Stranded and pen­ni­less, and other con­se­quences of pri­or­i­tiz­ing your pass­port over your pass­book

In de­fense of trad­ing in a sav­ings ac­count for a plane ticket (or three)


We were on a boat in be­tween Camiguin and Ca­gayan de Oro, the sun slowly set­ting on the third of four days we had set aside for the trip. The plan was to cover the two places we’d al­ready seen, but we saw a brochure for Iligan at the air­port when we ar­rived and, tempted by the hour-long bus ride from CDO, we were toy­ing with the idea of squeez­ing in a day trip to the city be­fore we charged back to Manila and re­al­ity.

At that point, I only had a few hun­dred pe­sos left and still quite a long way to go.

This had al­ways been the case ev­ery time I went some­where. Be­ing away from home with an empty wal­let was a phe­nom­e­non I was wellac­quainted with. I just laughed it off. It usu­ally worked out for me any­way, mostly through luck, the kind­ness of strangers, and wor­ried par­ents.

On the way to Liver­pool from London, my funds were run­ning dan­ger­ously low after I fool­ishly spent part of them help­ing a lost stranger get back to his home on the other side of the city. After I bought the poor man a Tube ticket, I had just enough left for a night at a hos­tel and one de­cent meal—def­i­nitely not enough for the Bea­tles mu­seum, which was the rea­son I was head­ing to Liver­pool in the first place.

I con­tem­plated the cruel irony of my sit­u­a­tion at the bus sta­tion, wait­ing for my ride to Liver­pool. As I waited, men­tally tor­tur­ing my­self, a woman struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with me after re­al­iz­ing I was Filip­ina, just like her. She was from Cebu but had been liv­ing in Eng­land for the past two decades with her Bri­tish hus­band. She took to me in­stantly, and I sus­pect it was be­cause she thought I was the per­fect girl for her son, whom she so desperately wanted to marry off to a kababayan. Be­fore we parted ways, she gave me a big bag of food. So I wouldn’t go hun­gry, she said. In­ter­est­ingly enough, she had no idea that I was run­ning low on funds, and she prob­a­bly didn’t re­al­ize that her sim­ple gift pretty much saved me from star­va­tion.

By some mirac­u­lous twist of fate, I even man­aged to see the Bea­tles mu­seum, and on a VIP pass no less, all be­cause the owner of the hos­tel I was stay­ing in sent me to get a new book of dis­count vouch­ers from the mu­seum. The staff must have thought I worked for the hos­tel be­cause they gave me the VIP pass for free.

In Siem Reap, I mis­cal­cu­lated and spent most of my $100 bud­get by the end of Day 1. With two more days to go and a hos­tel to pay off, I had just enough for one-dol­lar meals and a mo­tor ride back to the air­port. My con­cerned par­ents tried to send me money, but I re­signed my­self to my new su­per­tight bud­get be­cause my ATM wasn’t ac­ti­vated for in­ter­na­tional use. Again, by some mir­a­cle, my fa­ther called me the next day to tell me that he had talked to the bank and asked them to ac­ti­vate my card, and that he sent me some cash so that I could en­joy my trip again.

That af­ter­noon we were headed for CDO, though, I sim­ply couldn’t see how things would work out in the bud­get depart­ment. The gold of the sun dis­ap­peared fur­ther into the dark blue wa­ters as the boat drifted lazily to­wards our des­ti­na­tion. With my back turned to the sun­set, I counted out the few soggy bills I had left and felt sorry for my­self.

How un­fair that I had saved dili­gently for months in ad­vance, es­chew­ing the com­fort of cabs and lunches out when­ever I could, and, in the big­ger scheme of things, a sav­ings ac­count and so much more, pre­cisely so I didn’t have to worry about run­ning low on cash—and still I came up short.

For the first time in a while, I wanted to go home, and stay there. Trav­el­ing ex­hausted me, and not in the phys­i­cal, sat­is­fy­ing kind of way that it’s sup­posed to and usu­ally does.

I had it com­ing. Be­ing young and hun­gry to see the world can be in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially if, like most young pro­fes­sion­als, your salary is on the mea­ger side of mod­est. More of­ten than not, this means you’ve got a lot of world to see and very lit­tle to see it with.

I sup­pose the strug­gle fi­nally took its toll on me as I counted my bills on that boat. Un­for­tu­nately, my friend Krista got caught in the line of fire. Sidling up to me in her usual perky way with no idea of the thoughts run­ning through my head at that mo­ment, she laid out her pro­posal for our Iligan trip, clearly ex­pect­ing en­thu­si­asm—and why shouldn’t she? Up un­til a few hours be­fore, I was still game to go.

But the loose flaps of my wal­let doused my spir­its. I snapped at her, told her I couldn’t af­ford it, and pro­ceeded to sulk my way through the rest of the ride.

They asked me what was wrong. With knit eye­brows, I told them I was tired of be­ing broke. With high spir­its, they told me they were, too. Their laugh­ter rubbed salt on my wounded pride. I con­tin­ued to sulk all the way to CDO.

