My age will be the last number in the calendar in a few weeks. Before I celebrate that milestone, I am looking back at my most memorable travels to date.

I started traveling when I was still in school but not primarily for leisure but to join contests and participate in seminars and trainings. So my idea of traveling then was to go somewhere outside General Santos City, get to the venue, finish the event and if there is time left, see the place a bit. 

Almost a decade after graduating, my take on traveling has changed a lot, with almost 360-degree turn. Even if I go on business trips, seeing places and experiencing stuff have become the ultimate goal. 

Here’s the list of my 31 best travels before I turn 31.

1. Krakow, Poland (May 2013) 

I did not expect my first travel abroad to be in Europe. But hey, I’m not complaining! Thanks to Shell for this business travel opportunity and the others that came after.

I can’t imagine being in a place I will love more than I love this city, with its history, beautiful people, castle-like structures, countless churches, museums, sculptures and historical landmarks, classic setting, good food, long spring days and moderate number of tourists. 

Maybe it is the “first love” effect. Who forgets his/her first love? Be it a person or a place. As I get older, I will remember less and less of the details of my two-week stay in Krakow but I will always remember how the place inspired me in a way and level that no other place has.

2. Seville, Spain (December 2016)

I first came across this city when I read Huffington Post’s Top 50 Cities to See in Your Lifetime where it ranked second. It must be really beautiful, right?

I went to Spain for the Christmas holidays in 2016 to visit my sister and to meet my 3-year old nephew for the first time. They are based in Guadiaro, a small town in Southern Spain. 

Since I was there already, we went to Seville and explored it – Seville Cathedral and other churches, narrow streets leading to shops and museums, the grand Plaza de Espana, beautiful parks and gardens and modern structures like Metropol Parasol a.k.a. “The Mushroom.” 

More than the sights and architecture, I loved spending time with my nephew and carrying him when he got too tired.

3. Banff, Alberta, Canada (August 2016)

My thoughts when I first saw the rockies and beautiful lakes of Alberta – I must be in another country! Well, of course I was. It was so surreal that I had to remind myself that I wasn’t just drawn into an illusion, that what I was seeing was real and not postcards. 

Alberta is home to many of the most beautiful lakes and mountain ranges in the world. And there are glaciers, too! Seeing bears cross the street was a bonus. 

I have seen pictures of Lake Morraine many times on Instagram and in magazines before seeing it in person. And it was truly very beautiful. 

So thanks Shell, again, for this travel opportunity. If not for you, I wouldn’t be able to set foot in Canada given the visa requirements and cost of travel. I am glad and I feel so blessed that I was able to see some of its beautiful places in this lifetime.

4. Hanoi, Vietnam (November 2014)

This trip is high up in the list because this was the first (and so far only) out of the country trip I took with my parents, which was my advance 31st and belated 30th wedding anniversary treat for them. 

Why Vietnam? There was a seat sale in Cebu Pacific and the Vietnam flights were the cheapest. My goal was simply to travel abroad with my parents especially that it was my father’s first time out of the country.

We arrived in Hanoi before dawn and were overwhelmed with the millions we were holding after exchanging currency. It was quite a ride from the airport to our hotel in the Old Quarter as we saw merchants in motorbikes with their goods stacked up to as high as six feet.

We spent the first day in Ha Long Bay. I brought my stuffed baby hamster named Mau (pictured below). The highlights of the trip were kayaking, sumptuous lunch and tour of a cave. 

We started early the next day with a walk around the Old Quarter and Ho Kiem Lake. We spent the rest of the day touring the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, Presidential Palace and Vietnam Military History Museum.

There were so many interesting stuff I saw and learned in Hanoi. For instance, almost every household has a motorbike and almost all adults know how to drive it. Even teenagers do! Merchants pulling carts or riding bicycles with hats on and wearing classic Vietnamese clothes is a common sight. 

They sell all kinds of goods and offer uncommon services on the streets. Imagine being offered to have your shoes waxed when you’re wearing rubber shoes.

