DOWN SOUTH | I Wish I Had Your Life

February 13, 2018 - 1:19 PM
A photo of the author in front of her dream house in Malaspacua Island—her favorite weekend destination in Cebu. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering for InterAksyon.

I wish I had your life. I wish I could travel abroad like you. I want to have your life.

As a mediocre blogger with modest following, I sometimes received these messages, often from my fellow Filipinos with a similar background: unmoneyed parents, earning above-average salary yet a sibling or two to send to school. I knew that story too well.

I understand where they are coming from. And it embarrasses me when I start sounding condescending and preachy. But hear me out.

Traveling is not a matter of distance covered. It is a matter of curiosity. Living in a country of thousands of islands, that curiosity does not run dry. I am rather proud to say I spent a decade of traveling the Philippines before venturing abroad. I haven’t been to all 81 provinces, but I’ve been to most of them, which prodded me to write an honest Philippine travel guide from a Cebuana who spent years of exploring around.

Have it from the Little Prince when he uttered these very words, “growing up is not the problem, forgetting is.” Indeed, to have a child-like wonder of the things around you can be hard, especially when you have your own worries and sadness to think of.

Keep that child in you. Here are five advice that I could share to someone, desiring a life filled with curiosity

1. Start Small. Start in Your Own Neighborhood
For a curious mind, any place can be a source of inspiration. I had lived in Cebu City for fifteen years. Despite the length of my stay, I never got bored living there. Cities, can be strangling, I give you that. But they are interesting characters. I saw the city I lived in as a fascinating character. So I explored it in different ways.

Knowing a place through its food is a good start. I had a fair share of dining in well-received restaurants. But food found along the streets or discrete alleyways are my to-go adventure in the city. Finding new routes from my tiny apartment to my workplace became an adventure. I especially loved the seedy and often misunderstood places like downtown. I had no qualms walking around at night alone often in three-inch wedges and a shopping bag on one shoulder. You see, despite living by the biggest supermarket in the city, I bought my greens and food supplies in the biggest local market: Carbon.

Cities are sources of endless stories, and if you happen to come to my home for fifteen years, give my Cebu Travel Guide a read. If you happen to live in a city, explore it. Walk. Taste its varied food. Use a different route.

And if you want to fall in love some more, walk around when the light turns golden. Light and shadows can make some wonders.

Coron, Palawan. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering for InterAksyon.

2. Expand your curiosity and explore the neighboring cities or islands
Restlessness has always been one of the reasons of my constant movement. There were days I could not quite down the monsters in my head. A bus ride was and is the antidote for a restless mind. I hopped on a bus and just rode it till its last destination. And sometimes, spontaneity took over. I would board the boat and a ship and there I was in Bohol, in Iloilo, Leyte, Negros, or Siquijor.

To live in the core of the archipelagic country had some advantages. Islands surrounded us that it became my second nature to visit these places without any solid plans. I’ve been to the neighboring islands more than twice. And they keep on changing. Siquijor, for example, has now bars and fancy restaurants, which were non-existent on my first two visits on this legend-shrouded island. Give my Siquijor Island Travel Guide a read to know more.

3. Visit the popular ones
When I was teenager, most Filipinos dreamed of visiting Boracay Island. Now and then, the island remains one of the most popular destinations in the country. One of the exciting trips I had before leaving the Philippines for my year-long trip was my El Nido solo trip. The place was packed. Palawan, named as one of the best travel destinations in the world, is now popular among local and foreign travelers.

Despite the crowd, El Nido [read my El Nido Travel Guide] is still a lovely place to visit, especially if you are a beach bum. Touristy destinations are like that for a reason. A lot of people are drawned to its beauty. Definitely, there are valid reasons to avoid the crowd and place altogether. But visit them at least once.

Don’t be snobbish.

4. Go beyond the travel brochure
The place we lived in, no matter how small it is, keeps on changing. It is a character organic to places. I highly recommend that you venture to places that don’t make it to travel brochures.

One of my odd habits back in Cebu was looking at Google Maps and checked the curves and edges of Cebu and its neighboring islands. Until now, here in Ha Noi, I found geography fascinating. Looking at the map and looking at the names of the tiny islands around made me realize how little I knew of my country.

I’ve been to some remote islands in the Philippines. Some have become popular now, some remain quiet and elusive to mass tourism.

The author often walks around Cebu with her camera to capture scenes like this. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering for InterAksyon.

5. Live a curious life
Modern traveling has always been a form of escapism—a weekend getaway from the doldrums of our everyday life. But let’s be honest, we can’t get away for long. We have to go back to our normal lives one way or another.

Some said that it must be really great to be a long-term traveler—you got no 8-5 job, no routines, and the pursuit of adventure becomes your daily life. I beg to disagree. What I learned from my year-long trip that non-stop traveling can be exhausting. I dread the day of packing and unpacking. It was not for me.

Despite traveling constantly, I love having a base—my Point A. I love the idea of having my own kitchen, my own tiny library, and my own tiny garden. I’m quite domesticated for a vagabond. And I embraced that.

Now older and a tad wiser, I have come to accept that traveling is not the ultimate goal, but to live a curious life.

Living a curious life takes a different shape and form and is easier said than done—adulting can do that to you.

One’s destination, as Henry Miller eloquently said, is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

Here in Ha Noi, I embraced my domesticity and tried living a curious life in any ways available to me. I cook new recipes and ask friends to try it. It becomes a goal to check out cafes after cafes. A certified penny-pincher, I’ve checked thriftstores after thriftstores. The garden in my tiny balcony is thriving.

My mantra of the year is to stay curious. What’s yours?

• Jona Branzuela Bering, Palanca awardee and author of the poetry collection Alang sa Nasaag (For the Lost), blogs at Backpacking with a Book. She left her beautiful life in Cebu to pursue her goal of traveling long-term abroad. She’s currently based in Hanoi, Vietnam.