— travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams —

travel inspiration for small budgets and big dreams

♥  ♥
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!


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. 🙂

216 Responses

  1. Hi, I am so glad you dropped by my blog, it has lead me back to you. I loved your piece on Venice, having visited there it brought back wonderful memories. I am an oldie, who worked hard for a long time, watched by kids grow up, and now have time to travel, and to photograph the places we get to!
    Your writing is refreshing, and I am sure you will inspire many new travellers. thanks again from dropping by, I look forward to following your blog.

    1. Thank you so much! I am glad you are getting to travel and enjoy life. What you said — “I am an oldie, who worked hard for a long time, watched by kids grow up, and now have time to travel, and to photograph the places we get to!” — that is what I dream for myself as well. If you get a chance, come visit the Philippines!

  2. Hello 🙂
    I really like your blog it reflects your personality. I hope I can be like you. And thank you so much for liking my blogs. I did not expect it. 🙂

    1. Hey!! I went over to your blog and I can’t even begin to list the coincidences. I saw you were in Paris in 2012; my sister and I were there 2011. That moment you described when your taxi went over the Pont Neuf — that’s exactly how I felt when I emerged from the subway at Champ de Mars. I went back earlier this year, and it looks like you’ll be going back this year too! I am excited for you, and a little bit jealous at the same time. 🙂 I’ll be following your blog too. Good luck and happy travels!

  3. I appreciate you dropping by my blog. Yours is very impressive! Someday, i’ll get to visit Europe too, I am a dreamer!

  4. My feelings exactly – it’d be lovely to just up and leave at the drop of a hat, but when you need money and time away from work to gallivant the globe, it isn’t so easy to satiate your wanderlust! Nice to meet another ordinary person who is dreaming big, can’t wait to read more of your adventures 🙂

    1. Yay! I think there are actually a lot of us out there, people who love to travel and immerse in different cultures but can’t afford (or even necessarily want) to cut themselves off from their old lives. It’s just the up-and-leave ones who, I guess, are more vocal or get more exposure. 🙂 Your blog is awesome. 🙂

  5. I love your mentality and how you long to see every inch of this earth. You are a beautifully evocative writer. I’m looking forward to reading more.

  6. What a lovely blog you have 🙂 Love the honest and candid intro! As a “fellow wanderer”, we are keen to read about your travel adventures! As it sounds like you squeeze them in whenever you can, much like we do 🙂

  7. Hi! Thank you for dropping by my blog, and even liked my “about”. I’m a newbie here and hoping to enhance my writing skills through blogging. Haven’t browse your posts yet but I’m quite sure I’ll get inspired with what you’re sharing. Thanks again! 🙂

  8. I seen your page name, only one came into my mind, I remember a lyrics of journey song, don’t stop believing :), I like that song, found your site, I like it too, thanks for liking my post, have a nice day 🙂

    1. Hi Bert! I did get my site name from that song. The idea of a girl from a small town taking a midnight train going somewhere she’s never been — that’s how I think about travel, and about the adventure of life in general. 🙂 Thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  9. Reading this about page was like reading about myself, you described everything I feel about traveling! Thank you very, very much for visiting my blog and so in turn I could find this one, it is wonderful.
    Lorna ^_^

    1. Thank you Grace! We have a saying in the Philippines: “libre ang mangarap” (roughly, dreams don’t cost a thing), so there’s nothing stopping us from dreaming! 🙂 I’m excited to read more from your blog; congrats on your own Freshly Pressed post. Cheers!

  10. I love your blog …very well done! I have not traveled much, but maybe one day …and for now I shall take time, when I can, to visit your blog and live experiences through your eyes and writings.

  11. i love your point about traveling not just being for those who can afford to stay at the Ritz. thank god there are more of the other kind out there– otherwise think of how boring adventuring would be…

  12. Hi,

    Hope everything is going well in your life!

    I’m Nancy and am a freelancer. During searching I found your blog very interesting.
    The writer in me is yearning to contribute a piece for your blog, maybe around 400-500 words, or whatever you are okay with.
    I will feel very happy to write for your blog.
    Awaiting your positive response.


  13. I love your travel blogs! I wonder if you are open to freelance blogging opportunities either full time or part time. Please feel free to contact me vi email 🙂

  14. Your site is so inspiring for an aspiring traveler (in a very tight budget) like me. I can’t deny how I can relate to you.. YES, I’m a small girl with big travel dreams (but never tried traveling yet even outside Cebu haha). Will definitely follow your adventures! Good bless!

  15. 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? ^^

    1. 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!

      1. Hi po ask ko lng ,plano po naming mag vacation sa thailand with my foreigner boyfriend , first time ko po mag tour , ano po ba ang dapat kung dalhin na requarmints

  16. Cebu is also my second home where some of my family are. Love it dearly…but am unfortunately stuck living in Manila for the time being!

    1. 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

  17. 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!

