Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka: the first stops any traveller makes in the land of the rising sun. Sole Sister Julienne gets off the beaten track this autumn and discovers a side of Japan most tourists miss…

When Sole Sister Lois got in touch with an opportunity to return to Japan, I was over the moon. Firstly, it would be my first time travelling as a “travel blogger” with big names in the local blogosphere. Secondly, anyone who’s been knows: no other country in the world is like Japan as a destination.

The trip was scheduled for five days in October, exploring the Chūbu region. That is, the area of central Japan, smack in between the Kantō (Capital: Tokyo) and the Kansai (Capital: Osaka) regions.

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Takayama riverside, Gifu

Via shinkansen (bullet train), Nagoya to Tokyo is under two hours; to southern Osaka, it’s little over an hour

I had been to Nagoya previously, but instead of exploring Chūbu, I went for the expensive option and headed to Tokyo, where I spent most of my time. The one way (!!) trip costs almost 100 USD (11,090 JPY) on the shinkansen. But if you have more time, you can lower the cost by taking a direct bus, which starts at 20 USD (2,400 JPY) for a 5-6 hour trip.

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On my first trip to Nagoya, Sakura (cherry blossom) season, March 2015

I’m glad I got the chance to return, because this time around I realised many things I had overlooked the last time: mainly, that the underrated Chūbu region is actually a hidden gem. Aside from being home to Mount Fuji and the Japan alps, “the central part of Japan” has retained much of its historical heritage and cultural authenticity. It’s also far more affordable than the cities on Japan’s standard tourist route. And being on the less-trodden path, you’ll find a less commercialised atmosphere and more earnestness from the locals. Throughout the trip, most of the travellers we met were either Japanese, or Westerners who live in Japan.

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Mikan-picking at Gamagori Orange Park - the season runs from October to December!

Nagoya: From Samurai to Toyota

Our first and last stop was Nagoya. The city serves as the gateway from the regional hub of Chūbu Centrair International Airport. It’s around 50 minutes from the airport (perched on an outlying, reclaimed island) to downtown Nagoya.

If you ever find yourself with time to kill in that airport, it might just be the best layover you’ll ever have. Chūbu Centrair has a mini village full of shops and restaurants on the fourth floor, complete with even a Japanese style bathhouse where you can soak your weary bones while watching airplanes flying in and out over Ise Bay.

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Believe it or not, this was at the airport

Nagoya Castle and the handsome samurai show

During the Warring States period of Japanese history, the Aichi prefecture in Chūbu was the birthplace of the most important Samurai heroes who formed the nation. Here you will find thousands upon thousands of castle sites where samurai and ninja used to roam.

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Did you know… that some Kyoto city sights give free entry to people dressed in Kimono?

Built in 1610, Nagoya Castle was the first of its kind to be designated as a national treasure in 1930. During its heyday, it flourished as the home of the Tokugawa shogun’s family. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during World War II and painstakingly rebuilt in 1959.

For me, the highlights were simply exploring the grounds, soaking in the atmosphere (especially during cherry blossom and autumn seasons!), and seeing the view from the top as I imagined great battles taking place around the stone walls.

And of course, how can I forget the Nagoya Omotenashi Busho-tai - the “handsome samurai show”? That’s personally what I would call the local samurai acting group that walks around entertaining people. We were lucky enough to catch a performance, which they hold on weekends and holidays. There were fan girls following them around after the show, and a long queue for photo ops - apparently they’re a hit as far as Taiwan!

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In 2010, they helped to increase tourist revenue in Nagoya by 2,700 million yen

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The girls were all over this one. Me, included...

There's no Universal Studios or Disneyland in Nagoya, but that’s perfect for me, because I’m more into cultural sights than theme parks. So I took note of another castle for my next visit: Inuyama Castle, 25 kilometres north of Nagoya. Perched on a hill by the river, it is arguably Japan’s oldest, completed in 1440.

