Updated: Apr 5, 2020
The travel bug bit me in my early 20s. I would randomly go to any place within the Philippines just to get away from the chaos of Manila. I always got questioned by the locals in every province I visit why I'm by myself since it's not very common for a Filipina to do such a thing. And to avoid having to come up with some explanation, I just say I have a friend who will follow in the coming days.
It's considered weird for a Filipina during my time, early 2000s, to travel by herself. Since Philippines is more of a collective culture than individualistic, people just assume you could be prone to danger or get bored without a companion. But not me. I've always had the curiosity and the guts of a solo traveler so I took the leap and did it.
After getting comfortable wandering around the Philippines alone, I asked my brother to join me in a backpacking trip all over Southeast Asia. And when I got the confidence from there, I started to travel by myself in different parts of the world. I've been to a total of 24 countries (I have yet to count how many cities) and lived in 4 of them.
My peak backpacking years were the times when there were no smart phones, no GPS, blogging wasn't a trend and AirBnB isn't available yet. Hence, I relied on maps, travel pocketbooks, point and shoot digital camera, staying at youth hostels, pen and paper, talking to local strangers and co-backpackers for survival and documentation. I savored each and every experience organically without having to worry about posting on social media or shoot a YouTube video. I created strong bonds in every destination as we had meaningful conversations and friendships. And most importantly, I soaked in every scenery, cuisine, tour and encounter with so much appreciation because I was doing it for myself, not to impress whoever on Instagram.
So now, whenever I see all these millennials posting their travel photos to impress the world, I simply smile. They may have better photos and more viewership online but I sure went way ahead and did it all the old school way minus the pressure to show off on social media.
As I browse randomly at these beautiful photos of my youth, I feel really proud that I followed my heart and explored the world because the investment is so worth it. Most of the Filipinas my age during my time chose to just settle back home, build a career, a business or a family. But I took the road less travelled. I gambled my hard earned money from Philippine show business into becoming worldly and cultured by experiencing what Asia, North America, Australia, Africa and Europe had to offer.
Here are my personal realizations in each of the 24 countries I have visited.
This country taught me to be resilient, humble, profound and joyful amidst life adversities. If I didn't have these traits instilled in my system, I wouldn't be able to get through my cancer diagnosis and treatment. The strength that comes from being a Filipina is truly something to be proud of.
Hong Kong (2008)
I was at the peak of my carefree, wild days when I visited HongKong so I spent too much on unnecessary shopping and partied way too hard. I don't regret doing so but as I look back, my HK experience taught me to not let consumerism and peer pressure get me into doing things just to fit in.
This country taught me that outsourcing for cheaper alternative in terms of business is always possible. All it takes is good research and the right negotiation. Oh, and gambling is fun but can be highly addicting. So know when to enjoy the game and when to stop.
I have a best friend who lives here so I used to come here often to spend time with her when I was based in Manila. It's not my favorite city in Asia but it taught me that home can be felt in the company you're with, even if you feel like a stranger in the place itself. And man made stuff ain't so bad.
Bintan Island is filled with tranquility that is hard to describe in words. I felt like I was a little child all over again, stripped down from all the pretentiousness in the Philippine showbiz world. It was the first time I actually learned the importance of having a quiet isolated time away from all the craziness of my 20s.
Standing in between the Petronas Towers gave me this feeling of grandiose. These gorgeous twins possess a very majestic architecture planted right at the heart of Kuala Lumpur. I was 26 by then, feeling at my prime and ready to conquer the world. And these towers gave me the powerful boost I was looking for.
My memorable moment in Thailand was in the Tiger Temple. It was always a dream of mine to hang out and pet a tiger and I did! This country gave me the opportunity to turn a scary dream into an awesome reality as well as conquer my fear. I always smile looking at this photo. What an adrenaline rush!
I'm not the type to experience spirits or the like but while being in one of the temples of Cambodia, I had goosebumps all over my body which suddenly disappeared the moment I stepped out. This country will be unforgettable for me as I experienced my sixth sense work for the very first and only time.
This country was the last leg of me and brother's backpacking trip in Southeast Asia so my entire stay there was all about reminiscing the great adventures that we had. This country made me appreciate Asian culture and camaraderie. The smile and warmth of the Vietnamese people are priceless!
Now I understand why America is one of the most powerful nations in the world. They are known for their professionalism, efficiency, and consumerism skills. The first time I ever stepped in New York City, I felt like I was on top of the world. Ah, freedom, bravery, and money... such aphrodisiacs!
I was originally gonna visit someone here but it didn't work out. I was thinking of just cancelling but I decided to go ahead anyway and thank God I did! This country is one of the cleanest I've ever visited with the most polite people! And they sure know how to dress up nicely for the rain and the outdoors!
Living here as a student, bartender and salesperson after coming from being a celebrity in the Philippines was a very humbling experience. It was the first time I experienced a sense of complete anonymity and freedom. So I realized that fame and money ain't all that, that there's still life outside the spotlight.
The country that cultured me by teaching me the importance of art, football, history, traditions, religion, culinary and siesta! Living here for 4 years was the best decision I've ever made and I still smile while listening to Paco de Lucia and recall all the great memories I collected in this country. This one deserves a blog of it's own!
Everything in this country is literally BEAUTIFUL... the people, the food presentation, the architecture, the art, the gelato, the cobble stones, the sculptures, every f*cking thing! It's as though the whole country is a museum. I'll keep coming back to this one as I've never seen a place so beautiful yet ancient.
Paris has love written all over it. And ironic as it may seem, this is the country that made me realize that love doesn't have to be experienced with a romantic partner. It can be within yourself. So there I was, standing next to the Eiffel Tower, feeling the love I owe to myself all this time.
This country gave me the ultimate Western culture shock. Witnessing prostitution and marijuana legalized in Amsterdam and yet they are able to maintain lower crime rates compared to religious countries got me thinking... perhaps being liberated can be a good thing.
The only Scandinavian country I've visited so far and I was amazed to see a lot of men walking in the streets with their babies in strollers.They practice equality in parenting which is opposite from Asia where the women are expected to be the care takers. Such a breath of fresh air to see men being the nurturers for a change!
Camping in the middle of the Moroccan dessert with only the basics taught me to appreciate the simple things we take for granted such as safe drinking water, a nice soft bed, a clean toilet and comfortable transportation. This experience humbled me down and stripped me back to appreciating the vital necessities in life.
This country has a strong sense of stability and the most delicious fondues and chocolates! People are so proper and poised that I felt like a stand up comedian everywhere I went because I was too loud and animated. Oh and I realized that I can never live where there's snow! Cold is NOT my jam.
This country value their family and religion above all else just like most of the Iberian countries. They have beautiful ruins everywhere that have a deep story behind it. I was there during New Year's Eve and I ate the traditional 12 grapes at midnight and made a wish which eventually came true!
The country that is all about preciseness and perfection. I am impressed by how disciplined and competitive the Germans are but at the same time, wondering if they ever laugh at all as they seem to be poker faced all the time. I may come off too lively for them but I'm proud to have stood out.
This country has really lovely cities that are so underrated in tourism. It felt like an ancient movie set walking around the rivers of Bruges. It made me believe in true love, romance and happy ever afters just looking at the sweet ambiance everywhere. Ah, my real life la la land...
Czech Republic (2015)