Featured Traveler: Em in the “Land of (Fire and) Ice”

I started my (travel) blog project all the way back in 2012, wherein I feature different travelers who have been to unique destinations OR have unique experiences in familiar places. Even though there were “hiatus” years in between (check it out here! haha), this blog project has been an on-going one — and will be so in the years to come! 😉

Sooo, to kick-start this again and inspire you to reach for your travel goals this coming 2018, I’m sharing with you a wanderer — her name’s Mzarriz, but we’ll call her Em for short in the entire post — who has recently been to one of my dream destinations: ICELAND!

Em in Vatnajokull, Iceland

But first, just a quick background. How did all this traveling start for Em? She shared, “In 2005, I was a flight attendant without previous experience of traveling internationally. When I finally earned my free tickets as part of my company benefits, I immediately used it and traveled to Bangkok, Thailand — my first international travel, and I was with my fellow flight attendants. We were so excited, quite unassuming and super tipid! Our last meal there was even nilagang mais that we bought in the streets because we no longer had money. I overly enjoyed the sightseeing, shopping, and bonding with my friends. We tried the food, got lost a number of times, watched a live adult show in Phat Pong, and roamed around numerous temples and thrift markets. It was definitely fun!” Em sure did have a lot of fun during that trip and since then, she told herself that she’ll continue to explore and see the world. She said, “Traveling, for me, is really addictive and exhilarating. The feeling of stepping onto an unknown place for the first time with a promise of discovery and appreciation has inspired me to go to a place I’ve never traveled to before at least once a year.”

After almost 13 years since that first international flight, Em has been to more than 33 countries already. This includes countries from the six continents: Africa (Egypt), Asia (China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates), Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), North America (Canada and the United States), South America (Brazil), and Europe (Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland [of course!], Italy, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the Vatican).

All of Em‘s travels are a combination of both work and play. For Iceland, though, it was definitely all “play” because it was a personal trip. She mentioned, “My friends and I went to Iceland last October 2017 as part of our annual vacation leave. We flew to Reykjavik [Iceland] from Los Angeles (LA) [USA]. The fare was much cheaper than the ones coming from the Middle East or Europe, that’s why we decided to go via LA. We had free tickets from Manila to LA, anyway. Then we went around Iceland via a rented car. After exploring Reykjavik, we went to Vik, then Hofn, and back to Reykjavik again. We spent two days and nights in Reykjavik, and one day and night each for Vik and Hofn. We stayed in rented houses we found via Airbnb. Fortunately, Iceland is one of the safest countries to visit, and all of our hosts were very accommodating and gracious.”
So what were the places Em and her friends explored in the “Land of Fire and Ice” that you can visit, too?
While in Reykjavik, go to:
Thingvellir National Park

Em in Thingvellir National Park

Gulfoss Waterfall

Gulfoss Waterfall

Geysir National Park

Em in Geysir National Park

Blue Lagoon

Em in the Blue Lagoon

Travel tip on the Blue Lagoon: “Book early — as in weeks early! Based from our experience, we booked three days before and, the only slot available to us was at 8PM. Kaya ayan, madilim na tuloy sa Blue Lagoon, parang nasa pool lang sa Pansol, Laguna. LOL.”
While on route from Reykjavik to Vik, stop by:
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Em in front of the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Skogafoss Waterfall

Em in Skogafoss Waterfall

Solheimajokull Glacier

Em basking in the Solheimajokull Glacier

Solheimasundur Plane Wreck

Em and her friend on top of the Solheimasundur Plane Wreck


While on route from Vik to Hofn, visit:
Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara Beach is part of one of the settings for Game of Thrones (GOT)’s Dragonstone

Halsanefshellir Cave (also in Reynisfjara, where the dragon glass in GOT is mined)

Jokulsarlon and Vatnajokull Glacier Lagoons

Em in the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach is just on the opposite side of the Glaciers

Em in Diamond Beach

While on route from Hofn (then back to Reykjavik), don’t miss out on:
Kerid Volcano Crater in Selfoss