Toyota city: Industrial Japan

Everybody loves freebies, and so do we! This probably isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a nerd you would wholly enjoy Toyota city. This is also for parents who want to add an educational twist to their travels, and kids who like to know how things work.

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A little background: following Japan’s feudal era, Nagoya quickly industrialised to become the country’s center of automobile and aircraft manufacturing industries. Automaking giants Toyota, Honda, and Mitsubishi Motors were born in this region, so it was fascinating to get a glimpse of that side of their history at the Toyota Motor Corporation Plant & Kaikan Museum.

Film Recommendation: The Wind Rises (2013) by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli - an animated historical biopic and love story set in the backdrop of tumultuous Japan in the days leading up to World War II. The film follows the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, used by the Empire of Japan during its quest for Asian dominance

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We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside so this is all I have!

During the tour (it’s a weird thing to remember, but our pretty guide had this perplexing Southwestern US accent), there were a few interactive stations that challenged participants. Apparently, some of the exercises were tests given to job applicants at Toyota. That day, I proved to the world that I have the potential to become a superlative assembly line worker. If you’re interested, you can book your tour at this link.

Osu Kannon Temple: thrift shopping heaven

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The main object of worship at the temple is a wooden statue of Kannon, the goddess of mercy

We came to this Buddhist temple in central Nagoya for two reasons: to sightsee, and to shop. The temple area was packed with people, as they were holding a children’s festival, muay thai competition, and street food market right in front of the Osu Kannon.

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Did you doubt me when I said Muay Thai competition?

The temple gives way to streets lined with thousands of shops, the best place to stock up on souvenirs to take home - which I did. The handmade samurai style pajamas I got for my dad? He wears them everyday.

To be honest I’m not a huge travel shopper but it would be difficult not to enjoy the Osu Kannon markets. They have 100-yen shops, crazy costume boutiques (the Japanese love their fancy dress), international cafes, discounted sports apparel, antiques, thrift items (secondhand kimonos for cheaps!), electronics, and more. I much preferred the experience here compared to the shopping malls we visited - as much as Don Quixote and Oasis 21 offered great value and variety. You can find the latter at Sakae, Nagoya’s shopping district… (where we also did midnight karaoke…)

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Sakae, Nagoya’s shopping district

But what I would recommend for shopaholics - although a bit out of the way - is this one amazing outdoor outlet zone we checked out: Toki Premium Outlets. I really wasn’t on that trip to shop but the prices were so good, and the styles all updated and with the right sizes. I bought my sister the latest Nike Flyknits at half price - from US$140 to US$75. Not bad at all.

Get there: You can hit Toki Premium Outlets on your way to Gifu Prefecture from Nagoya. Gifu, in the heartland of Japan, is a countryside that transports you back in time with its beautifully preserved castle towns, hot spring villages, and gorgeous natural landscapes… So stay tuned for part 2 of this article, when I venture further inland to experience rural Japan.

Signing off for now,

Sole Sister Julienne of Morena Travels is a 27 year old Manila girl who's lived in Hong Kong for four years as an editor of a tourism magazine. She loves board games, adventures, getting lost in the great outdoors, karaoke, trying new things, dancing, fitness, good food, and intelligent conversations. Currently based between Hong Kong and Manila, Julienne is at a crossroads of her life, so stay tuned for her latest at IG @morenatravels.

Cebu Pacific Air, the leading airline in the Philippines, flies between Manila and Nagoya (Chubu Centrair International Airport) every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Ongoing all-in seat sale fares start from P6,388, for travel from December 17, 2015 to March 31, 2016. Book your flights through Cebu Pacific Air. For updates and seat sale announcements, check out their facebook page.
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1 sole trails

I first met my husband in 2013, the year I decided to be alone.

I'd had enough of the whole "Hello, I Love You, Goodbye" routine. I needed to say no to any complications or interruptions to what I had envisioned as my "lifelong and faithful relationship with travel".

So I decided to escape to the ocean and just be by myself for a while. But then I met a guy. (Don't we all?) And we proceeded to wreck our travel plans by predictably falling in love.

