Jennifer Faye de Jesus (39) from Quezon City, Philippines, is a freelance writer and communications specialist. She also manages property leases and sells customized cloth bags on the side. Faye joined Expat Explore on the Classic Europe Tour and explored 6 European countries in 14 days.
“I left my full-time corporate job in January 2017 after 14 years in the same industry. I felt I needed a break and got a little savings of my own so I decided to take time off and travel a bit while still weighing my career options. My Europe trip has definitely been a life-changing highlight of this chapter of my life.”
My first international travel was in 2007 in Macau and Hong Kong with a bunch of friends and officemates. Through the years, I had been fortunate enough to travel to many local and international destinations, either for work or leisure. The most memorable ones were my first time ever in Kyoto, Japan in 2009 and in the US East Coast in 2015. My Europe trip in June 2017 was my first time to go solo — I joined Expat Explore’s coach tour without a friend, family member, or companion.
I’ve always been fascinated with history and culture, so travelling and exploring things that are new to me comes naturally. I like getting to know a country’s culture through their food and I also like exploring centuries-old temples and churches.
I’m paranoid about getting mugged in the streets, but something good comes from it when you think about it because being fully aware of one’s surroundings and belongings is the best way to stay safe and defend yourself against being robbed or duped by some scam. Being aware and safe tempers the adventurous spirit. Although, there should be a good balance! No one wants to mope around and not fully enjoy an exciting new city, of course. Getting over the fear is crucial and could make or break a good vacation.
Because I went solo on a tour group, I was also initially apprehensive about not getting along with my assigned roommate. I’ve had two roommates throughout the two-week trip, and they were the best!
Travel opened me up to explore more. Travel emboldened me to see beyond the familiar. That trip to Europe was a wonderful journey to beautiful places that I only used to dream about and look at longingly on my “vision board.” Travel is a dream coming true, and always a learning experience.
It’s a way to reboot and refresh the body and soul. It’s an escape from everyday life, a respite from the noise and worries. It’s a reward for the tired and listless. Travel is a gift that keeps on giving — when the act of exploring and learning actually strengthens and changes the traveller. If I had to choose between spending on luxurious material things and spending on travel experiences, I’d gladly choose the latter.
I realised that I’m a certified klutz (I slipped on a train station platform somewhere in Berlin) and that I don’t need to take myself so seriously all the time (I laughed it off). I also learnt that it’s okay to slow down once in awhile (insert memories of my “Swiss bliss” hiking experience in Murren). There’s a big, big world out there waiting to be explored — so many different cultures to experience, so many languages to learn, so many people to meet.
If I had not joined an organized group tour, I probably would’ve spent more time getting lost in the streets and missing trains than enjoying all the sights. I could never figure out maps on my own.
It’s the farthest my budget could take me. Europe was a natural choice because I was dead-set on Italy and the Netherlands after reading about these places for years. Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Germany (per Expat Explore’s two-week itinerary) were pleasant additions to my Italian-Dutch dream so I decided to go with this tour.
I was fascinated by the sheer number of wide-open spaces and public parks which are very much part of the people’s everyday lives (they actually hang out there with friends and family, not in air-conditioned malls). I also loved how varied the activities and programs are in museums. And the old buildings are all gorgeous and well-preserved.
A highlight was definitely Switzerland! Did not expect much from Switzerland and accepted it as just a “part of the itinerary” but I was blown away by the beauty of the mountains, the hiking trails, the fresh Alpine air, the flawless train system, and our beautiful Swiss chalet accommodations. In that magical hour just before sunset, I saw the ice-capped mountains turn rosy pink. It was mesmerizing.
Coach travel made things easier. I was planning a multi-city/multi-country trip, and coach travel gave me convenience, safety, comfort, and the right balance of structure (the itinerary is well thought of) and freedom (on those days when I could do things separately from the group).
It felt like a family. I consider myself an introvert so groups and chatter are not my favorite things, but putting myself out there, talking to them, and getting to know people was part of the experience.
A coach tour is more convenient, safe, and comfortable when it’s a multi-city/multi-country trip. A DIY trip may be initially cheaper, but there are logistics involved. For example, with a coach tour, you won’t worry about hotel reservations and you won’t lug your bags at train stations when you’re trying to cover as many destinations as possible during your trip. The coach tour expense is justified when convenience, safety, and comfort are factored in. Another good thing is, a group tour operator will handle most tour arrangements, but will give you the freedom to explore and do things on your own during the “free days.”
The most important piece of advice is: “Just go!”
1. Save up! Work really hard and remember to reward yourself. Your dream vacation is not an excuse to blow all your money in one go. It’s nice to have, but definitely not a requirement to “live it up” so recklessly. Be sensible. Save. Save. Save. Have your own “travel fund” from the savings you’d get by minimizing your mall shopping sprees, for example, or by staying away from those expensive fancy concoctions at coffee shops.
2. Do it while you’re still young and able. A two-week European “vacation” is a fun, memorable experience, but it could actually be very tiring and draining because you’re always on the go, briskly walking around or catching the bus to maximize your money’s worth and accomplish all your must-try European experiences per city. So, take care of your body. Eat healthily and exercise. Have a travel-ready bod.
3. Choose wisely. Europe is huge. Decide on which part of the continent you want to explore, you cannot do it all at once. Research. Explore all options. Attend travel expos to get deals. (Expos are a huge thing in my country.) Take advantage of tour agencies’ seasonal sales for packages. Airline tickets from Manila, for example, to any point in Europe are very expensive so be on the lookout for airline ticket sales because with proper planning and timing, this is where you could also save the most. Package tours usually offer “optional excursions” where you pay extra for additional or customized experiences. Choose wisely and don’t feel pressured to avail only because others are doing it.
Tip for packing: Comfortable shoes, sunscreen, and a shawl/sarong (because I easily get cold, even in the summer. It’s also very useful as a cover-up for bare skin before entering churches and temples.)