5. Houston, Texas, USA (2015 – 2016)

What’s in Houston? Many travelers go to Houston because NASA is there. Or they are on a roadtrip and on their way to a more interesting destination. 

I’m not a geek and I have always been more interested in what’s here on earth than what’s out there in outer space. But I was already in Houston so might as well go to NASA, right? I think my baby Mau had more fun.

Why is it 5th in my list? Because I got to stay there for six months and enjoyed the “expat” experience although technically I wasn’t an expat but was just on business trips. It’s more of the quality of my every day life there that I loved.

My favorite moments were riding a bike around Downtown and Midtown, watching a baseball game and 2015 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, potlucks with other Shell fellows, walking from the office to our apartment after work, hopping on and off the train and riding it from one end to the other, visiting parks and museums and of course, shopping in the outlet stores! Who wouldn’t love getting a pair of Nike/Converse shoes for less than 20 USD plus getting additional 5 USD discount if you take a survey using last purchase’s receipt?

Houston may not have a lot of touristy spots but I like it because it’s clean and organized. I was able to see it up close and personal. And yes, also because my stay there came with free food, transportation and lodging. 

6. Auschwitz, Poland (May 2013)

I was able to go to Auschwitz because of my business trip in Krakow. I made this a separate item because it deserves a slot of its own.

Auschwitz was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers. Over 1 million people of different nationalities lost their lives there because one man decided that they did not meet his standards of what a good race should be.

I couldn’t help feeling sad and then angry knowing that people were deprived of their human rights and a future that they should have decided for themselves. I can’t even begin to imagine what they went through – to suffer unimaginably, to have their dreams shattered, to see their loved ones die before their eyes, to want to fight back but couldn’t, to hold back and eat their principles just to survive. 

Some of the buildings (called blocks) have turned into museums where gas cans, pictures, maps, letters and personal belongings of those brought in the concentration camp were kept. Below are thousands of shoes.

Though you could feel that spirits were roaming and there was a reminder of death in every corner, I am glad for the opportunity to see one of the most important places in history.

7. Los Angeles, California, USA (June 2015)

The city of dreams! I’m happy I had a taste of it. Since I was already in the States and the flight back to Manila from Houston had a layover in Los Angeles, I took the opportunity to see LA and spent three days there.

Hollywood is one of those places that never run out of tourists. There were just so many! I enjoyed checking out the names on the stars in the walk of fame and got kilig over seeing personalities I know.

I spent a day in Disneyland and another one in Universal Studios. Hopefully, I will be able to come back so that I can check out the museums, walk in Malibu Beach and window-shop in Rodeo Drive. 

Though riding buses and trains was challenging especially because I had to make several transfers to get to my destinations, I wouldn’t trade the experience for cab and uber rides. Getting lost and confused was part of my great LA adventure. 

8. Singapore (August 2013)

If you are looking for just one city where you can do a lot and see a lot, Singapore is the answer. You can spend a week there and still not be able to see everything it has to offer. It is one big amusement park. 

I went there with my friend James last August 2013 and stayed for just three days because of financial limitations (we were newbies to the corporate world). We had to choose from among the many attractions where we would spend our meager funds and decided on riding the cable car, exploring Universal Studios and going to the view deck of Marina Bay Sands.

We considered the trip as birthday treats to ourselves since we’re both August babies.

9. Calgary, Alberta, Canada (August 2016) 

I went to Calgary for a business trip and stayed there for a month. I was able to walk in every street in Downtown because of this game called PokeMonGo. In the process, I saw beautiful parks, sculptures and structures. I was also able to enter museums and the library and ride the train. 

My favorite part of Downtown Calgary is Prince Edward Island not only because a lot of PokeMons show up there but also because it has very beautiful landscapes, including that bridge below.

Canada is truly a beautiful country, with nature’s products and man-made ones.

10. Coron, Palawan, Philippines (June 2017)

Topping the list among the Philippine destinations is Coron, a municipality of Palawan. For purposes of this blog, it covers the town proper and nearby islands and destinations. The best of nature is here – white sand beaches, coral gardens, snorkeling grounds, beautiful island-mountains, lagoons and lakes.

