Do you consider yourself a blogger?


In these mountains, to be specific

In these mountains, to be specific

Blogger ka ba?”
(“Are you a blogger?”)

Not such a hard question, was it? I was up in the mountains of Batanes, exchanging pleasantries with fellow tourists, and one of them had come up with this query…that strangely rendered me speechless.

My first thought was: what gave me away?! Was there a blogger look I had unconsciously emulated? Did my eyes have a squint, say, that spoke of too much time in front of a computer screen? Did my fingertips have telltale signs of late-night key-pounding activities? Had someone stamped “I have a travel blog” on my forehead?

And there was the question itself: was I a blogger? Is everyone who blogs a blogger? Not all people who swim are swimmers, are they? Not every Tom, Dick, and Harry who takes photos is a photographer. I suppose a distinction could be made between professional bloggers and hobby bloggers. But that begs the question: how do you define a professional blogger? Is it someone who earns from blogging? Or is it someone who approaches blogging as he would a profession, that is, a “job that requires special education, training, or skill”?

Me — I’m that girl who blows off could-have-been-billable hours on a post that could very well be read by only a handful of people. I spend an inordinate amount of time on one sentence: I move my words around, I tinker with the phrasing, and when I go down to get coffee I’m still thinking about what I’ve written or what I’m about to write, trying the words out in my head to see if they’ve got the cadence I’m after.

Does that make me better than others? Not really. But perhaps that’s what made me overthink what was, after all, a really simple question.

“I…have a blog,” I said.

I’m curious — do you call yourself a blogger?

Do you consider yourself a blogger?” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

I Have A Dream


I have a dream that one day the whole world will truly live out this creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that someday someone from my country can say on a Thursday: “Let’s go to [first world destination] this weekend,” buy the ticket on Friday, and fly out on Saturday — and not have to go through a multi-week visa application process where they are asked questions like “How much of your monthly income do you give to your family?” or “Do you plan to engage in terrorist activities?” (If only all terrorists would be so honest!)

I have a dream that everyone and their four little children will one day live in a world where their intent to travel will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

In the meantime, I have a dream that I will get to use this hard-earned visa again before it expires end of this year! 🙂 Not very likely, to be honest, but…is anything on this dream-list?


I Have A Dream” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

What would travel be like without internet?


Well, not travel per se. I know some people even travel for the purpose of getting off the grid. But imagine travel planning without the internet.

It’s a question that occurred to me because I’ve been having internet issues for the past 3 days and the end isn’t in sight yet. (It absolutely sucks, but it’s a first-world problem for a person in a third-world country so I feel like I shouldn’t complain too much.) I am currently camped out in a cousin’s kitchen, hitching on her WiFi, checking messages, scheduling posts, trying to get a bit of [day job] work done, and basically trying to do as much stuff as possible before my laptop battery drains and I have to go back to offline life.

Seriously, though, I can’t imagine planning travel without the internet. How would I catch promo fares on flights and get early-bird rates on hotel rooms? How would I know how to get from the airport to the hotel? How would I plan my itinerary?

I suppose there are travel agents and books and international calls and actually talking to people and asking them, but then (with the exception of asking people) the whole thing would cost so much more. In a way, I think, the internet has democratized travel, and that’s generally a good thing.

What do you think?

The Dream of Travel Writing (vs. The Reality)


I’ve always thought it would be crazy awesome if I were a travel writer. I love traveling and I love writing, so getting paid to travel around the world and write about it would be the ultimate dream job, right?

I’ve realized, though, that it’s not quite as simple as that.

Traveling can be stressful. It involves planning routes, catching trains, finding ways to make the most out of each place. It involves packing and repacking, trying to travel light while making sure you have something appropriate for every situation. Sometimes it involves holding your bladder if you can’t find a bathroom or holding your breath if someone in your train compartment has had too much garlic for lunch (like right this very moment, dammit).*

Then there’s the writing. It goes without saying that your stories should be interesting. People should want to read what you’ve written, and that’s the really hard part. After a while, you run out of adjectives to describe a scene. You try to write enthusiastically about some amazing thing you’ve seen but that’s difficult to do if you’re tired or hungry or in a hurry. Later you try to summon back your first thoughts and feelings about a particular place, but sometimes there’s just a limited window of time when you can translate your experience into words powerful enough to transport your reader to where you were.

Add the pressure of a deadline to all that, and…well, it’s still a crazy awesome job, but you begin to realize it is a job and not just crazy awesomeness.

