12 Lessons from the Road
1. Count your blessings.
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.
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.
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.
4. We’re all special in our own way.
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!)
5. Kindness is a universal language.
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.
6. See what’s there.
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.
7. Kababayans have your back.
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.
8. There’s no substitute for hard work.
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.
9. There’s no place like home.
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.)
10. You get what you give.
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.
11. The future isn’t guaranteed.
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.
12. Your ordinary can be beautiful.
“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.)
And an extra lesson I shan’t elaborate for now: you are stronger than you think.