Bless Their Hearts

Paris_Gaya_SGMTWhen I get negative reactions to something I write, I try not to respond in kind. For one, it’s likely to be a waste of time — people believe what they want to believe — but also, I don’t want people to know that they can get to me. When your work depends, at least in part, on public sentiment, it’s a risk to react in the normal human way, to show that insensitive and poorly thought out comments can hurt you, that you’re anything other than a good sport, that you care.


To be a writer you need to develop thick skin. Here in the WordPress community, it isn’t always necessary — people here are generally smart and open-minded and kind (or at least polite). It’s different in the outside world. You could write something totally innocuous and get a ton of negativity for it.

One time, I wrote an article about how to go on a trip to Paris for only ‚āĪ50,000. You see, I used to not even dream about European trips because I thought only the filthy rich would be able to afford them, so when I found my non-filthy-rich self there and learned ways to keep down travel expenses, I was eager to share everything I had learned. When Rappler published my article I was beyond elated…and then I saw the comments.

Only for the hotel

Why go if you don't have the budget

Filipinos are struggling

Continue reading

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.

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! ūüėÄ 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. ūüôā You’re brilliant — the world just doesn’t know it yet.)

. 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.

Putting yourself out there in blogging
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 


How to Create Your Own Travel Blog: Making It Your Own


In How to Create Your Own Travel Blog in 3 Easy Steps, we counted down the steps to creating your own travel blog. Now let’s count up the ways you can make it the next big thing in travel (or at least a really nice blog).


Pick a theme.

A theme is basically what your blog looks like. You can read all about Themes here.

Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains uses the Reddle theme. I chose it because it allows me to customize the header all the way across the page; I can also customize the drop-down menu. And I love that there’s a lot of white space.

Before I settled on Reddle, there were a lot of other themes that I considered. Twenty Twelve has a clean format and a special front page template. Writr is minimalist, with an on-trend flat design and a disciplined use of color. Chunk, like Reddle, contains a lot of white space — ideal for focusing on content — and the bold type of the header is eye-catching. You can browse through all available WordPress themes here, which you can sort by popularity, free/premium, etc.

If you’re creating a travel blog, keep in mind what sort of content you’re planning to publish — travelogues? photos? magazine-type articles? — and try to choose a theme that will allow your stuff to shine. For example, some themes’ front page consists of tiles of photos — perfect if you’re a decent photographer and you want to put the focus on your photos, but probably not playing up to your strengths if your forte is writing.


Customize your header.

If your theme allows it, customizing your header will go a long way towards putting your personal stamp on your blog. You can learn how to upload an image and make it your header here.

There is of course no standard color palette for travel blogs, but if you’re creating your own header image (like I did), colors are something you might want to keep in mind. Think of the travel sites you like looking at — do you gravitate towards certain colors? If your travels are nature-oriented, perhaps you’ll want to have a palette that calls the earth, sea, and sky to mind. If you’re a scuba diver, say, perhaps blues and greens — or perhaps a monochromatic palette, which will allow your photos to pop that much more. No need to overthink it, though — if you want, you can just go over to Design Seeds and pick a color palette you like. I chose “happy” colors for my header image because, well, traveling makes me happy and I wanted my blog to be a happy, lighthearted blog. (Although I have¬†been posting a lot of “heartbroken” articles recently, so I’m not sure how that worked out, haha.)


Acquaint yourself with WordPress features.

Before you publish your first post, it’s a good idea to make at least minimal acquaintance with the features of your chosen blogging platform — for the purposes of this article, WordPress. Here are the ones I’ve personally bookmarked:

You don’t have to become a WordPress expert — I’ve published over 200 posts and there are still so many things I don’t know — but it’s nice to know the differences between a post and a page (pages don’t have tags, for example) before you actually do publish a post or a page.

And speaking of which…



Don’t get stage fright. Just do it.

If you aren’t sure where to start, here are a few ideas for a first post:

  • Who are you? What do you do? Why have you decided to start your own blog?
  • Why do you travel? When and where did the travel bug bite you? What does travel mean to you and how has it transformed your life?
  • If an upcoming trip is the inspiration for your new blog, write about it. Why did you choose that destination? How are you preparing for the trip?
  • List 20 random things about you. Make sure to include travel-related tidbits.