Em standing on the Kerid Volcano Crater in Selfoss

Eldhraun Lava Field

Em sitting pretty on the Eldhraun Lava Field (moss-covered lava rocks)

And after all those breathtaking photos, wonder where’s the most sought-after Northern Lights? Well, Em saw the Aurora Borealis (or the Aurora for short) in Hofn, too! She explained, “The experience that left us the biggest impact when we traveled to Iceland was seeing the Northern Lights. I admit, it’s in my bucket list. A colleague of mine went to Iceland before and never had a glimpse of the Aurora. Another friend of mine who has been to Iceland three times saw the Aurora every time she went there. So seeing it is a combination of luck, timing, and persistence. We were actually nervous that we won’t be able to see it because it was cloudy most of the time in Iceland during our stay. Luckily, on our fourth night, we actually saw it when we drove just 10 minutes from the house that we were staying in at Hofn. And we saw it three times in a span of three hours.

a glimpse of the Northern Lights (a.k.a Aurora Borealis) in Hofn, Iceland

“The Aurora was simply breathtaking. It’s actually magic happening in front of my eyes. At first it was just a mere glimpse of moving laser lights hiding beneath the clouds. And then it mightily showed itself covering widely enough the sky above us, swirling, dancing, and sparkling for more or less than 20 seconds.

more sightings of the Aurora in Hofn, Iceland

“It might be short, but it was good enough for us to admire it endlessly. That experience somehow miraculously connected my soul to the universe and made me realize how small I am in a universe so vast, yet worthy enough to witness one of its manifestations of power. A beauty like that will never be equaled by anything made even by the highest technology of mortals because I felt that it was created not because of pride, but because of love. It’s just once again an evidence of how powerful our omniscient Creator is. But also, more importantly, of how loving He is.”

more sightings of the Aurora in Hofn, Iceland

Whew, right? Em, sure, was lucky enough to experience the Aurora during her first trip to Iceland! But before you even go to Iceland (or any other country for that matter), what are Em‘s travel tips in general? Let’s take a look at ’em (no pun intended! haha):

  • Plan ahead – “You can save a lot of money and you will have better choices.”
  • Use a credit card (if applicable) – “Based on my last trip, using a credit card is better than having your US dollars exchanged for a lower rate (with commission pa most of the time).”
  • Stay at hostels – “Try urban and hip hostels that are cheaper compared to most hotels, but are also safe, modern, and located on strategic locations (near train stations, public transportation, or must-see sights).”
  • Pack wisely – “No matter how tired you are or your checked in baggage is limited, always consider your OOTDs [ladies, listen! haha]. Your pictures will say it all, and they will last for a lifetime (hopefully).”
  • Respect. ‘Nuff said. – “Always respect the culture and religion of the people. Respect animals and nature.”
  • Stick to your budget – “Consider all the expenses, and stick to your budget. Some optional tours offered by travel agents/tour guides are very expensive. If you do it on your own, it may be a little inconvenient, but you get to experience the place, explore, and save.”
  • Try the road less traveled – “Try to visit some sites that are actually not popular to tourists but offer a more intimate experience with the place. Like when we visited a Nubian village settled along the banks of the Nile in Egypt, we were able to stay in one of the families and shared dinner with them. We were also taken to a local school where we were taught basic Arabic language.”
  • Always look after your safety – “Traveling is so enjoyable and sometimes we forget that as travelers, we also attract people who don’t always look after our best interests. Take the movie Taken as an example! LOL.”

After all that has been said and done, why will Em continue to travel? She answered, “Traveling opens your eyes, your mind, and your heart to the good and bad, beautiful and ugly, fact and fiction, and oddly, to answers and more questions.

“The places I’ve seen only in the movies and imagined through the books I read when I was young came alive when I saw them in my travels. They made me think that they weren’t just mere inventions of bored minds but actual and real places! And every place has a story! That’s the beauty of it. And as cliche as it may sound, yes, the world and our life are like a book and when we do not travel, we read only a few pages. Traveling is learning. And though we may not know all the answers, I guess it’s enough to know that there are answers. And maybe when I travel again, I might stumble into one.”

