It has always been my dream to travel. I, as a child, once dreamed of being a flight stewardess so that I could go places while earning. It was a dream that I know would never come true because my height would not meet the requirement. Another passion of mine which is science brought me to another direction in life. After graduating from the university and being the oldest daughter, I felt the need to earn money for the family. I was employed in a multinational company a few months after I received my diploma and although it is a large food company in the country, I could say that what I earn is just enough to help my father in providing for our family of 7. So definitely, traveling is not an option. Traveling is for the privileged individuals, I thought. I remember being jealous of my friends who can freely explore places as soon as they get their jobs after college and there I was, couldn’t even watch a movie in cinema because of my priorities in life. Too much of #adultingproblems.
Little did I know that my degree could also bring me to places. In 2015, I was awarded a scholarship for a master’s program in Belgium. Accepting this blessing was a big risk and decision for me. I have always lived with my parents even when I was working and since my parents wanted me to focus on studying then working alone, I did not know how to wash my clothes or even cook. Living alone in a far foreign country was a big deal for me. This was the first big decision that I made myself. My parents were against it at first but eventually supported me in fulfilling my dreams. Aside from traveling, I dreamt of having a master’s degree and aside from the diploma that I could get, one of the main reasons why I took the chance and left my home country, my loved ones and my job was because being in Belgium means Paris – my dream destination – is within my grasp. And the dream which I thought would never happen came to life a month after arriving in Europe. It was surreal. The majestic stance of Eiffel tower made me cry at first sight. Even the three following encounters were still not enough to exhaust my excitement of it.
It is not only Paris that I wanted to see. With the two-year master’s program that I had, I planned to visit as many places as I could. Money was not an issue at that time. I was privileged. The allowance I get was enough to travel during the holidays accompanied by some expertise on looking for the cheapest flights, trains and hostels, and countless meals of rice and egg or canned goods I brought with me from the Philippines to save money. I was even able to continually support my family back home. It is also a luck that I live in Belgium which is the heart of Europe, so all the European countries are easy to go to. From Belgium’s capital city, Brussels, it just takes a 2-hour train ride to Paris, France, 3-hour bus ride to Cologne, Germany, 2.5-hour flight to Stockholm, Sweden, 4-hour flight to Athens, Greece and so on. I also joined organized trips for students which were way cheaper than if I do it myself. There is quite a number of options. One can also book a blablacar wherein you basically hitch on a car going in the same direction as you. The only difference is you take part in the expenses of the trip. This one I have not tried for personal reasons.
As a student, I had a lot of holidays which equates to opportunities to travel. I looked forward to the Christmas holidays, semestral breaks, Easter breaks, and summer breaks. During these long holidays, my friend, Beia, and I visited main tourist destinations in Europe. And during long weekends, we would go to nearby countries such as France, Germany, The Netherlands, or Luxembourg. Beia was my constant travel buddy. We were in different master’s programs but in the same university so our schedules perfectly matched. In some places, we went with other Filipino friends who were also students but most of the time, it was just the two of us. Through time, we learned to compromise to each other’s preferences. We also divided our tasks before and while on the trip. Having many friends together was more fun but it was kind of a bit more difficult to manage since everyone has his/her own preferences.
The first cities we’ve been to were Paris, Rome, Vatican and Amsterdam where we saw a lot of museums. After a time, Beia and I got really bored of going to museums and most of them were really expensive, so we chose to rather go to the busy city centers or unendingly hop on and off of trams to go around the city or climb the highest building in the place to get a nice panoramic view. Other times, we would spend our whole waking hours in restaurants eating local foods. It became the top on our to-do list to try traditional foods in every city that we go to. Some of them were touristy, but we always tried to visit those which were recommended by the locals whom we met. It was a nice way to get a glimpse of one country’s culture while satisfying our stomachs at the same time.
One thing I have learned while traveling is that if you really want to taste the local and traditional cuisine, go to pubs, cafes or restaurants with the most number of old local people. With the fast-changing world, foods usually are adjusted to the new generation’s taste buds or trends, or ingredients are altered for business profit. When the place has a lot of old customers, you would know that the place is still serving the foods that they used to have back in the days. And these places are usually cheap because they are not targeting tourists but the locals.
Thinking back, my desire to travel started when I was reading our World Atlas at home where I saw a lot of beautiful pictures from all over the world. It may have been the colorful pages that made me excited to see them with my naked eye. This exposed me to the world aside from what I see in my everyday life in Lipa City, Batangas. My young mind got elated by the fact that there is more to see in this world.
I thought traveling will only fill my eyes with picturesque destinations but after 29 countries, I learned that it is more than that. It brings people together. On my visit to Paris a month after arriving in Europe, I was able to visit my relatives who are living in the city for the past 30 years. I only had glimpses of them when they spend summer holidays in the Philippines. That same year, we spent the Christmas holiday in Italy. We spent our nights in Milan in the humble abode of my mother’s friend whom I have not met before. In Rome, we were warmly accommodated by my father’s relatives whom I also met for the first time. On the semestral break of 2016, we went to Helsinki and spent time with a friend I last saw 10 years before. A couple of times I went to Switzerland to visit a then-colleague now-godmother. Along with this reunion with old friends and finally meeting relatives, new friends are encountered, and friendships are deepened.
Some might wonder, “why not save the money and help your family instead of traveling?” My answer is this: There are things that money can’t buy i.e. happiness, memories, and lost opportunities. Besides, traveling has helped me and taught me a lot of things.
Being an introvert, traveling has helped me to be sociable. With all the experiences I had for the past 2 years here in Europe, I could say that traveling helped to keep me sane because being away from family, loved ones, and my comfort zone (it was never easy without these). It also helped me gain confidence. And although many negative things are happening around the world, being in different places have taught me that people are innately beautiful inside and out. I learned to respect more the different races, religions, and cultures. Most especially, my respect for our OFWs has deepened as we most often than not encountered some during our travels.
If you ask me what makes traveling addictive, I would say that it is the people that we travel with, the people we meet, the things we learn and the memories that we live with forever. And since not all things can be “googled” and not all pictures justify the beauty of a destination, one must experience it.
This article is contributed by Angelica Dizon.