I haven’t been to England yet and I’m already plotting my return

…because Yorkshire.

Ilkley Moor at Dusk | Image by James Whitesmith | CC-BY-ND 2.0

Ilkley Moor at Dusk | Image by James Whitesmith | CC-BY-ND 2.0

West Burton Waterfalls (Cauldon Falls) | Image by ukgardenphotos | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

West Burton Waterfalls (Cauldon Falls) | Image by ukgardenphotos | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Skipton Woods | Image by James Whitesmith | CC BY-ND 2.0

Skipton Woods | Image by James Whitesmith | CC BY-ND 2.0

I totally blame this article by Daniel Dalton over at BuzzFeed.

Here’s how to get a UK visa in Cebu.

Delightful Venice



This waterlocked Italian city is every bit as pretty as it promises to be. When we stepped off Santa Lucia train station, we were immediately greeted by the sight of colorful old buildings, bridges, boats, birds, and the fabled Grand Canal. And tourists, of course. There are so many of them, one can’t help but wonder where the real Venetians are.


My sister and I were staying in the Lido, a separate island, so the first thing we did was to purchase a 24-hour vaporetto (water bus) pass that would let us take as many boat rides as we wanted. Although cars and other land vehicles are allowed in the Lido, there are none in Venice itself, and every one gets around by walking or taking the vaporetto.

vaporetto travel pass

Vaporetto Pass – 2014 prices (http://www.actv.it/en/movinginvenice/prices)

Our hotel, the Riviera Hotel Venice, was one of the most charming hotels we had ever stayed in. The lobby had the most gorgeous, ornate furniture. Our room on the second floor was cozy. Well, yes, that’s another word for small, but European hotels generally are, and our room was just enough for two people. It was tastefully decorated: pale pink wallpaper, floral moulding, gold chandelier, shabby chic closet. There was a wrought iron table and two chairs in the terrace, which was lush with flowers and vines and overlooked the Gran Viale.


Breakfast the next day was heavenly: cold cuts, crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh bread, butter, jam, pastries, fruits, cereal, milk, coffee, juice. And that’s not even a really exhaustive list. By midmorning, well-fed, we were ready for a day of getting lost in Venice.


And it’s easy: getting lost, literally, in Venice. They say it’s actually part of the experience. Often you don’t know where you are, and sometimes that’s a good thing.


We bought gelato and cookies to enjoy while we walked and looked around. Venice is renowned for its art and architecture; there are churches, museums, the famous Piazza San Marco. There were Carnival masks by the dozen and “Murano glass” made in China.


In the water, gondolas were tied to wooden posts, waiting to treat visitors to that quintessential Venetian experience…for upwards of 80 euros an hour. It must be said that none of the real Venetians ride gondolas anymore, except for the gondoliers themselves. They cut a striking figure as they glided along the canal in their striped black and white shirts, skillfully steering their richly decorated boats. This is the Venice the whole world knows and comes for.


What I really loved, though, were the everyday things. Colorful houses from another age, their white-framed windows accentuated by flowering plants. Walls with paint and plaster genuinely peeling off, revealing a base of faded red bricks. Small canals tucked between buildings, a bridge or two spanning the water. Narrow passageways with charming, occasionally confusing, little signs pointing the way to a well-known Venetian landmark.


Venice is best explored on foot, but one eventually gets tired from all the walking, so at some point we boarded the No. 2 water bus and enjoyed the sights from there. (The No. 1 line is even better for this purpose because of all the stops it makes on both sides of the Grand Canal.) When we had sat through the entire route, we got off at the San Marco stop, bought a cup of coffee, and sat down by the pier, enjoying the Venetian sunset. It was a good day.

Delightful Venice” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.


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Travel Fund 102: The Golden Rule

In Travel Fund 101, we talked about distinguishing between needs, wants, and want-mores as the key to making your fledgling travel fund grow.

I hear you: it’s not easy giving up life’s little pleasures. The first time you give up coffee for your “Barcelona Fund” will probably go okay; the second time, not so much; the third time, you’ll probably start asking yourself, “Is it really worth it?” By the tenth time — if you even reach the tenth time — you will probably hate Barcelona. Instant gratification is always so, well, gratifying, that it will take iron will to save up for a travel dream. I know people who can discipline themselves that way, but most of us (me included) can’t.




You know what?

Don’t save up.

