By Diet Immarie Salazar
Each one of us yearns for some kind of escape, an adventure that will take us away from what we construe as a banal day-to-day existence. Oftentimes, we think of distant lands offering treasures filled with new experiences, sights to behold, and people to meet. Indeed, traveling to different places is, for most, a forgotten plan or an impossible dream simply because we are held back by time, resources, and responsibilities. Devoting your time to check off all of your dream destinations from your bucket list is not cheap at all and requires a lot of days off from work or everyday tasks. But for Jher Ignacio, visiting all of the 81 Philippine provinces plus almost all of the Southeast Asian countries was not an impossible feat.
What makes this fact more awe-inspiring is that he works full-time as a human resource officer yet still managed to travel to so many places before reaching the age of 30.
A dream turned into a reality
Since he was a kid,Jheralready knew that traveling has always been his calling. With itchy feet and love for nature, he could not help to stay in just one place. He has always wanted to explore destinations outside of the city.
As he started working, he realized that he can finance his plans to travel. His aim to visit every province of the country, however, did not dawn on him right away. “My first goal was to visit the tourist-y places of the Philippines, until such time in 2013 when I decided, ‘Why not try visiting all provinces of the Philippines?’” he recalls.“So I started traveling in 2013. But in 2015, I pushed harder to achieve my goals. I set the goal that before I turn 30, I should have finished visiting 81 provinces.”
Meeting people with the same interest in traveling is one of his biggest influences in jumpstarting his travels. What started from excursions to top destinations in the Philippines, like Puerto Galera, Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, Davao, and Palawan, with friends became backpacking trips to every province in the country.
But there’s a huge difference between a tourist and a backpacker: the former travels for relaxation and visits only the main attractions, while the latter travels to immerse oneself in different cultures and experience life from a fresh perspective.When Jher began traveling, he considers himself a tourist, then he eventually decided that he does not need to ride in a spacious van or to find comfort, pleasure, and relaxation when travelling. He says that in order toappreciate the place more, you should explore not only what the media features or the usual attractions people go to but all of what the place can offer.
How did he do it?
Surprisingly, Jher completed his list of local destinations in the span of five years while working full-time and taking up his master’s degree in psychology, which he finished earlier this year. Many people ask him how he managed to achieve his goal while having a lot of things on his plate. “Ewan ko, may superpower yataako(I don’t know, maybe I have a superpower),” he laughs.
Whether he has superpowers or not, one thing’s for sure—he excels in negotiating and managing his time.
Aside from the fact that there are several holidays all year-long, he worked within a flexible schedule in his previous job, and when he transferred to another company, it was a matter of negotiating his schedule with his boss. “Before I signed the offer with the new company, I asked my employer if I can take a leave of absence since I already have a pre-booked schedule,” he says. For him, taking days off does not necessarily mean that he is completely free from job responsibilities, “You have to be reliable and reachable, like you have to go online to finish your required tasks.”
Reaching the bottom of the list
It was last August when Jher completed all of the 81 provinces, around two to three weeks before his 30thbirthday. Despite having planned everything accordingly, itinerary and all, he was met with challenges such as heavy rains brought on by a typhoon while they were on their way to the place and unavailable ATMs and closed banks which did not help when they ran short on budget. Fortunately, he finished his bucket list safely in the last province on his list and most recently declared province of the Philippines, Davao Occidental, where he spent eight days with his friend.
For someone who has been everywhere in the country, his favorite province is Batanes, “You get to do a lot of things in Batanes, and the people there are really nice. Anywhere you go, you’ll feel safe and stress-free and everywhere you look is breathtaking.”
Most of the best destinations for Jher are not the usual toptourist attractions. Although Siquijor is rumored to be a home to witches and other mythical beings, he highly recommends that people visit the small island, “Upon arriving, you can already see the beautiful port. What more if you get to explore the entire island?” If you’re looking for outdoor activities, Camiguin has beautiful beaches, waterfalls, and hot springs. Some other places that he would suggest to travelers are the Dinagat Islands and Surigaodel Norte where Siargao is located.
When asked about the best province, he has a hard time choosing just one,“No matter where you go, there’s something that this place can be proud of that can’t be seen in other places. Each province has its own distinct beauty.”
Meditation and self-discovery
Traveling, especially when you do it alone, offers a liberating feeling and a learning experience. Through backpacking,Jher met people from different cultural backgrounds and all walks of life from whom he has picked up lessons that he believes he can apply to his life.
With traveling as a form of meditation, he came across with realizations about himself, his life, and his journey, in general, “When you travel, your mind is relaxed. There are things that you’ll discover in yourself, things that you can do and look forward to.”
Some traveling advice
Before you commence your expedition like Jher, you should fully prepare everything first. As an experienced traveler, he urges people to research about the area and its local customs, “Number one is respect. You have to respect the locals and learn how to get along with them.”
In terms of budget, he says thatit is not that expensive to travel around the Philippines—it is how you prioritize the things you want to do and spend on.
Itinerary is also acrucial part of preparation. There are other people who likes to be spontaneous and do whatever they want without planning, but for Jher, it is better to have a plan to fall back on in case something comes up like bad weather which would get in the way of island hopping for the day.
He believes in the principles of Leave No Trace which guide travelers in enjoying nature while helping to conserve it. “Like what happened in Boracay when it just reopened, there are a lot of garbage littered everywhere again. Whatever you bring to the place, bring it with you when you leave. And take nothing but photos,” he adds.
Tags: Diet Immarie Salazar