The dream to travel the world can be a long shot for third-world citizens like myself. I don’t come from a filthy rich family with the luxury of yearly excursions to foreign places of the world nor am I a fortunate long-term traveler set on collecting countries. I am just an average Filipina who, through a series of favorable events, was miraculously able to travel to 7 different countries across 3 continents in the span of exactly 12 months; 3 of these countries, I’ve visited twice.
I can’t really believe such a feat myself. The only time I was able to travel internationally in my pre-adult life was when my parents finally took me on a trip to North America to visit relatives. I was only 11 years old back then and my idea of a good time was flipping through the foreign cable channels in hotels in total awe of western commercials. I was naive and at the back of my mind, I thought of the possibility of that trip being my last international one. Obviously and fortunately, it wasn’t so.
My trips weren’t bundled in a convenient country-hopping extravaganza: they happened for different successive reasons. Here is how my year panned out:
1. Cambodia (August-September 2013)
It had been my 1st international trip after more than a decade and I was crazy enough to make it my first ever legit solo trip. I had won the Responsible Travel Contest of the social enterprise, The Soria Maria Boutique Hotel, and I was given an all-expense paid trip. That trip has totally changed my life in ways I never thought it would. My interest in sustainable social businesses and foreign cultures had taken root. It was the 1st time I met people from Couchsurfing and the 1st time I went dancing in the rain (I have no childhood, sorry). And I met awesome people that I am sure I would have never spoken to if I had the security of a friend tagging along with me.
2. France (September 2013)
I was having a lot of YOLO moments in 2013 and since I was going to Slovenia for a sponsored youth summit, I figured I’d make valuable use of the carbon-footprint of traveling to Europe from Asia by seeing the world-renowned city of Paris. I had less than two months to put together this crazy trip so I just went for it. This was the 1st time I ever tried couchsurfing and I was completely enamoured by all the stylish people. I went budget-backpacker style (although I lugged around a huge trolley than an actual backpack) and went only to free attractions.
3. Italy (September 2013)
Truth be told, the idea of going on this mini-Eurotrip started with the thought of flying into Europe through Venice since this was cheaper than taking transits to Slovenia. Then I realized Rome was just a train away. Then I realized, why not Paris as well? I had to stop myself from planning to start my trip from Amsterdam due to the time, money, and experience constraints. I have met some lovely Italian people in Cambodia and I visited them in Bologna. One of them was nice enough to hook me up for an amazing stay with his brother in Rome. I am so thankful for his hospitality to an almost total stranger. The last stop of this ballsy DIY trip was Venice.
4. Slovenia (September 2013)
This underrated country is my favorite European country so far! With it’s natural views, it trumps the famous France and Italy in my book. I’m quite a nature-lover and the breathtaking view of Lake Bled is something I wish to experience more that once. I would have never thought of visiting (nor would I have even known) Slovenia if it wasn’t for the Challenge:Future Summit 2013. I was able to participate from winning 2nd place in the Skill:Up Challenge. By now it would sound unoriginal to say yet again, that this Summit changed my life! I gained so many friends from different countries of the world and I have found the topics from the conferences really relevant to my life.
5. Singapore (September-October 2013)
The Singapore journey was supposed to be my 1st international trip from my own savings and I planned this with two other friends. We had booked these promo airline fares several months in advance and it was in shitty odds that the schedule of our trip coincided with the dates of the Challenge:Future Summit. I was a person of my word, so I arranged to fly from Europe to Singapore to meet my friends even for a few days from our original trip plan.
6. USA (February-May 2014)
It still blows my mind that I have been selected to be part of The Sustainable Cup Challenge of The DO School program in New York City. The program is a social entrepreneurship fellowship and the 17 inspiring international young fellows and I were tasked to find a solution to the vibrant city’s coffee cup wastes. We ended up creating The Good to Go campaign while enjoying the fast-paced work environment of the Big Apple. To date, it has been the longest time I’ve been away from home, and I’ve met some of the most interesting and awesome people.
7. Canada (August 2014)
If I had not gotten my buzzer beater Canadian visa (it arrived 4 days before our scheduled departure), the story would just be about 6 countries and would sound less cooler. One of my only 2 cousins from my father’s side of the family had gotten engaged and I was honorably invited to be one of her bride’s maids. I flew with my parents (my trip sponsors) to Saskatoon and had a nostalgic time since this was the same destination of my very 1st international trip when I was a kid. The wedding was lovely and I got to meet a lot of new Filipino-Canadian friends. It was also my 1st time to experience a western matrimonial ceremony which, although Catholic, was a bit different from Filipino traditions.
