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I Left the Philippines December 2016 for My Year-long Trip. I Don’t Think I’m Coming Back Anytime Soon

Northern Vietnam Travel Guide Ban Gioc Waterfalls, Cao Bang, Vietnam

Northern Vietnam Travel Guide Ban Gioc Waterfalls, Cao Bang, Vietnam

KATHMANDU, NEPAL | I’m typing this at Ace Cafe, a newly opened restaurant and cafe here in Kathmandu. I thought our trip in Nepal would only last for two weeks, knowing Tobias (my boyfriend and travel buddy of two years or so) had stayed for a month here already, trekking the Annapurna Circuit. But the two weeks lasted for a month. We did our own unguided ten-day trek in Khopara Danda, explored Phokara and Kathmandu, and stuffed ourselves with dal bhat. (If you’ve been to India, it is a simpler version of tali). It was more than enough for an introduction to a country of the highest mountains in the world.

Before Nepal, we were in Vietnam exploring the southern and northern reaches of this elongated country (I still have to write about it! Huh!). I stayed for a month in Hanoi to volunteer as a teacher while Tobias traveled solo in China. (Look out for my opinion on teaching English as a secondary language as a volunteer and as a Filipina teaching in Hanoi!) Before that, we had a quick trip to Cambodia (expensive country compared to Vietnam!). Before that, we were in Malaysia, Philippines, Australia (campervanned East Coast for a month), aaaand Papua New Guinea—a very interesting country, to say the least.

It is now August. In the span of seven months, we’ve been to seven countries. As of writing, I spent the last full day here in Nepal writing postcards for my nieces, nephews, poet friends, friends, families, and the lovely souls who subscribed to Postcard Poetry Project: Nepal edition.

I still have to write the stories and travel guides for the countries we’ve been to. I’m rather slow, I know. But I’m getting there, I hope.

I don’t see myself going back to the Philippines anytime soon. My travel fund is not as healthy, but I’ve learned the ropes of digital nomadism (when I’m not lazy.) So I’m pushing my luck, that you know, I won’t go broke in a foreign country.

Hi, I’m Jona, a Filipina traveling abroad and facing the possibility of going broke in a foreign country.

Here is my humble story.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House, Australia

How did I do it? Traveling long-term with my developing country passport?

This already appeared on Rappler. If you missed it, I republished it here with new notes on how to prepare and fund your long-term trip abroad.

To travel long-term, at least for three months straight, remains a far-flung dream for many Filipinos. Others may have excuses; but others have rough realities such as sending a sibling to school, being the family’s breadwinner, or having too meager a salary.

The decision to travel long-term did not come easy, I could tell you that. Like any traveler from a developing country, I had to battle against many burdens—cultural, emotional, and financial.

The following is a mixture of other travelers’ advice and my own, which may be helpful to my fellow wanderlusts out there, who just like me, are hesitating to take that big scary leap.

Let Your Family Know Ahead

I am not ashamed to admit that I did not come from a well-off family. Not a middle-class even. I am the fourth child in a family that can make up two basketball teams. You can say I’m the oddball in the family—while my siblings chose security through land and house ownership, there I was booking cheap flights in and outside the Philippines.

During one of my visits to my parents’ place, I randomly blurted out I would travel for a year. Probably with my boyfriend and travel buddy (for almost two years now.) That was a year before my actual travel plan. My disclosing the plan did not elicit the drama I somehow anticipated. My mother just asked about my work, and I said, I would be working online. I made it clear that I would not be home physically. And financially.

Filipina traveling abroad

Ban Gioc Waterfalls, Cao Bang, Vietnam

They understood.

Always have that talk beforehand, especially if your family somewhat depends on you financially. I still financially help my family, but not as much as I used to. Let me brag a bit: I sent two of my younger siblings to school. They finished their studies already, and I made it clear I would not shoulder our younger’s college education. I think my duties as a daughter (by traditional Filipino standard, which actually resonates to other developing country citizens) are fulfilled.

Save Up Long Before Your Trip

To say, “I quit my job to travel abroad” is either very western or privileged. Or both. Most Filipinos or any citizen from a developing country does not have such privilege. There is a need for you to plan way ahead to narrow down the chances of unwanted failure.

Since I badly longed for a long-term trip, I started saving up back in 2014. It took me two years to raise my travel fund {Php180K in my bank account, $1500 in Paypal, and some little passive income here and there) before I decided that it is time to test the waters abroad. It took three years to have the courage to let go of my beautiful life in Cebu, and go for the unknown.

Savings can be tricky. One strategy I employed was to have a separate travel fund bank account. It worked for me, in a way, that I can empty out my other bank account without worrying about my travel fund.

As of rewriting (August 2017), my travel fund has considerably depleted. The last time I checked I only have Php13000 ($220.00) on my Metrobank, Php15000 ($250) on my Landbank, and another $500 on my Paypal fund. I still have my emergency fund Php20000 ($400), but that’s an emergency fund. You don’t touch it unless you really have to.

Connect with successful digital nomads

Knowing I could not depend on my measly savings, I must connect with successful digital nomads and learn from them. Facebook has a lot of groups that connect digital nomads from different parts of the world. Some DMs are kind enough to answer any newbie’s questions on the path rarely taken. One defining character among DMs is that they do not take the now passé “I quit my job to travel the world” route; rather, they bring work with them.

Connect. And ask questions. That’s how growth start.

Learn New Skills

To take the freelancing route is to be as Jill/Jack-of-all-trade as possible. Someone advised me to learn web designing, animation, software engineer, translations, and copywriting that can boost my online portfolio.

