Travel. Travel solo.
I often advise this to close friends. Regardless of one’s personal circumstances, everyone must travel. Or so I thought. It does not have to be grand or expensive; it can be somewhere you have literally never been to like the next town or the next island.
But I’m changing my tone these days. I’m not as assertive as before. Whenever I meet my close girlfriends—one just finished her Masters in Biology, the other was crazily serious about her law studies and cute classmates, the third was so preoccupied about her guy and two jobs—they would ask about my recent trips, and I would tell them details that could not be found on my blog. Before, I would insist that traveling should be part of their life.
But I stopped doing this. I have come to accept that “leaving everything and traveling the world” is not the sole way to live a well-lived life.
It is just one of the many variations. It was just one of those days in a cheap café (Internet is unlimited, Americano is Php70.00 ($1.8), rice meal starts at P65.00($1.5)), I was busy meeting online writing deadlines—I called it my travel fund job—when Ellen, biology teacher, decided to join me. She talked ardently about the eccentric characteristics of frogs, their way of copulation, and the female frog’s strength and vulnerability.
The way she talked about her research was as passionate as I talked about poetry, fiction, and traveling; and she is aiming to have her PhD in Tokyo University. Her first solo trip and her first trip abroad rolled into one was Japan. Guess what, yes, to present her research on snails. She is only twenty-five years old.
People of passion, people of fire are the best ones to have a conversation with. In my circle, most of them are not travelers. They are readers, athletes, mothers, poets, farmers, fishermen, gardeners, researchers, musicians, filmmakers.
So travel quotes like “I rather have a passport full of stamps than a house full of stuff” or “Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer” made me snort. There is a certain arrogance that some travelers emit; and it is as appalling as it is misinformed, if not, altogether, uninformed and misinforming.
A passport full of stamps is not a guarantee of well-traveledness. You can be just partying and getting drunk from one country to the next. A farmer or any person can be very well-traveled without leaving one’s comfort. On the same manner, there are things you can actually buy that can make you not only richer but also more humane, kinder, more generous, more informed. Say, buying and reading books, for example.
Often, acquaintances misquote Saint Augustine, ( I do not even know who he really is, I wonder if they do) “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page;” and the sometimes snotty and PMS-ing me quipped, “A good book is the world, and those who do not read traveled only a yard,” or “the world is not only Southeast Asia and other developing countries where your money weighs more value; the world is not only twenty countries (which you have traveled to), there are more than 200 of them (depending on sources). It does not mean you had partied in Boracay for a week that you can now brag that you have been to the Philippines already.”
If not because of the monster named restlessness—the ache to go somewhere, to follow one’s own fernweh—I am rather satisfied with my mundane life here in Cebu: living with cats, reading the books that gradually eat all spaces in my nook, having a beloved and good-paying job (Surprise! Not all travelers have the classic “I quit my job” syndrome), tending a little garden at the back, writing poetry and stories that matter, finishing my MA (something that really needs grounding and staying in one place), and once in a while, escaping to the nearest beach.
But that is the thing, when it gets you, it gets you; and sometimes it is not the nicest feeling: being hauled in an uncomfortable and muggy 14-hour bus ride, being scammed, sleeping in a bug-laden bed, evading touts, distrusting humankind sometimes when traveling is supposed to restore your faith in it, getting sick in an unfamiliar place where it is hard to find someone who can understand words like flu or diarrhea, or walking while trying to hold it in yet failed in doing so because the toilet was ten-minutes away from where you were.
Traveling is highly romanticized; and partly, it is our fault.
I do not ambition to travel the whole wide world. Wherever my feet, heart, mind, (and funds) lead me, I take it, often with reluctance and overthinking. I stop convincing my friends to travel and to travel solo. I have accepted the truth that there are different maps and routes to a well-lived life. They have found theirs. I have found mine.