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What Stops Us Filipinos from Traveling?

“I am really envious of your lifestyle,” a younger acquaintance once told me when I said I could not attend the poetry reading this month for a five-week trip in Southeast Asia. With migraine hammering my temples, I only gave a tired smile.  She was one of the many who expressed their admiration for the so-called privileged life I live.

READ: Poor But Want to Travel Abroad?

Privilege is a word I often associate with middle-class friends with a tinge of envy. Because it seems like, again seems like, they do not have to worry about rents, bills, and the occasional financial support handed to one’s family. They only have to worry about themselves. Their income is solely theirs. They are lucky in that sense.

 I worry about failing because I do not have moneyed parents to rely on when crisis comes. I worry about getting old penniless. So, I save. I save for my trips and invest the little amount I can put aside. Although I really suck at numbers involving more than ten, I practice and believe in financial independence and freedom.

I come from a financially deprived one. I sent two of my brothers to a public university. (One finished his studies, knocked up his young girlfriend, and got married right after; the other is in his final year, and I hope he will not end up on the same path). I am too privy to my own space, so I rented a small pad for myself and for Hip and Carbon, the cat royals and now with three other cats. With tuition, allowances, and monthly bills to think of, traveling should be out of my league. My salary as a teacher is not enough to cover everything.

Is Traveling a Privilege

The author writes: “Riding a ship is more cost-friendly than flying; and to kill time, it is advisable to have a good book in hand like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘Americanah.'”

Contrary to inspirational porn running aplenty on social media, mostly popularized by white privilege (leave everything and travel the world) and the very few privileged Filipinos, you have to worry about money, especially when you travel, more so, if you desire to travel more than a week. To travel is to have money.

There are at the least, a dorm bed, a rickety bus ride, and cheap meals to pay for. Hitchhiking, couch surfing, and begging are not for everyone.

Poor yet ambitious to travel the world, I live a simple life. My only expensive purchases were my cameras—the most pocket-draining was Loca, a secondhand Lumix GX7. I hoard secondhand books, and I’m on first name basis with BookSale staff in Cebu. I hauled my #ootds from ukay-ukay.

My main transportation these days is Katorse, my foldable bike.  I experiment in the kitchen most of the time. I would say I live in modesty. But to own three cameras and have a wall of books are not modest at all, and I would agree. But except for those, I do not own anything. I do not own a single appliance. Ah, wait, I do have a printer, a dysfunctional netbook, a cheap and equally dysfunctional tablet, a smartphone—gadgets all needed for work and the life I chose for myself.


COOKING. Instead of going out, I invite girlfriends to my small nook for a simple meal, coffee, or tea harvested right from my small hanging garden at the back.

Buying the camera, paying the monthly dues, saving for the five-week Southeast Asia trip, and regularly traveling around the Philippines were neither easy nor hard.  Little sacrifices had to be made. Instead of enjoying the sea in front me, here I am pounding words after words. Instead of letting sleep claim me, I have to be awake in the dead of the night to meet deadlines.

READ: What’s Wrong with Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World

This unhealthy lifestyle often results to migraines and bouts of insomnia.  The most serious consequence would be this: instead of writing my fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in Cebuano and English—the heart and soul of my existence—I am chasing travel content writing deadlines for an American company.

But I am not complaining. I still consider myself fortunate (which appears to some as being privileged) to make a living out from writing (although not the kind of writing I share with literary circles but regularly appear on my blog these days). My friends sometimes complain. Instead of joining the tagay for hours, I marooned myself to earn.

A middle-class American financial blogger wrote that traveling is “entirely a game of money and access.” But this tone of privilege-ness cannot be applied to many Filipino travelers I have met.

Traveling, in the context of a poor traveler, is a game of guts and setting priorities.

It took guts to e-mail Interaksyon, asking if they needed a regular travel contributor. It took guts to inquire about writing jobs here and there. It took more than guts to tell Mama I would not offer financial support to the family table because I have my own life to think of, which she understood.


QUIET TIME. Most of the time, I reach my human interaction quota for the week, and the introvert seeks for a solitary refuge to write and meet deadlines. (Gabby’s Bed and Breakfast, Dumaguete City, Philippines


 I long for places I have never been to. I see moving as meditative, as significant as standing still. I long for new experiences, so I invest in them.

To leave everything behind and travel the world is something I would love to do. I admire those who have the courage to do so. But I am a worry-wart and an overthinker. I worry about money. I worry about Carbon and Hip. I worry about my plants not being watered by the housesetter. I worry about failing because I do not have moneyed parents to rely on when crisis comes. I worry about getting old penniless. So, I save. I save for my trips and invest the little amount I can put aside. Although I really suck at numbers involving more than ten, I practice and believe in financial independence and freedom.

Yes, traveling, to some extent, is a privilege. But to a more personal note, traveling is a conscious decision I chose for myself, like most things I am involved in.

Traveling is not for everyone. Neither is staying put in one place.

First appeared on Interaksyon.com | July 5, 2015

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Jona | Backpacking with a Book

Hi, I'm Jona! I write stories and poetry and take a lot of photos, which I'm too lazy to upload. If you want to receive some photos that I don't share here on the blog, please leave your email here. I'm crazy about cats too. Feel free to browse through BWAB, and I would love it if you say hi! For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com For more stories about BWAB, check here. Connect with us through

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  1. Kikit says:

    Ang uban moingon og, “Sell everything and travel the whole world.” Pero what if wala kay i-sell?

    I love this article Maam Jo, thanks! 🙂

  2. CHONA says:

    i love to galavanting. enjoy your youthfulness. life is too short, however you need a huge pocket to do that.

  3. April says:

    hi Jona! i probably am old enough to be your mom, but the passion to travel is still very much alive in me. i have been blessed to travel some parts of the world with my sweet husband and praying that the Lord will allow us to add more to our journey. if only traveling were more a norm during my younger years, like it is during yours, i would have been a backpacker like you. anyway, i dwell on experiences like yours, and reading beautifully written travelogues like this one, make the dream a reality foretold.

    may you continue to thrive in your pursuits of travel and inspire us to hope that the journey lasts until the last step is taken to the next level still.

    keep safe, and always be in prayer — APRIL

    • Hi there, April!

      Indeed! I’ve heard it is harder for women to travel before. My generation is quite lucky where it is relatively cheap and relatively safe for women to travel around. You live the life I want when I’m older. Thank you for dropping by and saying such sweet thoughts. 😀

  4. Beautiful article, Jo. We have the same outlook on traveling as you. As much as we would love to sell everything, forget worries, and live life on the road, it’s just simply impossible for us due to monetary constraints and family responsibilities.

  5. […] typical working Filipino earns Php8000 – Php10000 a month. When I wrote an article called “What Stops Us Filipinos from Traveling,” the comments could be summed up easily: no […]

  6. I love this and I can truly relate! I come from Romania, an ex-communist country from Eastern Europe. I can afford to travel because I save diligently and because I know my priorities. But it’s not always easy! I do admire people from developing countries who have the guts to pursue their passion of traveling and work so hard for it! I commend you and will be following your adventures!

    Best wishes from Bucharest, Romania!

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