Why We Fall For Travelers4

We had only spent less than 48 hours together in my favorite surf spot and said our hasty goodbyes. He said he would be in touch. I was  dubious. As travelers, we've only learned too well the necessary and bittersweet ritual of dropping someone off before they fly out of our lives.

So I picked up where I had left off, halfway through my "year of solitude". But a few weeks later, he told me on Skype that he had planned to come back and see me- in less than a month!


By then I had already made my travel plans: A month on the surf island of Siargao in the Philippines, then to Malaysia for a women's conference, and who knows where to next. South America, most probably. Surely he wouldn't want to come with. I laid out all my plans and gave him a chance to back out, find it all too complicated and call the whole thing off.

But he said he wanted to go with me. And he did. And he never left.

Fast forward to today, with a baby in tow and finally finding home in Portugal, we had just celebrated our first year wedding anniversary.

Maternity Shoot2

It still feels like a dream, but it's my reality. I've booked the ticket, fallen in love, and haven't looked back since. Everything I had ever hoped for, finding the guy to surf and travel with, living in a new country, and having this laughing little girl in my arms ever so often, has come true.

But what happens after happily ever after?

Settling Down Portugal3

Finding Home

It took us over a year of moving from place to place before we finally set down our 2 luggage life (plus surfboards). I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks. In Thailand, the food and the temperature was too hot. In Indonesia, it was too laid back. In the Philippines, it was too humid. In France, it was too expensive.

I would never have pointed to a map, picked Portugal and called it home. Love brought us here. My husband, who is half Portuguese and had spent most of his childhood summers in Portugal, thought it would be the best place for us to take root as a family. And he was absolutely right.

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Portugal was the embodiment of almost everything we love: endless waves, deserted surf breaks, people growing their own food, longest summer in Europe, fantastic wine, Fado music, charming old cities, heartbreaking sunsets, delectable seafood and rice, all that glorious rice. 

Visa Agonies

Finding home was only half the battle. Making my stay official was a totally different beast altogether. Let's start from the beginning. In 2014, I was in the Philippines, a few months shy of giving birth to our baby daughter. My husband had just proposed in Bali and we were planning to get married in Manila. You'd think that finding the love of your life is hard. Getting married to them (if they are of a different nationality) is close to impossible.

When we attempted to get a marriage license at the local city hall, they had asked me for a residence ID to prove that I had been living in the Philippines for the last 6 months at least. Sadly, I had not. They turned us away to another city hall, perhaps from the place where I had been born, completely in the South, without even a glance at my burgeoning belly.

It was a similar story at the French embassy (my husband is half French). We had a few options, to have my husband fly back to France, secure the necessary paperwork then get married in Manila. Or for him to fly back to France, secure the necessary paperwork, come back to Manila, then for both of us to fly back to France where we could get married. Both options would set us back a few thousand euros either way.  Not to mention all the embassy appointments, government offices, document and translation services- while 8 months pregnant.

Philippine Passport1

Let's just say that obtaining a long stay visa to go to France was more painful than childbirth. 

We had no choice but to have our baby delivered in Manila and have my husband fly out back and forth from France to get all the visa requirements ready. When our daughter was 2 months old, we thought it was safe enough to fly to France. A few months later, we got married at the city hall of Versailles.

My husband was on panic mode on the day of our wedding. He had failed to arrange for a translator for the ceremony and was worried that they would declare it void since I could barely understand French. He coached me several times. "All you have to do is say 'Oui' when the mayor asks. Say it with me, 'Oui', 'Oui', 'Oui'"

France Wedding

I nearly botched it when the mayor asked the French version of "Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and cook for this man for as long as you both shall live?" I zoned out while he waited a few seconds for my reply. My mother in law nudged me and said, 'Oui'! 

When it was time to sign the marriage contract, the mayor just smiled knowingly after he had clearly explained in simple French, "Please sign inside the box." I had signed on top of the box. My husband laughed nervously beside me but nobody screamed fraud. 

