3 Life Lessons from a “Third-World” Traveller
Life can feel surreal sometimes; there are still moments when I pinch myself just to see if everything around me is real. I’m writing this while staycationing for the weekend in one of Singapore’s hotels and it’s one of those moments when I think to myself, how did I ever get here? It’s not so much an introspective life question in general, but more of a nod to my simple background when staycations were unheard of, because I didn’t even have the means to do so.
We have this old adage in the Philippines: “ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan” (Those who do not look back at where they come from, will never reach their destination). The quote is attributed to our national hero, Jose Rizal. Personally, it’s not a quote that I just throw around in a meaningless manner – for me, it is the crux of who I am today and best understood in three ways:
1. Being grateful for the people who moulded me into the person that I am today.
As a child, I’ve always loved exploring: may it be my own backyard, my friends’, or the neighbouring community’s... I’ve always been active and my parents always told me that I could never keep still in one place for days and even hours on end. This sense of exploration was lovingly nurtured by my parents and I attribute it to the fact that growing up, my family didn’t have much in the material wealth sense, but they made damn sure that me and my sister had childhoods full of happy memories and invaluable life lessons.
I didn’t have Barbie and Cabbage Patch dolls, Lego sets, or Care Bear stuffed toys to play with, as my family couldn’t afford any of them at that time. Heck, when my parents bought their first house – the home they still live in up to this day, albeit with numerous upgrades – we didn’t even have a tiled floor nor glass windows. The dirt soil was our floor and boarded-up plywood sheets constituted as windows, which my dad conscientiously took out every morning to let the sun in.
The simplicity of our lives enabled me to become an incredibly creative and explorative kid. No fancy toys? No problem! The sand and gravel in our yard was my personal beachfront, the adjacent posh housing community’s gated environment was my trip to an exotic locale, trees around our house were my campground, and every nook and cranny in our neighbourhood was some far-away land full of interesting people and fun surprises. Child’s play, you might say, but for my 6-year old self, it was THE WORLD. I have my parents to thank for giving me the freedom to explore that world, despite the headaches I gave them for missing naptimes and coming home with several physical scars from all the climbing, running around, hopping from rock to rock, and going under barbed wires. I wear those scars like badges of honour: each has a story attached to it and really, what’s an adventure without risks, right?
2. Taking important opportunities that came my way with an open-mind and an adventurous spirit.
Living in one of the provinces in the Philippines, I felt so far and detached from all the action of the country’s capital, Metro Manila, the city of dreams and opportunities for us rural folks. Bizarre as it may sound, during my last two years in high school, I started having dreams of flying. I still remember it vividly: I would be jumping from one fence to another across several properties in our neighbourhood till I came upon the end of our next-door neighbour’s cement wall. From there on, I felt that something was weighing me down, like my wings were being anchored unto an imaginary block and the scenery faded into this white-washed blur. It was like that for several nights for over a year and I would wake up feeling lost and deflated, without any logical reason why.
Little did I know that my parents were planning to send to me to one of the best schools in the capital; how they could afford it all those years is still a bit of a mystery to me. When I learned about this opportunity, my flying dreams evolved: they suddenly ended with a dazzling green open field and I finally, finally flew away from that cement perch and into the green, feeling so free and having a sense of being limitless. Studying and working in Manila opened up doors for me – doors that I didn’t even know existed, and enabled me to travel locally and across the region: jaunts to La Union, Subic, Puerto Galera, Siargao, Laoag, Vigan, Tagaytay, Laguna, Baguio, HongKong, Bangkok Ho Cho Minh, Singapore, etc. further fired up my burgeoning wanderlust. Some were school and office trips; some, I had to save money for – even if that meant subsisting on cup noodles for weeks on end just to afford travel and pocket money.
The second biggest opportunity in my life so far was the big move to Singapore. I was working for four years in a local advertising agency in Manila, loving my lifestyle, earning good money, and having a great set of the most supportive friends a girl can ask for ... yet, I had that nagging feeling that there was something more out there. With nary a second thought and only my gut feel to guide me, I resigned from my job, packed my bags, and headed off to Singapore – where my best friend was currently based at the time. A couple of friends from the industry helped me land a job in the island city and I will never forget those kind acts, so much so that whenever friends from the Philippines look for jobs here, I try as much as possible to pay it forward, and ask them to do the same in the future.
Singapore opened up a wealth of life and travel experiences for me: more so because of its strategic location as a regional travel hub. Less than a year of working in the little red dot, I fulfilled one of my dreams: Europe on a solo travel mission. From there on, I would continue my flashpacking adventures to this day, collecting fascinating stories and friends from around the globe through the years.
3. Never forgetting my roots.
The essence of the quote can be summed up into this one-liner. If my parents didn’t nurture my innate explorer, if I didn’t take those opportunities to leave the coop, if I wasn’t brave enough to leave everything familiar for uncharted territories, I wouldn’t be where I would be today. All of those past life experiences helped make me become who I am today and perhaps that’s why it’s so important to remember your roots: where you came from, who helped you rise above the challenges, what life lessons you learned along the way. Without a gratitude for the past, I don’t think I would be as driven as I am now to work hard and keep exploring the world.
Many friends and acquaintances over the years, especially those from the Philippines, have personally told me how my solo travels encouraged them to take the leap as well. Several years back, they thought it was unimaginable for a female with a “third-world” passport and bank account to be a solo, independent traveller: horror stories of visa rejections, money issues, racial stereotyping, and gender profiling were enough for some to put their travel dreams on hold. Of course, I’ve just been following in the footsteps of fellow female adventurers before my time – the social media age has just made it easier for everyone to find inspiration and share their travel exploits with the world. When I started jetting off on my own, a few friends told me to start writing about my travels. It took me several years to finally put my thoughts on paper; and it couldn’t have come at a better time now that I have around 40 countries under my belt. Call me foolish if you will, but I hope that my writing will inspire “third-world” dreamers out there to pursue their goals, in travel and life in general. Because if I can do it, so can you.
ABOUT THE MARCHESA TRAVELS
￼Hi! I'm Julette, a 30-something wandering adwoman and a certified SFT (solo female traveller). Unlike numerous travellers out there, I haven't quit my job to vagabond for life because I believe you can still see the world while juggling a career you love. I work in advertising and have called Singapore my home for almost a decade now. I've been to 40 countries across 5 continents, and counting!
My parents told me that I've always loved planes and travelling. When most toddlers would be crying or sleeping during flights, I would be gleefully walking up and down the aisle like I owned the plane, with my wild curly hair and all. Those wild curls have since tamed themselves, but that gleeful feeling of being up in the air, on my way to an exciting new destination, still hasn’t left me, restrictive economy seat space and all!
HAPPY TRAVELS! x
julette a.k.a. The Marchesa Travels