How Travel Changed My Life

In 2014, I quit my corporate job to travel. I went to four countries and came back home nine months later jet lagged and fifteen pounds heavier. Upon returning, I met up with friends who had mixed reactions from “you’re so cool” to “so what now?” The first statement was easily acknowledged with modesty, plus key chains and ref magnets. But the second was greeted with a thought that I never expected to come full circle with.

My reason for quitting my job to travel was not only to enjoy life but to also get out of my reality of working 9-5 and generally living in Manila for more than a decade. With all the hair-loss deadlines and pesky bus drivers, I wanted change, so I felt that I had to get out.

When I traveled, I initially felt that I made the right decision, because after months of learning new cultures, meeting people from different countries, getting chased by tuktuk drivers, and witnessing extraordinary sunsets, I became happier and reinvigorated. But what surprised me was that those months outside Manila also made me realize that no matter how bad it sometimes seem, such as waking up to the horrid scent of the Pasig River, breathing jeepney exhaust, or even dealing with honchos who know nothing but rendering overtime and pocketing money, there is indeed, no place like home.

You see, I perceived traveling to be a break from my reality, something that makes me think that there’s a better world outside Manila. And it’s partly true because if I want to see ostentatious temples, I don’t go to Quiapo; I go to Thailand. If I want to do yoga, I go to Bali.

But I also saw traveling as an escape.

sri lanka

Talking to a tea picker in Sri Lanka

I can’t deny that traveling made me see things that others have yet to see and experience moments that are too rare to grasp when you simply follow a daily routine. But in the end, it all comes back to the question of “so what now”.

What really happens when one comes back home after traveling? What happens when it’s all over and reality knocks once again on the front door? Will traveling extinguish the fire of all problems that stems from my 9-5 job and living in Manila? Will it really give me the inner peace I’ve been longing for?

The great travel writer Pico Iyer always talks about living in the moment, traveling not far but appreciating what we have right in front of us. In his book, The Art of Stillness, he says, “You can go on vacation to Paris or Hawaii or New Orleans three months from now, and you will have a tremendous time, I’m sure. But if you want to come back feeling new, alive, full of fresh hope and in love with the world, I think the place to visit may be nowhere.”

Bangkok train station | photo by Thea Serad

The truth is, traveling doesn’t really change anything. It doesn’t solve problems, it doesn’t make things easier, and it doesn’t paint life with unicorns and candy-sprinkled donuts. But one thing’s for sure: it awakens new perspectives. Old habits never die, but when we see the world with new eyes, we become appreciative of everything and what we have at the moment.

We are sleeping giants. Traveling just wakes us up.

It has been three years since I quit my job to travel. But people still ask me if I’m willing to try it again, to be out there and experience freedom. All I know is, freedom is within reach. It is within me and I feel it amid the passing jeepneys and the grind of the city. Most of all, I feel it despite the fact that a few hours from now, I’ll be putting on my corporate badge for my 9-5 job.

I certainly don’t know when I’ll be traveling again, when I’ll be out there gallivanting with my backpack and discovering new places. But one thing’s for sure: I love this moment. And I have to thank traveling for every bit of it.


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