You would think that our marriage had ended our visa woes. But it faithfully followed us to Portugal where we realized the complication of applying for a residency permit for a Filipino citizen who was married to a French Portuguese in a French wedding ceremony. More paperwork, translations and trips back and forth from France and Portugal. 

A government official in Portugal declined our request because it would simply take them so much time and effort. He advised us in English to go back to France and file all the paperwork from there. And in a conspiratorial tone, he spoke to my husband in Portuguese, "You should have just married a Portuguese woman."

(And if you're wondering why we didn't just apply for the visa from the Portuguese embassy in the first place. Well, there's none in Manila.)

Moving In

Being a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural family made us the odd ones out in our little village in northern Portugal. First of all, they couldn't believe that we were actually moving in instead of out. Our region is usually deserted with many houses going up for sale and a lot of young people moving to the cities or across the border to Spain or France.

What strengthens the bond between me and my husband is simply that: we are the outsiders. He didn't speak perfect Portuguese and when he did, he would do so with a Brazilian accent. Nor did he look the part. I, on the other hand, am often mistaken for Thai, Chinese or Indonesian. Same same, but different.

Portuguese Dance Minho Region
Photo Credit: Tanya Hotchkiss

Lost in Translation

We moved to Portugal a few months after I had gotten my long stay visa through France. And part of the deal was to have a "working knowledge" of the language. So I'm learning French while living in Portugal where everyone found it odd that I couldn't speak Portuguese.

I could manage to buy bread or some frango wings from the butcher. But I could hardly answer back when someone asked me if I wanted some sugar with my coffee. Most Portuguese do speak English even though a lot of them are too shy to do it. So I could get by with my fluent English and skimpy French and Spanish. I could understand certain words from simple deduction.

Settling Down Portugal9

Mercado is market, batatas are potatoes and sapatos are shoes. But sometimes the rules change completely and I realize that preservativo is not some kind of preserved jam. It's not even a food product. The only thing it preserves is a low birth rate. And whenever I have a cold, I go to the pharmacy for some medicine and whisper, "Para constipações."

Photo Credit: Jason Carvalho

I often try to practice my Portuguese when I'm at the bakery. I had been ordering the same natas (egg tart) for weeks when I thought I should try something new and exciting. So I pointed out a flaky pastry that I had imagined would have something sweet and fruity inside. I used the 3 Portuguese words I knew along with some sign language and asked what's in it. The woman said something which sounded like pêche, the French word for peach. I ordered it and proceeded to take a big bite of what I thought was my peach tart. Only to have to spit it out because it tasted suspiciously like fish. And that, my Sole Sisters, was my charming introduction to Portuguese Salt Cod Cakes made of peixe, which means fish in Portuguese.

Get a Job

After a few months of living in Portugal, the vacation vibe wore off and my husband and I had to think about feeding ourselves beyond the seasonal tomatoes, potatoes and Portuguese cabbage that we had planted in our backyard. What were my options? Aside from blogging and other online ventures, it has crossed my mind to actually get a real job with real colleagues. It sounded like the best solution to everything that I faced: earning money, adapting to a new country, learning Portuguese and making friends.

The first thing that occurred to me was to teach English. I thought I'm perfectly capable of teaching a language that I had spoken since childhood, right? How hard can it be? And to make things easier, I looked for an English teaching job for children. So I went to the school, explained my situation and asked for a job. The secretary smiled at me politely and informed me that there was an English teaching job available. I got excited. I knew it was going to be easy. Her next question was obvious, but not to me at the time.

"Can you speak Portuguese?'

Back to square one...

Settling Down Portugal1

As I write this, my husband and I are thinking of a business venture. We've considered putting up a bed and breakfast / surf camp / wine appreciation venue. We're calling it Waves and Wine. The tagline? Get barrelled! We might have been under the influence of a few glasses of vinho verde when we drafted the business plan...

Making Friends

Coming from the Philippine islands, I'm used to an open door policy when it comes to making friends. We call everyone "friend". I have a few thousand facebook "friends" myself. That guy whom I've bumped into at a few parties? He's my friend. That girl whom I've surfed with a couple of times and we know each other's faces but never each other's names? She's my friend.

