Thank you, 2016.

SGMT —
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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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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No, I’m Not Always Traveling

And other common misconceptions about people who love to travel

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I’ve just finished preparing a rough budget for a trip I plan to take next year with my family, and against every fiber of yearning in my body, I’ve come to accept the inevitable conclusion: I can’t afford it.

I started saving for the trip last January. It wouldn’t have been till April next year, so I still have nearly 10 months to save some more. I found a really good price for the plane tickets (and it doesn’t even involve Sheremetyevo). And I actually earn an okay income for someone who works part time.

But despite all that, I still can’t afford the trip.

Just…can’t. Not next year anyway.

And so because I’m feeling really frustrated about it at the moment, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the most common misconceptions that people have about people who like to travel.

No. 1
No, we don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around.

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Some people are born into money and go globe-trotting even before they are potty trained.

Most of us aren’t those people.

Most of us are able to travel because we save for it.

Sometimes we really, really, really want to go somewhere and we can’t because we don’t have the budget for it. Sometimes it takes us years to save for one trip. Sometimes we save for years and it still isn’t enough. And that’s okay — not asking for sympathy, but not gonna apologize either for those times we are able to save enough.

Travel, really, is just one of those things that you decide to do and then you try to find a way to do it. It’s like when you decide to buy, say, an iPhone or a car or a house — none of which I have, by the way — and you find a way to fit the monthly payments into your budget. It’s not something you just have, it’s something you work for.

It’s funny because sometimes, when you’re traveling, people will say, “oh, wow, you must have lots of money,” and they just don’t realize that at that exact moment, you’re actually feeling like you’re practically bleeding money because you’ve spent so much already and you know it will take you a long, long time to earn that money back.

There are exceptions, obviously, but most of us — we don’t travel because we’re worth a lot, we travel because travel is worth a lot. The experience is worth the money we lose doing it.
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Putting yourself out there

This is something I wrote last year for a fellow blogger — sharing it now to hopefully encourage anyone who wants to write but is too wracked with self-doubt to start.

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Gaya_LetterSizeWhenever people tell me that they want to try blogging but they’re not sure if they can do it, I always share this bit of wisdom from a very unlikely source: Ryzza Mae Dizon. It’s something she said in passing when someone complimented her dancing, and I don’t think she even remembers saying it now. But it has stuck to my mind ever since I heard her say it and I’ve always found it inspiring.

She said: “Hindi ako magaling. Makapal lang talaga ang mukha ko.” (I’m not good, I’m just gutsy.)

What I’ve learned about life is that talent will only ever get you so far. Conversely, a lack of talent will only hold you back for as long as you let it. What really counts is your attitude — your willingness to put yourself out there and work for what you want, even if you’re not sure what people are going to think.

In my blogging experience (such as it is!) “attitude” has required three things: courage, principles, and accepting who I am.

Courage. Blogging takes bravery! Many of my friends and readers have been to way more places than I have, and I know it’s presumptuous of me to ask them to read a travel blog by a person less-traveled than they are but…makapal lang talaga ang mukha ko! 😀 What have I got to lose, right? Also, I realized early on that I am not as good a writer as others — as much as I want to, I can’t do the sort of emo writing that seems to be popular with the artsy crowd. I can only do my style of writing and I have to be content with that. So, even if you think no one cares what you have to say, or you don’t write well enough, or, for travel blogs, even if you haven’t been to that many places, if you want to start your own blog then do it. Stop wondering what your friends are going to think and just do it. Anyway, it’s not like you’re holding people at gunpoint and forcing them to read your blog.

Speaking of which, it’s also important not to get discouraged if only a few people read your blog at first. I know it can be disheartening to put so much of your heart and soul and self into a post and have it be read by only a handful of people but…it happens. A lot. Unless you have the benefit of a popular last name, or you’ve got tons of friends (or people wanting to curry favor), or, I don’t know, you work the circuit really well, you aren’t going to automatically shoot to the top of the blogger Billboards. So forget all that for a bit and just write. Write and write and write, and eventually your efforts will start to pay off. (And in the meantime, if it helps your self-esteem, think of yourself as a starving artist. 🙂 You’re brilliant — the world just doesn’t know it yet.)


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Principles
. A lot of people have been very successful at making money out of their blogs and so many of us go into blogging hoping that we will also be able to earn from it. Certainly, that’s one of my goals (though honestly I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet). But I think it’s also important to set standards for yourself.

