Travel Diaries

My Travel Journals and I: All great journeys begin with a stroke of a pen

A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step.
In my case, it’s with the simple stroke of a pen right after the tickets have been confirmed and a confirmation of flight has been forwarded to my email address.

I have always been the type of girl to search for the tiniest details each time I plan a quick get-away, whether where to sleep, stay or even exchange foreign currency. In our family, I was the type to plot a trip in MS Excel with grids dedicated to itinerary, budge and number of recommended hours for travel and commute.

Tedious as it may sound, I find simple joys in looking up attractions, interesting B&Bs, cheap accommodations and even the occasional to-die for restaurant where we can splurge and enjoy a great meal.

I’ve had three travel journals since 2007. The first one, a thick tome with cutesy shojo manga drawings and barely discernible English quotes, covered my trips from 2007-2009; the second one from 2010 to 2012 and latest one for an upcoming family trip to HK alone.

Two of my three journals. The first one (not pictured) contained copious notes about Singapore and HK. From the eyes of a first-time traveler.

My second notebook was a thick, black hard-bound rectangle notebook with the picture of a black cat on the cover. Inside was three sets of writing pads which was perfect for quick notes and easy reminders. This notebook served me so well when I went back to Singapore in 2011 and of course, during the Great Seoul Searching Trip.

travel journal

Notes on how to go around Busan, with foreign currency translated into pesos. Indicated was the cost of transportation via the airport bus from Gimhae International Airport to Busan Train Station (KRW5,000 = PHP189)

Finalizing the room reservations at Zaza Backpackers, Myeongdong, Seoul

I am currently using a small orange colored Moleskine-type notebook, with the words “WanderGrrrrrrl” drawn in front. I drew this one day during a really slow day at the office. Currently, this notebook contained notes and plans for an upcoming trip next week. The notebook also contained budgets, hostel choices and a few directions going from one attraction to another. At the back, I stapled a small copy of the MRT map in Hong Kong. While I know that maps will be easily available once we landed in Chep Lap Kok, the OC girl in me is happy and at peace with the fact that I have a map stapled at the back of my notebook.

This notebook is small and compact and can easily fit my pocket or small day bag. I think this one is perfect when my very dysfunctional-ly funny, but dearly beloved family (mum and dad included!) takes the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui for the very first time.

If you will notice in the pictures, there are tabs highlighting the sections: one section was allocated for our first day plans, another one is for the second day and so on and so forth. Each section contains commute, budget and itinerary as well as some recommended side trips like a trip to Ikea, etc.

I am now down on my last twenty pages and I am sure that before this trip draws to a close, I will again be breaking out a new notebook to serve me on future trips both locally and outside the country.

In this day and age where everything can be found in just a few clicks in our smartphones and iPADs, you might ask me why bother writing it all down in paper.

I don’t know, but for me — there’s a certain “order into things” whenever I summarize all the information out there and write them (in order). It gives me the sweet sense that I am going somewhere and that I have truly prepared for it. The same notebook serves as a reminder of the things I’ve seen, the things I’ve enjoyed and the “not-so-much”. The writings, no matter how hurried or out of place some of them may seem, hold a certain gravitas and memory. After a few months or so, you will look back and remember that great food you have somewhere on the backstreets of the city; or the number of the hostel you booked online and forgot about.

People buy keepsakes of their adventures, I tend to write them down. To me, all great journeys-good and bad memories-begin with a single stroke of a pen.

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Asia, Singapore, Travel Diaries

Taking the first steps towards a lifelong love of travel

I glanced furtively on the white paper labelled “Disembarkation Sheet” as the pretty yet uptight airline stewardess from JetStar handed two pieces for my sister and I. My sister, sensing my discomfort, said “You will have to fill that out. We will submit it once we enter Singapore immigration”. 

It was June 2007, I was also 27 years old and traveling out of the country for the first time. A few months before, my 24-year old sister scored super cheap tickets from Manila to Singapore, for about PHP6,000 each (that was considered cheap then) and asked me to join her. I was simply elated that I booked a ticket that same night. The same night, we also found a hostel through the internet but were skeptical with the address. Later on, we learned why we were iffy with the accommodations booked for us.

After carefully copying details from my newly minted passport (encased in a yellow, plastic Winnie the Pooh passport cover – don’t ask me why), I leaned on the cramped seat while glancing beyond the airline windows. I couldn’t see anything outside except for rows and rows of fluffy white clouds. I closed my eyes –the pilot just announced that we will be landing in a few minutes.

SINGAPORE! I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea what to expect–except that, based on my research–the country is gloriously clean and that it is a bit hot and humid just like the Philippines. Then it hit me, I was traveling out of the country for the first time, with ten thousand pesos in my pocket and a new suitcase which I had to check through the gate. Inside were clothes and shoes good enough for a two week stay.We were staying for just four days

breeze through immigration

2007 – I was still thin and had black hair. Just breezed through immigration

I breezed through Immigration and was given the 30-day stamp. I was simply elated and couldn’t believe that I was a thousand miles away from the family and the (then) boy friend. My sister and I took the MRT out of the airport and hopped on the cab at the Tanah Merah station for Farrer Park where we booked a room on a local boarding house. Inside the cab, I noticed that credit cards were being accepted for paying the cab. Immediately, I was beyond impressed.

cabs accept travelers cards

no need to worry about cash. these cabs accept cards

I remember that I kept saying to my sister, “Imagine they accept credit cards! And the cabs — the cabs were of the Mercedes Benz variety!” My sister was amused of how I managed to find something to say just about everything. For someone like me who never went anywhere but the familiar streets of Makati and the idyll of the various Philippine provinces I’ve been to, the cleanliness, the clockwork efficiency and the(then) newness of Singapore was simply too much.

We found the boarding house and was surprised that it was a dormitory housing college students. This was our first lesson learned when booking accommodations via the net. The place was a mess, with a smell that seemed to permeate the nose. Rooms open to reveal half-naked college boys eating noodles and playing on their PC. In the room assigned to us, the beds were thrown haphazardly, empty candy wrappers and soda bottles littering the floor. In one corner of the room, someone’s worn underwear was crumpled in a heap. My sister and I looked at each other and plotted redemption. There was no way we are staying in this house.

Redemption came in the form of K, one of my sister’s dearest friends who lived and worked in Singapore. One look on the chaos surrounding my sister and I — and she announced that we will be staying with her on her apartment in Tampines. We spent four days sharing the room with her and her two Filipina room mates.

lost in Singapore

Getting lost in Singapore, circa 2007

We managed to get the money we deposited on that God-forsaken dormitory, but we were also charged for one day’s stay, in spite the fact that they deceived us with the details of the accommodation. This incident made me OC with booking accommodations over the net, to the point of emailing contact persons repeatedly for confirmation, obsessively checking and rechecking room details and reviews over the net and my innate love of TripAdvisor.com.

love of travel

Unniechan, my travel angel — the one who encouraged my love of travel

Four days passed by like a blur. I did the usual touristy things: posed for pictures with the Merlion, had a trip to Sentosa to watch the Pink Dolphins and see the fishes at the Singapore Ocean Park (there was still no Universal Studios back then), prayed on the Fountain of Wealth for abundance, shopped like there’s no tomorrow (or for whatever my minuscule budget afforded me) and simply enjoyed the sights, sounds and taste of Singapore.

traveling young

we were so young

sentosa cable car

On our way to Sentosa onboard the cable car

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

Singapore Zoo

Do I measure up?

Siloso Beach

Sitting in the famous Siloso Beach Sign

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

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