Last 4 tips:

  • Turn to the experts. The folks at The Daily Post have put together several ebooks about blogging (all free!) that I’ve personally found very valuable.
  • Participate in prompts. Whether it’s the Daily Prompt or the weekly Writing Challenge/Photo Challenge, prompts are a great source of blogging inspiration and may even get your blog noticed. Bonus tip: Whenever I get an idea for a travel article, I would write it down and keep it in mind, even though I don’t have the time to flesh it out yet. When a prompt comes up that’s a perfect match for one of those ideas, that’s when I force myself to find the time to write. This is how my one Freshly Pressed post The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto came to life.
  • Interact with the blogging community. Read and leave thoughtful comments on other bloggers’ posts. Follow those blogs you consistently enjoy reading, even those that are not travel-related. Learn from the best. I don’t know of a good writer who isn’t, first of all, a reader.
  • Lastly: enjoy! You’ll soon learn that blogging takes time and energy, especially if you try to do it well, and if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, it will only be too easy to give up. Figure out a writing style and schedule that works for you. Post about the things you are most passionate about. Don’t try to imitate or impress others. The best blogs are those that are extensions of the bloggers themselves, and the only person you really have to satisfy — first, foremost, and fully — is yourself.

How to Create Your Own Travel Blog: Making It Your Own” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.


You might want to read my other musings on writing (travel or otherwise):

How to Create Your Own Travel Blog in 3 Easy Steps

Or any blog for that matter.

flipflops_When I first toyed with the idea of blogging, I was frankly skeptical. Who would want to read my blog? Who cares what I have to say? Isn’t it just vanity and presumption on my part to think that people out there would want to waste their time on my writings?

Others have their own doubts and roadblocks. “I don’t write well.” “I’m not Internet savvy.” “I’m not sure I’ll have the time to keep it up.”

But there’s just one question you have to ask yourself: do you want¬†to have your own travel blog?

Perhaps you want to have a place to store your travel memories. Perhaps you want to share all the things you’ve learned to others — tips, tricks, things you wish you’d known before you arrived at a certain destination. Or perhaps you just want a venue for collecting your thoughts: sifting through moments, distilling life lessons learned on the road. Whatever your reasons are, if you want to do it, then do it.

And as for not being good enough —

One of my favorite inspirational quotes right now (and ever) was actually just a throwaway line uttered on a noontime show by a little girl who is most known for being funny and dancing the cha-cha. She probably doesn’t even remember saying it. She said:


“I’m not really good at what I do. I just have guts.” (Ryzza Mae Dizon)

And that’s all one really needs: just enough courage to go ahead and do it (no matter what anybody thinks).

Let’s count down how:

1_choose a blogging platform
Choose a blogging platform.

That is, choose which site you want to host your blog. You can go for WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, or any of the other blogging platforms out there.

Years ago I started with Blogger — it is very easy to use. Tumblr I haven’t had experience with, but they say it’s great for blogs that focus on photos and videos. And Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains is obviously on WordPress (or maybe not obviously — I treated myself to a custom domain name that eliminates the .wordpress from the URL).

I like WordPress myself. It has more features than Blogger, which I love because I like tinkering. That also means that it takes slightly more time to learn how to use — I found myself intimidated by the Dashboard at first — but you don’t have to worry. WordPress has a lot of clearly-written Support articles that will hold your hand through the learning process. The Learn page, for example, is a great step-by-step guide for absolute beginners and is the page I probably referred to the most when I was creating my blog.

I’ll be talking about WordPress features for the rest of this article (because it is obviously the platform I’m most familiar with) but feel free to choose whatever you decide¬†will suit you best. And don’t overthink it. It’s easy enough to switch to another platform if you feel your first choice isn’t working —¬†or challenging enough¬†—¬†for you.

2_sign up and set up your blog address
Sign up and set up your blog address.

Signing up is very easy. This is what the WordPress signup page looks like:


Just 4 boxes to fill up! All you need is a working email address.

On this step you will be choosing a web address for your blog. Now, because the possibilities are endless, you’ll probably also find yourself hesitating and procrastinating endlessly. But, again, don’t overthink it. You’ll have just-as-endless opportunities to change your blog address later.

You will also have the choice of sticking with your¬†free address (eg, or buying a custom domain name (eg, Having your own domain name is obviously very nice and it adds a bit more legitimacy to your blog (as well as providing you with extra incentive to post — surely you’re not going to pay $18 for an empty blog!) but you don’t have to worry about it if you’re not sure you want to commit just yet. It’s something you can decide on later.

For more info, see: Learn WordPress >> Get Started >>
Picking a web address

3_name your blog and create your tagline
Name your blog and create your tagline.

If you’re creating a travel blog, an ideal name would be something that at least hints¬†at the fact that it’s a travel blog — while differentiating itself from the million other travel blogs out there.

Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains probably isn’t the best choice for a blog name. For one, if you type that phrase in the Google search bar, all you’ll get will probably be lyrics and videos of the Journey song Don’t Stop Believin’. Also, some of the people who stumble onto my blog are actually searching for, um, girls. (Move along, peeps; it’s not that kind of site.) Overall, though, I’m pretty satisfied with my blog name because: (1) it’s a little¬†catchy (at least for those who know the song); (2) there’s no other blog with a name like it (as far as I know); and (3) it’s pretty representative of what I envision my blog to be: a source of travel inspiration for people who may not have a lot of money (“small-town girls”) but have dreams of traveling the world (“midnight trains”).