Palawan is the most beautiful island in the world according to many travel sites and magazines. There are hundreds of reasons why. 

Here’s an account of my five-day stay in Coron – Coron Travel Guide.

11. Camiguin, Philippines (April 2014)

If you want a one-stop shop for a nature trip, Camiguin is the place to be. I super love this island.

There are beaches, falls, hot springs, mountains and smaller islands close by that you can go to. There are ruins and a sunken cemetery. Pictured below is brother dearest in White Island with the mountains of Camiguin Island in the background.

My favorite was Mantigue Island because of its white sand beach and a small forest in the middle. There is also a snorkeling spot close by. 

Camiguin was the highlight of the week-long Mindanao road trip with my family in summer of 2014. We spent three full days there, one day in Bukidnon and another day in Davao before heading back to GenSan. 

12. Bohol, Philippines (March 2013)

Since I started working, my number one travel goal has been to travel with my parents (preferably to somewhere we’ve never been to before) at least once a year. Bohol was one of the destinations in 2013. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them happy. 

A trip to Bohol is never complete without seeing the Chocolate Hills.

At the time, it was the best trip I’ve taken but eventually moved down the list as I saw more and more of the Philippines and the world.

13. Sagada, Philippines (April 2013)

Hello, Stranger! Five minutes before the below incident, I heard the story behind the hanging coffins from a tour guide. After their group left, this Oppa from Britain entered the picture and I offered to tell him the story. Really, I’m normally shy when I travel. I don’t know what took over me that moment. 

The most tiring treks I’ve done would be a tie between the trek to Bomod-ok Falls in Sagada and the trek to Taal Lake in Tagaytay. You will walk down the mountain and along rice terraces on the way to the falls. Bathing in the falls after the long trek is the ultimate reward. 

Sagada is one of those places I am sure I will visit again. But one thing I’m sure I will never do again is spelunking. 

While I am very proud to have conquered Sumaguing Cave, nothing and no one can make me enter that cave again. To go back is the death of me. It’s just too dangerous especially for someone as clumsy as me. I think I more than made my point. No exaggerations here, promise.

14. Iligan, Philippines (December 2015)

The biggest gift my family received for Christmas in 2015 was my brother being in the Philippines at that time. He is a seafarer and was expected to be back from a nine-month duty in April 2016 but we were able to see him earlier because their ship docked in Iligan and stayed there for a week to unload wheat from Canada.

So my parents and I drove from GenSan to Cagayan de Oro where we spent a night, then drove to Iligan the next day to see our bebe Daboy a.k.a. Champy Doo and Hansel.

Iligan was rightfully given the title City of Majestic Waterfalls. It has the most number of waterfalls in the country. We went to five of them including Maria Cristina Falls and Tinago Falls.

We took a break from exploring the falls during the airing of Ms. Universe. Of course we rooted for Pia! 

15. Surigao del Sur, Philippines (May 2016)

Another family adventure! This time in Surigao where we went on an island hopping adventure and swam in Hinatuan Enchanted River.

If you want to enjoy some alone time in the Enchanted River, go there early in the morning because by 11am, there is already a big crowd especially during summer.

I actually liked Tinuy-an Falls more than Hinatuan River. It’s multi-tiered so go up and enjoy bathing in the smaller falls. 

I was having a moment here (pictured above), reminiscing my personal “falls”. But as they said, there is a rainbow after you fall, I mean, after the storm.

16. Legazpi City, Albay, Philippines (November 2012)

The last few items would tell you that I love traveling with my parents. Since there is no direct flight from General Santos City (my hometown) to Legazpi City, they had to first fly to Manila. We met up in Manila and flew together to Albay.

We were lucky that the grand Mt. Mayon was not shy when we were there and showed us its almost-perfect form. We were told that the clouds love clothing Mayon and many visitors leave the city without having seen this volcanic cone.

