Oh, this year 2015 has flown quickly since the day I decided to take my then 3-year old son, Elmo with me on our first travel together. I didn’t prepare much except for the places that I wanted us to go. Not much friends knew about my plans because even to myself, I wasn’t sure if we were really going. I booked our ticket out of the country a day before our flight without any return ticket back to the Philippines.Trust me, I’ve learned so much things in this trip that it will take you and me a dozen cups of tea or coffee, whichever you prefer to have, for us to actually comprehend the things we’ve been doing. So, I’ll try as much as I can to put them all together in this post. If I can’t, come stay with us for a couple of nights and we’ll definitely have a good late night talk out the balcony.
By this time, you probably understand that I rarely update my blog whenever I am traveling. There have been so many times that I wanted to sit down and write to you our stories. However, I prefer to focus on the here and now with the beautiful souls we have been meeting and the things we have been learning along the way. At most, I get to share them to you on my Facebook page and Instagram which come very handy when I am on the move.
So, how did I come up with the courage to take Elmo with me? I didn’t. I had no choice but to take him with me if I really wanted to travel. And of course, I wanted to travel and still want to keep going. Our story have been on repeat whenever we meet new people and they ask, “So what’s your story.” Even though I start our story with the same lines, how I see the same exact thing would come in different angle for each person we were talking with that everyday I was learning something new about my own story.1. There’s no right time to wait for to make things happen but now.
I could have travelled before I gave birth to Elmo. But I didn’t because I grew up in a culture where travelling was said to be expensive and only done when we have some holidays or weekends off from work. So, I spent my time and money for stuff that I actually didn’t need. On the other hand, the things I learned from those experiences opened the doors for me to question myself and the things I used to believe in.
I was told by my mother that now I am a mother, I need to give up or sacrifice my own dreams to be able to give my son a good life ahead of him. But tell me, how is working in a company with a graveyard shift from 10pm to 7am because it’s probably the easiest industry in the country for you to earn a “decent” amount of income or working in an office during the day from 8am to 5pm just so you could have a “normal” schedule and come home just in time for dinner with your family as something that would give our children a good life ahead of them? How can that be a good life for you and me?
It’s not about travelling. It’s about you and me knowing our worth and what we can do to serve the purpose of our existence. We are not here to work our asses off and let other people rob us off our own lives. Why wait for something to happen when we don’t even know what the future has in store for us? If we say we can’t right now, then how do we expect we can do so later when later actually becomes now?Had I waited for that right time which means having a lot of money and/or for my son to be old enough to be on his own, the things I love to do wouldn’t happen at all. Because I would always find an excuse that would stop me from making things happen.
Had I waited for myself to be “ready”, then I wouldn’t have been able to travel with Elmo. He and I wouldn’t have been learning new things, meeting people and exploring new places TOGETHER. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you this story.
And because we are doing things together, I don’t have any bitterness in myself. I see my son more than a human being that I brought into this world. He is my son who hugs and kisses me when I need them most, the best travel buddy who never complains, my non-meat eater friend who reminds me chickens and fish are our friends, the other half with equal voice to the decisions I make and a whole lot more rolled into one beautiful soul.
One thing I am sure, he doesn’t have to pay me back because I never gave up nor sacrificed anything for him. We are our own person.
Things only happen when you and I take that leap in life. No one, nothing should stop you.2. My time is more valuable than any amount of money.
More than anything else, I realized that time for myself is more valuable than any amount of money I would get to earn from spending at least 12 hours of my day for something that gives me a hollowed life.
Back when the purpose of waking up early is to get ready for work, I was doing something that didn’t give me any satisfaction except when I received my salary every 5th and 20th of each month. Days before and after that, my life was hollow. It looked good outside, sugar coated with the kind of life the society sold us but rotten deep inside because I didn’t have the space to grow, lacking time to spend for myself and the people that matter to me, missing real experiences I need to learn and far away from the person I am here for.
Now, I don’t have a lot of money. Because I don’t need a lot of things. You probably heard this from most travellers you’ve met and I am going to say it over and over, we only need enough.