That's not the case in Portugal. Apparently, you need to know someone for a certain period of time before you can officially call them friend. Give or take a few decades.

Bridging the Gap

Before moving to Portugal, I had been pretty sure of myself. I'm well-traveled, sociable, confident, adaptable, witty, and funny. After a few months of living here, I began to see myself as how I thought the locals saw me: utterly foreign, helpless, a misfit, the girl who could barely even ask where the restroom is. And what's that funny accent when she speaks English?

Up until early this year, I had been thinking of myself as a traveler, as part of an elite group of people who go elsewhere because they wanted to and because they can afford to be displaced. Recently, I have started to think of myself as an immigrant, as someone who had to go elsewhere because they have to.

I've always been in my element being a foreigner. I've felt at home even without a home. I had never wanted to be attached to any place, thing or person. But why do I suddenly feel that tugging need to belong? To settle down and take roots. Or at least be able to walk in a cafe and have a familiar face call me by name.

Lois North Portugal
Photo Credit: Tanya Hotchkiss

Becoming a Foreign Local

The one thing that probably sets me apart from the people that I meet on a daily basis is the fact that I smile a lot. Being a foreigner does allow me to walk around in this little bubble seeing only rainbows and unicorns everywhere I go without getting caught up in life's little dramas. Pico Iyer says it so well,

“One curiosity of being a foreigner everywhere is that one finds oneself discerning Edens where the locals see only Purgatory.”

And before I realized it, I stopped sticking out and started to blend in. I stepped up and made the first move. I lost my fear of rejection and started to greet everyone I met "bom Dia!" without wondering if they would return the gesture. Most of them do. I overcame my fear of embarrassment and started speaking more Portuguese. I even managed to make a few friends by just reaching out to people and making connections.  I have also managed to learn how to cook feijoada and rissois.

The Truth and Nothing But...

I did promise to tell you the truth. And here it is:

Moving abroad to follow your heart may be the most important decision you will ever make. It can become a fairy tale or your worst nightmare. I've had the blessing and the curse to experience both.

There will be days when you will regret your decision. You will imagine what life would be like had you decided to listen to your fears. Your friends did warn you to never fall in love, didn't they? It was the last thing they told you as you boarded the plane. But you never listen anyway.

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Some days will be more difficult than others. You never know what could trigger a sudden breakdown. Whether it's the smell of garlic that reminded you of your mother's arroz caldo. Or your sister posting pictures of the little nieces who will never be as close to your daughter as you and your cousins are, having spent all your childhood summers together at your grandparents' farm.

Sometimes you will meet people who will make you feel like a foreigner. Wherever you go, you can always find someone who will dislike you for the mere fact that you look or act differently. Ignore them. You will soon find your tribe and they will be foreign just like you. They will come from places that you can't even pronounce and have funny accents with weird conjugation. But you will treat them like your closest of kin simply because they can laugh at your jokes.

Best of Portugal19

And you will lose some friends. But the ones worth keeping will always choose to remain in your life. Some may even come visit you one day. And you will make new friends. The new ones will never be able to replace the old. But trust me, you will never run out of people to love.

And the person you fell in love with? He will change too. You will begin to unwrap layers of each other and some of them you may not be too crazy about. It's one thing to be on a tropical island when the biggest decisions you have to face are "Should we get up now?", or "What should we eat for breakfast?"

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It's another thing to find answers to "Which country should we raise our child in?" or "How can we even afford all this?"

Falling in love and moving abroad will frustrate you, it will break you down. It will make you realize how little you own and how small you are. It will force you to question everything you thought you knew about yourself and everything you had believed to be true. You will step into your adoptive country wide eyed and open hearted and emerge a totally different person. You may one day look at yourself in the mirror and not recognize the person you have become.

But you will be better for it. 

