Travel didn’t always thrill me.
The first memory I have of an airport was an ugly tarp in the old Philippine International Departure Terminal. It was muggy and gray, just like my memory of that day.
The year was 1985. I was five years old, and my parents had told me that we were flying to India.
“How exciting!” I thought.
It would be my first time out of the country; probably my first time on an airplane. But what they didn’t tell me, was that they were also breaking up that day. I had no clue. No warning of what would happen next.
When the plane touched down in crowded Bombay (now called Mumbai), my parents went their separate ways. They had decided that when they parted, I would live with my mother. And so I did.
Funny thing is, that day at the airport is the oldest clear memory I have of life.
It must have been the shock of that single incident: the old airport tarp, the rush of the plane flight, and then, life as this five-year-old knew it, changing forever.
We spent the next 12 months in India. It was a vibrant country. Mythical gods, crowds of people, exotic markets. Memories of India are still crisp in my mind. Passing holy cows on the road; loving Masala Dosa; learning Tamil, my first foreign language.
I do remember coming back to Manila, this time with only my mother. The sad old tarp was still staring back at me. It’s no secret it’d been called one of the “World’s Worst Airports” many times, and yes, I shared the sentiments. Every time I returned to the Philippines, and there was still that same ugly tarp, my heart would hurt a little. Maybe that’s why airports always have a bittersweet feeling.
I was to board many planes again in life. For leisure, for work, for love.
How many exactly? I’ve lost count.
Then, one day, over 20 years later, I stood in the Arrivals Terminal, clutching my son’s hand in mine.
And this time, the color of the new carpet beneath my shoes was a beautiful blue.
I just stood awhile, gazing and smiling. It’s hard to explain to someone why you’re thrilled when an airport gets an upgrade. I only remember quiet happiness washing over me.
You see, that day in 1985 set the stage for everything else I was to learn about travel. And essentially, much about life:
That travel is about so much more than just changing places, or going somewhere else.
Travel is a wake-up call. It shines the spotlight on other worlds, the ones outside our own. Travelling can make us feel so small, yet so strong at the same time.
Travel teaches us that sometimes, we get left behind. We fall. But it’s up to us to get up, catch up, and keep on going.
And travel often teaches us something else: that it is quite alright to go alone.
Because of the painful decisions my parents made decades ago, I found myself on a journey that I had no control over. But that’s okay.
Cliche as it may sound, it was meant to be.
I remain grateful for that unpredictability. The path led me to the creative work I do now, the writer’s life I love.
Last month, we flew over 6,000 miles, from Europe to Asia. My dad had suffered a mild stroke in December, so I took the kids back to visit our family in the Philippines after many years.
This time, coming back was a joyful feeling. The blue carpet in the renovated Manila terminal was warm and welcoming.
We skipped, hugged, took selfies. We created new memories and I re-framed old ones.
My kids, too, have been learning, that home is not a single place. It’s not a country, nor a concrete building. It is not even an association of people.
Being home—and coming home—is a state of mind. Of peace and love encompassing you, no matter where in the world you are.
And that incredible state of mind still thrills me.
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