I admit I had to borrow some money from my friends especially when my money from my freelance job gets delayed. So, I borrow less than the money I expect to get. Because one of the things I learned, I can’t afford to pay something with the money I don’t have.My monthly expenses when we were living in Cambodia was: $300 for the 3-bedroom house rental, light and water bills, $100 for food, $25 for other necessities like laundry, toiletries and some extra money for our afternoon stroll . So, why do I need to spend at least 12 hours of my day to get ready for work, be in an office to work my ass off for someone else and get stuck in a traffic jam during rush hour when I am only paid for 8 hours of work? Why do I need a lot of money when we can only need so much?
And yes, I am a very lazy person. Because everyday, I only make food for me and Elmo, couldn’t work for more than an average of 3 hours per day, we go out to have some coffee and ice cream or to the playground in the afternoon, hangout with our friends and have some tea on my happy chair while Elmo does his own stuff for the rest of our day. Isn’t that why we need money?Someone told me recently I have not achieved anything in my life. Well, if being a slave is the way to achieve something in my life, then no thanks. I am happy to have nothing of that sort.
3. I could only plan so much but I wouldn’t know until I am actually doing it.
I don’t have a bucket list of things to do in life. I have a list of the things I have done and experienced.
Oh and you probably knew some of the things I have already done that you haven’t done or no one you know have done yet. More than half of them can only be shared in a face to face chat. Or maybe we share similar experiences but you were entertained when I shared my own version of the experience. Or you’re as happy as I am that I have done such things in my life. Either way, they are special because they happened.
When I first left the Philippines with Elmo last June, the original plan was to go to India via Kuala Lumpur. At that time, I booked our tickets from Manila to Kuala Lumpur a day before our flight but we had no tickets booked for India yet. Then we would stay for a week in KL and head to Singapore to spend some time with the people I have connected with when I first visited Singapore in 2014. Then head back to Malaysia to visit and stay with my friend in Kuala Terengganu while I plan for our trip to India.
There was no definite plan as to why we were in Malaysia and Singapore except meeting and spending time with the people I have made a deep connection with in the past years. Some I have met online like Instagram, some I have met via the Couchsurfing community in the Philippines and while travelling and some Filipino friends who are now working abroad.
Our stories in Malaysia and Singapore is another thing to share with you some other time. To give you an idea, they shaped the next things we did.
We were in Malaysia and Singapore for a month. When we flew out of Kuala Lumpur for Cambodia, I realized that the one month we spent in those two countries was actually our 30-day trial period. Since I already visited the two countries in 2014, it was much easier for me and Elmo to travel in a place that I was already familiar with. We had good places to stay, I knew how to go around each country. We had people who helped and made things easier for us. Above all, I was able to observe Elmo’s reaction and adjustment to travelling and how I deal with challenges that we encountered.We ended up flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia which is the first new country I have known with Elmo as my travel buddy. It’s our first country to explore together.
Oh boy, our time in Cambodia is definitely one for the books!The original plan was to stop by Cambodia for some months while I save up some money and be able to have a place we can call home away from home while travelling. But at the end of our time in Cambodia, the other half of my plans upon our arrival in the country didn’t happen at all. We weren’t able to get out of Siem Reap to see other places around. I wasn’t able to save money at all. I lost the deposit for the house we rented since no one was able to take over our lease. We left Cambodia with only $5 in my purse which half of it I had to pay for the tuktuk to get to the airport.
But guess what, we had an amazing time! We were able to share whatever we had with the people we met. We hosted a total of 90 travellers whom we would have not met if we weren’t in Cambodia, one friend from back home was able to save money for accommodation because she had a home with us and the very person who first welcomed me and Elmo in Kuala Lumpur came to see Siem Reap and stayed with us for 2 weeks. And a lot more people!A week before we left Cambodia, I realized our purpose for being in Cambodia was to inspire and be inspired. We were able to share our own stories in a very personal and intimate level with the travellers Elmo and I hosted and the people I sat down and shared a cup of tea with. We made and shared good food together and conversations filled with new things to learn. I definitely spent most of my day for myself and Elmo just hanging out.
