A Map For Saturday: A 3rd World Perspective

We all dream of traveling the world. We want to experience different cultures, talk to people from all walks of life, and take in as much knowledge about a country as we can that books or newspapers can never teach us. As we delve more into the idea of buying the “Round The World” or RTW ticket, it becomes clear that it’s not about being lucky; it’s about the attitude to actually do it…so they say.

A Map For Saturday, a documentary directed by Brook Silva-Bragga, tells us exactly this. In 2005, Brook took the leap by quitting his promising job with HBO as a producer. He then bought an RTW ticket and traveled to Australia, South East Asia, India, Nepal, Europe and South America for a year.

Brook is not your typical Holmby Hills rich kid. To survive, he stayed in hostels and sometimes, cooked his own food. He met fellow backpackers–typical middle class vagabonders who also quit their jobs to travel the world- from Europe, Canada and the United States. They also believe that it’s not about being lucky; it’s about the attitude.

I have nothing but praise for the documentary. It looks at the real backpacking culture and several facets that most of us on the trail are familiar with: the usual five questions, the temporary friends, travel burnout, dorm sex, full moon parties, etc. The documentary also highlights the wealth of experience gained through traveling. That’s why for Brook, everyday felt like a Saturday:  a day of freedom, of letting life flow and gaining so much from it in return.

But is this concept of “Saturday” applicable to the Filipino traveler? More importantly, is attitude more important than money to travel the world?

Brook traveled the world for $20,000, an amount any American or Canadian could save in a year or 2 or even less. With a minimum wage of $7-8/hour, of course it’s possible, especially if your hourly rate is beyond the minimum wage. But what is $20,000 in a developing country such as the Philippines?

As of this writing, the amount is equivalent to 854,357.29 in Philippine Peso. The daily minimum wage in the capital Manila for non-agricultural sectors is Php426 or $9.9; minimum wage for other regions is lower (source). Unless you’re a CEO or a general manager, you may only earn a thousand pesos / day. How many days would it then take for you to save 800 grand? Here’s a simple calculation that already considers cutting down on expenses:

  • Estimate earnings per month:  20,000 (without tax)
  • Rent at the lowest: 4,000
  • Utilities (water and electricity): 1000
  • Grocery: 2,500
  • Transportation: (depends where you’re coming from). Minimum is PHp40
    40*20 days = 800
  • Others (money to support family / emergency money): 3,000
  • Daily food budget (unless you want to live on cheap eats forever):
    Php 150 for a decent meal (breakfast-dinner): 150*20 days =3000
  • Total: 14,300
  • Savings per month month:
    5,700*12 months = 68,400php or about $ 1,596.45

For a middle class Filipino who earns this much in a month, it may take another 15-20 years to reach $20,000, unless he or she wins the lottery or gets a bonus from mommy and daddy’s rich bank account.

What if you’re a TV producer like Brooke?  According to friends who are part of the network, a TV producer basically earns about Php 25,000 to 40,000 / monthly. And it could go below 25 if you don’t work for a major network.

Let’s use the bigger amount which is 40,000 and apply the same formula. In a year, one can save about $7,000. This means it’s possible to travel the world in 3 years time. But how many Filipinos actually belong to the bracket that earns 40,000 / month? Just look at this data:

  • A call center employees earns Php 10,000 – 18,000 per month
  • An office administrator earns Php 10,000 – 20,000 per month
  • A basic teacher earns Php 15,000 – 18,000 per month
  • The average security person man or woman earns Php 200+ per day
  • The average guest house / hotel cleaner earns Php 200+ pesos per day
  • A receptionist (starting) earns: Php 200 – 300 per day

Even if $20,000 is an exaggerated price, lowering it to $10,000 or Php 427,950.05 still requires hard work for the average Filipino to book an RTW ticket. Let’s not forget that there are other prerequisites such as paying for insurance, visa, vaccine shots, etc.

In the documentary, Brook interviews a Nepalese who says he wants to do something more with his life but HE CANNOT. He does have the attitude, but if you live in a developing / third world country, there are still many things to consider. It’s fine if you have enough money to venture on your own. In fact, a friend of mine continues to tell me that one does not have to be RICH in order to travel. In a way, I agree because living frugally and saving money in the process can help you buy that ticket.

But there are limitations for a Filipino receptionist who has a mouth to feed or a Filipino bus driver who cannot earn more than $10 a day. $20,000 already makes you a millionaire in the Philippines. Now how many Americans can actually say that $20,000 already makes them a millionaire from a financial perspective?

So the question still remains: Can somebody who earns less than $300 a month buy that RTW ticket? Or does it only take courage and the right attitude to go around the world?

You decide.

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