A year-long honeymoon: One traveling couple’s adventure

Camille Dimson Villaflor, Mark-Anthony Villaflor

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A year-long honeymoon: One traveling couple’s adventure
'A slow walk through the world was the answer for us,' says Mark, a backpacker who travels the world with his wife, Camille

“Honeymoon for a year? You must be rich,” they asked.  

People just have different priorities. If it’s a car, a house or a career for you, it’s traveling for us.

We just prefer investing in what we think matters to us, and that’s seeing the world – or rather seeing ourselves in the world.

It was our 3rd year of marriage when we finally decided to have a year long honeymoon. The decision wasn’t taken lightly. We did a 40-day trial run a couple of summers before to convince ourselves that we could do a year of travel. Camille eventually came around to the idea after some convincing and our first real backpacking experience began. (READ: How traveling as a couple changes your relationship forever)

After leaving our jobs in Shanghai we first went to the States for an epic summer. Since then, we’ve been to Dubai, Kenya, Tanzania, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.

People don’t realize that when you try discovering the world, you discover yourself. In turn we discovered more of each other.

How it started

Our love story is an international incident of romance. Camille and I started as locals, then as expatriates, and now as backpackers.  

BEACH DAY. An isolated beach walk on the coast of Nicaragua. Photo taken by Mark Villaflor

A honeymoon is supposed to be full of romantic gestures, dramatic landscapes, passion and love. Fortunately for us, we found all these in travel.

Camille and I have always had an eagerness to find out how much love there is in this incredible world and in each other. A slow walk through the world was the answer for us.

GUATEMALA. Posing for a photo in Antigua with Volcan Pacaya. Photo taken by Isabel Wilder

Camille and I met in the Philippines through common friends that had together found the revelation of love. We enjoyed 3 months of an incredibly intimate friendship.

Then September 2009, I left the Philippines for the deserts of Saudi Arabia and a teaching job that provided enough free time to write a “love letter” series to her that we called Apples and Oranges.

ON TOP OF A VOLCANO. Keeping our feet grounded during an overnight hike. Photo taken by Camille Villaflor

I was wanting to get to know her better and asked whether she likes apple or oranges, mountains or beaches, movies or books, it was an unending letter of getting to know each other starting with the most basic of preferences. Soon enough I was itching to leave Saudi Arabia, telling folks there that I would finally get with the girl I would later marry. That’s saying a lot, considering she wouldn’t even answer whether or not she would go on a first date with me!

I mean, who brings a girl to a family wedding as a first date? With some pressure, she accompanied me to the wedding. Before the ceremony, she sat in the back until my dad approached her and asked her to sit with my family because she was now a part of ‘the family.’ Mystified by what he meant, Camille ended up finding herself jamming with my entire family singing karaoke at my lolo and lola’s house in Bulacan later that night.

A month later, unemployed (until August 2010 of that year), we made our relationship official. We started traveling the Philippines, taking trips to Bicol, Cebu, Pangasinan, Tagaytay, and other parts of our beautiful island country.

All these memories created, all these smiles and laughs shared – and then the long distance relationship started. I got a job in Shanghai and felt that it was a really good opportunity for my career as it was a reputable international school.

Those smiles and laughs got traded for tears and our hearts yearning for each other’s physical presence. Camille was a not a fan of the long distance relationship, so I made sure that she felt reassured of my love and our relationship.

FIRST DAY. At the airport in Shanghai we were getting Pepper ready for our flight. Photo taken by Sudhir Saseedharan

Before I left the Philippines, I wrote 30 letters that I asked her to read every other day until I come back. She said her favorite was letter #4 My favorite thing about you is your heart.

We did our best to keep our relationship despite the distance. There was the occasional visit to the Philippines, and after a few more months in, Camille got a job in Singapore. Part two of our long-distance relationship started. I was so proud of Camille for taking a step outside of her comfort zone and going abroad on her own. She was just starting to get rooted in the life as an expat and as a Filipino in Singapore but things were about to drastically change.

