How I Became an Accidental Weekend “Backpacker”

I’m an introvert. It’s not that I am anti-social. I’m not. It’s just that I prefer to be alone more than to be around people. It’s not that I don’t enjoy people’s company. I do. It’s just that I find more pleasure in being solitary than in being with others.

This must be the reason why I love writing. Writing is essentially a solitary, and therefore a lonely, activity. But I don’t mind being alone. I relish it.

I first gravitated towards writing when I was still in college. At that time, I kept a journal. I did this for a few years, and then many years later, I tried my hand at writing short stories. I discovered that I love writing fiction more than non-fiction pieces. In my college years, I used to send write-ups to local newspapers and I was fortunate enough to see a few of them get published. But fiction-writing is way more exciting and fascinating than non-fiction writing, so this is what I ended up doing. My first short story was published in the Philippines Graphic in 2013. A year later, another short story of mine saw print in the same magazine. I also wrote, and continue to write, poetry. One of my poems was included in a poetry anthology last year and the book was published in the U.S.

But not many fiction writers or poets can make a living out of their writing. In fact, very few short story writers, novelists, and poets make a living out of their craft, especially here in the Philippines. You would have to be an extremely talented fiction writer or poet to be able to sustain yourself financially here in our country. It’s even more difficult if you have a family to support.

So not too long ago — perhaps a few months ago — I began looking into the options that are available to me as a writer. I love to write, but it seemed like writing couldn’t put food on our table. I’m married and my wife and I have two kids. We are into business, but it’s currently not making enough to supply our growing needs. Giving up writing is out of the question since it’s become part of me. It’s one of the few things that give me joy and a sense of fulfillment.

Hence, I began looking into freelance writing. For a long time I struggled with it because finding clients is not an easy thing to do. Either that or I did not know how and where to find them. Eventually, though, I did manage to find a client, but the rate that she was offering me was quite low. Still, I accepted her offer for it was better than nothing, and I was grateful to her.

And then I stumbled into a freelance writing workshop over the Internet. The only problem was, it was going to be held in Manila. I live in Cebu.

The thing about introverts is that they also tend to be homebodies. They prefer to stay indoors rather than outdoors. And that is exactly what I am: I am a homebody. I prefer to be at home, either alone or with my family, most of the time than to be outside with other people.

But I do love to travel, and I needed the workshop badly. So I signed up and my wife booked me a ticket for Manila.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said this more than a century ago: “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.”

I totally agree with him. We don’t have to travel very far to find the beautiful. We may go as far as Paris, Switzerland, or New York, or as near as Singapore, Australia, or Japan, but if we don’t have the beautiful inside us — that is to say, if we don’t have the inclination or the predisposition to recognize the beautiful things, big and small, that surround us — then we may never see beauty anywhere, wherever we may go. In my case, my destination was not very far — in fact, it was so near: only an hour and 15 minutes away by plane. But I was so excited. I was so fired up. You might as well have told me that I will be traveling to America or Canada, or to some place I’ve never been to before. Traveling — no matter where the destination was — has that effect on me. It always thrills me. It especially thrills me if it’s a solo trip. And it was going to be a solo trip.

So there I was at the Mactan Cebu International Airport with my suit case on a business trip feeling like a backpacker on his way to an exotic adventure. So I didn’t actually get to use a backpack. My “backpacking” was more figurative than literal, but it was no less exciting.

I took an early flight to Manila so I was at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at around breakfast time. My Tagalog is not very good — I only have a rudimentary or conversational knowledge of the language — so it was exciting to be surrounded by Tagalogs. I might as well be in Europe surrounded by Frenchmen or Germans.

I have heard of countless horror stories about Bisaya travelers who’ve been ripped off by cab drivers once they arrive in Metro Manila, so I was more than a little uneasy about venturing out of the airport by myself. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do that. I have relatives in Laguna, and one of my uncles picked me up from the airport shortly after my arrival.

The venue for the freelance writing workshop was in Alabang, Muntinlupa, within the Filinvest City. The registration was at noon, so I had plenty of time to spare. I realized that there’s a lot you can do in a few hours, especially if you have a private vehicle to take you anywhere. But it was too late for me for I did not prepare an itinerary for my trip. So my uncle drove me around the city. It’s been several years since I last saw it. I missed the buildings and the freeways. It was a Sunday, so traffic was very light.

