How Travel Changed My Life

In the last quarter of 2014, I unwittingly found myself in the most decisive crossroad in my life yet: I was 21, in my third year in university, and eager to go on a term abroad in Spain while my dad was 52, still young and healthy, when he suddenly passed away due to a heart attack.

Anyone who has experienced this particular kind of loss knows there are no words to adequately express the intensity of what follows. I was enveloped in guilt, anger, sadness, and just about any negative feeling in the full spectrum of human emotion. Somehow I was expected to stay strong through it all; to fake it until I made it.

Accepting and appreciating life’s own pace in Kyoto, Japan

But how could I even begin to feel excited about what I had dubbed “the trip of of a lifetime” when one of the few people I was eager to tell all about it was no longer? Not only had I lost one of the most important figures in my life, a person who loved me unconditionally and vice versa, but I had also lost myself in the process.

On the surface, moving to Europe for six months was the perfect excuse to heal and to find myself. How could grieving in winter and blossoming in spring be unattractive to anyone? Life, being the epitome of irony that it is, had granted me the opportunity to wallow in distractions and to run away from reality, so to speak. Nothing could have prepared me better for all that was to come than hopping on that plane to Barcelona.

Lifting all up in Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain

What took place as I stepped foot on European soil was a kind of rebirth. I drowned in the darkness of my own sorrows and in the depths rediscovered the vitality of life. I was surrounded by scenery that was unlike anything I was used to back home. I was immersed in experiences I would have never in my life imagined finding myself in. I was even adding a fourth language to my arsenal. Every weekend I found myself in a different place. In half a year I had traveled to tens of countries around Europe and it didn’t matter one bit that I did most of it by myself.

For the first time, I was bitten by the travel bug. And I haven’t stopped traveling since.

Going broke in pricey Copenhagen, Denmark

When I got back to the Philippines,  I was a completely different person. From going on familiar beach trips with friends from high school to backpacking through unfamiliar Indochina with friends from university: I seized every opportunity to pack my bags and just go. That burning desire to travel has also led me back here to Spain shortly after graduating: no longer as a student of Spanish, but this time as a teacher of English.

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Falling in love with breath-taking Prague, Czech Republic

Despite all the difficult challenges and tragic events that I have had to weather thus far, I have never looked to travel as a mere outlet to escape life but rather as an earnest way for life not to escape me. I travel to all these places, both old and new, to live in the triviality of my worries and in the profundity of my adventures.

Tank top and short shorts in Singapore, Singapore

Instead of warranting me answers in life, travel has generated even more questions. At the time of writing, I find myself in yet another crossroad, perhaps a lot less rocky than the one I have just finished passing through but difficult to traverse just the same. Whether or not I stay in Spain for another year is up in the air. The past winter has shown me that home calls every three months or every time the temperature dropping below zero makes this island girl appreciate the humidity coupled with torrential rains back in the tropics, whichever comes sooner.

Hiking up for majestic views in Dubrovnik, Croatia

While travel is essentially about being in the present, it is also about being in a constant state of departure. This type of travel has made me appreciate home, realizing that it is also possible to have one in a corner of the world that is the complete opposite of where you come from. I have learned the hard way that missing what you are used to does not equal being miserable where you currently are. It just means you are striking the right balance between staying true to yourself and welcoming any change that may arise for the sake of your growth as a person.

Home is where the heart is in El Nido, Philippines

Similarly, in spending the past couple of years living in and traveling between Europe and Asia I have accumulated memories to last a lifetime. From experiencing the joy of having the freshest fish in Tsukiji in both summer and winter to the bliss in enjoying chocolate con churros in Sol in fall and spring: these memories may be years and seasons apart but they are never the same experience. I may travel to the same places but I am a different person each time.

But more than giving me all these precious memories to look back on in the future and allowing me to meet all sorts of people along the way, travel has made me realize that my life in itself is a journey that continues to unfold with each delayed flight and each scenic train ride. Whether the story is set against the backdrop of the Basque mountain ranges or the busy streets of Manila, life continues to be an adventure.

And through it all, I never felt alone for I know my dad continues to keep a watchful eye on and is with me every step of the way.

This is an entry to the How Travel Changed My Life contest by Traveloka: