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.