Your title will be the face of your blog, but your tagline will give you an extra opportunity to communicate your blog’s personality — that is, what it’s about, who it’s for, what it aims to accomplish. Taglines are a bit of an art form; there are many taglines out there that I wish I’d thought of first. If you feel like you need more time to create a witty tagline, all you need to do is erase the generic tagline assigned to you by WordPress and come back to it at a later date.

For more info, see: Learn WordPress >> Get Started >> Configure basic site settings

And that’s it! You’re done!

You have a travel blog. That was easy, wasn’t it? Okay, you have a zygote¬†of a blog. It’s not even a skeleton, a framework of a blog, just yet. But you’ve accomplished the critical first steps; and as you explore your chosen platform’s features and start channeling your creative energy into it, you’ll be amazed at how quickly and easily your blog can grow.

Countdown |¬†“How to Create Your Own Travel Blog in 3 Easy Steps was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.¬†

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.

Travel Writing: To List or Not To List


That is the question.

That is the question.

Having just published “16 Places in Batanes That Will Make You Never Want to Leave (or Make You Start Planning Your Return ASAP!)” it may seem like I am firmly on the “to list” camp. Just look at that title: cardinal number – check. Exaggeration – check. I even added an exclamation point for an extra chunk¬†of cheesiness. If I had sworn an oath I could not have made it any clearer where my allegiance lies.

It wasn’t too long ago, though, when I was firmly on the other side of the listicle fence.

A listicle, says Wikipedia, is "a short-form of writing that uses a list as its thematic structure, but is fleshed out with sufficient copy to be published as an article."

A listicle, says Wikipedia, is “a short-form of writing that uses a list as its thematic structure, but is fleshed out with sufficient copy to be published as an article.”

It wasn’t the quality of writing that I had an issue with. I don’t believe (like this guy here) that listicles are “lazy and shallow” and that people who write them “desperately needed the money.” It is true that listicles are a writing style that can be more easily “hacked” by the talentless; putting a thousand words together does take a wee bit more effort. That said, if you’re a bad writer, a longer format won’t make you better — it will just make you more insufferable. There is as much opportunity to write crap in long-form articles as there is in list-form articles. Length does not guarantee quality; brevity, even in list form, surely does not exclude it. (Read Carlos Lozada’s enjoyable review of Roy Peter Clark’s book How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times¬†here.)

For some reason it’s often *these people who are very vocal about listicles destroying culture and making people dumb or whatever. Existential crisis much?

So why was I initially a listicle snob? I guess they were just too…mainstream for my taste. Everyone was writing them, everyone was reading them, everyone was sharing them on Facebook. I guess I just wanted to be different. (It’s like how I used to adore Benedict Cumberbatch until everyone started crushing on him.)

But then — once I got over my plebeian desire to be snobbish — I started thinking. Whether I like it or not,¬†people like¬†reading listicles, and they like reading listicles for a reason. (Steven Poole lists 9-ish of those reasons here.) As a communication tool, listicles work, and if my goal in writing is to communicate, it’s a format I shouldn’t outright dismiss just because it’s common. Besides some things really are better in list form. Humor pieces, for example, are particularly¬†suited to the listicle format because: (1) no one likes a joke that takes 1000 words to tell; but (2) no one likes to click on a link just to read two or three sentences; so (3) a series of funny things provides the perfect payoff per unit of effort by the reader.

Travel writers are also prone to use (and abuse) lists. For one, much of travel planning lends itself to itemizing: things to do, places to see, stuff to pack and how to pack them.

I mean, a small tube of Colgate doesn't exactly cost the earth! But, hey, to each his own.

I mean, a small tube of Colgate doesn’t exactly cost the earth! (Or am I just too lazy? Okay.)

And then there is the travel write-up itself. Travelogues, I think, should be a bit more in-depth; ideally, there has to be something in them — a reflection, a mishap, a lightbulb moment — that differentiates the writer’s experience of, say, Paris from everyone else and their aunts’ experience of Paris. But for overviews, highlights, tips, and how-tos, lists are a perfectly acceptable format.¬†(In fact, if you’re not going to make an effort to be engaging, I actually recommend¬†you write lists instead.)

This is not to say that I have become crazy about lists or that I’m going to be writing nothing but listicles from now on. I still hope to eventually acquire the skill of writing paragraphs so compelling, dozens of them will go by without the reader sinking into torpor. What I’m merely trying to say is that listicles are a legitimate art form, and if you or I want to create one, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Certainly we shouldn’t hold back just because of what the literary upper-class might think.

“I have no cause to complain,” shrugged Tolkien once, “since I have similar opinions of their works.” In other words: haters gonna hate. In the end, the goal of every writer should not be to write long, but to write well.


Travel Writing: To List or Not To List” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. | For¬†Pie

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! ūüôā I survived, by the way.