More than anything, I wanted to hear Mass, so my uncle drove me to St. Jerome Church in Alabang. Then we had brunch in Alabang Town Center and we got to talk and catch up.

The workshop venue was in Crimson Hotel, and we arrived there at exactly noon.

“That building over there is Crimson,” my uncle told me as we were driving over a skyway. “It’s fairly new. It only opened last year, I think.”

I immediately fell in love with the hotel the moment I set foot inside its doors. The interiors were very modern and elegant and the personnel were very professional and amiable.

The very concept of backpacking implies inexpensive travel and accommodations. My trip and lodgings were anything but cheap, but it still retained the excitement of “backpacking” because I was very mobile: I did not reserve a room because I wasn’t staying overnight. I was to return to Cebu that same day. So since my travel was only going to be short-lived, I savored my hotel experience as much as I could: I carefully observed the furniture inside the hotel, as well as all the fixtures, paintings, and art pieces in every corner of the lobby. This brings me back to Emerson’s quote: You don’t have to roam around an area too much to be able to get the most out of your travel experience. You just need to be observant and curious about your surroundings.

The writing workshop was as helpful and inspiring as I had wished. I got to meet fellow writers who shared my dream: making a living out of writing. It was fun and totally worth the time and money I have put into it. It opened up new vistas for me: I discovered that my interests go beyond mere fiction-writing and poetry — I found out that I also love the idea of becoming a travel writer, food blogger, and hotel and restaurant reviewer.

On the freeway on our way to the airport that night, I felt melancholic because I realized that I did not wish to leave Manila so soon. I have just made friends with awesome people and I missed Manila so much. But I couldn’t cancel my flight.

God must’ve heard my unspoken wish, for my flight got delayed, so I whiled my time away at the airport reading a book and observing my fellow travelers.

I will be more prepared in my future weekend “backpacking”. I will take the earliest flight to a particular destination, prepare an itinerary ahead of time, and make use of a private vehicle (either by renting or borrowing one) so that I may quickly and swiftly hop from place to place and thereby maximize my time.

This means that business trips can turn into adventure trips or mini-vacations as long as you’re well-prepared for it.

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7 thoughts on “How I Became an Accidental Weekend “Backpacker”

  1. Hi!

    Being only 17 years of age, I have a seemingly overly-ambitious and highly impractical dream of wanting to be a freelance writer. Yet after reading this entry of yours, it validates my dream and makes me want to go forth. But still, there are still lingering concerns about the distinction between pragmatism and passion. I really love writing – the freedom of speech and sentiments, transcribed; the solitude that comes with it. It’s simply a pleasure.

    But perhaps, this dream is elusive for I am only 17 and that things might change in the future. But nonetheless, I feel a need to thank you for sharing your experience, dreams and your personality with us. Also, thank you for affirming me that I should go forth and continue “be[ing] observant and curious about [my] surroundings.” 🙂

    1. Hi Chua,

      I’m so happy to hear that! Thank you so much for your kind words. 🙂

      I say go for it! Be a freelance writer! Or, try freelance writing. Now is the best time to try it. Your age is perfect. You’re still 17 and yet you already have a good command of the English language. By the time you’ll be in your 20s, you’ll be a very good writer, if not a great writer, as long as you keep on sharpening your skills.

      Are you into fiction, or are you more into non-fiction? They say that the best way to hone your writing craft is to write every day. When you are a freelance writer, you are writing daily, so with freelance writing, you are practicing your craft while at the same time getting paid for it.

      God bless you. 🙂

      Dante

      1. I will definitely consider freelance! given the current commitment towards school, I don’t really have a lot of time to sit down and write. I am more into writing about the human condition! but fiction is fine too 🙂 I used to participate in creative writing challenges (some are on my blog, could you kindly your opinions there? :-))

        And yes! I have heard so many great stories about freelance writing. Geez. Hopefully, I’d be able to try that one day (after school).

        May God bless you too, Dante :’-)

      2. I look forward to reading yours too!
        As a proud Singaporean, I thank you for your words. Mr Lee will be forever remembered — our Founding Father.

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