Of course, we had to take the funny and creative shots. Below is our version of Mother, Child and Goliath.

There were photographers in the area offering their services. They even had binders with sample shots. There is no fixed fee when it’s your camera that will be used.

17. Boracay, Aklan, Philippines 

I have been to Boracay three times. The first time was with my parents when we welcomed 2010 there. I think it was the first time I celebrated new year away from our home in GenSan. But then, home is where your heart is so I sort of celebrated the new year at home since I was with my parents. 

The second time was in 2011 when I traveled in Aklan (covering Iloilo, Roxas, Kalibo and Caticlan) with my friend Rombel whose aunt owns a hotel in the island. We got free lodging! 

It was a week-long trip with plane, bus, van, jeepney and boat rides. It was like being in The Amazing Race. Below is a picture of my younger self – 15 kilos lighter and a few shades darker.

My last Boracay adventure was with girl friends Ayen and Jhulie. I went to places in the island that I have not visited before – Mount Luho (twice for sunrise viewing) and Puka Beach.

I’m not that big a fan of Bora but I always keep coming back. My best memories there involved spending time with special people in my life and not the night life and touristy activities.

18. Palawan, Philippines

This covers Puerto Princesa and El Nido since they are both in mainland Palawan. 

My first time in Puerto Princesa was in July 2012 with long-time friends (from college days). I remember feeling so proud seeing the underground river, one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

The second time was in October 2015 when I took a side trip in Puerto Princesa with the primary destination as El Nido. 

My main purpose for going to El Nido was to visit my friend Xeryl and her lovely daughter Xia and attend the latter’s second birthday celebration. Being in a beautiful place was a bonus.

There was a typhoon advisory so island-hopping tours were cancelled the whole time I was there. I was only able to go to beaches in the mainland including Nacpan Beach. It was quite a ride going there!

I will visit El Nido again and I’m sure it will move up in the list after that.

19.  Maguindanao, Philippines

I have been to Maguindanao a couple of times, three times for volunteer work. I’m a certified Mindanao baby. While I cannot say that you will never experience anything bad in my homeland, I can say that it is generally safe there. There are incidents happening everywhere else in the world but it does not mean we won’t go anywhere, right? Just be vigilant and watch out for advisories.

My friend Xeryl worked for an NGO which is a partner of the Philippine Military Infantry Division based in Maguindanao and the local government in providing free medical services to the communities there.

In December 2010, Xeryl tapped the group I belong to (Fellowship of Youth Advocates in GenSan) to provide journalism seminar to students and out of school youth in the area. In the below photo, Xeryl, Ate Tin and I were checking the presentation before the start of the seminar.

My biggest passion is teaching and no job has given me as much joy and satisfaction. In May 2011, I provided journalism training as part of the three-day Leadership Summit in Maguindanao. The participants got to write news, editorial, feature and sports articles and layout a newsletter. It sounds grand but it was really simple.

I visited Maguindanao again in June 2011 with much younger volunteers for child-friendly activities including giving of supplies and gifts from sponsors, still in partnership with the military. 

It was an enriching experience to say the least. 

20. Davao City, Philippines

I have been to Davao dozens of times. This was not originally in my list because it’s close to GenSan (three to four-hour drive) but I realized that it’s still a travel destination.

My most memorable experiences in Davao were the seminars attended and facilitated for Mindanao Youth Task Force (advocates of gender awareness and sensitivity) and two-week stay to edit the college yearbook in the printing press (pictured below are the staff). As part of those trips, I was able to explore Davao by foot and different forms of transportation and was not limited to seeing only the common tourist spots. I’ve been to Samal, too!

In recent years, I was able to go to Davao only as a side trip since we passed by the city on the way home to GenSan from major trips in Northern Mindanao. I particularly like how Eden Nature Park has improved. Picture below was taken from Eden.

I miss the P100-P200 Eat-All-You-Can restaurants I regularly went to while I was reviewing for the board exams in Davao in 2009. I don’t expect the price to be the same. But maybe they still have Eat-All-You-Can for P300?

