They say that travel broadens the mind, but you really can’t understand what that truly means until you have experienced it first-hand.
When you have sat down with Aetas offering you their forest food – mountain rice, wild bananas, corn, and root crops, shared Pinikpikan meal with a friend in Sagada Province, and eaten exotic crocodile meat in the finest restaurant in Palawan, you never look at the world, or the people who live in it, in quite the same way again.
When I was young, I had no idea that I would one day be fortunate enough to travel and wander in many places.
I grew up in a very conservative family and in a time when if you heard an unfamiliar territory, a foreign accent or you met someone from another country it was something of a novelty. Racism was rife, religious intolerance the norm, and anything that wasn’t home-grown was treated with suspicion.
I had gone from a relatively sheltered existence with my parents, straight into a safe and extremely boring job at a bank. For a number of years after that, I flitted from one office job to the next, one 9-5 drudge to the next, always seeking a new challenge, but never really finding what I was looking for.
Eventfully, having tried my hand at a number of different careers, I found myself working as a Business Process Outsourcing Consultant for US based contact center company and it was here that my life took a change in direction. I was then approached with the offer of a training program for a few weeks, to work with the company executives, meet department heads overseas, and to spend some time just looking around.
That trip overseas was a lot of firsts for me; my first long haul flight, my first overseas trip on my own, my first visit to a really big city, and my first ever experience of working with different cultures in the workplace.
It was also the first time that I experienced the excitement and the wide-eyed wonder of seeing a new country for the very first time. You can look at things like seeing the world on TV, but you can’t really see it, hear it, smell it, and truly experience it, unless you actually go there.
I never took that permanent job abroad and, as it turned out, that was a good move for me. Had I taken it, it would have been swapping one 9-5 existence in one country, for the same type of life in another country.
Instead, I opened my eyes to the fact that you can look beyond the boundaries of your own city or your own country when you are searching for a life, because there is a whole wide world out there just waiting to be discovered.
Since that first trip I have taken every opportunity that I came across to travel. I may have not seen yet some of the wonders of the world like the Great Pyramid of Giza, Lake Victoria and The Parthenon, but the thought of meeting so many people from so many different cultures and backgrounds is fulfilling and I consider that would be the greatest adventure of all.
Travel doesn’t just open your eyes, it opens your heart. When I see famine and war on TV, I don’t just see faceless people in a faraway land that mean nothing to me, I see people who I may have met, worked with and shared food with.
When I saw pictures of the Tsunami damage in Thailand and Indonesia, the quake that damaged those iconic churches in Bohol and Cebu and the super typhoon Yolanda disaster, I think of those crumbling buildings, landmarks and areas I have visited, and I thought of the many wonderful and generous people I had met on my visit to these places.
Travel is such a very humbling experience that can make you realise how some things that you think are essential in life are really not that important at all.
When a man, who has nothing at all by your own standards, greets you with generous handshake, a big warm smile, and invites you to share a meal with his family in his home, you realise that you really have nothing to complain about at all.
I may now not be rich, but I am far richer for having travelled to places unknown to many.
Travel also makes you grow as a person. You are pushed outside of your comfort zone and then, you get the surprise of your life. I’ve had guns waved at me in the province of Zamboanga, got stranded in Calayan Cagayan. Imagine yourself living in a remote island where the supply of electricity is limited. No phone signal, no GPS tracker, no theater, no big malls, no television, very rough road… Will you survive?
I can say I was able to experience it. And to think that, if I had never taken my very first trip on the plane all those years ago, I might still be pushing pens in the same old office.
Most of all, travel teaches you that, whatever language you speak, whatever faith you follow, and whatever you have or do not have, people from different places, are essentially all the same. Perhaps if more people did travel, the world would be a more tolerant and peaceful place.
Like everyone in the world, life has had its ups and downs for me, but when my mom asked me recently if I’d change anything, I replied, without hesitation, no, because if I changed anything, I might not have seen all the things I have seen and experienced.
She said “yeah, you’re right; you have an amazing life”, and that’s what travel has given to me and how travel has changed my life.
So, how has travel changed you?