By Paul John Caña
While stuck in Amsterdam after missing a connecting flight last month, I struck up a conversation with a British guy in the hotel’s restaurant. He was in his mid-20s and a businessman on his way to Stockholm. He asked what I did and I told him I write for a magazine in Manila.
“Must be a good gig,” he said. “Get to travel a lot?”
“I suppose, yeah,” I answered. “More than the usual, I guess.” I then proceeded to tell him about this most recent trip, which was actually a vacation, although I snuck in a work visit to Maranello in Italy, hometown of Ferrari, where I got to drive one of the cars out for a few hours in the hilly roads outside of town.
As soon as the words were out of my mouth I instantly regretted it. Not a lot of people can say “I drove a Ferrari in Maranello” without sounding like an obnoxious show-off. The guy must’ve thought it, too, because after that he hardly said anything else and excused himself soon after.
I thought about the conversation later that evening. Not a lot of people can truthfully say that sentence, period. Is it insufferable and conceited? Perhaps. But is it factual? It certainly is. That’s when I realized that, while I had to be careful about coming off as a stuck-up douche when I tell people about it in the future, it is a story I would get to tell and a wonderful experience I could relive over and over again for the rest of my life. So I shouldn’t regret saying it. The fact that it might sound irritatingly pompous doesn’t make it any less true.
No, this isn’t a humble-brag entry. It’s not a way to casually hint about the Europe trip or the drive in the nice car. I’m writing this to explain to people how I’m able to say all those nice things truthfully. While it probably isn’t such a big deal for the handful of people on this side of the planet who treat Europe as if it was Baclaran or Baguio, for the vast majority of Filipinos, a trip anywhere outside the country, especially to all the big touristy places like Paris, Rome or London, is probably a dream as seemingly unreachable as buying their own home, driving their own car or finding their soul mate. People have told me how lucky I am that I get to go on these trips, and they ask me how I do it. Sometimes, yes, luck has a lot to do with it (i.e. official work trips), but as with most things in life, it’s not quite that simple. But it’s something I believe anybody earning a decent salary can do.
First though, I need to debunk some people’s notion that I’m able to do all of these things because I’m rich. I’ve said before that I come from a very simple family. My parents are both retired and, save for the occasional Sunday lunches when I drive to our home in Cavite, I’ve been on my own and self-sufficient since I was 19, when I graduated college, moved out and got a job. So no, I’m not lucky enough to get travel allowance from the folks for those jaunts in Europe, or for anything else for that matter.
I also don’t fatten up my wallet with my working person’s salary, either. Again, I make a living writing for a magazine. In the Philippines, unless you’re a broadcast news anchor or a popular on-cam talent, being on the payroll of a media outift isn’t exactly the way to go if you’re looking for travel-the-world money. I earn just enough to get by and if anybody had the misfortune of getting a peek at my bank account, they would probably laugh in my face and tell me, “That’s it?!”
So how’d I do it? How can I afford a two-week trip to Europe on a normal-person’s wages? Here’s the answer:
It’s all about tradeoffs.
I’m 35 years old (36 tomorrow) and single. I live in a modest apartment in Quezon City, the same one I’ve lived in for the past six years, and I still drive the same beat-up old Lancer. I don’t have the financial responsibilities that many of my classmates (from all periods of my academic life) now have – home and car payments, and providing for miniature versions of themselves. Because of that, I have the luxury to choose what to spend my money on. And it just happens that I choose to save up for plane tickets and train rides and museum entrance fees.
The tradeoff there is obvious. People in my social network are posting pictures of their new cars, updates about the progress of the construction of their homes, their babies’ first smile captured on camera, their businesses, you get the idea. I don’t have all that. I don’t get to go home to a family of my own, kids running to embrace me and smother me with kisses; I constantly have to worry about my old car suddenly giving up on me while cruising EDSA; and I don’t have the privilege of ticking the “Yes” box when I’m filling out an official form with the question “Are you a homeowner?”
Sometimes the worry keeps me up at night. Every time I see one of those listicles with a title like, “10 Things You Should Already Have By The Time You’re 30,” or “15 Things You Need To Accomplish Before You’re 35,” I recoil. Always they have some entry about how you’re supposed to be financially secure (as in, what-if-you-lost-your-job-tomorrow secure) at a certain age. I admit doubts, and sometimes question my life decisions. Shouldn’t I have invested the extra money on property or stocks? Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to fly to Singapore to watch a concert by that artist that I like; I could’ve used the cash to add to a downpayment on a newer car. So-and-so was right; if I started saving when I was 20, I’d probably be able to afford that condo in BGC by now.
But is that what I really want?
True, I’m awestruck at the variety of things people in my circle (or social media newsfeed) are into. Designer cuisine, Duterte, the Porsche 911, Mariah Carey, Mario Kart, Slade House, Turkey, yoga, Palace Pool Club, Miss Universe, Game Of Thrones, surfing (actual and online), CoverGirl’s Star Wars collection, the conflict in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe, facial hair, inspirational quotes, rainbow cakes, the LA Lakers, vinyl records, and on and on and on. I’m fortunate that I can see the world through the eyes of people from different corners of the globe and from virtually all social classes, age groups, genders, and religious and political beliefs. I think this makes for a much more interesting world view.
In the end though, I have to come back to my own decisions and live with them because I made them myself. The only person who has to deal with the consequences is me (for now, at least). Delayed gratification may be the definition of maturity, but exchanging one thing in favor of something more desirable is the essence of self-determination. That’s the tradeoff.
And it’s not just in material things. Tradeoffs can involve prioritizing one task at work over another; subscribing to one fitness and lifestyle routine over another; or choosing to spend time with one group of people over another in the belief they will add more value to your life through good experiences instead of taking away from it with meaningless drivel. We all forge our own paths and along the way, we make choices that we think will bring us closer to being happy. And isn’t that what we’re on this earth for? The pursuit of happiness?
In other words, the stuff we deem important ultimately defines where we’re headed.
So when people post pictures of their new gadgets or the latest designer handbag on Facebook, I can only trade them a story about the time I almost froze my fingers off as I tried to take a picture of Castle Hill from the Chain Bridge in Budapest. I can only salivate over that new pair of kicks because I can’t justify buying new shoes that cost more than two night’s stay in a nice hotel in Rome. And when a stranger starts talking about business opportunities in Scandinavia, I’ll try my very best not to sound like a complete douche when I tell him about that time I drove a Ferrari California T in the snowy hills outside Maranello. Because damn that was hella fun.