I started traveling alone when I was 23 years old. I was in the midst of chaos. I have a job in one of the biggest telco companies in the Philippines. I made good friends and learned a lot but, I had this question in my mind that has been running around for months.
Am I happy?
There’s something that I can’t explain what, that makes me think that I am not living the life that I want. I want to try something new but I was too scared to do it. The fund? I didn’t have enough money to travel. I always thought that traveling would be my 30-something-to-do. But then, I always read the blog of Harry Devert and how he traveled, amazed me. He’s not someone who would go to a place for pictures sake. He immersed and connected with people. I want to try that! Add to that phase of my life, the long term relationship that I had, was falling apart.
The money, yeah– a problem. But, if you really want to do a thing, you’ll find a way! What I mean by that, is not getting a loan to travel. I got an extra job, working as an adhoc trainer in one of the BPO companies in Iloilo. Yep, I worked at night for 8 hours, slept for about 4 hours, and finally, my day job for 8 hours. I did that for almost a month. I then bought a ticket to Manila and rode a bus to Baguio.
After that trip, I started traveling to nearby places every week. Did that answer my question? Nope. It made me drag myself to work for bills. Until one day, I decided to quit my job. I quit, I said. I can’t stand this anymore. I became lonelier, stressed out and hopeless. I quit my job without savings. I dove to being penniless. Did that make me happy? Yes, for three days. I was able to go to friend’s dinner and I socialized more. But, the bills are rushing through my brain. How will I pay my rent? The phone bills? I quit unprepared. I dove with my nose first. Silly me.
After days of being unemployed I finally got a job working online as a virtual assistant. I had too many things on my mind and I know I won’t be able to travel abroad with the salary I had. I cut expenses by moving back to our house and told my mom that I’m going to be a financial advisor. It was hard at first because I did not focus.
I bought a round trip ticket from Manila to Siem Reap, Cambodia because I want to spend my birthday in another country with strangers and I wanted to volunteer. It was my first time to go out of the country. I researched everything that I need. Got my passport, accommodation, invitation letter, certificate of employment– everything they might need. I have it. Did you know how much I had in my pocket that time? P5000 (100usd). I had this heart for adventure and I wanted to test my ability to survive in foreign places. I said, if I made it in Manila, I can make it anywhere. 🙂
Anyway, so first time.. The immi officer told me that I needed to be interviewed since it’s my first time to go out. I was alone. I have my big 60L backpack with me. Yep, I did not add extra luggage. Hehe! Tight budget. I was interviewed and waited for an hour. They let me hop on the plane and told me that they are monitoring my flight back home. I need to go home on the day of my birthday. I planned to backpack for a month but I ended up taking bus rides to different places for 4 months.
So, how was I able to backpack for 4 months with the little salary I was making online? First, I signed up in workaway.info where you can get a host that would give you free accommodation and food in exchange for skills. I taught English in Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh, Da Nang, Hanoi and Ha Giang. I had free accommodation (mostly living with the local family) and tasted home cooked Vietnamese food. Also, mingled with Vietnamese and met awesome travelers doing the same thing.
Now, did that answer my question? Did that make me happy? No. I have never felt more lost. I remember, when I was in Da Nang, I read news about the Philippines and how chaotic the situation. There are things that I do not understand. Why people do what they do. Why do they love to hurt people. And I kept on asking myself, why is this happening? I would cry out of nowhere. I couldn’t really talk to people around me because they wouldn’t understand. When I flew to Hanoi, I found myself walking on the street of the old quarter.. there was a band playing “What’s Up” you know the song… 25 years and my life is still trying to get..
I was 25 years old. I was trying to be hopeful. I was so depressed and I started crying. On the street where there are more than a hundred people. I was crying and singing at the same time. Hahahaha!
I asked myself.. it’s a cliche. I asked myself why am I existing? I don’t know where I belong. Why is it so hard to be happy? They said, travel to find yourself. I have been traveling since I was 23. But, I don’t know. I’d be happy for quite a while and then what? Nothing.
Yes, I learned a lot about myself. I learned that I can do things alone. I can ride a motorbike, climb up a mountain in sandals. I can fall few times and get up. I can survive with little money and I know how to handle myself. But, I wasn’t happy. I was amazed but not happy.
Until, I rode a bus for six hours from Hanoi to Sa Pa. I lived in the Hau Thao commune with a family under the H’mong Tribe. Their village is situated at mid level of the mountain. So, in order for you to get there from Sa Pa town, you need to ride a motorbike or walk 10kms then go up the steep path to the village. The name of the house is Zizi Homestay. They have the best view, the best sound of nature, chuckles of children and richest culture you’ll immersed. They are hospitable. They have the best ginger+star anise tea. You will fall in love with the mountains, rice paddies, the people. Amazing!
So, on my second day at the commune, I decided to trek around the area with fellow travelers. It was a 5-hour trek where we were cornered by the Hmong women. They were selling artsy stuff that they sewn and dyed using indigo. They also walked with us. I talked to them while walking. They told me stories of love and hardship. I realized that these women have more problems that I had. But, they look at life like an easy piece. Life’s simple. They laugh a lot, they walk, talk, they love. They made me appreciate little things. They made me appreciate the wind, the music, the laughters from kids, the long walks, the misadventures.
It wasn’t a defining moment for me. But, I slowly see a glimpse of hope. So, did I find myself? Was I happy?
Happiness is subjective. If you choose to be happy amidst chaos, then you can. What I realized in that 4 months, is that.. I shouldn’t look for happiness. That solo backpacking experience taught me that these experiences are stages of developing one’s self. You will never find yourself, your purpose or your happiness by traveling for a month, four months. You won’t. But, it will teach you to be better. To appreciate kindness, to understand different cultures, to be inspired by different people. So when you go home, back to your comfort zone, you’ll be able to radiate that inspiration to others. Sharing what you have learned, treating people with kindness and helping them– is giving them hope. The same hope that simple life of Hmongs taught me.
I am not saying you’ll be a saint. I am flawed, everyone is. But, you better yourself one step at a time.
If ever you are in the so-called quarter life crisis, where you question and over analyze yourself, dig in. Don’t rush in getting answers. But, do not forget that maybe, the answers you’ve been looking for are scattered in bits. You’ll figure it out.