Lovelier the second time around
If you’ve been wondering about the 3 countries I visited twice in the same year, they were France, USA and Canada. My flight to Singapore was taken from Paris and I had a long layover so I took the opportunity to see the city of love the 2nd time around in the same month! My parents would always visit USA whenever they dropped by Canada so they had to take me with them. My childhood best friend was living near the bay area so I stayed with her for a couple of weeks. I had the opportunity to visit Niagara Falls in New York State and since I still had a valid visa, I was able to enjoy the view from both the USA and Canada side. The year was well spent.
How I made it happen
This isn’t just a self-indulgent article about what an awesome year I had. There are moral lessons to this story, I promise. They manifest through these 4 ways:
1. I made an actual intention to travel the world.
A lot people make wishful thoughts and say to themselves, “Someday, I’m gonna see the world!” This was one of my delirious mindsets growing up, along with “someday I’m gonna be filthy rich” and “someday I’m gonna be ridiculously famous”. I wouldn’t discount the fact that some circumstances are really limiting and not everybody has the freedom to pursue such endeavors whenever they wish (unlike what some travel campaigns would say).
I came to a point in my life that I assessed my situation, although not perfect, was workable enough to allow me to travel. So I wrote down a bucket list of random activities and places I wanted to experience. It was a very long list but I was surprised to see a lot of those items fulfilled within a year. Call it manifestation or the law of attraction, but whatever it is, it worked for me. But beyond mindset, the key for me was to take a bold action towards even one of those.
2. I was persistent after failing countless times.
As I’ve mentioned above, I scored three trips from winning competitions and getting scholarships. It may sound like I cruise through these contests and selection processes by sheer awesomeness, but the reality is, that I must have applied to programs and have joined seemingly impossible contests more than a dozen times. I got rejected and failed in most of them. I had started applying for different opportunities since April of 2012 and only scored an international trip in August of 2013. That is more than a year of tearful losses and rejections! I also joined a lot of local youth programs in those times, which gave me experience to come up with better solutions.
Up until 2012, I had NEVER won anything significant in my life. I think it’s also worth pointing out that I was never an honors student, I was never regarded as extraordinarily talented at anything and I wasn’t part of my college student government. Looking back, I wish I was all those things and I probably could have achieved so much more by now. But I want to let you know that it’s never too late to be a so-called “achiever”. But the longer you wait to pursue your big goals, the harder it will be to get them.
3. I saved up money.
Travel blog cliché #1. Unless you were born with a silver spoon, fork or chopstick in your mouth, I believe this step is necessary. I have been employed full-time for more than two years before I made an international trip. Although I did a lot of local excursions, I was still a squirrel storing acorns for the winter. I rarely ate out in pricey restaurants and I didn’t go on shopping sprees. I never graduated from “college apparel” and I was always on the look out for cheaper deals. After about a year of renting a condo in Makati with my sister, we eventually moved back home with our parents. I have no shame in this because it’s very common and generally wise for single adults to stay with their parents in the Philippines. The purchasing power of the middle class versus the average salary is so much lower in the third-world countries compared to developed nations. Living below my means (before traveling) had become a lifestyle for me so I was able to have enough extra money for all the spontaneity in my big travel year.
4. I quit my full-time job.
Travel blog cliché #2. I wish my story was “I found a wonderful job that entails a lot of sponsored travel all over the world and now you can eat your heart out in envy of my instagram-perfect life”. But it’s not the case (YET!). I fall in the “cubicle dweller” category of people who get by from paycheck to paycheck. For those twelve months, I have been out of the country for a total of almost 5 months and the annual vacation leaves would not have covered it. It was a huge sacrifice but it was worth it for me. I had quit my full-time job right before my Europe trip and at that time I didn’t even know I would get to spend months in the USA. Going freelance-style meant I was open to receive all those opportunities that the universe sent my way. There were also a lot of other factors that I considered before giving up my tenureship, all the benefits and the comforts of my old full-time job. Having some money saved up also helped a lot in my transition.
I share these stories because I have always been inspired from reading other blogger’s travel beginnings, and I am pretty sure they have influenced me in kicking off my own. Hopefully my story will resonate with someone out there who is itching to see the more of the world. I would love to hear your own travel feats! Link to your blog below or comment about your one year travel goal. Use the comment section as a travel declaration and I’ll try to check back on your goal in one year’s time.