You will strive and thrive and adapt. You will learn to let go and live without things that you thought were part of you. You will learn to love parts of yourself that you never knew existed. You will learn to cook. You will take the subway. You will learn to put together an IKEA bed. And you will grow, yes you will! You will grow more in courage, wisdom and spirit than you ever could had you stayed behind.

And maybe you will never return. But chances are, you will. And the person who left will never be the same person who will come back. That is the truest of all journeys, what goes on deep inside each of us.

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Have you had similar experiences in living abroad? I'd love to hear your story!

Still Smilin',
Sole Sister Lois

Lois has traveled extensively and has lived in Asia, the United States, and Europe. She is currently based in Portugal with her husband and baby girl. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of We Are Sole Sisters and has written the ebook "Where Should I Go in Southeast Asia?" based on her travels in the region for 6 months on less than 2,500 USD.
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3 sole trails

When I first got an email from Julienne, I instantly liked her. She's well-traveled, has this infectious enthusiasm and spoke her mind without any reservations. She's the type of person that you wish you can actually travel with. Someone with whom you would never run out of things to talk about. We were supposed to meet each other in Lisbon a few months back, but the timing was not right. I'm so glad to call this woman my Sole Sister and I can't wait for you to get to know her too!

What were your earliest travel memories? 

I began travelling at a young age because my parents took my sister and I on trips both within and outside of the Philippines, where I was born and raised. Neither of my parents were originally from Manila, where I grew up (in an all girls Catholic school!). They had both moved to the capital for university, and later, for their professional careers. Neither of them spoke Tagalog as their native tongue, which was why we spoke English at home, as it was the language my parents both used at work.

Five years old in Baguio, a cool highland escape and summer favourite for Manileños

My mom, an endocrinologist, was always traveling for medical conventions. She would take us with her whenever she had the chance: I remember us tagging along her trips to Australia (I was 10), Boston (age 13,) New Zealand (19), etc. Both my parents also have siblings living abroad, mostly in the US and in Canada. My dad’s parents and siblings had settled in the Bay Area in California, so we’d often visit for occasions like birthdays and weddings.

Cycling San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge (February 2013)

What’s your travel style?

It depends on the destination - for example, I would do places like Laos and Costa Rica as nature/adventure experiences, while a place like New York would be have me exploring different neighbourhoods and checking out the “scene”.

As I get older, I become less of a budget traveller. I want to experience a city as my local counterparts would, not as a scrimping student (which I was five years ago… I like to think I graduated, haha!). Which doesn’t mean I’d blow hundreds of dollars on Michelin star restaurants and 5 star hotels. I just feel like I have worked enough to not have to share bathrooms with strangers and treat myself to yummy food.

Ayutthaya, Thailand (January 2014)
Sometimes I research exhaustively to find a good hole-in-the-wall, but (and fellow foodies will sympathize), this can be debilitating. I have found myself walking around hungry for hours on end on more than one occasion, infuriating my travel buddies with my paralysing indecision on where to eat.

I like learning new skills in the places I visit, like languages (Spanish, mainly), surfing (I’m still struggling with this one), or dancing (for me, this is essential for enjoying some places, like learning Sevillanas at Feria de Abril in Andalucia or salsa in Latin America).

My sister and I trying to copy the Sevillanas in Sevilla

Do you have any travel traditions or habits that are constant anywhere you go?

Spontaneously meeting people are the highlights of my trips. When my sister and I were in Valencia last summer, we went out to the plaza where they were holding a big public party. We were enjoying the open-air atmosphere when a group of Valencianos sent their best English speaker to talk to us and invited us to move to the seaside where all the Valencianos partied until sunrise. We chatted to them for a bit and decided to be spontaneous:

“How are we going?” we asked.

“By car,” they said.

“Can we take our car?”

They were surprised, and said, “sure, why not, let’s take yours.”

We showed them where we parked - they couldn’t hide their shock and amusement when they saw that we had left our rented Volkswagen in the middle of the old town centre, where it was apparently illegal to park, and that we had not been fined at all. I gave my new friend Carlos the keys, and we drove to the “discoteca” by the bay where we danced to reggaeton, merengue, etc. for the rest of the night with our new friends.

