How Travel Changed My Life Forever

I have had many lives. I have served and bussed tables at a fastfood chain. After graduation, I sat for 12 hours at reception desks, making coffee for bosses and jotting down meeting minutes. I was the thirdworlder taking calls and pacifying irate first-world customers. For a while, I was also intended to be a doctor and a nurse working off shore for a million-peso salary. My green card was within arm's reach, yet it felt as if my dreams were faltering one by one. All the lives I lived allowed me to survive, but none of them made me feel as if I was fully living. 

Today, I live with just enough to raise my child and pay the bills and a 30-year mortgage. I live in a tiny home with a broken roof from where rainwater trickles down half of the year. But it is a life I wouldn't trade for millions or a white coat, because it is a life that I only imagined once, in a cubicle surrounded by white walls and endless fingertaps.

My heart for travel and writing is rooted far and deep. During childhood, my stepfather would take us to places we have never heard of. I grew up yearning for discoveries and writing poems about the rain, oceans, and mountains. So even when the economy crashed and the traveling stopped, getting away remained as my motivation whenever life gets tough.

When he died four years ago, I almost stopped dreaming. Work wasn't sufficient to sustain my family and in between the long, amnesiac hours, grief and pain grew roots in my bones. Guilt consumed me, because he wanted me to be someone bigger. Instead, I got married, had a kid, and earned so little. So despite knowing it's not what my heart desires, I considered leaving for the US to be what he wanted me to be.

Photo by Celine Reyes of Celineism

In the midst of parental death and a displaced sense of self, I rode a train to Malate with my daughter one Sunday in search of my stepfather's favorite places. The thrill of returning to my mother city, of trees and buildings growing small as the train sped off, brought my pulse back. Then, there, in the middle of the big, bustling city, a brown mariposa - similar to one that stayed long in my house the day after my stepfather died – appeared out  of nowhere and nipped me in the eye.

“Open your eyes. Follow the light,” it said. I was searching for comfort, for an answer. I found it that day.

I quit my job and pursued a career in freelance writing. I stayed in my country and began traveling more. I brought my daughter to mountains and islands on weekends. We braved roads together, and my spirit felt alive again. Things magically fell into place.

Travel-for-work opportunities burgeoned. Our on-the-road encounters led me to people who appreciate my work enough to send me to destinations I never thought I would see in this lifetime – and when I am lucky, also have my daughter experience them. These journeys have become the heart and map of many stories that made it to homes - on land and up above.

To say that travel changed my life is an understatement. It has, along with my daughter and words, saved me from myself.

What travel gave me was not an escape but a way to look at life for what it is: chaotic and frustrating, yet often magical and enriching. It didn't give me a temporary wound patch. It gave me courage until I was able to stand bold in stillness. It didn't afford me must-visit destinations. It afforded me relationships and experiences that taught me to be more open, forgiving, and appreciative of people, wherever they may come from. It didn't lead me to a job. It offered me a window to the world.

To be here, to live and not just survive, to breathe and see my dreams take flight, is a priceless reality that I will forever be grateful for. If I have not traveled to Manila that Sunday, maybe things would be different. Maybe my eyes will remain shut and weeping. Maybe I won't be writing now to tell you that the gifts of travel are alive and real. That it can change the course of history, if we keep our eyes open and buoy our spirits high. I know, because it has changed mine.

Photo by Irene Maligat of Inspiring Grateful Travels