I couldn’t speak for Elmo and the things he learned in this trip but for those people who have spent time with us, we are all excited to know what’s in store for Elmo as he grows up with these experiences.
4. We need to be in a place where Elmo and I could be in our own element.
I never heard any complaints from Elmo. However, at the end of each day when I was about to put Elmo to sleep, he would say, “Mama, sun is down. Let’s go home.”
Every night in our first month outside the Philippines, I would tell him, “Elmo, we are travelling. This is our home for this week.” Of course he didn’t understand what I was telling but he knew we weren’t home yet. We had to stay for days in someone else’s house without a private space for ourselves.
He would sleepily say as I tuck him in bed,“I miss Mommy’s Car, Daddy-Cle, Otto-san, Sheena. I miss family, Mama.” (In order, he meant: My mother, my big brother, our bestfriend and a stray dog we adopted in the island I was volunteering at before leaving the country).
Then I realized Elmo doesn’t have any problem with travelling but he needed to have that feeling and sense of home. So that night, I decided we need to be in a place where we can stop by and have our own house without having to stop travelling.
I chose Siem Reap because it’s a city but not really, in a way. The kind of life was very similar to my own country, most especially in the place I spent my childhood years. So, we were living like locals, in most ways.For both houses we stayed, we got a traditional Cambodian style with 3 bedrooms for the same price if you’d get a fully furnished Western-style studio apartment. But Elmo and I couldn’t live in a studio apartment where we would be sleeping, eating, working and playing in the same space everyday. No, we can’t. We also didn’t need a lot of appliances, only the basic ones which allowed us to save energy. We bought fresh vegetables, fruits and rice in the local market where we paid the same amount that locals pay for. We only went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for my favorite pasta dish and other stuff that weren’t sold in the local market. We definitely ate what we needed. And yes, I had fresh coconuts everyday and I had a moringa tree just outside our house! In the afternoon, Elmo and I would go on my bicycle around the city that we didn’t have to spend anything for transportation to know and enjoy the new city we were living in.
Big savings plus we minimized our carbon footprint!
In most ways, Elmo and I felt home that it resonated to the people who stayed with us. They felt home and free as much as we did.
We were home while we were travelling.
5. There’s always someone for me and my son.
I got married but ended up being both the mother and father to a beautiful soul. I really thought it was over for me. My family has always been there for me and Elmo since Day 1 but deep inside I was slowly dying. Or so I thought.
Because I didn’t lose anything at all. Rather, I have gained so much!
My family and I got closer through the challenges I was facing. Of course, there are some bumps along the way in my relationship with my family since I became a mother due to opposing beliefs and the kind of life I want myself and Elmo to live.
Just before we left the Philippines, I was told by my bestfriend that I needed someone for Elmo to have a father in his life. Then another friend whom I have cut ties with when she said, “So, are you just gonna be travelling for the rest of your life?”
I answered, “So are you just gonna be stuck here in Cebu, working and spending your money in the same experiences for the rest of your life?” This was the same time I decided to filter the people in our lives to those who truly support us no matter how different our beliefs are.
After doing so, we have been attracting real people who inspire and teach us and have been giving us the encouragement we need to keep going. Beautiful souls we have connected deeply that even if we are countries apart from each other after our first meeting, surely we will see each other again one way or another.
In one year that we have travelled both in our home country and other countries, we never felt that we were on our own. Every person we met have been a father, a mother, a big brother or sister to Elmo. They played with him, cared for him and helped me in keeping an eye on him and they weren’t also afraid to say no to Elmo when he was being unreasonable.The past years, I have been struggling against myself thinking that Elmo is my sole responsibility. I was wrong in trying to keep everything to myself because things became a lot easier when I finally admitted that I can’t be everything I want to be on my own. And no, we don’t have to pay someone to look after our children, teach them things they don’t need nor do we have to put our own beliefs to our children that would only distort the rawness and the beauty they have in them.