In May 2011 we met each other in Hong Kong for a weekend to remember. It was the saddest and happiest weekend we had ever experienced, and ended with Camille crying the entire flight back to Singapore.

That weekend after a ton of gifts and handwritten letters, I surprised her at the W Hotel with a little help from the concierge. We feasted on a crab dinner, and when we got to our hotel room, the hallway was filled with rose petals and candles and a bed with a huge heart made of roses.Our songs were played, we danced, and when she was ready for dessert, I was already on one knee with a “box of chocolates.”

THE PROPOSAL. At the W Hotel in Hong Kong moments before I popped the big question. Photo taken by Mark Villaflor

With Train’s “Marry Me”starting in the background and the most beautiful woman sitting on the edge of the bed waiting for dessert, I presented a ring and asked her a question, waiting an eternity to hear the answer.

Life is like a box of chocolates, said Forrest Gump. You never know what you’re gonna get.

She said yes, and the next day was the saddest goodbye we’d ever experienced.

A couple months later, after some discussions and decision-making with her parents, we got married (civil wedding) in the presence of a small group of family members.

The first year of marriage was rough. I was used to a bachelor pad, basic furniture and a fridge full of pizza and beer. She was an interior designer and a passionate cook. I was already settled into my life in Shanghai and had to change and settle into our lives in China together. She was unemployed, didn’t know the language, had no friends or family there, and it was our first time living together after a long distance relationship.

It was tough and we were struggling with all the adjustments, so we both decided to take our first backpacking journey together the following summer. It was a wonderful trip and we both felt refreshed having discovered so much beauty in rural China and Cambodia. We came back refreshed and committed ourselves to a year-long honeymoon. Best decision ever!

Half a year after the trip we held our most special day and celebrated our promise of unity with all our friends and family at The Mango Farm in Antipolo (December 2012). Having been married for over a year we didn’t expect our wedding to be such a sob fest, but the emotions got the best of us as we cried our way through the entire day, feeling an overwhelming sense of love.

WEDDING DAY. One of many kisses at our wedding at the Mango Farm, Antipolo. Photo by Sunday Morning Studios

For the next year and a half, having recovered from the wedding, we saved as much money as possible before firing our bosses and venturing out into the world with two backpacks on and each other.

We desired a life full of intimacy, friendship, laughter, and a reliance on each other even through the ups and downs.

TEACHER IN AFRICA. We were invited to teach at a school in Tanzania. Photo taken by Mark Villaflor

With our way of living, ‘traveling’ we’re often asked, if we’re rich, or how the heck were able to afford such a trip. Rather than empire building, furthering a career, getting a house and buying stuff we don’t need, we decided to live a more simple life – street food, the occasional hitch-hike, a cheap guest house, and repeatedly wearing the same clothes. Surprising as it may sound life feels a lot better.

People continued to be surprised when we call our backpacking trip our honeymoon. We say “Why not?” Isn’t it how it’s suppose to be? We love seeing people’s reactions seeing a new idea of love and relationships. We are learning and unlearning so many things. Each day we define and redefine our meaning of happiness and joy, what it is to be rich or poor, and how we should love and be loved.

Us today

“Today, Camille and I feel stronger as a couple. We document our journey on our site, 365traveldates, and we’re preparing to leave Central America and backpack to the southern tip of South America before coming back home to the Philippines.

TIGER LEAPING GORGE. Climbing this 100-foot ladder- Photo taken by Camille Villaflor

Traveling has been a big part of our relationship and a huge reason why were still madly growing in love with each other up to now. Yes, we occasionally bicker and have those fights and annoyances, but those are normal in relationships. (READ: No fighting! Tips to stay sane when planning your couple’s trip)

Ultimately the greatest lesson we’ve learned in our year-long honeymoon is the unending discovery of our lives, through the eyes of different people, in the setting of different countries, surrounded by different cultures, and feasting on amazing food, meeting people all over the globe. – Rappler.com

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