Valencia: Started with two, ended with a crowd

Who were the most interesting/memorable people you’ve met during your travels?

On the plane from Hong Kong to Manila, which made an emergency landing in Clark airfield because the Manila runway was “broken”: I had been crying because my ex-boyfriend and I fought that day, and he backed out of the trip last minute, forcing me to fly alone. I thought my day couldn’t get any worse when the pilot announced that we had to spend the night at Clark before taking another flight to Manila at 6am. I ended up at the waiting lounge beside a tall, well dressed and good-looking British-Chinese fellow who turned out to be a celebrity appearing on more than four different shows on TV, and constantly on magazine covers. Less than a year later, after keeping in touch, he hired me to co-write his fine art photography-meets-wildlife conservation book which is due to be published in November 2015!

On the plane from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur, where I was transiting to London: A New-York based Canadian Jewish lawyer who could speak five languages (English, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Yiddish).

Easter in Devon, England (2012)

In Siargao: A New York hedge-fund Harvard boy recovering from the dissolution of a long and painful engagement, taking a break before moving to an LA-based position where he now lives on the Santa Monica beachfront. He was a water polo player taking up surfing for a month before doing a trekking stint through Nepal, where he helped establish a charity to rebuild and feed villagers. Oh, and his dad is an astrophysicist.
Seoul, South Korea (Summer 2012)

Any romantic encounters on the road?

That’s one secret I’ll never tell… But of course! Haha! There was that one summer fling in Barcelona with a younger guy: stubborn, full of character, fiercely Catalan, never left Europe in his life, didn’t understand when I ate raw fish, had a deep, booming voice, picked me up in a roaring monster of a motorbike (I felt sooo bad girl), gave me a helmet, and we took off to the mountains one day, his beach house the next, the park another day… We met on the street one night when I was having a temper tantrum; my girlfriends were trying to calm me down about something, while two unattractive and pesky boys were heckling us and I was screaming at them: “leave me alone!!!!”

“Speak Spanish because you are in Spain,” says one in Spanish. My head burst into flames in anger. Then suddenly: “¿Necesitas ayuda?” (Do you need help?) Says someone. My friends and I look up to see a tall, beautiful angel of a man. We were speechless for a few seconds there.

“Yyyeeeeessssss... please…. h-h-help her…” one of my girlfriends finally musters, staring at him wide-eyed, motioning at me in what seemed like slow motion. It was like someone threw a bucket of ice cold water on my fiery anger and I was also staring at him stupefied, blabbering nonsensical Spanish which he somehow understood. And that’s how it began…

Heck, and why not a real photo? It’s not like I’ll ever see him again anyway..

Worst thing about traveling?

VISAS. My worst experience was with the UK, when they changed their visa procedure and it took abominably long to get a visa that I had to pay extra to expedite it, in the end burning something ridiculous like US$322 for one measly visa to one arrogant country. Never. Again. (Actually, I love the UK).

Trying not to freeze to death in Hampton Court, England (Winter 2011)

How has traveling changed you?

It has made me independent, coloured my personality, taught me new things, made me more open-minded, given me confidence and pride in who I am, taught me to appreciate myself… too many to count.

Tarragona with my sister (June 2015)
Who's your favourite travel buddy? 

Before my ex and I broke up in January, I used to travel everywhere with him. But since then I have been traveling with friends and family, and it’s a completely different experience. I am especially grateful for the three months I spent with my sister Joyce in Spain and Portugal this year, a trip I will never forget. Just thinking about it is getting me emotional…

Forbidden City, Beijing (2012)

Do you have any “bad travel habits”?

BUDGETING. I’m bad at saving and I’m just generally bad with money. I also make really stupid and impulsive decisions without thinking, like buying wrong plane tickets and having to rebook 2-3 times, true story. I resolve to start using my head a little bit more, loathe as I am to look at numbers and calculations.