Don’t save up in the usual sense anyway. Don’t keep a piggy bank and drop the coins you save, little by little, day by day, from not having coffee or not going to the latest movie.

Instead, pretend you never had that money in the first place.


This formula is sometimes referred to as the “golden rule” of saving. It means, basically, that you should set aside a certain amount for savings first and use what’s left for your expenses — tailoring, therefore, your expenses to the amount of money left after saving — instead of spending and spending and allocating what’s left, if any, to your savings.

To beef up your travel fund, just tweak that formula a bit:


Set aside an amount for savings and for your travel fund first, then divvy up the rest for your expenses. This way it will hurt only once, and not every time you say no to that overpriced cup of coffee. If your bank has an automatic save-up feature (BPI, for example) you can use that — the bank will automatically divert an amount of your choice to a separate account, you won’t have to regularly exert willpower to do it yourself, and you’ll have the added benefit of watching your travel fund grow online. (It’s its own caffeine-high, trust me.) You will feel the brunt of having less spending money in the first month or so, but you’ll get used to it fast.


This is actually what I did to save up for my trip. One day I thought, “what the heck, let’s do it,” and set aside a full one-third of my monthly salary. (One-third is high, I know, but when I thought about it, I realized I really only had a few actual needs, as opposed to nice-to-haves.) I can’t count the number of times I fretted over having “no money” — tingbitay comes early when you do forced savings — but my travel fund grew, slowly but surely, such that when KLM tickets to Amsterdam went on sale, I was able to snap up a couple.

And, yes, it was worth it. Absolutely.

Travel Fund 102: The Golden Rule” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

How Much Does A European Trip Cost?



This is the question I get asked most often when I talk or write about traveling. Of course, the answer depends on a lot of variables — how many cities you plan to visit, what sort of hotels you prefer, whether you are able to get plane tickets on sale, and so on — but even a ballpark figure would be extremely helpful if you’re planning your own trip.

My usual answer is this: PHP 10,000 per person per day.

Again, this is just an estimate — something to help you put together a budget plan for your trip — and it’s a fairly generous estimate.

(If I had to describe my travel style, I’d say it’s frugal but comfortable. There are travelers who like to compare trip costs — the cheaper, the better — but I don’t. My personal goal is not to have the cheapest vacation, but to have the best vacation within a reasonable budget, and I tend to be willing to pay a bit more for something if it means I would be happier during my trip.)

Also — in addition to itinerary quirks and personal preferences, your daily budget would also vary with how long your entire trip will be: a longer trip would mean a smaller per-day average but a bigger total budget, and vice versa.

Those disclaimers said…PHP 10,000/day should already include:

  • Airfare. This is if (a big if) you are able to get those tickets on sale.
  • Accommodations. You can get low- to mid-range hotels on this budget. Staying in hostels would bring the cost down.
  • Food. One good meal per day, with (hopefully) a free breakfast at the hotel, and a simple sandwich or food from a grocery for the other meal.
  • Transport. Plan on high-speed trains or sleepers between cities and a lot of walking within.
  • Souvenirs. Nothing fancy, just the usual fridge magnets and key chains, but at least.
  • Tickets. Places of interest, museums — just the main tourist spots, really, and angle for free entrances whenever possible. (Click here to get a quick look at the entrance fees to the most popular spots in Paris.)


Obviously, a European vacation isn’t exactly something you can do on loose change, but with a lot of planning and DIY-ing, you can put together a much more cost-efficient and personally meaningful travel experience than when you get one of those one-size-fits-all tour packages from travel agents. Create a travel fund now, so you have cash on hand when a travel opportunity strikes. And start planning your dream itinerary. Luck favors the prepared!

How to afford your dream vacation

  1. Create a travel fund — start now!
  2. Make it grow — take a look at your current expenses and see where you can save.
  3. Force yourself to save by following the golden rule: INCOME minus SAVINGS minus TRAVEL FUND equals EXPENSES.


If you’re the type of traveler who doesn’t mind pinching pennies and putting in the time and energy to scout for good deals on airfare, accommodations, etc., this budget might work better for you:

One week in Paris for only PHP 50,000*

Continue reading

Travel Fund 101

If my nagging in “The Secret To Creating A Healthy Travel Fund” worked the way it was supposed to, you are, by now, in possession of your very own travel fund. Yay! Be it ever so humble — I know a lot of you just set aside P10! — it’s still a pretty good start. Most people never get around to making the transition from dreaming to doing, so congratulations!