Learn these digital skills prior, not during your trip. Why? You do not want to spend most of your days abroad going paranoid in building your portfolio instead of finding a balance between work and exploring around.

In my case, I’ve been doing content-writing for foreign clients for the past four years. I studied basic HTML online. Despite being a semi-digital nomad before my trip, I always look for some opportunities to learn something new.

You can do the same. A millennial traveler has no valid reason not to self-study. The Internet offers a gold mine of resources.

Again, boost your skills prior to your trip.

 Find Jobs Online before the Trip

I’m a money worry-wart. Knowing that my financial capabilities will soon deplete if I solely depend on it, I made sure that I have another source of income aside from the existing ones: content writing and blogging. For freelancers, traditional job boards such as Upwork and PeoplePerHour are the common place to start, but for newbies, the competition can be steep. What I did instead, I shared my story on several digital nomad groups on Facebook, hoping that doing so would lead me to the right employment. And it did!

That’s how I found my naïve foot dipped on virtual assistance. What does my job entail? I manage social media accounts.

Finding this extra job before the trip somehow appeased my financial worries. But I do not relax financially. So, I’m always on the lookout for virtual assistant and writing jobs.

Diversify Your Money

While some popular travel personalities said don’t worry about money, go, travel, I maintain my stand on “worry about your money, go, travel.” I never intend to travel until I turn seventy. I expect myself to retire from traveling sooner or later, grow some roots in one place, and spend the rest of my life gardening, reading, writing, and petting my litter.

I travel while saving for my old age. To have two VUL accounts made me grounded and less edgy. Despite being intimidated with numbers, I started my journey with stock trading. BPI and ColFinancial has a starter kit of Php5000, which allows you to take baby-steps with the volatile stock market. While you jaunt around the world, let your money grow by itself.

Remember, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify. Start small, learn the trade, and grow from there.

Start a Small Business

Our youngest is a senior high. Although I told my family that I would not be helping financially, I seeded a little online store for my sister. We sell quaint camera straps, accessories, and beach towel roundies. She manages the online store while I’m away. For every sell she made, she got most profit as her school allowance. Our little store may not be able to handle my expenses abroad, but it can surely help a family back home. In your case, it can contribute to your finances, little it may be.

If you need a quaint camera strap, bikini, or mandala roundies, get them on Yanni’s! Give us a message, and I can give you a discount!

Start a business that can be managed online. If you are passionate about something, give it a look a little longer and ask yourself, if there is a way you can monetize from that passion. In my case, I photograph prenuptials, write poetry for money (how I wish people pay me for writing them a poem or two!), I blog!

Sell Your Talent

As a poet and fictionist, I’m personally adamant about this. Artists doubt themselves more than anything else. But I sneered at the “starving artist” dictum big time. Selling one’s talent is a decent way to earn.

Despite being hesitant, I started my own writing workshops online. I provide affordable courses on writing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. I made a thorough list of readings (and spent hours reading them) that would aid any potential writer to find his/her own voice. I know that it is not a very saleable course knowing most people would rather spend their money on how to make more money. But I know, one or two out there are looking for someone to share their passion with.

I also teach English online to the Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Taiwanese. You know someone who is looking for a reliable online personal tutor? Have me in mind.

So if you are really good at something (I’m not sure I am) that can potentially help others in finding their passion, why not make a living out of it? It is not a crime, is it? It requires a good amount of grit and grace though.

Sell What Must Be Sold

Prior to my trip, I only owned two huge bookshelves, a writing table, two wooden chairs, two thin mattresses, three pots and a pan, five cups, and some secondhand quaint Japanese teacups and plates. I owned around a thousand books and several secondhand dresses.

Five cats enslaved and owned me. I could not possibly let go of my litter and my books, but I managed to find a buyer for my bookshelves, chairs, and writing table. If I had had ample time, I could have sold the dresses I bought from a nearby ukay-ukay store and some books I wouldn’t find myself reading or rereading in the future.

My tip? Provide enough time for your transition. Sell what must be sold a month or so before your trip. If you have pets like I do, find them a new home and let them settle down before leaving. If you live alone, bring some stuff to your parents’ place (books, kitchenware) everytime you visit them, so the bulk of moving out is hardly felt on the last remaining days.

Grow Some Courage

 No amount of punctual and religious preparation can surpass the stress and burden of moving out and leaving for your year-long trip. A long line of what ifs would tail you until you reach the airport and line up for the immigration.

What I felt was a mixture of anxiety and sadness. To feel sad is perfectly all right, I think. I know I would miss the people I spent, dined, drank, and shared my love for literature with. I would miss the ruckus at home. I would miss my cats. Above all, I would miss my favorite Filipino dishes.

And perhaps you would too. But grow some courage. You wanted to travel. You ached for experiences. You ached for stories. You ached for the open road. Give it a try. As what Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

Let your courage grow some more.

How about you? What are your doubts and fears? What is your story? I would love to read them. Leaving one’s country for an indefinite period of time could be stressful. The preparation is the most stressful. How do you cope with it?

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 backpackingwithabook@gmail.com. For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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  1. Teesh says:

    Congrats, Jona! I personally don’t plan on traveling long term but I agree that while traveling is fun, one should also be practical. I cannot wait to read about your travels. 7 countries in 7 months, wow!

  2. Mark Atong says:

    This is inspiring! I have just started a website myself which I made as an online journal. Your tips are practical and downright attainable. I own a lot of books too and I just could not, in good conscience, sell them.

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