21. Cebu, Philippines

My first time in Cebu was in February 2003 when I participated in the National Schools Press Conference. I have a lot of memories of that trip – competing, winning, getting sick, being infatuated with a very intelligent guy named Carl Jon (won in editorial writing and competed in feature writing), making friends from other schools and visiting landmarks and tourist destinations.

The second time was with my parents in March 2013. We made a side trip in Cebu before going to Bohol and visited the usual tourist spots.

Of course I had to have my picture taken with my favorite hero, our first defender, Lapu-lapu; and my favorite teacher, mother dear.

Cebu has a lot to offer so I will definitely be back. Next time I will climb Osmena Peak, swim in Oslob and bathe in waterfalls.

22. Ilocos, Philippines (April 2012)

My father is Ilocano although he was born and raised in Mindanao. I know he’d like to be in touch with his roots so I will bring my parents to Ilocos someday. This part of the country still has a lot of traces of the Spanish colonial era that’s why Vigan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I was not yet into photography then so I have very few pictures of this travel. 

And below is the most decent photo of me on this trip taken from an outdated blackberry.

This was the longest straight land trip I’ve taken but it was definitely worth it. 

23. British Columbia, Canada (September 2016)

The team (we were on a business trip) took a side trip in British Columbia before heading back to the Philippines. We saw a bit of Vancouver, went up Grouse Mountain and spent a full day in Whistler.

Here I was on top of a mountain, freezing but did not let the opportunity pass to have a Game of Thrones, mother of rocks moment.

Below photo was taken on the last leg of the Peak to Peak 360 experience. We took at least five gondola/cable car rides. Chad was hoping to see a bear but there was no sighting.

There is so much to do in BC, be it in the cities or countryside. We ate only a small piece of the cake but it’s enough to say that this Canadian Province deserves its title, Beautiful British Columbia.

24. New Orleans, Louisiana, USA (April 2015)

I love how artsy the city is, literally. There are many artists in the streets, painting landscapes, caricatures and stuff like below. 

Louisiana was purchased by the United States of America from France in 1803 and you can still see the French influence in the city’s structures like the cathedral, market and the famous French Quarter. 

Mississippi River runs along many states including Louisiana. This part of the river in New Orleans has seen many battles and calamities. 

We left Houston at past 12mn and got to NOLA at past 7am. We left in the evening so it was a rather short stay.

25. Madrid, Spain (January 2017) 

I rang in the new year in Madrid – had buffet dinner with fellow hostel guests (unlimited paella!) and joined the crowd in watching fireworks. I saw a number of people eating grapes when midnight struck and some couples sharing a kiss.

That’s not all fats (below picture). That huge frame is attributed to four layers of clothing. And I was still feeling super cold. Two degrees on January 1st! What a (literally) cold way to start the year.

All major European cities have plazas (normally former government houses) and below is the panoramic view of Madrid’s.

There were tents set up in the plaza grounds which sold souvenirs and gift items since it was Christmas season.

I was not able to see much of Madrid because of the weather and language barrier. The people I spoke to while asking for instructions and directions were either English-speaking tourists who didn’t know the answers or Non-English-speaking Spaniards. The struggle was real.

26. Austin, Texas, USA (March 2016)

As a traveler, Austin is my favorite among the cities I’ve been to in Texas. It has a mix of modern and classic architecture. And there is an artsy vibe. You don’t just see it, you can also feel it.

I haven’t seen lady Liberty yet but got an idea of what she looks like. Below is a much smaller version that stands in the Capitol complex.

I spent only a day in Austin – hiked Mount Bonnell, toured the Capitol, walked around University of Texas and nearby streets, visited Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and watched sunset and had dinner at The Oasis. 

27. San Antonio, Texas, USA (April 2016)

I went to San Antonio to visit my friend Rem. I was able to see many of its beautiful sights including the River Walk, Alamo Mission and SeaWorld thanks to my friend and her husband Joe. I also got to bond with my cute godson, Ashton.

