper trains on that trip. And then I heard the Journey song Don’t Stop Believin’ and the phrase just jumped out at me. I thought it was a perfect way to describe me and my sister, just small-town girls on our way to taking a midnight train. 🙂 Thank you for asking about that!

      It’s awesome that you named your blog after your dog. 🙂 And your post about places to go without a visa really caught my eye because I’m Filipino and it’s such a tedious process for us to get a visa too. We can never just say, oh, I think I’ll jump on a plane to Paris tomorrow. And I love the way you responded to comments on that post, by the way, your replies were very thoughtful, I really respected that. 🙂

      • Wow…such a genuine reason. Love it!! And yes, getting a visa for anywhere is a real pain! I am in the process of getting one for germany and have to make all the bookings beforehand. Our trips can never be spontaneous 🙁
        Thank you for your response. Look forward to reading your posts.

  • Hi..i was wondering if u know anything about my query..i hope u do..:) anyway i went to korea last month (sept) on a tour. It was my very first trip abroad. However the BI officer decided to document my trip for whatever reasons i dont know. My concern is i am planning to visit korea again. Will my documented trip last month be a problem in the future?thanks 🙂

    • Hi Elle! I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean by the BI “documenting” your trip, but regardless of what happened in your past trips, the best thing you can do is to have the proper documents for any future trip. Good luck and enjoy Korea!

  • Hello! I was supposed to comment on your DFA Cebu post coz it really helped me! 🙂 I went to DFA-Cebu yesterday and arrived there 4:47 pm. There were no other applicants and I finished applying for my passport at 5:05pm. And their Express Process is now available too for 1200 pesos. Thank you jud kaayu Miss you are helping a lot of people through you blog. God speed! 🙂

    • Hi Lady Love! Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a message here, I really appreciate it. And thanks as well for the info about the express processing. I’m glad dali ra imong pagkuha sa passport. All the best to you!

    • hi there lady love, jastine here. I would like to seek help for my passport application online. It stuck and it seems like i cannot cancel my previous appointment i already made due to my email address. Is it possible for you to help me now. I am online right now. pls reply. tnx

  • Hi STG

    I’ve really enjoyed reading through your trip to The UK and especially the sections on Skye. My great grandmother was from Dunvegan on Skye and I’ve visited a few times and think it’s one of the world’s most precious islands.

    One comment about The Jacobites, though. However much it has been sentimentalised by some Scots The Jacobite Rebellions weren’t Scots vs English nor Catholics vs Protestants. Charles, after all, wasn’t Scottish and most of his supporters weren’t Catholic. The gist of the campaign was the desire to restore an absolute monarch to Britain’s throne in the place of a monarch answerable to Parliament.

    Not so romantic as the popularised myth of course!

    I’ve subscribed to your blog and know I’ll enjoy future updates.

    • Hi Alan! Thanks for your comment and insights about the Jacobite rebellion and thanks especially for reading and subscribing. I haven’t thoroughly studied the Jacobite rebellion — I read up a bit but it seems so complicated — but I am under no illusions about Bonnie Prince Charlie. Or most other rulers/politicians, for that matter! My sympathies are entirely with the people who fought for honorable reasons — loyalty, a sense of duty, an honest belief in the cause. There was this bench in Culloden that said “We followed you, prince, to this ocean of flatness and bullets” — it had a bit of an accusatory tone to it, which I thought was appropriate. But really, I think sometimes that’s all we can do: act based on what we believe is right, even though a lot of times we later find our faith was misplaced. That’s what’s heartbreaking about it to me. Thanks again! 🙂

      • Hey and thanks for the note back. Thanks, too, for your ‘Fairy Pools’ post. Rural Scotland always seems that bit more mysterious when there’s a bit of mist and drizzle. Must be a northern thing, as Norway is very similar.

        The losers in any conflict are almost invariably the foot-soldiers and the families of those who fell…and this is true for both sides. I don’t think the supporters of the last Jacobite rebellion were any more sincere or ardent than those on the government side who were fighting to keep a fairer system of government than we had under the Stuart kings.

        Anyway, I’ll step off my soapbox 😉

      • Please don’t step off on my account. 🙂 It’s actually very interesting to hear a different point of view because as a tourist, I tended to hear more about Charles and the bravery and loyalty of the people who supported him. But even our guide (Andrew MacDonald – any relation, by the way?) expressed doubts that Scotland would have been better off under Stuart rule.

    • Hi Carl! It would depend on the topic. Do you have a blog? What would you like to guest post about?

  • Hello po. My Nephew needs an express passport. He is in Manila and his appointment is on May 26. His company in Japan needs him by First week of June which he was just informed lately. Your branch is having an Express processing and can he get his passport on your branch at an earliest time. Please reply po ASAP.

