​Dear Girls Who Wants to Travel Alone,

First of all, you will meet people who will think that you are crazy because you are traveling on your own.  They will tell you how it would be so much better if you travel with someone, preferably a boyfriend. Some will judge you and they will even assume that you are looking for Mr. Right. Almost no one will believe you when you tell them that you went alone and enjoyed it. 

When I decided to travel alone, I did it for myself. I didn’t know back then that I am doing it save my life.

I remembered like it was yesterday, it was the day after my birthday and sitting alone in a transient room in Baguio on a cold January night, looking at the twinkling lights of the City of Pines, I thought of something I have read somewhere. It says, “Only those with a strong heart can make their dreams come true.” 

I started out as wide-eyed kid, anxious and excited to be traveling on her own. It wouldn’t be my first time to travel but it surely is the first time I will be doing it alone. 

I have always loved reading about other places and staring at photos of distant lands. I grew up spending weekends in the company of National Geographic magazines, imagining myself as an explorer and the one telling the story instead of merely reading it. But as a child, I didn’t like traveling. I like the idea of traveling but I don’t like actually doing it.  I’ve always associated traveling with uncomfortable bus rides and motion sickness. My earliest memory of traveling is dominated by hours inside a cramped and humid provincial bus with more people than space and tiny me vomiting everything short of my intestines inside a plastic bag. 

Years ago, I thought vacations are always done in groups. You either do it with your family or your friends. That’s just the way it should be. Traveling is not an activity for introverts, or so I thought. I thought solo travels are only done by people in the movies and only because they are heartbroken. I couldn’t imagine myself traveling alone and actually enjoying it. I want to see places but I also want to drag people with me to do it. So I asked my friends and we made a lot of plans but months and years passed and nothing happened. We never get to places we said we would visit. We were always waiting for that right moment. We were always telling ourselves “probably next year” and next year comes and nothing happens. 

I was 22 years old, bored with everything and silently battling depression. I was losing hope and I was losing all the will to live. Many times I found myself thinking that I would probably grow old and die in Bacolod and never see another place. I will be stuck there for the rest of my life, forever dreaming of distant lands I will never get to see. If I am not slaving away at work, I lock myself in my room and spend the time staring at the ceiling, blaming my friends for always changing their minds and blaming myself for being useless. Those were dark times but if you ask anyone who’s known me, they would never be able to corroborate this story. It is rather easy to trick people into believing that you are happy and everything is fine.

These were years when I constantly think of death, my death to be specific, and not in a positive way. I constantly think of what else I have to live for and constantly thinking about how nothing ever happens in my life. I spend hours staring at the ceiling and thinking of doing something with my life but also wondering what could someone like me possibly do? 

So the very next day, I announced that I will be traveling “whether someone goes with me or not”. Back then, I didn’t know anything about planning for a trip, booking flights and hotels. Heck, I don’t even know anything about packing my clothes. All I know is I am going. I worked harder, saved my money and started planning. I decided that I am going on my 23rd birthday and my first stop: Baguio City.

I was anxiety in the flesh. All my waking hours are spent researching for my trip and at night, I was plagued with nightmares. More than going to a new place, I am more anxious about talking to people I do not know. When I am with friends or family, I can let them do the interacting and socializing. Alone, I will be forced to talk to people. Days before my birthday, I was thinking of canceling the trip. I was scared. I had too much doubt and too many questions. It doesn’t help that people keeps questioning my decision of traveling alone. It is made worst by the fact that on an almost daily basis, I am told that I must be crazy for doing it. 

Every day, my anxiety amplifies and so is my resolve. I hate being told what to do and this is when I realized that sometimes, pride can be a good thing. Scared as I was, I didn’t back down just so I could prove them wrong.

We live in a country where a woman traveling alone is still almost unheard of. Even to this day, people have looked at me with raised eyebrows and a constant refrain of “but why?” We live in a patriarchal society and girls are always seen as weak and vulnerable. I guess it is still harder for some people to see a woman capable of being on her own. I have learned to smile as a response. Some things are difficult to explain and the feeling that traveling alone gives me, is one of those things.

To some, it was an eccentric decision to travel alone. To me, it was a trip that saved my life.  

Traveling gave me confidence in my abilities; it helped me deal with my depression and allowed me to see the world differently. Being in a place where I don’t know anyone and the challenges that go with traveling on my own gave me purpose and taught me how to deal with problems in a more constructive way. 

I learned to love and accept myself. When all I see before were my weaknesses, traveling showed me my strengths. It showed me that I can do so much more and I am capable of so much more. I learned to appreciate the people in my life and I realized that I have so much to live for. 

That first solo trip was like my Mirror of Erised, it showed me what my heart truly desires and I realized that what I want the most is freedom. .Today, instead of dreaming of getting an interesting eulogy, my bucket list is now consisting of places I have visited and will be visiting. One of my biggest dreams is to see all 81 provinces of the Philippines and I am working on it, one province at a time. 

