Travel Saved me, A Lost Soul Reborn — Trip To The Philippines

I think everyone needs something to push them forward. Something that stirs up the excitement that makes you feel ALIVE, that has been lying dormant in the pit of your belly for far too long. I was 41, my only child was off to college. I was divorced, single and possibly in a mid-life depression about where my life was and where it was heading. I’ve never considered myself a “depressed” sort of person, but nothing really excited me anymore. I found myself sinking deeper into the bed after I woke up in the morning, rather than greeting the day with a smile and full of ambition.. Instead of ripping the covers off and opening the curtains to let the morning sunshine in, I would pull the blankets up over my head to hide from the light. Somewhere, I lost my drive. I didn’t care and quite frankly “I didn’t care THAT I didn’t care.”

One of these uneventful mornings I was flipping the channels around on Netflix. I came across a travel series called “Departures” that surprisingly perked my interest. I clicked play and quickly found out it was about a couple of young guys who stopped what they were doing to travel the world and document their travels.

At first, I didn’t think I would be able to relate with the show because the it featured two young guys in their mid 20’s and here I am in my early 40’s. I had never even entertained the thought of being a nomadic traveler. However, I was quickly hooked. It was as if there was a fire kindling in my soul, and it just needed some air and a few pokes to its embers.

Within 72 hours of “binge watching” Departures I had booked a plane ticket to the Philippines. A country that I knew very little about and 9,000 miles away! A newly found excitement had giving me my life back. From the brink of depression, the thought of traveling the world had saved my life. At the very least it saved my mental sanity because I was quickly losing “me”. I booked my plane tickets 2 months in advance because I knew that I would need to prepare. I didn’t even have a passport since I had never been out of the country before!

Empathy For Others Suddenly Had Meaning

I always viewed having empathy towards others as some sort of a curse that I had, rather than a blessing. When I see someone hurting, I hurt with them. I would feel bad when I knew that someone was going through a tough time in their life. I was the kid who befriended the child that got picked on by others. As I got older, I viewed this personal trait as a curse because it always had me feeling down. It felt as if the weight of others was being held on my shoulders as well. There seemed to be so much wrong with the world, it was just downright depressing. One person can not have a meaningful impact… Or can they?

The country I chose to visit (for my first experience outside the U.S.) was the Philippines. Why the Philippines? Well, first of all I wanted to jump in with both feet. Why not a country on the other side of the planet? They also are taught English in the first grade so there wouldn’t be a language barrier, so that was another plus. You throw in the fact that there are 7,000 islands and it is in a tropical climate, it seemed as good of a place as any. After I researched hotel fare, how much a typical meal cost, and transportation expense I was sold! Traveling in a developing country is quite cheap!

Through research I learned about the poverty and lack of resources to succeed for the average Filipino. They have some serious struggles going on over there. My “Empathy” curse was crying out. However, what I always thought to be a curse, was filling my spirit with something it had never felt before. I felt that I needed to be there and see first hand the struggles that they deal with on a day to day basis.

I vaguely remembered a typhoon that devastated an island out in Southeast Asia a year earlier. So, I knew that I must make a trip to see first hand about the tragedy that was inflicted upon the region (Read about My Trip To Tacloban City). I wanted to be with these people. I have always been a fan of the underdog and their struggles make mine seem very insignificant in retrospect.

So, how did traveling save my life? It gave me a purpose when I felt like I had none. I wanted my “empathy” towards others to be of value and useful. When I was in the Philippines and was able to give to others and I found that they truly appreciated my time and efforts. This in turn made me feel special inside. “Feeling special” was an emotion that had long since fallen by the wayside and was only wishful thinking until that point. I found that helping others is a priceless gift, that is best returned with an appreciative smile. For someone, somewhere your empathy will be forever remembered and maybe passed forward to someone else one day. My “Curse” of Empathy now had value that was indeed priceless.

Travel To Places That Inspire You

For me that special place that (unbeknownst to me at the time) was the Philippines. The smiles on their faces, work ethic, and hope through all their struggles. For you, it may be somewhere entirely different. Different cultures are incredibly interesting and offer tremendous value. Enter them with an open mind and learn about how they live. Try to go in with a blank slate. Leave your American (or wherever you are from) values at home. You can pick them back up on your plane ride back home. They won’t go anywhere :D. Take some of their culture home with you and your life will be forever enhanced and you will grow.

In the Philippines I learned that money truly doesn’t buy happiness. I learned about sticking together as a family, and making do with what you have. At the end of the day, all we have is each other to help us make it through.

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Originally published at travelwithoutamap.com on March 24, 2016.