Traveling abroad on a Third World passport, and on a budget, is a challenge, but we do it anyway because we are a generation hooked on adventure.
People call it “wanderlust,” a playful desire associated with jumping on any bus to any beach (been there, pre-SCTEx). Backpacking is fun, too, but if you are spending in dollars or euros, you need a real plan, because mistakes mean money.
Thankfully I have enabler friends, whom I have explored cities in Europe with.
One is a natural planner who is such a budget queen, her keychain is a mini calculator. One books the best deals online, from airlines to Airbnbs. One has the gift of navigation (we were too cheap to buy data packs). Me? I cook. I check for country-specific scams, and find the best makeshift tabo (very important).
Our dream was to do a multi-country European tour for 30 days and still be friends, and the girls and I did that—twice.
For Western Europe, the first challenge was traveling light. We were told that old train stations and most buildings don’t have elevators so I kept my “hybrid” backpack-luggage to only 8 kg—4 kg of that was the luggage itself (my Zumba bag is heavier).
We didn’t know that shops and fast-food joints are closed on weekends. A friend living in Brussels said parties are usually on Fridays, and chores and chill are for the rest of the week. Or he travels within Europe, since flights are “affordable.”
That weekend, we discovered the mall-free life—and döner kebab stands.
Our itinerary included museums, key tourist spots, castles, theater and opera houses, and whatever was free. Lush parks were everywhere!
Spotlight was on the food: legit Spanish tapas, Italian gnocchi, French croissant, Belgian waffle, Danish cheese, German bratwurst and beer. Gotta love a region where wine is cheaper than bottled water.
Two years later, we were off to spend spring in Northern Europe, this time more travel-savvy and definitely more tita.
We still went full-on tourist but the schedule was more realistic.
The Nordic region has different currencies and is mostly cash-free, so we just withdrew enough tip money for the “free” walking tours. We skipped trains altogether, and flew to save time, and our backs.
But apparently I am the type that airport security consistently stops for “random” checks.
It started in Iceland, I was asked to step aside and got swabbed for explosives. Variations of extra TSA checks happened to us so often that we factored in the delays in our travel time. We never figured out why, not even when I was singled out by a policewoman checking for fake passports right by the plane door in Frankfurt. Really, just me?
I focused instead on the highlights of my stay in the happiest countries on earth: seeing the bronze Little Mermaid and Christiania “green-light district” in Denmark, the geysers and lagoons of Iceland, the fortress islands of Finland, works by Andy Warhol and Edvard Munch in Norway, Viking ships in Sweden, blonde and blue-eyed Scandinavian guys everywhere.
We took a boat from Helsinki for a day trip in Tallin, a Medieval city in Estonia. It turned out to be a “booze cruise.” Finns buy liquor by the crates in Tallin since the Nordic region has ultra-strict alcohol laws.
Liquor stores are run by the government and close up early; supermarkets can only sell 2.25-percent drinks. Bars usually have an order limit per person, on top of jacked-up prices.
Our guides had the same explanation: The alcohol and tax policies keep their countries progressive and organized.
Feminism and inclusivity are strong, too, they said. After high school, one can go to college, get a job, study or raise a family—and do those in any order. Weddings are a “15-minute ceremony” at the city hall.
Other First World perks: Apps for everything including tram tickets, self-checkout groceries, self-check-in luggage, awesome transport system and no traffic jams.
But like in Japan and Singapore, people seem to be too independent and distant.
Traveling as an employee requires more than money and energy. It also calls for understanding bosses who approve long breaks, and colleagues who have to fill in to do the work.
I am also lucky to have a big sister who gifts me little luxuries so I can save up for trips. Traveling for work has allowed me to stay in fancy places and fly business—those are cool, and encouraged me to spend on experiences that, with the right company, make me happy.
Next stop? Maybe Thailand. I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to Bangkok.