I was looking for travel inspirations across the internet when I stumbled upon a quotation by Ernest Hemingway. He said “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love”. But what if, you get a chance to travel with people you do not know? Will you grab the chance? It was a particularly hard question to answer. I always get the notion that traveling with strangers is such a bad idea. What are you going to talk about? What if you don’t have the same wavelength? There are just too many questions that need answers, but you will never know the answers until you try.
Finding yourself in a middle of an unfamiliar territory is quite nerve-wracking. It is like being in Kindergarten; you don’t know anyone but you’re expecting them to be a bit extra friendly. I found myself in the same situation last April 11th. Although I was with Shiela and Kat, whom I traveled with before, we were quite uncomfortable knowing we will be surrounded by nineteen other travelers we do not know. It was honestly a last minute decision to join Travel Factor. We were not fans of guided trips, we like being in charge of our own time and do things at our own pace. But what was the deciding factor? It is crossing the borders overland. Having quite an experience crossing the border of Singapore and Malaysia, we thought going with a group would be “quite safer”. And me being paranoid, I said one advantage of going with TF is that we won’t be “scammed” big time. We were adventurous if you will ask me but that time we were hesitant and left our courage in a place we could not find.
I could clearly remember everything that happened last 11th of April. That was the first time that I was not scheduled to report at work. At last, for the first time, I did not need to call my bosses again to remind them that I was on leave. At last, everything seemed to fall into place. Everything was fine.
I was sitting in a van, on our way to the airport, my insides were screaming and my heart was pounding. I could not contain the excitement and nervousness. The hours seemed so slow on that particular day, from boarding to waiting for the others, it was torture. The long wait was finally done when we saw the gang at the arrival hall of Suvarnabhumi International Airport. I cannot quite remember the first impressions because of dizziness but the funny moments started even before the official start of the trip. From our never-ending quest to find Golden and Edge to Edge’s barok english instruction to Froi, our first day of meeting was just simply extraordinary.
The trip across three countries is no joke. From the early call time to unprecedented events, you should be flexible enough to keep up with everything. The experience was tiring but fulfilling. The long rides were agonizing. But the good thing is that you have friends to share the moments with. I cannot remember the countless times we had fun while inside a van or bus. Or just talking with each other while waiting for the others in the meeting place. Everything feels as if only yesterday we were there, from Roan’s “I can buy you, your friends, and this club”, Tikoy’s “kita ka jan Melvin”, to Ate Ibang’s “pose ka jan” and of course her “groupie!”.
Traveling is not about the destination but the journey and the number of friends you made along the way. Sure the guided tour was contrary to my “I will embark on a journey like no other” thing. But it was still as exciting and memorable as my previous travels. I may be new to this guided tours but it somehow opened my eyes that it is not as boring as it sounds. Travel Factor did a great job in making everyone enjoy and make the most out of our backpacking trip. I particularly like the tandem of Tikoy and Edge. They are an equal balance of authority and comrade. Maybe that’s why we had a really great time, because of them. I initially thought that if our coordinator is a girl, it will be boring, slow and not exciting. But Tikoy proved me wrong, she was the exact opposite. I thought “how can a girl lead a whole gang of 20 travelers without making it boring?, she’ll probably have more time fixing herself than tell us what to do.” But I was completely wrong, she was fun, exciting, friendly, and most importantly, in control. Edge was also commendable. Who won’t like a guy with a sense of humor? Believe me he has it. Hahaha. He was making us laugh without even trying. From what he says to what he wears, you will be amazed by how his mind works.
The entire trip was pretty amazing, covering much of the tourist spots in such a small time, without being left out of the loop of travelers experiencing the real deal–the food and culture. I was a changed person after that Indochina trip. For me, if it is not safe, it’s probably not a good place to go. But I was mistaken, what is life without an adventure, right? These are things I cannot experience even in the most advance attraction at Universal Studios or Disneyland. Sure I’ll be going back to theme parks, but after that backpacking trip, I am more open to the culture and customs of other countries. I can now appreciate a Unesco World Heritage Site more than an attraction in a man-made environment. I can also appreciate food now more than ever. It was not my thing that’s for sure, but the lack of fast-food chains in Indochina was a blessing in disguise to bringing out the foodie in me. What I like most about the foodtrips, lunch, and dinners that we had was that it made us bond together as a group. It made us know each other deeper and of course, groupies.
I may sound cliche’ but as they say, friends come and go. As of writing, it was almost two months since we first met. After eight days and nine days for them, we became instant friends. Communication hasn’t stop, some of them will be going to Ate Ibang’s beach house, we still have foodtrip Binondo coming up on June. Some will be going to Calaguas, and some will join Tikoy in Korea. That’s the kind of friendship I like, something that will continue on even after everything was done. They say “surround yourself with great people” and given the chance, these are the kind of people I want to be with. Eight days were short but it sure changed each one of us for the better. We may have been strangers the first day, acquaintances the next, friends after few days, but now, we’re family.
I may not have a memorable moment with each one, but I can clearly remember everyone. From our first real encounter with TF friends as Millay and Mich asked us about the meeting time in Grand Palace to my long conversations with Golden, from Dan and Lynn’s ever quiet moments to Roan’s imitation of Angkor-tis, from Ruby and Ate Ibang’s photoshoot to Vhik and Froi’s love story, and from our group’s happy pizza experience to crawling the Cu Chi Tunnels. Everything was memorable. I cannot imagine doing the backpacking journey with other guys beside them.
I have learned many things from this trip. One is that we can still enjoy the trip even with guides, and that guides may not be the person holding a flag as a marker, a guide can be a friend. Another one is that life is wonderful, there are just too many places to see, food to taste, and things to experience. Also, the more you are with, the merrier. You do not necessarily need to be together as a group the entire time. But having a large group during road trips, and having a long table for dinner is priceless. Also, you don’t need a huge chunk of money to explore the world and enjoy. Life is full of choices, you can stay at home or explore the outdoors. You can work all your life and sleep on a bed of roses, but where will that get you? For me, “I would rather own a little and see the world than own the world and see a little of it.” The people I was with, the places that we’ve seen, the things we’ve experienced already have a special place in my heart.
There are things in our lives that happen to challenge us, to break us, and to inspire us. I have learned tons but this trip, and these people proved me that it really is…..To travel is to live.
To everyone, thank you!
To Tikoy and Edge, good job!
Hanggang sa muli, Kapamilya!