We belong in a community where people care for each other, not for the things they own. We share the responsibility of showing the younger ones that we don’t own any thing but our own actions that affect the people around us and the world we are living in.
6. There are so many skills we can learn from travelling and meeting people that we can put into use when we settle down.
Since I started volunteering from simply organizing a small relief operation in my mother’s hometown after the super typhoon Haiyan to volunteering with other NGOs which taught me a lot about renewable energy and construction of typhoon resilient houses and meeting people who do permaculture, it opened my eyes to so many things I didn’t know and questioned the things we were made to believe.While in Cambodia, I also learned and experienced how to run a hostel. It didn’t last long because the owner had his own issues however it was enough for me to meet people who taught me more about running a hostel and dealing with people from a business perspective without losing the human connection.
Most of all, I learned how to make healthy food.
The first time Elmo and I went to travel, we were staying in a remote island where I was volunteering in a housing project for the people who lost their houses to the super typhoon. In that island, it was Elmo’s first interaction with animals. He made a very good connection with a stray dog whom our neighbors call Sheena and later on, started living with us. Our neighbors also had chickens and/or pigs in their backyard. Every morning, some people walked cows to their farm. Elmo spent his time going to our neighbors’ housed and learned how the animals were taken care of.
One day, the caretaker of the place we were staying at brought a chicken. Elmo was so excited to play with it. He talked to the chicken, fed it with some corn and watched over it. Then he had to go to the toilet to pee but when he came back, the chicken was already gone from the basket.
He called out for the chicken. Then he called out for me, “Mama! Mama! Chicken, fly! Fly away!”
Then he turned around the corner where he saw the chicken’s neck was cut by our caretaker. Elmo saw the blood coming out of its lifeless body. He was so mad that he told the caretaker, “You’re bad! Bad! Chicken, die!”
And when he saw that same chicken was served on the plate for dinner, he refused to eat anything but rice. Since then, Elmo stopped eating chickens and seafood especially fish whom he loves to talk with everytime he sees an aquarium or whenever we were out diving under the sea while he wait on the boat. On the other hand, he is like any other kids who choose the vegetables he eats. However, he prefers to eat vegetables than meat.
I grew up in a culture where meat is widely served in meals. Pork is a special food always present in every Filipino celebration or parties. But I have to respect Elmo’s decision. I could give up eating meat except seafood. I wasn’t a vegetarian but my father was that it wasn’t difficult for me to adjust to Elmo’s preferences.
With the help of our bestfriend who loves food so much and have been travelling for 7 years and counting, I learned the basics and different ways of cooking food. I started buying only fresh vegetables in the local market and we stopped going to fastfood stores.
While I was hosting travellers in Cambodia, I specifically told them that I’d prefer to cook together so I can also learn how they make their food. Fortunately, most of the travellers we hosted were eating healthy as well. But there are some rare times that I eat chicken or beef whenever I am with someone who isn’t vegetarian. And so once in a while, I get to make my childhood favorite chicken curry which has also evolved into nearly-Indian style when I met a traveller from India. So now, the food I cook at home is a mix of different influences that I got from the people I have shared food with. I have even made my own pasta recipe!
—As of this writing, we are back home for some weeks in Manila to spend time with my mother who is also visiting from the US. Before coming home, there are some new plans I am seriously considering to do as the new year comes. Hopefully before this year ends, things will be finalized. By then, I’d love to tell you more about it. Like I said, we need some more pots of tea or coffee. I can make you some teh tarik or maybe you’d prefer matcha tea. There’s so much I want to share and stories I’d love to hear from you. Like I say to the people we meet, every time I get to talk with someone, my plans or their plans change for some reason I believe is very helpful.
This isn’t the end. It probably won’t end at all because things will just get better. Sooner or later, Elmo and I will settle down in a place where we can grow our own food not far away from the sea and a place where we can welcome our friends and new people to stay and share our stories with each other. It’s definitely a long way to go but it is possible. Every day with each new thing we learn is one step closer to my dream.