Well said, Em! And from one traveler to another, here’s to finding answers to some of life’s trivial questions, all thanks to wandering!! Carpe diem!!! ❤


For more of my other featured travelers on this blog, click HERE.

Featured Traveler: Rica’s Third World Travels

This is a long overdue post (almost a year, sorry!), but here it is anyway. 😛

My “travelers” are back this year, starting with one of my graduate school friends (and travel book author!) Ma. Patricia Yulo or simply Rica.

Rica in Singapore during her

Rica in Singapore during her “no bag” travel challenge

I met Rica when I was still taking up my Master’s Degree at this university along Taft Avenue (ahem, #animo!), and we were classmates in one of my electives called Creative Nonfiction. We kept in touch with the help of social media (I also found out that she’s a relative of one of my friends from college — who was also one of my featured travelers before! What a small world!), and I’m so glad she agreed to do this despite her busy travel schedule. Hehe!

So let’s get down to business. How did all the “travel” start for her? Rica said, “I started traveling when I was a kid but my life changed when I backpacked the Banana Pancake route covering Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam in 2009. For the first time in my life, I felt free — free in a sense that I was able to unchain myself from oppressive worldviews because I was exposed to different cultures and met so many beautiful and friendly people from all over the world.”

Rica's first visit in Bangkok, Thailand

Rica’s first visit in Bangkok, Thailand

with the Hmong Tribe in Vietnam

with the Hmong Tribe in Vietnam

Rica has been around Asia (she loves Southeast Asian countries), Australia, and North America. But what makes her standout in a world full of “travelers” (aside from the fact that she has written a travel book, but more on that later!) is she actually dared to travel to a foreign country without any luggage! She shared, “Most Filipinos I know bring big suitcases with them whenever they travel even for just a short period. I wanted to challenge that and prove that you don’t have to bring your entire closet with you if you’re traveling short term. So in May 2012, I traveled to Singapore for three days without bringing a single bag (not even a cellphone case!). I used a vest with many pockets to carry my passport, a few pieces of clothing, toiletries, and the most important gadget of all — mobile phone (to call loved ones in case of an emergency).

“I went around Singapore alone without carrying anything which made my walks easy. I didn’t even have a hard time entering or leaving the airport because I had no luggage. Plus, I saved a lot of money because checked-in luggage can be a bit costly. The biggest lesson is this: for a short vacation, you only need one backpack. Laptops and other gadgets are unnecessary. Do away with things you spend a lot of time with at home while you travel.”

After sharing that, Rica also mentioned what traveling is for her and how it affects her. “Traveling for me is a form of spiritual nourishment. Traveling gives me a reason to live because it challenges me and makes me see or experience new things. My travels have also helped me become more conscious of dealing with other people from different backgrounds. I’m not saying that I’m perfect but because of traveling, I’ve become more sane… and sober.”

chillin' at a hostel in Malaysia

chillin’ at a hostel in Malaysia

made a friend in Burma (Myanmar)

made a friend in Burma (Myanmar)

elephant ride in Laos

elephant ride in Laos

Her next dream destination? “I always say Norway due to its contribution to metal music (which I love), but right now, my dream is to backpack Northern Pakistan, the Kashmir region, Israel, and Iraq. Some of the places mentioned are quite dangerous but give me a black belt travel companion, a translator, and a bulletproof vest and I’ll go there in a snap to eat, explore, and ask questions. I’m not the type of tourist who simply wants to take a photo of a monument. I want to talk to the locals, share a meal with them, meet their families, hang out where they hang out, and I would love to do these things in the places mentioned.”

lunch with locals in Indonesia

lunch with locals in Indonesia

More about the photo above: “After exploring a Javanese village in Jogja by bicycle for four hours, a local invited my tired legs and my two lovely tour guides to have lunch with her and her ‘org mates.’  She served authentic Indonesian food, which was too spicy, but I enjoyed the entire experience.”

with tea pickers in Sri Lanka

with tea pickers in Sri Lanka

with friends at the summit of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines

with friends at the summit of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines

Her travel tips (aside from the things you can read in her book):

Know your priorities if you want to travel. Yes, you need money but you don’t have to be a millionaire. For example, if you’re a smoker and a drinker but love to travel, don’t buy cigarettes and alcohol for two months — that’ll definitely save you a lot of money! [And you’re health, too! See next tip. Haha! -Ed.]
Stay healthy.
Be curious, but don’t be stupid.
Travel SLOWLY — spend five days in one city if you can.