    • Hi Rashmi! Thanks so much for dropping by. I’ve just been to your blog — it’s so pretty, with such a wealth of ideas. I see you’ve been to Little Venice in London…I wanted to go when I was there but never quite found the time, it flies by so fast when you’re on vacation. I can’t wait to read more of your blog. xx

  • Hello Ms Gaya! I’m planning to apply for a passport this month. I have read the documents/requirements part. I just would like to know how many hours will the showing up/processing/encoding/capturing/basically overall passport application process, take? I work in a webhosting company and my dayoffs are Sat and Sun. So when I file/make an appointment, I plan it to be on Monday/s. I’m always on a nightshift. Please advise. Thanks a lot Ms 🙂

    • Hi Pinky! I haven’t tried getting a passport under the current system (where you set an appointment time online) so I can’t be sure. However, the last time I obtained a passport, we were in the priority queue because I was with a minor and two senior citizens, and it took us less than an hour from the time we entered the office. I hope that at least gives you an idea of the time you’ll need. Good luck!

  • Hi!
    Your blog is very helpful and I’m so thankful to have come across your page.
    I hope you take a little of your time to answer my query. I’m currently in Canada and I have to go home to Cebu for an emergency family concern. I booked a flight on November 28 and will have to return to Canada by December 18. My passport expires on May 31, 2017 which is less than 6 months than the allowed time.
    I have already renewed my passport here and had requested that my new passport be sent to DFA Cebu instead so I can claim it while I am there. The problem is, the claim date they gave me is Jan. 11, 2017 which is way past my return date to Canada.
    My question is, do you know or have any idea if I can ask DFA Cebu to have my passport ready before my flight back to Canada?
    Have you encountered any similar case such as mine?
    Thank you very much and God bless!

    • Hi Norlissa. What I know is DFA offers expedited processing — 10 days for DFA offices outside Metro Manila — but I don’t know if they will let you opt for expedited processing retroactively. I suppose your best option would be to call the consulate in Canada and ask them if they can (or if they can communicate to the DFA Cebu office to) expedite your passport processing so that it will be ready before December 18. Sorry I can’t be of more help. Good luck!

  • Hello guys need nako ang inyong help kung naa pa ba tong mag linya for passport renewal? ky late na kaau ko nakahibaw nga ang pag renew sa passport online naman diay. then ge tanaw nako sa website sa DFA wla nay slot for January 2017 then ang akong balik sa gawas is Feb 24 2017.. anticipating your warmest reply guys and God Bless!

  • Hi good afternoon. Asked ko lang po pwede po ba na walang driver’s license na kumuha ng first applicant passport?

    Because i only have this requirements

    SSS FORM E-1
    FORM 137

  • HI, I sent payment for a visa pack and 11 day Paris- Venice…itinerary, via Cebuana Lhullier March 31, 2017, tracking#: P8Y5V9H211. It seems like my email didn’t go through. Please update me.

    • Hi Wingwing,

      The only email I received with your name on it is an email sharing the Schengen Visa Pack article with me. (You can see the screenshot of that email HERE.) That may have happened if you clicked on the “Email” button after the article.

      If you have sent me payment through Cebuana Lhuiller, please send me a clear photo or a scan of the transaction slip, as clearly instructed in both the Schengen Visa Pack article and the Comprehensive 11-Day European Itinerary article.

      • Hi Gaya, I’ve tried sending you a screenshot of the transaction slip. All I get is a failure to send notice. Anyway please refer to tracking number via Cebuana Lhullier

      • Hi Wingwing,

        Could you please take the time to re-read the instructions regarding the Schengen Visa Pack and the Comprehensive 11-day European Itinerary and verify if the email address you used is the email address you should be using?

        I am pretty sure that email address is still working because: (1) since April 2, the date of your first comment, several others have successfully purchased the itinerary/visa pack and communicated to me through that email; and (2) I sent a test email just now and it got through.

    • Hi again Wingwing.

      Your travel date is noted but the itinerary is ready-made; it is NOT customized, otherwise it would cost much, much more than PHP 99. As stated in the article, it is “intended to guide you in arranging your trip…it remains your sole responsibility to make sure that all your travel arrangements are in order.”

      If you haven’t already, please refer to my reply to your earlier comment as to how you can receive your copy of the visa pack and the itinerary.

  • Hi im katsume Casabuena my father Masaru Nakano is a japan citizen and my mother Leonesa muñoz is a filipina, I was born here in the Phillipines on june 20, 1995 I have not seen my father for almost 17 years now the last time i saw him when i was 5 years old. I need your help for me to see my father who is sick and he is already 87 years old it’s my dream to see him again for a long time i miss him so much i really hope that you can help me and i hope you’ll reply to this message THANK YOU so much

  • Dear Gaya, that pinch me please, am I dreaming? Feeling is what I had the whole trip to Rome. The sistine chapel, the coliseum, all of it, I treasure my pictures because it was our last family holiday all together before my daughter graduated into the big world.

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