Hello beautiful creatures! It was my first time to see flamingoes. So pink and pretty!

Looking down on me? Believe it or not, this is how tall the (documented) tallest man was. 

I’m glad I was able to see other cities in Texas on my final US business trip.

28. Tarifa, Spain (December 2016)

Spain has numerous beautiful towns and cities, with European, Asian and African influences in culture and tradition. In the southernmost coast of Spain is the small town of Tarifa which has ports for ferries going into Africa. 

You can see both the Pacific Ocean and Strait of Gibraltar in Tarifa. The below beach (facing the Pacific) is beautiful and is popular for wind sports. 

I went there during Christmas holidays when I came to visit my sister and nephew in Spain. 
From Tarifa, you can see Morocco. 

I stood where The Alchemist’s Santiago (probably) stood and I dreamed, like he did, of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to reach Africa. I’ll go there one day. Everything starts with a dream.

29. Detroit, Michigan, USA (May 2016)

Same with my solo trip in Los Angeles, I booked my accommodation close to the airport so that whatever happens, I will not miss my flight back to homeland. I chose the inn which charged the cheapest rate. The inn was indeed close to the airport but it’s far from the rest of the world. It was creepy and scary and felt like I was on the set of Bates Motel and Stranger Things.

It was spring time but many of the trees were still on winter mode without their leaves. So it was refreshing to see a few ones with flowers in bloom. If these are not cherry blossoms, what are these?

This trip was probably the most challenging trip I’ve taken. For starters, I wasn’t prepared for the cold weather. I left Houston on April 30, spring season, but I did not think that spring in the south of USA would be materially different from spring in the north. So I roamed around Detroit, alone, chilling and dying of cold. There was intermittent rain and I had no umbrella. 

Secondly, I was on a budget trip so I took the bus and had to make several connections to get to Downtown. There were times when I had to wait for 30 minutes up to an hour for the next ride while temperature was one to five degrees centigrade. 

Lastly, I had no internet connection. I didn’t have postpaid data plan and prepaid load at that time. Typically me, unprepared with come-what-may attitude. So I couldn’t google directions and had to resort to asking people for directions or finding out things by myself eventually. Still, I loved this trip because it gave me new experiences and tested me and what I could endure when traveling.

From Detroit, you can see Canada. I thought then, will I ever set foot in that country. Three months after, I did.

30. Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam (November 2014)

There’s a funny and stupid reason behind this trip. I knew that Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are the two major cities of Vietnam but I was not aware of how far they are from each other. So when there was a seat sale in June 2014 for end of the year travel period, I decided to take my parents to an out-of-the-country trip and cover two major cities. 

Weeks after the booking, I started planning for the trip and learned that they are on opposite ends of Vietnam, that the distance is like Manila to GenSan so we had to take a plane. The domestic flight fare was more expensive than the international promo fare. It’s okay, at least we got to see a part of North Vietnam and a part of South Vietnam.

Here’s my father trying to be sweet and my mother not liking it, with Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon in the background.

Motorbikes must be a thing in Vietnam. Same with Hanoi, it is the primary mode of transportation in Ho Chi Minh.

We did not do a lot in Ho Chi Minh because we only spent a full day there. We enjoyed shopping more than sight-seeing. 

31. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (August 2013)

Actually, the only things I loved in Kuala Lumpur  are the Petronas Towers and how their rail transit is run efficiently and is not as congested as the rail transits in Metro Manila. I could easily take this one off the list anytime I remember a more meaningful trip.

I probably need to spend more time in this city to fully appreciate it. 

Finally done with the list. Looking back, I realized that how I traveled has changed through the years. My travels have also changed me and how I see the world and other people. But there’s one thing that’s constant – I learned from and enjoyed all my travels, be it with other people or solo, near or far. There was no trip that I regretted taking.

Almost 31 years have passed since I was born. I will not wish for another 31 years. What I wish for is to be able to see more, learn more and be more, regardless of how long the rest of my life will be. Xx