When I look back to those days I was planning the trip, I am glad I didn’t let doubt and fear stop me from going. I left and it was one of the best decisions I have done in my life. It is true that sometimes you have to leave and be lost to find yourself. I surely did find what I was looking for and I never regretted it.

Sometimes you just have to take that first step. It is not easy but it gets better from there. You may have doubts now but you will enjoy it. So, book that ticket and pack your bags. Go and see the world. Don’t let adventure wait!

XoXo,

Aian

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Saying Goodbye

“What is the first thing you expect people to do when you meet them the first time?”

Me: Leave.

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I have come to realize that people don’t understand me at all. When I say that I expect people to leave, I don’t mean that I expect them to leave me alone. I mean that I don’t expect anyone to stay in my life forever. And it is not just because there is no forever. People leave. They always do. They come into your life, they become part of it and then someday they will leave.

I have learned a long time ago that saying goodbye is not always a bad thing. I have learned that when people leave, it doesn’t mean that they hate you or will forget about you. Sometimes, they don’t want to leave. They just have to.

I have come to accept that we all have different paths to take. I believe that our paths crossed because we need each other even when we don’t realize it. There is something in you that I have to learn and there is something in me that I probably have to impart. There are lessons that we need to learn from each other so we can become better people.

There was a time in my life when I questioned why God would let me meet people who would become really important for me then take them away from me. Then I realized that He takes them away from me because I have learned what I can from them and now I must learn from someone else. Much like how the Pevensies had to discover Narnia.

The thing about life is that, it doesn’t matter if you like someone or not. You learn from them. Your experiences with them become a part of you and affects whatever happens to you in the future. The way you see life, the way you react to situations and the way you like or hate something, it is influenced by people who became a part of your life.

I have read somewhere that man’s greatest fear is that, someday we will be gone and we will be forgotten. I think that is why we do what we do. We create memories with people so that if we ever have to leave, they will not forget us.

I am always ready to say goodbye. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt me but it doesn’t mean that I am going to stop them from leaving. I believe that people have to walk their paths and go on their journeys with whomever they want to go with or have to go with.

I am not a good person. I can be very difficult to like because I can be very tactless and I can only assume I do not look very friendly to people. I can only hope that I have lived my life in a way that when they remember the memories we had, they would look back with a smile. I can only hope that they learned something from me the same way I have learned from them.

And this may be out of the topic but re-reading the first statement made me realize that this is probably why I am not in a relationship. Oh well, the things you learn about yourself.

National Geographic caused it!

If you are looking for someone to blame for my wanderlust, I suggest you blame the National Geographic. And probably my family too because they never stopped me from reading it.

I have come to realize that it is not traveling that makes me happy. It is the things that I learn when I am traveling that make me happy. More than I like adventure and a great view, I love to learn. I love history and culture. I love learning how people live in other places. I love learning their customs, traditions, beliefs , etc.

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When I was a child, I read a lot of National Geographic magazines. I remembered being especially drawn to stories of the ancient civilizations: the Egyptians, the Mayans, the Incans, the Aztecs. I would read their stories over and over and stare at the photos of ancient temples and burial sites. Most of the places in my bucketlist are there because of this magazine.

I would spend hours just reading the magazine. I would imagine the Incans and their golds; the Mayans and their sprawling cities and temples; the Aztecs and their pyramids and blood sacrifices. I would also read about the people in remote places of the world and how they live their lives and keep their traditions.

As a grown up I would spend hours watching documentaries from the History Channel and the National Geographic. When I travel I am more drawn to historical places. I love taking photos of century old buildings and be amazed every time at the thought that these were more than just buildings. They were part of our past.

What fascinated me more about Sagada is not the view but their burial rituals, the history, traditions and culture. What made my trip to Zamboanga memorable are not the seafood and the white and pink sand beaches but the stories and dreams of the people who lived there. The dreams of that driver in Malamawi and the stories of the people I was with in Sta. Cruz Island made my travel more worthwhile.

I long to travel abroad not because I want to see the sights but because I want to see how they live. I want to learn their culture firsthand. I want to see the historical sites and learn history where history actually happened.

I remembered visiting the Diplomat Hotel in Baguio. I have always wanted to visit the place and this is not because of it being haunted, I have a really vivid imagination and I don’t need a haunted hotel to scare me. I do a great job scaring myself. Besides, if I want haunted all I have to do is go home. I was drawn to it because of its tragic history. (Apparently, I am also morbid.)

I guess I am truly blessed to be born in a family where I was always encouraged to learn. I am blessed to be born in a family where I am encouraged to see the world and learn whatever I can from it. I was taught to go out of my comfort zone and they have always supported me both in days when I prefer to stay at home and read and in days when I prefer to roam around places I’ve never been to before.