The next step — the next challenge — is to make it grow.

Here’s some good news and bad news.

The bad news: you’ll have to make a conscious effort to save in order to make your travel fund grow.


Remember your grade school lessons about the conservation of matter and energy? Yeah? Well, that applies to travel funds too. The money won’t materialize out of thin air; you’ll have to get it from somewhere. To put it another way, travel funds are one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration.

Here’s the good news: money is a stealthy little thing. If you’ve ever looked at your credit card statement and marveled at how those little hundred-peso purchases could add up to a 5-figure balance, or if you’ve ever wondered just where all your hard-earned money went — you know, like 99.9% of us do every month — you know how little things can add up. Way up. Personal finance is one leaky ship.

If that doesn’t sound like the “good news” part, consider this: if you know where the holes are, you know where to install the plugs. Make the money leak back in. Examples:


Coffee. It’s one of life’s little pleasures. But a mocha java a day, or every other day? It adds up. Limit your coffee me-times to, say, once a month and you’ll notice the difference in your total expenditures. Money in the bank is a caffeine high all its own. You can think of it this way: would you rather have a Starbucks, or would you rather have a Starbucks in Paris?

Cabs. Yes, yes, the weather is too hot, taking two rides is too stressful, the conductors are too annoying, etc. But just like no one develops six-pack abs without sacrifice…well, you get my drift. If you spend P120 a day on cabs, and give that up, you could save for round-trip airfare to Paris in less than a year. Think about that.

Clothes. Would you rather have another nice little dress, or would you rather be in Paris wearing a nice little dress, a trench coat and boots? (No contest, right?!)


And that’s just the C’s, really. We all have our own little money leaks. Mine was eating out. (“Would you rather dine out, or would you rather dine out in Paris?”) Yours could be gadgets, or bags, or makeup, or massages.

The important thing is to distinguish between wants and needs, and then — because, obviously, travel is not an actual need — distinguish which wants you want more. “I want to meet the Pope more than I want another Havaianas flip-flop.” Focus on your goal, and remind yourself often of it. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.

So here’s a little assignment before Travel Fund 102. List down what your actual needs are every month, and figure out how much you’re actually spending on non-essentials. Prepare yourself mentally to tweak your spending habits. Don’t worry, you won’t have to take a vow of poverty — you just have to determine which little pleasures you can give up to make room for the huge, life-changing ones.

Travel Fund 101” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

The Secret to Creating A Healthy Travel Fund

…is to create a travel fund.

No, really. I’m not trying to be cute. A trip to Paris or Peru or Patagonia starts with a decision to do it. So do it. I mean it. Right now. Get an extra wallet or an envelope and put money in it. A hundred is okay if that’s all you can spare for now. In fact, if you only have P10, that’s fine. Just do it.

Hey! Go ahead. Do it now. I’ll wait.

You need to do it now because tomorrow you’ll forget, or you’ll think of a reason why you can’t travel just yet, or you’ll say you’ll just wait for the next sweldo. You’ll say you have kids, you’ll say you have debts, you’ll say you have a wedding to plan or a kid brother to send to college. And that’s all very awesome of you, really, but…come on, P10 won’t break your bank.

Coins and plant, isolated on white background

See, creating a travel fund now doesn’t mean it’s going to be the most important thing in your life. It doesn’t mean you’re being selfish. It doesn’t mean you don’t have other responsibilities. (Most of us do, actually.) It is just, quite simply, the very first step to making your travel dreams a reality.

Whether you want to backpack your way around the world, or you just want to go to Rome to see the Pope, if there’s somewhere you want to go, you need funds. And creating a travel fund — nothing more, just creating it, with whatever amount you can spare — is such an easy first step. There’s absolutely no reason not to do it. Okay? So do it.

Seriously, I’m not going to stop bugging you until you do it!


(Are you sure???)


In the next couple of posts, I’m going to share tips on how to make that travel fund grow. And I’m going to share what I know on how to get good deals for flights, trains, hotels, etc. (And, hey, you may even have tricks of your own. Let’s trade.)

For now, to end this post, let me just say: well done.

What you did right there — that’s huge. Lao Tzu probably wasn’t thinking of travel when he said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” but if he was, that single step — you’ve done it. Congratulations! 🙂

“The Secret to Creating A Healthy Travel Fund” | LSS | Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

Qatar Airways HQ 300x250

Travel Is My Soul Food

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. 🙂