One Love-Filled Week in the Philippines

We love to travel, and we’re so grateful to be seeing these things now; we feel a little odd, though, with this shift—albeit temporary—from U.S. travel to international.

While I believe traveling abroad can be incredibly fun, formative and expanding, the point of sharing our trip has always been to encourage people to explore the sights around them. We’ve loved knowing that when we share pictures of our favorite spots in the national parks, they are destinations that most of the people following along on our trip can feasibly visit. Public lands are usually inexpensive to access and most Americans have an National Park Service site within a day’s drive. It’s a kind of travel that promotes family togetherness, recreation and time in nature without requiring lots of funds or new gadgets. It meets every ideal of travel that we can think of and it’s wonderfully accessible for nearly everyone in this country. 

International travel, for all its merits, can be stressful: there’s pressure, having gone so far from home, to see and do “everything.” Impossible, of course, but it doesn’t stop us from trying. When we get home, we don’t want to hear from another traveling friend about some marvelous experience we were close to, but missed seeing. But doing everything usually means we keep a near-frantic pace, and that’s certainly not the best way to get a feel for a new culture and environment.

David and I had to wrestle a bit with this pressure after our visit to the Philippines. We were there expressly to see a great friend of ours, Fely, who has lived with members of David’s family since the 1970s, but grew up on the island of Leyte, near Cebu. Once a year, she goes home to see family and we timed our trip to be able to visit her there. And it was wonderful: we spent the week exploring her hometown, meeting and visiting with her family members, eating good food, and—for a solid chunk of our visit—stuck in traffic with various chauffeuring friends. We all talked and laughed and sat sweating and fanning ourselves one night when the power went out and took the swamp cooler with it. We felt a part of Fely’s family and we enjoyed every minute.

After we left, I was scrolling through Instagram, looking at other travelers’ pictures of the Philippines, and I discovered that our visit was very different from the glamorous-looking trips portrayed there. We didn’t visit any white sand beaches, or swim under waterfalls, or climb a mountain before dawn to watch the sun come up over mist-covered rain forest. There were places that looked incredible and were very near where we’d been, and we hadn’t seen one of them.

For a moment, I panicked that I hadn’t done enough research, hadn’t prepared adequately in order to know about these places so we could see them. But when I thought back on our trip, I knew there wasn’t a single moment I’d trade. We had spent the time enjoying and building relationships, experiencing the home of a person who has been dear to us for years, a person who helped raise David and has been like a grandmother to our kids. Fely is healthy and active now, but she is 79 years old, and we know the travel we did with her this past month won’t be possible forever. And we still saw scenes that took my breath away: the perfectly clear waters around San Pedro Island, the brilliant green rice fields surrounding Hinunangan, sunrise over Fely’s village of Esperansa. 

And so we learned this lesson: to visit someone you love, to experience their part of the world, is worth making what sacrifices you can to travel to some far-away part of the world. You can see beautiful things, experience nature, and learn about new cultures much closer to home. But if the choice to travel far is about building and growing relationships, we think it’s worth it, every time.

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