The countdown timer on the homepage and the sidebar is down to its final few hours. Holy $%#*, I'm leaving today!
The day of reckoning is finally here. Everything I've done in the last 12 months (quitting my job, selling everything I own, moving back to my home country, etc) has led to me this very moment. While I feel like I'm at an apex of my life, I am just getting started. As a young boy, I've always wanted to make my dreams come true, and now, I sit typing this a mere hours away from the beginning of a journey to make my dream of traveling the world a reality.
As I scurry around my apartment to get myself ready to head to the airport, my mind is scatter-brained to say the least, so here are some bit-sized updates all rolled up into one final post before I set off.
The Passport Incident
I had to wait till the absolute last moment to submit my passport to get a Schengen Visa in order to fulfill my ideal itinerary. My first flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam was at 10:45pm on April 1 (today). It was noon on March 31 and I still didn't have my passport in hand. I sat nervously hoping to get notified that my passport was ready to pick up like a nervous teenager sitting by the phone waiting for his crush to maybe call. Later that day, the call came and I rushed to pick up my passport. The good news was that I now had my passport in hand and am able to make my flight as originally planned. The bad news was that my visa application had been refused for reasons unbeknownst to me. In short, I was denied entry into the EU zone effectively scrapping my plans of visiting Europe. No matter, as disappointing as that was, I had a plan B in place and there are lots more countries I plan on visiting.
When Being Cheap Cost Me
Later in the afternoon on March 31, as I was walking into the visa processing center to pick up my passport, I was reminded that a backpack or bag of any kind was not allowed into the premises. The security guard informed me of their bag locker service, which costs PHP 100 (~US$2.25), for applicants who wished to stow away their bag securely before entering. Thinking to myself that picking up my passport would only take a few minutes, I decided to leave my daypack on a rack where umbrellas where being kept and opted out of paying for the locker. Before I set it down, I thought to myself that I should take out the valuables (which included my brand new Yellow Fever certificate from a few hours earlier and house keys) and take it into the building with me. The ludicrous inefficiency at the visa office meant I had to wait over an hour before I was called up to pick up my passport. As soon as my number was called, I was out the door in 2 minutes fuming about the unnecessary wait. The glass doors to the outside of the building opened and my daypack was nowhere in sight. I had committed a cardinal sin and left my bag unattended. In my defense, I did the same thing when I came a couple of weeks ago to apply for the visa and my empty bag was still there when I had returned to it 45 minutes later. The difference this time might have been the fact that that my daypack had a powerbank, some old headphones and an Apple lightning cable inside. Fortunately, these were all items I was willing to lose. I was a little peeved that it was actually taken but after fuming to my girlfriend over the phone, she reminded of where I was, how this was reminder to be extra mindful of my things on the road and not to be such a cheapskate when it comes to peace of mind.
Subtractions & Additions
After the debacle of applying for the Schengen Visa and subsequently getting denied, I have since decided that I am no longer going to attempt applying for an Australian visa. On the plus side, getting approved for a US visa a few months ago was huge as it opened up some new countries I am able to visit on my trip.
Here are the key additions and subtractions of countries according my plan B itinerary:
United States of America
As much as I wanted to visit all the countries in the subtractions list, they were either logistically difficult to fit in and/or not a good bang for a backpacker's buck. Thank you to everyone who provided great information in order for me to make a more informed decision on where I should go. Even though they are considered subtractions, I have not completely ruled them out yet. If the wind decides to take me there, I won't fight it.
It is a monumental day and I couldn't have done it without:
(1) My family: despite initially being doubtful of my plan, they eventually came around and saw how important this was to me. Thank you for harboring an unemployed millennial and putting a roof over my head while I got ready for this day. I'm going to miss you guys.
(2) My crazy, sexy, cool girlfriend: It takes a very special lady to let her man take off without her for an entire year and it will take me many lifetimes to repay her faith in me. Without her, there is no me.
(3) My friends: Despite the majority of my friends being back in the US, the wonders of the internet bridged the distance and I could feel their support as if I was breathing the same air as them. Thank you so much for all the kind messages. You have no idea how much it means to me.
(4) Everyone who visits this site: Despite being unemployed for the past 6 months, I have been fully invested (working 10+ hour days) getting this site up and going. This last month of March, I had over 1,300 unique visitors drop by. Holy cow! Just over a year ago, that number was 0. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I won't stop and you'll want to keep an eye on this space as things are just getting started.
(5) The Philippines: I'll be very honest about not the biggest fan of my birth country. After living in the US for the past 9 years, moving back here seemed like several steps back (such is after moving from the First to the Third world). The adjustments I had to make included not having Amazon to get everything I needed and also trying to produce content for the web with an unreliable internet connection. Such adversity taught me to be extremely resourceful, resilient against hellish odds, and comfortable with making a fool of myself (especially when trying to speak a foreign language). These traits will definitely come in handy as I traipse around the globe.
A couple of years ago, my best friend in the world was taken from this Earth too soon. It took me months to mourn her loss and my life will never be the same without her in it. As she looks down on me, I know deep down inside how proud she is of me for going on this adventure. As much as my year-long trip is a leap of faith for me, it is also importantly in memoriam of my best friend, Aurellia. I miss you, pal.
There's no turning back now. Come along for the ride! Geronimooooo.
Nico Atienza is a Philippines born, Sri Lankan raised traveler who sold everything, quit his job and escaped the rat race to travel the world in 2016. Apart from his love of travel, he is an award winning volunteer, miles + points aficionado and perpetually epicurious story teller. You can peer into his life by following him on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram or send him an Email.