“I am really envious of your lifestyle,” a younger acquaintance once told me when I said I could not attend the poetry reading this month for a five-week trip in Southeast Asia. With migraine hammering my temples, I only gave a tired smile. She was one of the many who expressed their admiration for the so-called privileged life I live.
Privilege is a word I often associate with middle-class friends with a tinge of envy. Because it seems like, again seems like, they do not have to worry about rents, bills, and the occasional financial support handed to one’s family. They only have to worry about themselves. Their income is solely theirs. They are lucky in that sense.
I come from a financially deprived one. I sent two of my brothers to a public university. (One finished his studies, knocked up his young girlfriend, and got married right after; the other is in his final year, and I hope he will not end up on the same path). I am too privy to my own space, so I rented a small pad for myself and for Hip and Carbon, the cat royals. With tuition, allowances, and monthly bills to think of, traveling should be out of my league. My salary as a teacher is not enough to cover everything.
Contrary to inspirational porn running aplenty on social media, you have to worry about money, especially when you travel, more so, if you desire to travel more than a week. To travel is to have money. There are at the least, a dorm bed, a rickety bus ride, and cheap meals to pay for. Hitchhiking, couch surfing, and begging are not for everyone.
Poor yet ambitious to travel the world, I live a simple life. My only expensive purchases were my cameras—the most pocket-draining was Loca, a secondhand Lumix GX7. I hoard secondhand books, and I’m on first name basis with BookSale staff in Cebu. I hauled my #ootds from ukay-ukay.
My main transportation these days is Katorse, my foldable bike. I experiment in the kitchen most of the time. I would say I live in modesty. But to own three cameras and have a wall of books are not modest at all, and I would agree. But except for those, I do not own anything. I do not own a single appliance. Ah, wait, I do have a printer, a dysfunctional netbook, a cheap and equally dysfunctional tablet, a smartphone—gadgets all needed for work and the life I chose for myself.
Buying the camera, paying the monthly dues, saving for the five-week Southeast Asia trip, and regularly traveling around the Philippines were neither easy nor hard. Little sacrifices had to be made. Instead of enjoying the sea in front me, here I am pounding words after words. Instead of letting sleep claim me, I have to be awake in the dead of the night to meet deadlines.
This unhealthy lifestyle often results to migraines and bouts of insomnia. The most serious consequence would be this: instead of writing my fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in Cebuano and English—the heart and soul of my existence—I am chasing travel content writing deadlines for an American company.
But I am not complaining. I still consider myself fortunate (which appears to some as being privileged) to make a living from writing (although not the kind of writing I share with literary circles but regularly appear on my blog these days). My friends sometimes complain. Instead of joining the tagay for hours, I marooned myself to earn.
A middle-class American financial blogger wrote that traveling is “entirely a game of money and access.” But this tone of privilege-ness cannot be applied to many Filipino travelers I have met. Traveling, in the context of a poor traveler, is a game of guts and setting priorities. It took guts to e-mail Interaksyon, asking if they needed a regular travel contributor. It took guts to inquire about writing jobs here and there. It took more than guts to tell Mama I would not offer financial support to the family table because I have my own life to think of, which she understood.
I long for places I have never been to. I see moving as meditative, as significant as standing still. I long for new experiences, so I invest in them.
To leave everything behind and travel the world is something I would love to do. I admire those who have the courage to do so. But I am a worry-wart and an overthinker. I worry about money. I worry about Carbon and Hip. I worry about my plants not being watered by the housesetter. I worry about failing because I do not have moneyed parents to rely on when crisis comes. I worry about getting old penniless. So, I save. I save for my trips and invest the little amount I can put aside. Although I really suck at numbers involving more than ten, I practice and believe in financial independence and freedom.
Yes, traveling, to some extent, is a privilege. But to a more personal note, traveling is a conscious decision I chose for myself, like most things I am involved in.
Traveling is not for everyone. Neither is staying put in one place.
Jona Branzuela Bering is a writer and photographer from Cebu, Philippines. When she is not traveling, she gardens, teaches, and becomes the slave of two cats. She is scared out of her wits about traveling in Asia alone this coming July and August. Follow her travels on Instagram @travelingjona or on her blog Backpacking with a Book. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org