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What’s New? On Plans and Routes

a letter to my younger self

Taj Mahal, India

A week ago, I sent a version of this to the subscribers of Backpacking with a Book.


I found it awkward to write a newsletter. A romantic, I found it more charming to write a letter instead. The word newsletter sounds so formal and business-like and personally I am not. I laugh like a hyena, some say; like a witch, others say. And a newsletter for what? A non-successful travel blog? Haha! So, a letter is more befitting.

So what’s new with me and my struggling little blog? Let us start with the things that cannot be found on the blog yet.

It has been three weeks since I got back here in Cebu, Philippines after a five-week trip in Malaysia-India-Sri Lanka-Singapore. The trip was very much storied. Expect some long narratives soon. Tobias and I spent 26 days in India and 5 days in Sri Lanka. And just like our previous trips, I started and ended my trips abroad solo. I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for three nights before heading to India and stayed for another three nights in Singapore before heading back to Cebu.

Facilitating Workshops and Giving Talks  

Two days after my trip, I facilitated an intimate travel writing workshop, which took two months for an artist friend to convince me to do. But my hunches were right, the participants had travel blogging in mind. So coming from two worlds—the traditional and the digital, the writer and the blogger—I provided inputs on how to balance these two.

Travel Writing Workshop

It was a lovely afternoon with an accountant, a journalism intern, a CSR personnel, a psychiatry student, a chemistry professor, and a 10th grader!

One important question raised during the workshop was, “Should I include bad experiences in the narrative?” Unpretentiously, I answered, it depends on the publication you have in mind. I would love to think that there are rightful places for everything. In-flight magazines are happy places. They are escapist in nature, so bad experiences are highly discouraged especially if it is your first time pitching a story in.

In-depth narratives are truthful to the experience.

Travel writing or creative nonfiction, in general, is extra challenging for the very reason that its beauty and imaginative power is anchored on truth.

It was a rather short conversation for a workshop. But I hope the participants learned a thing or two from our four-hour interaction.

TedxUPCebu also invited me for a speakership on traveling as a creative process: debunking the myth that traveling is the ultimate goal. I would really love to talk about this; this has been the very reason I travel: to look for materials that I would have otherwise overlooked in the comforts of staying still. Unfortunately, the event is scheduled in January, and my long-term trip with Tobias would commence in December. So I declined the offer and suggested someone else instead.

This September, I will be part of Cebu Province Tourism Stakeholders Summit 2016 on social media climbing: innovative ways of promoting town destinations. It will be on hashtags, virality, beautiful photographs, blogging, and responsible, conscious way of traveling.

On Published Works

It has been a while since I wrote an in-depth narrative. Nonetheless, I am rather grateful to be regularly contributing pieces here and there. Rappler had published some of my articles. “Traveling to Rody Duterte’s Mindanao” was an introspection of how Mindanao is portrayed in mainstream media. I hinted about this portrayal in a lengthy narrative on Lake Sebu back then. I’m going to revisit these pieces for a collection of travel essays I am working on. There is also a travel guide/narrative on Cebu City, the place where I have lived for the past fifteen years. Last June, I was rather productive and punctual with my Down South column. My favorite was the retitled, “I’m Sorry for Being a Spoiled Traveler,” an introspection of our ways as travelers.

I am happy to share as well that me and Tobias are now regularly contributing to Cruising: Going Places, a travel magazine by Manila Bulletin. “Tasting Japan in Onomichi” (July issue) was a three-page feature on the gastronomic delights found and savored in this little city off the Hiroshima coast. In their August issue is another three-page feature on Hoi An, a UNESCO heritage in central Vietnam. In September will be a feature on Doi Chang, a remote coffee village in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

It has been a while since I wrote long-form narratives! The last one was earlier this year! I’m trying to finish a narrative on Onomichi: the ordeal of finishing this essay must come from the very fact that this is the first long-form I’m going to write about a foreign country!

But nonetheless, I am beyond grateful to be constantly writing in the field that I am in love with: travel.

On top of that, my first poetry collection, Alang sa Nasaag (For the Lost), was launched last Saturday. This collection contains around fifty poems I wrote from 2008 to 2015. These are all in my mother tongue, Cebuano—the language widely used in the Visayas and Mindanao part of the Philippines. For those who are interested in the book, please let me know. I’m going to have the collection translated next year. I do hope I am going to find funding for this other endeavor.

New Series on the Blog

For those who have visited BWAB recently, you may have noticed the Letter Series that started two months ago. So far there are four episodes in this series. The first went viral: Dear Isa, It Is All Right Not to Travel. It was a sincere and truthful retelling of “What’s Wrong with Leave Everything Behind and Travel the World.” I told her that it is okay not to travel, but it is never all right to not live a life of passion. I think there is a lot of Issas out there; it is one of the popular entries on BWAB.

Moalboal, Cebu | Diary Writing at Hale Manna’s Inspiration Point

I wrote an open letter to my fellow travel bloggers. I felt the need that we must up the game. There is a lot of travel blogs nowadays, but there is a lack of sincere and in-depth narratives on traveling and on places. I just hope that we will challenge ourselves to write more and write better. I do understand that there is a need to make money; but we must never lose sight of why we travel and travel-blog in the first place. I cannot speak for others but I started BWAB to seek my own readers.

There is Dear Kai, It Is All Right to Be a Tourist and Dear Passport, We’re Going Far and Wide. Both, I supposed, are interesting reads.

Projects I’m Going to Start

I love food as much as I love playing with them. I do not cook. I experiment. I tweak centuries-old recipes and come up with something entirely new and delicious or entirely despicable. Haha! So I thought why not include this hobby on BWAB? When I travel, I do not buy souvenirs for friends and loved ones back home. Rather, I cook, drawing inspiration from the dishes I have eaten from the places I have been to and let them taste the places I have trodden on. Tales from the Kitchen is something that I am excited to start in September.

Another project is the Postcard Series. Tobias and I are going to travel for a year together starting this December. Our trip together is going to be a test of some sort. If we can survive each other’s demons, then perhaps we are going to take things further. But we are not thinking that far ahead.

Postcard writing is a dying art. A poet friend/mentor launched his poetry book last March, and during the launch he also sold postcards with a poem printed at the back. With this, I came up with a project that needs your participation.

I’m working on a new poetry collection that centers on the act and art of traveling. In it is a series called Postcard from the Liminal—poems I wrote while in-transit. For those who want to have a postcard and a poem written for and sent to them, do leave your name and address in this form. And all I ask is in-kind donation. Any amount will do.

Rough Route of Our One-Year Trip

Tobias and I are planning to rent a camp van in Australia and road trip the northern coast for a month before pushing to Papua New Guinea. From there, we have Sulawesi, Indonesia and Brunei in mind before heading to the Philippines. And from there, perhaps Cambodia, Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Nepal, and Mongolia. From there, perhaps we are going to fly to South America.

We do not have fixed plans in mind.

Perhaps this is enough for my first letter to you.

I would love to hear from you soon.

Warmest hugs from Cebu,


Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. Teesh says:

    I love this letter Jona. 🙂 I’ve often lurked in your blog, and have always enjoyed your writing. I’m excited to read about India. It’s somewhere I want to visit, but it’s scary because of safety issues.

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