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Dear Kai, It Is All Right to Be a Tourist

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Dear Kai,

Some weeks ago, you asked me about your Southeast Asian trip. Is a three-day trip too short for three countries: Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh) – Cambodia (Pomp Penh) – Thailand (Bangkok)?

I said that you’re such an addict—an expression I used when I did not know exactly what to say. I threw the question right back at you: isn’t three days too short for three countries?

But come to think of it, why not? T and I crossed three countries within 24 hours. T had to fly back to Germany from Bangkok while I had a flight to catch to Yangon. We were in Hoi An in central Vietnam. We had to travel from Hue, crossed the Nam Can-Phonsavan border to Laos, and crossed the Savannakhet-Mukdahan border and bused to Bangkok. Yes, within 24 hours. Was it preferable? No. I had a problem with my lower back; it would ache so badly if I sat for more than ten hours. For someone like us who live in an archipelago where ferrying to another island province like Iloilo takes at least twelve hours, it was nothing short of adventurous and amazing to cross three countries in twenty-four hours.


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Kai, what can you do in three days in three countries? You already have an idea, right? You are going to be in a rat race: tick off this, tick off that. Is that what you want? Yes? Then go. Forget the superficial battle between what makes a tourist and what makes a traveler. Your memories and experiences are yours. They are personal.

When did it become a crime to love, to pamper ourselves at the expense of our hard-earned money?

With my profession, I am rather lucky to have a month-long paid summer break; while you must only have two weeks off from work. And you would be lucky if you got paid for taking some days off. While I have the privilege to arrange my almost non-existent itinerary, there you are, trying to see everything before you go back to the daily grind.

My coffee is more expensive than my meal. Haha!

BANGKOK, THAILAND. My coffee is more expensive than my meal. Haha!

Learn to be guilt-free and unapologetic for the things you deserve. You work hard.

I just booked a two-night stay at Capitarase-Cebu for Php6820 inclusive of service fee. It is, no doubt, too much for me, but seeing the photos that exude of luxury and elegance, the price is pretty reasonable. Why did I book such? Not to deceive you, I would be reimbursed with my booking expenses. Do I deserve it? I would like to believe yes. I have not seen much of Lapu-lapu City, and saying yes to this deal would afford me to explore a friend’s cursed land anew. I’m going to bring Katorse the bike to pedal around Olango Island.

It is not about me getting a sponsored stay in a posh condotel. It is about us pampering ourselves.

Have you tried sunbathing on a beach and ordered food from the resorts’ restaurant and did not think about Africa’s malnourished kids? And the so-called travelers frowned at you for your indifference of the world’s issues?

SIQUIJOR, PHILIPPINES. Always date the self.

SIQUIJOR, PHILIPPINES. Always date the self.

I did, Kai. Because, darn, I work my ass off.

What I am saying is that why do we have to burden ourselves with the sufferings of the world when in fact we are taking a break from ours? Or can we not take a day off from being socially relevant and indulge in a capitalistic pleasure without feeling guilty? Capitalism would be here forever. Those so-called travelers, by the way, were willing to pay Php95 (normal price is Php55) for a SanMig Light beer in a so-called off-the-beaten beach.

Learn to be guilt-free and unapologetic for the things you deserve. You work hard.

True enough, I have stayed in a smelly dorm that cost me USD6 a night. I did not do it because I wanted to be profound and wise after my trip but because I was in a tight budget. If I had the finances, I would have chosen at least a single room that would cost me around USD25 for sure. No bed bugs. More comfort. I could parade naked inside the room while I had to be alert in a mixed dorm.

Cafe in Jalan Sabang, Jakarta

JAKARTA, INDONESIA. Splurging in a coffee in Jalan Sabang.

True enough, my boyfriend and I stayed in a USD35 room in South Kuta, Bali and a USD40 a night on our last day in Jakarta. It was somewhat more expensive than our usual accommodation budget (I insisted on putting a cap on it: $23/2), but we got the room anyway. We did not feel guilty or unapologetic for getting such a room. In the middle of our month-long trip, we needed a break from the busyness in moving out and moving in and tended to the most basic of things: like lazying around, spending hours doing nothing on the beach, and cooking for ourselves.

I do not really believe in that so-called dictum travel like a local. Maybe we can truly say that when we are traveling domestically. But abroad? Experiencing a two-day train from Point A to Point B will not give us the license to brag that we know the locals’ way of life inside out. Cultural assimilation takes years, not a train ride.

On my thirtieth birthday, Kai, I spent Php9000 (USD225) for a six-day trip encompassing Siquijor-Dipolog-Misamis Occidental-Moalboal. More expensive than my week-long trip to Malaysia! The younger Jona would have felt guilty. But not the thirty-year-old.

Why? You may ask, Kai. Because.

When did it become a crime to love, to pamper ourselves at the expense of our hard-earned money?

I can come up with a lot of reasons why I travel. One is to write. Another is to escape. And I know you too, Kai, have your reasons. As long as we do not become unethical with our ways, we should be fine.

So go ahead with that three-day three-country race. Whatever happens with your trip, it would be a story worth sharing.





TRAVELING SOON? BOOK YOUR HOTEL HERE. It will redirect you to Agoda’s site, the only difference is that if you book your hotel here, Agoda is going to share its profit with me. Say, a cup of coffee! 😉

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. Sheri says:

    Yes one can be guilt free for the things we deserve and enjoy life with money earned, agreed. I also feel that because my roots are from a country of poverty, I am blessed and grateful for the live I have and live as some people may work just as hard and harder but never be afforded the same opportunities.