The 3rd World Traveler

As mentioned earlier, Rica has written a book about her travels (particularly in third world countries). Here, she shares what inspired her to do it and all that comes with it.

She said, “I spent a year saving for a one month trip, and I made it happen! Then I came home and wanted to share my story — focusing more on how I was able to save money. I didn’t just want to write about what I saw in Myanmar or what I ate in Laos. I mean, seriously, who gives a shit? I have my blog for that, and interested readers can always access it. I wanted to create ‘a manual’ that teaches people how to save money so they, too, can travel. I thought, if I could do it despite all the obstacles I had to face, anyone with a dream would be able to do it as long as they’re disciplined enough to know their priorities.

“I wrote the manuscript two days after my month long journey — with a little push from the book entitled, Who Moved My Cheese which I read while I was in Bangkok. After a month of writing and polishing, I sent the first complete draft to my college professor Dra. Lilia Sevillano for a review. It was somehow her ‘approval’ that gave me the motivation to take the entire thing seriously. And because I had to make it readable/comprehensive, I sought the assistance of a published writer named Roel Cruz who did a fine job editing the entire manuscript.

“Around April of 2013, I was looking for a publisher when Ces Cabangon of Art Initiative approached me. That was the turning point. She offered to publish my work without asking me to change anything. She simply wanted to make the manuscript reader-friendly and more marketable so we got Louella Tumaneng of National Bookstore who guided us in our decision-making and added graphic designers Myish Endonila (IxM Collective and Design Brewery) and Jack Policarpio to the team for layout and illustration.

“It took us months to finish everything but we’re happy that the manuscript finally saw the light of day last January 2014. The book, The 3rd World Traveler, is now out in National Bookstore and Powerbooks branches throughout the metro.”

Know more about Rica‘s book by visiting
the official Facebook page.

Disclaimer: I do not own this photo.


You can also check out my other featured travelers HERE.

Featured Traveler: (An) Angel in Sweden

Northern Europe. Scandinavia. The Nordic countries. These are just some of the terms people use to refer to one of the best governed regions in the European continent. Well, did you know that Sweden tops that list? 😉

Also one of the largest states in Europe, Sweden is such an interesting vacation destination because of the wonderful things one can do there despite the sagad sa buto coldness experienced all year round. There’s even an ice hotel in the place — which my featured traveler Angel has been to already! Lucky her!

Well lucky for us, she was willing to share with us her Swedish sojourn. But before all that, let’s get to know her first… travel-wise!

Angel in one of her travels. Can you guess where this is?

As someone who’s been to at least 16 countries SO FAR, it’s nice to know that Angel “earned” her travels — be it because of her hard work in school or her discipline in saving some of her allowance for an experience of a lifetime. She remembered, “Ever since we were little, my parents would always make an effort to take us out during school breaks just so our family can bond and spend quality time together. Since then, it has already been a habit for us to save up for these occasions.

“Actually, my mom’s the one who really loves to travel. Nothing in the world would make her happier than the mere idea of traveling. So you can already guess that I got it from her. Yep, we’ve got wanderlust! Even the sight of a travel magazine or a brochure could already get us giddy and excited! It’s funny because we easily get overwhelmed by the idea that we envision so many plans in mind in just a short span of time. But then again, there are so many factors to consider like school, finances, etc.

“At present, I’ve also learned to save up on my own so that I could pay for my trips abroad. Last year, I contributed for my airfare and pocket money to Thailand!”