So: whereas before I used to say I dream of traveling and writing for a living, I’d like to edit that and say instead: I would love to travel and write for a living — I would do that in a heartbeat — but my ultimate dream is to someday have enough money to travel where I want, when I want, with the people I love, and write about it just because I want to.


The Dream of Travel Writing (vs. The Reality)” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.




*The nucleus of this post was written 3 years ago on a train from Nice to Marseille. I like garlicky stuff myself, but there’s garlic and then there’s too much garlic! 🙂 I survived, by the way.


Seine in Winter
I had been here before, only 2 years and 3 months past, but it feels like a lifetime ago. The Seine then had been lined by stately trees adorned in the glorious colors of fall. Now the same trees are pale and bare, their branches thrown upwards in seeming surrender to a gray uncaring sky. The air then had been cool and crisp, the October sun giving light and warmth. Now, January, it is raining relentlessly, bringing the kind of cold that burrows deep into one’s bones.

And I? I am different too.

My eyes before had sparkled with excitement. “I’m crossing a street in Paris!” I’d beamed. “I’m drinking coffee in Paris!” I had soaked in the unrealness of a dream trip come true; I had thought the world wonderful. Now, the light in my eyes are somewhat dimmed by a layer of disillusion. I had learned, within a too short span of time, that some dreams do not survive a brush with reality.

Oh, well.

The Batobus at least is the same, I think, as I board the hop on-hop off service at its Hôtel de Ville stop. The boat’s transparent dome was perfect for such a wet and miserable day as this. One could cruise the Seine, see the Eiffel Tower, catch a glimpse of the Louvre and Notre-Dame, all from the boat’s warm and dry confines. It was also ideal for spotting the little charms along the river: the golden beasts of the Pont Alexandre III, the green bouquiniste stalls, the love locks, the bridges, the promising benches, even the various waterfowl that seemed enviably oblivious to the winter chill.

I spot an old silver camper near the Champs-Élysées dock and I wonder if someone was actually living in it. I wonder if I could live in something like it — be a traveler always, even at home. Then I wonder if it had been abandoned after all, if its owner had given up an itinerant life. Had the camper gone places I could only dream of? Was the wear and tear from the journey worth it? Had it traveled not wisely but well?

We pass by the Bateaux Mouches dock, where many of its boats were currently moored. Until tourism picks up again? Or only until later in the day? Did the winter slack leave some workers unemployed? What did they do for food? Did they hibernate until spring?

If only people can hibernate until the winters of their lives pass — until the pain, the paralysis wrought by grief is gone. But perhaps it is in these seasons that the seed is readied for bloom. Perfected, like wine and butterflies.

I hope so. I am in winter myself and I sometimes wonder if it will ever end.

Across the Musée d’Orsay, several rows of trees line the right bank, and I think: how beautiful it must be in spring, when the leaves burst forth and the trees come alive again. And how fitting it is that I am here in winter, when I too feel bare and barely alive.

The seasons will change. They must. Not even the harshest winters can stop the spring.

“Hang in there, trees,” I whisper, and in my mind I see them bending down their stiff, sad branches to pat my head and tell me the same thing.


Adapted from my journal entry last January 15, 2014 for the “Build Your Own” Weekly Writing Challenge. © Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Brilliance and Darkness


The brilliance of Vincent Van Gogh is palpable in his paintings. Literally: his exuberant brush strokes give his canvasses a rough, passionate texture. This and his often riotous use of color lead many people to believe he was an artist who painted purely on impulse. Yet upon visiting the Van Gogh Museum — one of the foremost reasons I wanted to travel to Amsterdam — I learned Van Gogh was actually quite meticulous, always experimenting on techniques, and that his painting style had actually evolved over periods of time before becoming that for which he is best known.


Wheatfield With Crows
is one of his last paintings, created on the same month he died. Though the wheat stalks are still a vibrant yellow, the sky looks ominous, as do the crows in flight. Shortly before dying of a gunshot wound, believed by most to be self-inflicted, Van Gogh had told his brother, “The sadness will last forever.”

It is incomprehensibly tragic that such brilliant men as Vincent Van Gogh and Robin Williams would live such tortured lives and, in the end, come to be devoured by darkness. I like to think that whatever hell they may have found themselves in, at the end, someone will come to try and rescue them and, failing to convince them to leave the dark valley, will choose to stay there with them till the end of time.

And thus lift the curse.

Brilliance and Darkness” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved, including the right to apologize — that I hereby exercise — for the horrible photograph of the Sunflowers painting.



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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