  2. Shounak says:

    I believe as long as we do our bit for whatever cause we believe in and give back to our planet in whatever way, we should be free to pamper ourselves, and go places, basically live the one life we have by exploring our planet.

  3. Shounak says:

    Your photography is very very good . But in case you feel you can make your blog stand out more by
    improving your photography further , my photography ebook for travel bloggers may be of help !

  4. We shouldn’t be feel sorry or ashamed because we travel alone. We earned every penny for our travel, so might as well enjoyed it.

  5. Rea says:

    I truly love and agree with the last part: “As long as we do not become unethical with our ways, we should be fine.” That’s my motto for everything in my life, not just travelling. I used to care too much of what people think of me and my actions, but I’ve learned not to give a damn about it now. Because, as long as I do no harm to anyone around me, I am eligible to do whatever I want and think I deserve.

  6. Liana says:

    I do believe we’re entitled to somehow live life to the fullest and enjoy a great rest and sunbathing moment. We’re definitely working hard in doing so, and we want some time away and enjoy every kind of privilege we would ever be able to purchase. So okay, it does feel like a rich kid though but I can tell you, I’m not. I just feel that somehow we need to attain this balance. A balance where eveything is attainable whilst you’re giving back to others. Idk if this is understadable but I hope so!

  7. Brooke says:

    The hotel looks awesome. I would love to travel to this area soon. I do agree three countries is too much in 3 days, though. I refuse to travel only to travel. I like to experience each destination in its’ entirety and be able to say I really get it and saw more than just a few things. I’ve never understood travelers who can check off 50 countries in a year, but everyone has their own tastes! Then again, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do (the only flight left that’s available might be a really bad one with lots of connections etc). Travel is an ever changing and challenging journey

  8. Hi, you have taken a trip to those places which are on top of my bucket list amongst the south East Asian countries. i have seen them on television many a times, but would like to go there one day. i hope you had an amazing time and the photographs were great.

  9. We travel weekends because we have a full-time job and we have these questions like just 2 days at a destination? Are you doing for the sake of doing it? Oh such a pity you had less time! and we can just say oh please it our money, our passion, stay out!

    You are right! It’s definitely not a crime to pamper oneself with your hard earned money 🙂

  10. Linda says:

    Too many people aren’t getting that I love traveling and it’s all right to spend my money on that! They like to buy big expensive cars and guess what, I travel! Everyone their own! Good post!

  11. Voyager says:

    People who are not afflicted by the travel bug, often end up commenting and discussing about how we are throwing away our hard earned money on travel. But they do not realize and never will that what we are getting in return is something invaluable, something that simply cannot be tied down by calculations and numbers.

  12. I definitely don’t think people should feel guilty about their travel choices or make others feel guilty. It’s not going to solve the problems of the world if I never stay in a nice hotel. And you shouldn’t make your decisions based on whether or not you think people will judge you anyway.

  13. Danielle says:

    I love this! It’s too true that so many travellers feel the need to never be a ‘tourist’ and just sit back and relax. Everyone deserves a break, and everyone should enjoy travel in whatever way they want to!

  14. I love to travel as it brings the world and other people, cultures and traditions closer to me……this is a very interesting post and I would LOVE to visit some of the places that are mentioned here too……a very thought proving post, thanks for sharing, Karen

  15. Tamshuk says:

    You’ve mentioned a good point on ethical travel, which is very important. And it is absolutely fine to indulge oneself from time to time. You’re right about that.
    Although I would consider myself among those people who can say “I’ve traveled like a local” after I spent 2 weeks in Indonesia traveling in cramped minibuses and pickup trucks. Yeah “living like a local” that’s another thing and that needs more time to integrate 🙂

  16. Tae says:

    Interesting take on the travel v. tourism debate! I also think it’s fine to travel how you like to, without needing validation from everyone else.

  17. Wow, this is an excellent piece!! I loved how well you were able to convey your message and show that we shouldn’t be ashamed for spending our hard-earned money. Thank you so much for sharing!

  18. Mark says:

    Hey Joan,
    Thanks for this interesting response. I’ve got mixed feelings with much of this but I imagine you get a lot of opinions thrown in. The only issues I have with the made rush in running through places is the idea of what we leave as tourists or travelers. The impact though usually unintended and unknown by the tourists is huge. Living in El Nido and seeing droves of tourists come in and out is a bit disappointing and seeing it from the side of locals living here it’s a bit heartbreaking. I think the idea of loving yourself being a crime could be reworded. I think it’s a shame many of us don’t reflect enough about what that pampering does to those around us. I’m glad to see you write about these things though. I look forward to more.
    Mark V

    • Hi there, Mark.

      Thank you for reading it through. I know where you are coming from, and I know where Kai is coming from. Personally, as a travel writer, I prefer slower traveling to have at least a grasp of the realities that locals have to grapple with. And we cannot solely blame tourists for the destruction of beautiful places like El Nido. The LGU has a big chunk of that responsibility; too much media coverage, et al. As I said, as long as tourists travel ethically (proper waste disposition, proper behaviour, respect local customs), they or we should not feel too much guilt about it.

  19. Jik says:

    You are just awesome!
    Well-thought-of kind of response 🙂
    I like the “unapolegitically” though 😉

  20. […] traveling is an escape from deadlines and stress. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with being a full-pledged tourist. For Eletia, I mentioned her earlier, traveling is her revolution against the 8-5 work routine. At […]

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