Thanks to a job that has me writing about the affairs of the automotive industry, I have traveled the world without having to pay for airfares and accommodations. Which is a blessing, because I honestly don’t have the wherewithal to travel on my own outside of my annual visits to my parents overseas.
I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t enjoy this part of my work. Just the thought of leaving the country to experience another place is exciting in itself. So much so that some colleagues have taken to calling such trips “junkets.” But truth to tell, I love traveling not for the opportunity to sightsee or shop or eat, drink and be merry. I take pleasure in traveling because it humbles me. It shaves off my arrogance. It reminds me that I’m insignificant and that the world doesn’t revolve around me.
Because we live in a fucked-up republic where cops can be bribed, government officials can be bought and judges can be owned, the sense of entitlement among our citizenry is incredibly exaggerated. We don’t like falling in line, we hate abiding by the rules, and we believe we can get away with anything (including murder, literally). You will notice this in the supermarket, in the office and, of course, on the road. Everyone is an asshole because everyone thinks and feels like a big shot.
And then you travel abroad. As soon as you land and set foot on foreign asphalt, you realize a most obvious truth: You’re nobody.
The immigration officer doesn’t give a shit if you’re the CEO of your company and you’re towing the most expensive Rimowa luggage. The customs inspector doesn’t care if you’re a senator in your chaotic nation and you have the credentials to prove it. The policeman isn’t thrilled that you’re a celebrity and you want a free pass after being pulled over for a traffic violation. You’re N-O-B-O-D-Y.
I love observing how Filipinos behave in another country. We fall in line. We’re courteous. We’re mindful of the pedestrian crosswalk. We drive within the speed limit. We don’t litter. We respect other people, especially the foreigners (or, well, the locals). Why? Because we know we’re not special. Because we know our money can’t bring us to the front of the queue. Because we know our calling card won’t strike fear in the hearts of attendants. Because we know nobody recognizes our Instagram-famous face or Twitter-trending name.
I remember joining a press trip to Thailand more than a decade ago, hosted by a tire distributor. One of the dealer principals got into a heated argument with a vendor at a Bangkok night market, and ended up getting mauled. Those hawkers couldn’t care less if the guy was a VIP in his home country—you go to their territory, you play by their rules, period.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably scared out of your wits as your children grow up in a society where distorted values and loose morals are turning them into spoiled, insolent human beings. You can fix that by saving up and bringing them abroad at least once a year. Show them different cultures. Make them understand that there’s a world other than the soap opera they live in. Let them see that, in an ideal scenario, people give way to each other, follow traffic lights and carry their own bags. Yes, let them know that in civilized cities, people don’t act like douchebags and hire highway patrol officers to escort them through traffic.
Airfares have become more affordable these days. There are fantastic promos if you know where to look. Take a break from your depressing way of life and recalibrate yourself by flying out to a place where you’re just another shirt in the crowd. Your soul will thank you for it.