      1. Hey! I am thinking of trying to start a blogging/writing group for those of us in Cebu. Would you be interested in helping to start such a group 🙂

      2. 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. 🙂

  18. 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!

  19. 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! 🙂

  20. 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?

    1. 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. 🙂

      1. 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.

    1. Hehe. Thanks! Maayo nuon! Sometimes we need to be reminded of what’s possible. 😉

  21. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

  22. 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! 🙂

    1. 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!

    2. 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

  23. 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.

    1. 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! 🙂

      1. 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 😉

      2. 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.

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

  24. 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.

    1. 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

  25. 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 🙂

    1. 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!

  26. 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!

    1. 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!

  27. 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!

  28. 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

  29. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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

      2. 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.

    1. 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.

    1. Hi Zyra.

      I’m very sorry — this is a travel blog, not a travel agency, and so we don’t do things like assisting people applying for passports.

      If you need professional help with processing your passport application, I can recommend Bindle Travel & Tours —

      Alternatively, if you are willing to learn how to do it yourself, you can read the following articles:

  30. 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

  31. 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.

    1. Thank you Lorelle! I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog as well. Happy travels to you and your family and best of luck with your blog.

  32. hi i read a lot of yr posts, and not found yet about why in philippines u need to be baptised before can apply for passport, my gf was denied and must obtain a baptism form also a 137 for from her school to continue, , i asked what if muslim,,, witch i see they must have a correct form and recorded, but really baptism, witch she informed me she has never been baptised, , so what next, its agaist yr human rights to force someone to believe in a religion , witch just about every one is corrupt, , and there making us do this,,,, load of bola bola i ever heard my life

    1. A baptismal certificate is NOT a requirement for a passport. You can take a look at the official list of requirements HERE. If an applicant has no birth record, a baptismal certificate CAN be submitted to support a newly registered birth certificate, but it doesn’t have to be a baptismal certificate; it can be any public document with the applicant’s correct date and place of birth.

  33. Hi miss gaya good day I have a boyfriend po from holland gusto nya po sana pumunta ako dun but we both don’t have any idea? I need a tourist visa po ba? At kelangan ko din po ng inviting document from him thank you for the response

    1. Hi Geline! Thanks so much for your kind words! Did you send me an email about the visa pack? I looked through my Inbox but didn’t spot one from the email address you’re using here. Let me know. Thanks!

  34. Hi Ms. Gaya, travelling to Europe is one of my biggest dreams. Last Monday, I already applied for Schengen Visa and they already informed me to collect my passport on this coming Monday. I am hoping for the Schengen visa sticker on my passport. I really love your blog. Keep inspiring us. God bless.

    1. Hi Cho!

      So how was it, did you get a Visa? 🙂 I hope you did!

      Thanks so much for this comment. It really makes me happy when I’m able to help/inspire other people to travel and keep dreaming.


  35. Hi Can you please send me your Detailed travel itinerary which you used for the Netherlands Visa.
    I am going to apply for Netherlands and have the plan to visit the paris too.

    1. Hi Tina / Pinay Biz,

      I sent the Visa Pack to you on Fri, Mar 30, 2018 at 8:39 AM.

      You can see the screenshot here:

      And the Gmail message details are here:

      Could you please re-check your Inbox and maybe your Spam folder as well?

      I can also resend them to you or to an alternate email address if you like. Just let me know.


  36. Hi Gaya,

    I’ve read your article on Rappler about getting a Schengen visa from the Italian embassy. I come from Manila but I’ll be relocating to Bohol this month. I am planning to travel to Europe for 3 months in winter.

    How long did it take for you to get your visa/passport back after you applied in VIA Cebu?

    I need my passport back a month before I start traveling to Europe for a short trip to Taiwan.

    I only experienced applying for a Japanese visa and it took roughly 10 days before I got my passport back. Will it be quite the same as Schengen visa with application thru VIA Cebu Italian embassy?

    Hope to hear from you, thanks!

    1. Hi Neon!

      I think the processing times depend on the season. When I first got a visa through VIA Cebu, I applied in November, I was the only one in the office, and I got my visa after a week. This year, we applied in February, there were tons of other applicants (because Holy Week and summer was coming up), and some of us got our visas ~17 days after application. Some of us had to submit additional documents and got the visas ~32 days after application.

      I would recommend that you apply as early as possible (as early as 90 days before your departure for Europe) and that way you can be sure to have your passport back by the time you leave for Taiwan.

      Good luck! 🙂

  37. Hi. You’re college mate Aurea pointed me to your blog and I fell in love. Reminded me of myself at a time when I wrote travel blogs for a Flip mag in Indiana. Made me want to document my wanderlust again. Keep it up!

    1. Hi Soc! Thanks so much for your kind words. <3 Please give Aurea a hug from me the next time you see her. And if you do go back to writing about your travels again, please share a link here! -Gaya

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