An American millennial is living his dream in the Philippines by being a full-time travel vlogger documenting experiences through videos.
Thomas “Tom” Kuegler is the man behind some of the viral videos on Facebook where he features the Philippines and everything about Filipino culture.
“Everything you could ever want is here. You have mountains, you have beaches, everyone speaks English, the food is amazing, you can go to the mall anytime you want, the weather is fantastic, so it’s all here,” Kuegler said in an exclusive interview with Interaksyon.
“The ‘American dream’ is a very beautiful dream to aspire to—to get a great job, have a family, have a house, have a car and enjoy. And I think that’s a little misleading. I think there’s more to it,” he said.
Kuegler admitted that he has also been convinced the ‘American dream’ was the best life he could live “up until I came [to the Philippines].”
While America may look perfect to those who are not from there, he explained that there are a lot of people who are not happy.
In contrast, he observed that there are lots of things he hears about the Philippines in terms of poverty but saw that Filipinos are actually happy.
“I aspire to be by myself, free and able to do whatever I aspire to do and I never thought that life was possible three years ago. I thought I might just be living in America. The dream to come here and live here was not even in my mind,” Kuegler said.
The pre-vlogging life
While Tom Kuelger seemed to be living his dream job now, it has not always been easy for him. He didn’t fully pursue travel vlogging until March 2018, although he has been blogging and freelancing prior to that.
The Marketing graduate didn’t want a 9-5 job and shared that “he felt really lost” after college.
“I didn’t really want a traditional job… I just couldn’t find a good job that I was really psyched about and I really had trouble finding work in America,” Kuegler said.
He initially worked in a bakery company after he finished his studies but realized that he wanted to do more and break free from his comfort zone.
“I think this fascination with being free from all things has always been a big inspiration for me,” the vlogger said.
He found his niche in freelance writing and pursued it for the sake of the freedom it entailed him.
“I actually like freelancing… not just writing. You’re getting to research certain topics and write about it and you’re learning. So you’re learning, making money, practicing your skill and you’re building your resume,” Kuegler said.
He literally wrote anything under the sun and learned how to build up his portfolio. This landed him a job as a remote marketing coordinator, where he started to travel in his off days.
His wanderlust, however, got the better of him and he decided to trade his laptop with running shoes, a backpack and trustworthy equipment to start his life as a travel vlogger.
Kuegler’s decision to become a full-time travel vlogger did not come overnight. He shared that he initially binge-watched travel videos of Casey Neistat and Kate McCulley—crucial personalities that helped him pursue his dream.
Neistat is a YouTube personality who has been vlogging since 2015, although his skill with the camera goes way back before that period.
Meanwhile, McCulley is a full-time travel blogger who has scoured different parts of the world to satisfy her adventure cravings.
Both of them became catalysts for Kuegler to commit himself to full-time travel. He has since been into five countries, including the Philippines.
He would revisit the Philippines again and again since he started his travel vlog, thanks to his father and his former manager in Disney World during his internship days.
Kuegler revealed that his father, who worked as an air conditioning installation and maintenance contractor, got invited to a sumptuous dinner by a Filipino client.
“I remember after (his) job, they prepared a huge dinner for us and I totally didn’t expect that. That was really fun and that was the first time that I got introduced to their culture,” Kuegler said.
He noted that his father had described Filipinos as “very hospitable and nice.”
Kuegler repeatedly became exposed to Filipino culture through his internship with Darnell Edora, a Filipina who was his internship supervisor at Disney World.
The vlogger remembers her being the “mother figure” of all the interns as she would always take care of them even though they are not official employees.
“She likes to take care of the college students, the interns. She’s sort of like a mother figure and what I realized later… it sort of spoke of the Filipino culture,” Kuegler recounted.
“She had the interns in her house for dinner and stuff and we would all hang out. That’ll be a way for us to meet each other… she’s probably the most influential person in my life,” he added.
Kuegler shared that Darnell helped him even when he was no longer an intern and had to find a job on his own. She offered him to stay in her house with her family while he was unemployed and never asked for anything in return.
“The hospitality was through the roof, she didn’t make me pay for her rent. I tried to help her out, to pay her back… she was very very kind to me and I talk to her all the time. She’s one of the only people I Facetime,” Kuegler shared.
Getting close with Filipinos
Kuegler eventually fell in love with the Philippines and started to vlog his experiences and encounters with its people and the culture with pure curiosity and an open perspective.
His videos on his Facebook page show how he has documented several aspects of the Filipino culture by immersing himself in the ways of the locals.
When Kuegler started to earn money from his online content, he decided to give back to those who have significantly increased his online engagement—the Filipinos.
The vlogger chose to donate some of his earnings to the Children’s Shelter of Cebu, an orphanage dedicated to abandoned, neglected, and abused children.
“That’s the first thing that came into my mind, of all the people to help, it’s the kids… The reason of why I have any clue of what I’m doing to the world today is because of my parents and my upbringing and how nice it was …. it means a lot to me to give other kids any help I can,” Kuegler shared.
He also created a new video series called “Amazing People I’ve Met” where he featured a single Filipina mother whom he encountered while trekking up a mountain in Cebu.
According to him, the woman reminded him of Darnell so much that he felt it natural to feature her in his series that aim to focus on an individual and share their story.
“She told me a little bit about her life and I remember, this is what I wanted… it’s not necessarily to cover the places too much, it’s the people. I came here to talk to the people and to see how they’re living… just experiences like (bonding with Filipinos), that’s what I want,” Kuegler said.
The video series is his way of getting connected to the people living in the places he’s visited.
The vlogger also shared that he will continue to create more Filipino-related content and added that he will gladly feature some of the country’s biggest personalities in his series if given the opportunity.
Among these are Sen. Manny Pacquiao, President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice Ganda.
“Yes, it’s almost like I’m living a dream right now,” Kuegler said.
“And that dream keeps shifting, it keeps manifesting into something else. I keep thinking what’s down the road. It’s almost like I no longer know what my goals are because I have achieved it,” he said. — Featured video by Uela Altar-Badayos