As someone preparing for medical school, Angel sure knows how to make the most of her “free time” before her chosen field finally makes her one very busy bee. Of course, this includes TRAVELING. “I was around six years old during my first trip abroad. My family and I went to China to see the place and visit some relatives and family friends. I usually go with my family during these trips — the most remarkable ones being the trips to Bali, Beijing, Alaska, and California,” she shared. “However, there were also a couple of times wherein I’d go on my own or on a program with different people from the country,” Angel continued. “My first trip alone was to Paris, France. It was very memorable for me since I was able to prove to myself that I could do things on my own. I lived with a foster mom and stayed there for a week. I attended French classes in the morning and went around the city in the afternoon and evening. My trips to Japan, Canada, and Spain were all cultural exchange programs which I also enjoyed very much. It was because of those that I was able to create exceptional bonds with some of the most special people I know. The most recent one was my trip to Turkey and Greece.”

Angel’s first ever SOLO TRIP was in France! 🙂

Ice, Ice, Baby!

But despite all the countries Angel has been to, why does Sweden stand out (at least for me)? Well, you’ll know. 😛 Angel shared, “I went to Sweden in April 2012 with some family friends. We went to Stockholm and Kiruna. In Stockholm, we visited the famous Vasa Museum, Gamla Stan, Royal Palace, Skansen Open Air Museum, among others.

“In Kiruna, we visited the Ice Hotel and also went dog sledding, snow fishing, and snow shoe trekking. It was such a great experience for us all since it was our first time performing all those activities and visiting all those tourist spots. The highlight of the trip was of course in Kiruna. Our favorites were staying at the Ice Hotel and dog sledding.

Sweden

“In the Ice Hotel, we got the chance to choose one of the few art suites — each one is unique and has its own designer. The room my Tita Nora and I chose was the ‘Kraken’s Lair.’ My other tita and her husband got ‘Coffee Mudra.’ The architecture of the place was very fascinating. It had an ice bar, ice chapel, and ice hallrooms! At daytime, the place is like a museum and is open to people who pay the entrance fee. At around 5PM or so, it’s closed in preparation for guests who are staying overnight. There’s an orientation on how to sleep at -5°C! It wasn’t that bad because the outside was much colder (a negative something degree!). We all had a peaceful sleep after enjoying the place and were awaken by the hospitable staff with some hot jogiberry juice (which I really loved!).

Kraken’s Lair, anyone?

COLD drinks on the house =))

inside an Ice Hotel bedroom

Ice Hotel

The orientation on how to sleep at -5°C

Sweden

“For the dog sledding experience, I had the chance to drive my own sleigh with a team of four Siberian huskies! We’d take turns, so we also had the chance to simply ride on a sleigh being pulled by a dozen of huskies. It was such a magnificent ride through the mountains. The dogs were all so obedient and smart. I’d sometimes hear their master say something in Swedish and they’d just all magically fall in one line or stop all at once to wait for the others behind us.

Dog Sledding

Dog Sledding

“For the food, we were able to try eating deer and moose meat for the first time in our lives! I’d have to say that it was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever tried.”

Sweden

♥♥♥

See? That’s why Sweden stood out! 😉 On another note, when I asked Angel what’s next in her travel list, she couldn’t answer instantly. “That question has always been a dilemma for me and my mom,” she said. “I actually have a lot of places in mind but perhaps, the one that’s on top of my list right now would be Maldives. I’m in dire need of a serene paradise to get away from all the school stress! Haha, kidding! Next on my list would be Africa, Russia, Nepal, and South America.”

Of course, in order to be able to achieve this, one has to be knowledgeable about traveling. Angel‘s advice? “Save, save, save! You’ll never know where it’ll get you. And don’t forget to research well, so that you make the most out of every trip you take.”

So what exactly is TRAVELING for her? She answered, “Traveling for me is an eye opener and an avenue for new experiences, insights, and learning. Traveling has broadened my perspective in so many ways. As I go to new places, I realize that there’s always something new, something different that I have to see and experience. It makes me a wiser, more well-rounded and experienced person, which is why I know that my love for traveling will never die. Indeed, it’s true that traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”

"...it's true that traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer," Angel said.

“…it’s true that traveling is the only thing you buy that makes you richer,” Angel said.

That definition of traveling? Heaven sent, indeed! 😀


You can also check out my other featured travelers HERE.