7 things young Filipinos can learn from traveling the world
Note: The essay below was first posted in Kenneth Surat's blog. It is republished here with his permission.
On my very first trip outside the Philippines, I met two Scottish men who were 3 years my junior. They had been traveling non-stop from England to Asia for the past 3 months. In my mind, I was thinking, are they crazy? How can they afford it? Maybe they're rich and their parents spent for their trips.
While chatting with them, I learned that their travel money was hard earned; they worked as servers in a coffee shop while studying. They planned on a long trip to know exactly what they want to do in life, to discover things, and learn from their adventure. After that brief encounter, I realized that as Filipinos, our notion of travel is fairly different from the rest of the world.
I grew up dreaming of traveling, but never thought it would have such a huge impact on who I am now. Unlike the Scottish travelers, I did not start traveling at a younger age. I wish I did, though my first-ever flight out of the Philippines still changed my life.
Several years on the road, I have learned a lot of things and as a young Filipino, I am sharing a few things we can learn from my so-called adventures.
1. You don’t have to be rich to travel.
I was not born to a rich family. For this reason, it still amazes me that I have been able to travel. I've visited several countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Of course, it helps a lot that I'm an OFW.
Going back to the very first time I prepared to travel abroad, I could say that my mind was then still very closed to the possibility of traveling on a budget. Whenever I started planning for a trip, I always ended up shelving it because I didn’t have enough money to go on a cruise, or book a 5-star hotel. It was simply out of my budget, I thought then.
As Filipinos, we grew up with the notion of traveling as pure leisure – therefore, not practical. In fact for most of us, even for those who are dreaming about it, traveling seems to be at the bottom of our priority list. The biggest factor is money.
We think that traveling should equate luxury cruises and hotels, top restaurants and expensive theme parks (yes, I am talking about your dream Disneyland trip). However, the more I go abroad and research about alternative ways of traveling, the more I discover that we can travel without blowing our savings into oblivion.
In most of my travels, I stayed in hostels (I once booked a hostel in Florence for only 11 euros a night), I used Airbnb, and recently (because I met a lot of new friends on the road from different countries) I stayed at friends’ homes for FREE. (Yes, free lodging and most of the time free breakfast and dinner too.)
In big cities, I was able to find free walking tours guided by locals and free bikes (I found one in Copenhagen). Also, one of the best things that happened within our generation are budget airlines.
As Filipinos, I know that we can find many things to fund our travels. While on the road, a Filipino backpacker told me that she was able to work in hostels in exchange for accommodation and food; others worked as an English teacher or a yoga instructor in order to finance their travels. Filipinos also know how to keep within a budget. Besides, most of us grew up enjoying street food, which is a plus in traveling.
If you are now part of the work force and dream of traveling, please don’t ask your parents for money. If you are a student, getting a part time job is a good option. Work hard and save.
2. You will discover yourself more (your talents, passion and skills).
I often wonder that if I had spent a few months on a backpacking trip in Southeast Asia or England early on, would I still have the same career as I have now? Probably not. I have discovered that more than Architecture, I love relating to culture, learning the history of a place, capturing it in photographs, and also translating it into a sketch. I also discovered during my travels that I have the skill to be an entrepreneur.
I have a Norwegian friend who thought she wanted to have a career in the military. After traveling for 5 months around the world, she realized that what she really wanted was to be a journalist. I heard someone say she decided to be a chef after a trip around Italy. Another gave up her corporate job at a luxury brand in Dubai to become a professional yogi after trip in Goa. And yes, they are all happy with their decisions until now.
As young Filipinos, we (normally) don’t have the privilege to take a gap year and discover what we really want as a career, like what our counterparts from the West are doing. Yes, they can afford it and we can’t but if there is an opportunity for us to travel and discover what makes us happy, let’s start saving and have our bags ready, along with an open mind and heart.
3. Learn and embrace cultures and beliefs different from yours while discovering that everyone is still the same.
During my trips, I have stayed with several families that have different cultures and beliefs. A simple thing as beso-beso (kiss on the cheeks) is a normal greeting in some countries but encroaches on someone else's personal bubble in other societies. Giving your seat in the metro to a lady or the elderly can also be a very sensitive matter. These are just simple examples; let’s not even go to religion and moral standards.
Traveling will open your mind to the fact that the world is a collection of cultures and along with these cultures, there is one universal trait that we will discover, and that is RESPECT.
