Leaving My World to Return to Myself: Travel Reflections


Joie Villanueva

As if taunting me that my days here are numbered, I find myself alone on the train today, for the first time since I got to Holland last year. My sister never lets me “go astray” at any time during my stay here, trying to be the mother bear that she is.

This entire European adventure, if I may say, has been one of domestication, wonderment, and introspection. I arrived here in November at 28 years, too young to be an executive back home, too old to be irresponsible. I took a quasi-hiatus from my job in Manila as an executive director of a large non-profit trade organisation after several years of working non-stop with all my heart. At some point something snapped. I realised, we only need enough passion to fuel us lest it burns us.

So I went to Europe. To babysit. I have babysat my few-days-short-of-one-year old nephew, baby J, for two months. There have been days when I wondered what I was doing home alone and attending to a baby when I’m in, of all places, Europe! I have been home at my sister’s house, most days, Monday to Friday. Five. Long. Days.

Imagine coming from a routine of 8-5 everyday, oftentimes 8-8, managing large events and assignments and meeting important people in the local IT industry, with barely 10 other people to help me run it all. I had become a check-email-in-bed-in-the-morning-and-at-night person. Now I have to follow the schedule of a baby who sleeps on me, wakes up on me, cries on me, and basically needs looking after 24/7. I was used to setting my own schedule and even getting other people to follow it. Now, a baby dictates my day.

On this trip, I did some things for the first time in my life, like spending Christmas and New Year outside my beloved country. Let me say that again: I spent Christmas outside my beloved Philippines. Do you know what that means? That’s the only place in the world where the Christmas season runs for three months. Also, I wiped sh#t from my nephew’s ass.

But the alone time, the time spent away from the world, from the noises of the world, from the heat of the sun, from the home country I’ve known all my life, from the urges of doing something exciting and new or writing that extra email at work, that was what has been hard. The mundanity, the banality was so thick at first it suffocated me. I needed to turn my tendencies off, tame the corporate creature I had become, and silence my inner noises to be able to hear the breathing of the sleeping baby in my arms.

It wasn’t all hard though. I also just marveled at the efficiency of Holland, specifically how the trains are connected between cities and across countries. How cheap it is, relatively, to travel to another country on a road trip. How all the train schedules are updated real-time online and it is necessary to check this before heading out of your house for the day. How it makes everyone plan ahead, but makes them tolerant and understanding as well in events of train disturbance.

I marveled at all of these European cities — Cologne, Nuremberg, Munich, Salzburg, Lucerne, Grindelwald, Geneva, Paris, and Brugge — in that order through an eight-day European road trip. I saw people’s different motivations to travel, the younger ones always looking for themselves. I also met Filipino families living in these foreign lands and realised that, wherever you are in the world, you’re kind of inclined to go back to who you are, and you try to find who you are in wherever you are.

I saw Paris for the first time, and for some reason, I felt lonelier than I already was. It was so beautiful and romantic. It’s not for going solo. I heard Silent Night sung in its original version in Salzburg and it compensated for the type of Christmas celebration I was missing out on back home. I walked inside the walls of the old Roman Empire and just idled on the steps of the Pantheon like an unemployed Roman. I wrote down my daily musings — 68 days in all — in a blog called reflectionsofanearly30.blogspot.com. Just being able to fight through the everyday struggle to write and finally complete that blog, I already felt accomplished. I knew I was changed.

Above all, I learned to slow down and let things happen just as babies eat and live without knowing how. I learned to appreciate the life that my parents gave me. I learned to believe in myself as steadfastly as the Alps stood on its feet.

I am going back home to Manila soon. But did I get the answers I set out to find on this trip? Did I even have questions in my head in the first place? I had this feeling, this little feeling in my heart, this unexplainable unnameable feeling, that I needed this trip, not because of the glamour Europe would provide, but…to eat, to pray, to love, to experience these very basic longings of my soul as Elizabeth Gilbert had. As I neared 30, I needed a trip to nourish my soul, to reflect, to see things from a different point of view, and to see family life through the perspective of my sister, her husband, and my nephew.

I wanted to know if this family life was what I wanted for myself. I am weak, like every else, when I hear stories of my batch mates getting married and posting pictures of their kids, and I melt in my heart and secretly long and wish for the time it would be my turn. And admitting that is hard enough. I needed and wanted to find the answers for myself: Do you want to have a family? If so, start now. Do you want to stay career-focused? Move on now.

I am going back home, probably still with the same questions I had in the first place. But I know some have been answered. I knew it was time to take the next step, even if that means a leap of faith. As this hiatus began with a decision, so must I come back to my homeland and make a decision — a choice to steer myself to more creative things in life, to keep on traveling and writing, to stay true to myself, to prepare me for the imminent decade of the 30s. It’s still a process, and forever will be a process. But I know I am farther from the place where I was two months ago. If anything, I have renewed something within, something that makes me excited now to go back home. To see home. To feel home. To experience home. Anew.

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