I remember searching for printers in Cebu, and I came across a website for “Cebu Printing Services” claiming to be “Cebu’s No. 1 Printing Company” — only there were no printing services being offered, just printing-related blog posts with embedded hyperlinks to sites selling, um, PDE5 inhibitors (look it up). I don’t want to judge, and some people might argue that those links don’t hurt anyone, but — speaking for myself — that’s just not something I’m willing to do. As a blogger, you have to decide for yourself where you want to draw the line. In my case, I think it’s important that people who read my blog are able to trust me, so I decided very early on that I won’t allow misleading links, or write good reviews for bad services. And while I try to make my posts interesting, inspiring, and/or helpful to others, it’s a matter of self-respect that I don’t write, for the sake of going viral, what this article calls “aspirational porn.” I tell people they can make their travel dreams come true, but I also make sure to tell them about the work (and sometimes luck) that goes into it. The last thing I want to do is to raise people’s expectations only to let them down, or “inspire” them to be irresponsible and selfish.

Identity. Figure out who you are and work with that. Me, I’ll never have the coolness factor of other bloggers. I’m not someone who quit work to travel all around the world. I’m not someone who has managed to make a living out of traveling. I don’t look good in a bikini, can’t even do a decent jump shot…basically, I don’t think people will want to be me. I’m just an ordinary person, so I’m sticking with that, hoping that my blog will somehow resonate with people who also feel ordinary and encourage them to do not-so-ordinary things. I don’t know if I’ve been able to accomplish that, but sometimes people tell me that my blog inspires them to travel, and that makes me very happy.

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Putting yourself out there in blogging
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“Why does one go away?” he said.

“What is it that drives you on? If you are instinctively, or have been brought up or educated in a way that you demand of yourself that you make the best of your life and the best of your opportunities, then there is a constant conversation going on between definitions of success versus definitions of happiness. The two don’t always go together, and at what point do you stop striving so hard to be successful in the conventional sense, because every fibre in your body has been educated to take your opportunities, versus arguably a more enlightened view, which is you don’t have to chase and go for these things?”

Read the New Yorker feature on Damian Lewis here.

(I know my post topics are all over the place! 😀 I’d decided to focus on Thailand for a while — a friend of mine had asked for tips  —  and then all sorts of other, interesting things crop up. Anyway, I hope everyone reading this is having a good day/evening!)

Take back happiness


2016 take back happiness

Whatever holds you back,
Whatever weighs you down,
Whatever drowns you,
Whatever makes you feel little,
Leave it behind.

This 2016, take back happiness.

 

(I originally posted this last year, but sometimes we need reminding…)

Happy new year everyone! 🙂

12 Lessons from the Road


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1. Count your blessings.

A door at the island prison of Chateau d'If

A door at the island prison of Chateau d’If

Although I am by no means rich and have to save for months for one trip, the fact that I have savings and can use them to travel makes me luckier than many, many other people of my age, nationality, and background. A chance encounter in Chateau d’If with a lady named Sophie reminded me of that.

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2. Represent.

A Boracay sunset

A Boracay sunset

On the plane, once, I sat beside a Belgian guy who was on his way to Boracay. Before we parted ways at the carousel, he gave me and my family a box of Belgian chocolates. It was an idea worth stealing and now I try to bring small packs of dried mangoes with me whenever I go on a trip.

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3. Give.

Street food in Kuala Lumpur

Street food in Kuala Lumpur

At Jalan Alor in Kuala Lumpur, we shared a table with a soldier from Papua New Guinea named Benjamin. While walking us to our hotel, he would give away what food he had to every beggar he met. He grew up poor, and he said that what he was sharing was only a very small fraction of the blessings others had shared to him throughout his life.

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4. We’re all special in our own way.

Posing with monks at Wat Pho

Posing with monks at Wat Pho

While we were dithering about asking to take a photo with a group of monks in Bangkok, one of them came over and asked to take a photo with us. True story! It turns out they were Sri Lankan monks and were, like us, tourists in Thailand. I still don’t know why the monk wanted a photo with us and the thought makes me laugh to this day. (It looks like that other monk is facepalming, though, doesn’t it? Haha!)

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5. Kindness is a universal language.

A plate of risotto in Venice

A plate of risotto in Venice

On our way to Venice from Paris, my sister and I had a brief “conversation” with an elderly man whose repository of English was even barer than ours of French. He had a kind way about him, though, and the sincerity and respect with which he treated us accomplished more, I think, than any small talk could have.

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6. See what’s there.