I have been work­ing hard for the past three years and trav­el­ing fre­quently for the past two. I still do not have a proper sav­ings ac­count. I still have to use my par­ents’ bank cer­tifi­cates ev­ery time I ap­ply for a visa. I still have to count my coins some­times in the hopes that they will be enough for a good meal. I can still barely af­ford my daily life, let alone the life in­surance that my mother is try­ing to get me to pay for in the hopes that a reg­u­lar bill will keep my feet on the ground and push me into do­ing the “adult thing,” what­ever that means.

I have to count my leaves too, and when I’m away I have to con­stantly ig­nore the siren call of email no­ti­fi­ca­tions while simultaneously deal­ing with the fear of no longer hav­ing a job when I get back.

I even once quit a job to travel. When my United King­dom visa got ap­proved for six months, I ex­pected to re­book my re­turn flight to max the visa out, or at least get re­ally close to do­ing so. I wrote my res­ig­na­tion let­ter with a flour­ish, ex­plain­ing my rea­sons with full hon­esty. There were no vi­o­lent re­ac­tions.

As it hap­pened, the res­ig­na­tion didn’t work out all too well for me. The UK is damn

ex­pen­sive, and I re­al­ized that I couldn’t af­ford to stay there for six months. I came home after a month as orig­i­nally sched­uled, and found my­self drain­ing what was sup­posed to be my “un­touch­able” sav­ings as I wal­lowed in my post­trip de­pres­sion and grap­pled with plans for the fu­ture. Some­how, even in my un­em­ploy­ment, I was able to sneak in a trip to Bo­ra­cay, but that only led to me be­ing so deeply in­debted to my par­ents that when I fi­nally found a new job, my first few pay­checks all went into pay­ing off debts.

As we ar­rived in CDO, I thought about all the trou­ble I go through just to travel and won­dered why I even both­ered to go any­where at all. Some peo­ple stay in their own ci­ties all the time, per­fectly set­tled. So what if I feel rather like a wilted flower if I go for some time with­out hav­ing gone any­where? I could have sucked it up and lived with it. I sulked even more. Mean­while, another friend, Hus­sain, was still try­ing to talk me out of my mood.

“You should be grate­ful, you’ve been to so many places,” he said. “I’m just grate­ful for what I have.”

I tried to de­fend my­self, but I knew he was right. I was be­ing un­grate­ful even if I had so much to be grate­ful for. I had an In­sta­gram filled with pho­tos. More im­por­tantly, I had the sto­ries be­hind those pho­tos. I had friends all over the world, and we had the best non-ro­man­tic Meet Cutes. (I had a cou­ple of ro­man­tic ones as well). I had mem­o­ries of sun­sets and brack­ish wa­ter, and rain­bows ap­pear­ing at just the right mo­ments.

Most im­por­tantly, I had a few hun­dred pe­sos left, and still a long way to go.

The mem­o­ries, the sto­ries, the in­ter­est­ing company—th­ese are the rea­sons that Thought Cat­a­log ar­ti­cles, Buz­zFeed lists, and Tum­blr in­staquotes give when they en­cour­age young peo­ple to travel. “Be self­ish,” they en­cour­age. “Never touch the ground.” Ca­reers, master’s de­grees, and sav­ings ac­counts can wait. There is no bet­ter time to travel than when you’re young and

Be­ing young and hun­gry to see the world can be in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult, es­pe­cially if,your salary is on the mea­ger side of mod­est.

it’s still ap­pro­pri­ate to be wild and free.

One sim­ply needs to be on the reck­less side of re­spon­si­ble and ac­cept that while trav­el­ing of­ten has no as­sur­ance of a se­cure fi­nan­cial fu­ture or a sta­ble ca­reer, more of­ten than not, a trip will be worth what­ever it is you gave up or gam­bled for it.

Bank ac­counts, in­surance, a car, a re­tire­ment fund, all the trap­pings of a re­spon­si­ble adult life—while th­ese are cer­tainly im­por­tant, I don’t think any­one’s youth should re­volve around them. You will never be more able than you are now to climb moun­tains and walk dis­tances, be­friend strangers, and laugh at in­con­ve­niences. More im­por­tantly, it may also be that you will never want to see the world more than you want to now.

That was some­thing I came to terms with when, after my lit­tle outburst and sub­se­quent chas­tise­ment, we fi­nally de­cided to go to Iligan. When we left, I spent the last of my cash buy­ing a bus ticket. Krista spot­ted for me for the rest of the trip, as if it were tra­di­tion that when­ever I ran out of money on the road, some­one, whether friend, fam­ily, or stranger, would al­ways help me out one way or another.

At the Maria Cristina Falls in Iligan, the pink sun­set cast the trees in sil­hou­ette, and I faced it full-on. When the sun fi­nally set and the stars started com­ing out, we walked to the high­way and waited on the side of the road, wav­ing our arms at each pass­ing ve­hi­cle like proper ho­bos.

At that point, we were on the brink of be­ing com­pletely broke and our bod­ies ached after a full day of swimming in la­goons and climb­ing up and down the side of a moun­tain to see wa­ter­falls. We walked on any­way, and I knew what­ever hap­pened to us then—what­ever hap­pened to us ever—we had noth­ing to worry about. We had our feet and our wide open eyes, and more ways to go, and more things to see.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, those have al­ways been enough to go by.

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