Respecting one’s culture and beliefs will make you understand that this world is big enough for us to argue on what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral, but in all cultures, LOVE, KINDNESS and RESPECT are always present ( and can be in different forms as well).
After my trips, I became more open to people different from myself. I relate more to different nationalities and found myself not judging people based on the color of their skin, their way of speaking English, and even the type of food they are eating.
4. You 're just a very small part of this world yet you can do big things.
Sometimes (or maybe most of the time) we Filipinos think that we are the best in everything. Deny it or not, we are all living with a #PINOYPRIDE mentality. Yes, as a nation, we are full of ourselves. What I learned from traveling is that the world doesn’t revolve around ourselves alone. We are just part of this world just as the other person next to on a long bus trip in India. As citizens of a developing country, we Filipinos should know how it feels like to need something that we can’t afford, yet most of the time we play the superior card to those who are different from us.
Traveling can be a humbling experience. You will see the world that you don’t normally see in the pages of Travel and Leisure Mag. Yes, the world is beautiful but not perfect. Instead of judging people based on the clothes they wear or even the way they smell, once you've stepped out of your comfort zone, 100% of the time it will touch your heart and know that we can do and contribute something to make this world a better place.
5. Your nationality is never a stumbling block.
In relation to point number 4, it seems ironic that while we have Pinoy pride, oftentimes we have an inferiority complex. We think that just because we are Filipinos, we can only do so little and that and will never achieve anything. We think that because of our nationality, we can’t go head to head with different nationalities (especially those from the first world). We are shy to approach people who don’t speak Filipino or have a different hair color.
What I love about staying in hostels is that you’ll get to meet new friends from different parts of the world. Although you refer to each other by nationality – "the German", "the Filipino", "the American" – you still treat each other the same way. People who travel understand that we are all unique but we can still be friends and be part of a community.
Until now, I am still connected with most of the friends I met on the road. Some of them have even become my best friends.
6. You will appreciate being ‘kayumanggi.’
The color of my skin and the shape of my nose, these are the parts of my body that I wanted to change during my pre-travel days. I thought that being fair-skinned and having a nose with a higher bridge were the only standards of beauty.
Like many Filipinos, I stocked up on boxes of papaya soap in the hope of turning my brown skin milky white (I will definitely need a lot of that soap). Believe it or not, during college, one thing that I never forgot to bring with me when I went out was an umbrella, and this was not for the rain.
Meeting different nationalities and being friends with most of them made me realize that for people who travel, the color of your skin (even the shape of your nose) doesn’t really matter. You are beautiful for what and who you are.
We Filipinos are fixated on having that beautiful fair skin when in fact the rest of the world is envious of our perfectly tanned complexion.
If you think about it, most of the people (not only Filipinos), who are limiting the standard of beauty are those who are still caged in their own box.
7. You will fall in love with a lot of places yet you’ll be proud that you belong to one of the most beautiful countries around the world.
I know that a lot of us are dreaming of a trip to Paris, New York, Brazil, Dubai, Japan, and other top places in the world. I have been to a lot mega-cities and beautiful countrysides but I can say that one of the best places (nature and people wise) can be found in our own backyard.
The Philippines is blessed with a lot of beautiful scenery. It is a pity that some of these places (I am talking about you, Manila) have been deteriorating/slowly deteriorating. We need to act immediately to save our beautiful cities.
But we still have a lot of places that we can be proud of. In fact, a lot of the people I'd met, whenever they hear that I am from the Philippines, mentioned that it is one of the top places they have visited. For those who haven’t been to our country, they considered it as one of their dream destinations.
Truly, we can be proud of our country and the best way to do this is to become our own ambassadors. Show the world the beauty of our country. Ironically, we can do this most effectively when we travel abroad and meet other world explorers.
I know that there are still a lot of things that we can all learn from traveling as Filipinos. It is a never-ending list. In the end, what I can say is that it is time for Filipinos not just to see traveling as a source of leisure but also as a learning adventure to be experienced in one's younger years. As Filipinos are obsessed with investments in personal finance and education, I think we should think of traveling as a life-long investment.
As one quote goes, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. ” – Rappler.com
Kenneth is an OFW based in Dubai. Aside from his full time job as an architect, he is also a travel blogger, a foodie, an entrepreneur, an events manager and the artisan behind Surat Journals (and #TheTravelingJournalProject). He is currently preparing for a long backpacking trip to realize his dream of seeing the majestic Machu Picchu, taking a selfie at the Grand Canyon, dancing to the beat of the Northern Light,s and high-fiving with a whale shark – all in a single bounce.