A child's hand running through the flowers

A child’s hand running through the flowers

Children don’t plan their travels. They don’t research what to see — they go somewhere and see what’s there. Although planning a trip is a joy on its own, I’m also resolved to see, when next I travel, not just what I want to see but what is there to be seen.

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7. Kababayans have your back.

Wooden walls and capiz shell windows are typical of old Filipino houses

Wooden walls and capiz shell windows are typical of old Filipino houses

We Filipinos pride ourselves on our hospitality and we get to experience that firsthand when we travel abroad and find fellow Pinoys on the staff. Whether it’s a complimentary salad at a restaurant in Sentosa, a home away from home at a B&B in Amsterdam, or a jaw-dropping upgrade — with cake and wine to boot — at the Ritz Carlton in Singapore, we’ve received more than our share of our kababayans’ generosity and asikaso. Once, in Macau, my mom and I dropped by the concierge to say thank you before we left, and one of the Filipinos on the staff gave us an umbrella to take home — just in case it rains, he said.

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8. There’s no substitute for hard work.

The rolling hills of Batanes

The rolling hills of Batanes

One time I asked Kuya Romy, our guide in Batanes, if anyone ever went hungry in the island. He said that those who want to work can always find work there; anyone who wants to eat can eat; there was always a way, as long as one was willing to put in the work. Kuya Romy himself fished, farmed, and raised cattle, in addition to being a guide. It was a lesson on hard work that was both humbling and inspiring.

(Learn more about Batanes here and here.)

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9. There’s no place like home.

The waters of Camotes island, Cebu

The waters of Camotes island, Cebu

A cliché but — and precisely because — it’s true. I have seen so many beautiful places around the world and can’t wait to see more, but there will be never be a place I will love more than the hot, humid, increasingly traffic-jammy tropical paradise I call home: Cebu.

(Read about Camotes here.)

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10. You get what you give.

A Buddhist monastery in Bali

A Buddhist monastery in Bali

On the day we were set to leave Bali, we were driven to the airport by Bagus of Bali Golden Tour. He asked us about our vacation and I exclaimed, “The people here have been so kind to us!” Bagus replied, “Because you are kind.” He said this in a manner that had no hint of flattery whatsoever, not even a smile actually, just a soft matter-of-fact tone. And although I can hardly claim to be a paragon of kindness, I thought a lot about what he said, especially in the aftermath of the Mary Jane Veloso case, when the Philippines alone, of all the countries that had nationals scheduled to be executed, won a reprieve. Some people in our country had criticized the way our president handled the case, saying he should have threatened and blustered — a strategy that had previously worked for France — but we never abandoned the diplomatic route, and in the end, that strategy of respect and deference worked. It’s just an iteration of the Golden Rule, really: treat others the way you would want to be treated.

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11. The future isn’t guaranteed.

Early morning in Bohol

Early morning in Bohol

My father’s old friend Willy was our host during our 2009 trip to Bohol. We stayed at his newly built guesthouse in Panglao and visited the surrounding islands on his boat. He talked of the past — he and my father had worked alongside each other for decades — and the future, including his plans to offer the use of his guesthouse and boat to tourists. Only a few months later, I learned he had passed away. It was a jarring reminder of how we can make all the plans we want but, when it comes down to it, the present is really all we have.

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12. Your ordinary can be beautiful.

Sunset in Batanes

Sunset in Batanes

“I’ve just watched my first sunset in Batanes, though it’s already my third day in this beautiful island and I’m staying at an inn with unhampered views of the western sea. Somehow spectacular sunsets are a bit of an anticlimax here, where stunning sceneries are the norm during the day and even the roadside grass is dotted with gorgeous fuchsia and pale pink blooms. Kuya Toto, one of my guides, tried to conceal his amusement earlier when I stooped and semi-contorted to photograph these ubiquitous flowers. Vietnam roses, he says they are, and promises that there are more of them on the road to the lighthouse. We were on our way to Marlboro Country and the nearby Tayid Lighthouse, but I was messing with his timetable by asking him to stop every 5 seconds to document things that are, to Ivatans, commonplace. ‘Those waves are beautiful!’ I gush, and take an eternity to shoot my fill of white foamy waves throwing themselves with suicidal abandon against rough dark rocks. ‘Those cows are gorgeous!’ I exclaim (only to be informed they’re actually carabaos, which I really should have known).”

(Read the rest of the article here.)

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And an extra lesson I shan’t elaborate for now: you are stronger than you think.

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ROYGBIV |12 Lessons from the Road” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 


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