I’M ALWAYS LATE FOR FLIGHTS. Usually I make it in the nick of time, but on the rare occasion, I miss my plane/train/whatever and that is a total waste of time and money. This I have to change. So I have to start arriving at airports and stations earlier.

CLOSE-MINDEDNESS. Sometimes I dismiss people because I can be judgmental. And I hate it when people make assumptions about me and don’t give me a chance or make an effort. So I shouldn’t do it either.

What are your most underwhelming and overwhelming experiences?

Better than expected: Bali. I thought it might be a commercialised and over-touristed island, similar to the unfortunate state of affairs in Boracay. But I was wrong. Bali has soul.

Magpupungko Tidal Flat & Lagoon, Siargao, Philippines (August 2015)
Not as great as I expected: China. The old monuments in Beijing are powerful landmarks, there’s history, there’s natural beauty… but for me it’s marred by pollution and the sheer number of Chinese people pushing at you from what feels like all angles. I just don’t feel charmed by or at peace in this country.

At Mutianyu, Great Wall of China (2012)

Would you give up your career to travel?

No. I know many do and are fulfilled by it, and I’m happy for them, but it’s not for me. I like my luxuries too much; I can’t live on a small budget, and if I don’t work that means I’m going to become poor because I tend to burn through my money, fast! I’ll just have to figure out a way to get the best of both worlds… yes, I want to have my cake and eat it too!

Moorish Castle, Sintra, Portugal (May 2015)

Sole Sister Julienne of Morena Travels is a 27 year old Manila girl who's lived in Hong Kong for four years as an editor of a tourism magazine. She loves board games, adventure, getting lost in the great outdoors, karaoke, trying new things, dancing, fitness, good food, and intelligent conversation. Currently based between Hong Kong and Manila, Julienne is at a crossroads of her life, so stay tuned for her latest at IG @morenatravels.

Want to read more about women empowering women to travel? Check out more at Sole Sister Spotlight.

Do you know of travelers who conquer the world one country at a time? We would love to interview them for Sole Sister Spotlight. Please send us an email at We look forward to your suggestions!
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We all have the choice to choose a path in life. Often times though, our decisions are clouded by what others pressure us into thinking.

Our lives were mapped out from the day we were put in kindergarten: go to school, think about what you want to be when you grow up, choose a degree in which you would like to pursue, graduate college, compete against other graduates in the job force, work for a big name company, earn a high salary, get good benefits and become successful.

I chose a lifestyle quite opposite to that, not only because I didn’t like the 9-to-5 or because I didn’t want to work for someone, but simply because I wanted to pursue a dream, which was to travel the world freely. Little did I realize how I started to become lured into the nomadic lifestyle in exchange for the conventional career path.

Sole Sister Emma Climbing-melbourne

Moving up the social ladder

I studied marketing in university but always envisioned myself working in the fashion industry. I worked at a small fashion wholesale company in which I took charge of the marketing department. 

A few times a year, I would go on all-expenses-paid business trips in Canada and the U.S. I was excited at my job and I envisioned myself being a successful woman in the fashion industry. 

But it all changed when I looked further ahead. I realized I had no future in this small company, one for which I was hoping to become the head buyer. I loved the fact that I was able to travel for my job, but I wanted to travel more. I wanted to travel freely.

Knowing I could not see myself fulfilling this travel dream while staying committed to a career, I needed to make a decision.

Sole Sister Emma  long-term-travel

The Click

I wanted to hold off on constantly working towards the perfect career. It was extremely draining. I wanted to see what else was out there. I knew the fashion industry was no longer for me when I got a glimpse at what it would be like to work for the reputable L’Oreal Company.
During University, many of my colleagues dreamt of working for L’Oreal, so it became a desire for me too. I fortunately scored an interview at the firm, and quickly realized it was not for me. I realized I didn’t belong to such a lifestyle of glam and fashion, and that my heart was yearning for something remotely different that would liberate my adventurous spirit.

Sole Sister Emma  solo-travelling

Pinning down the fear

I was always afraid of travelling alone. I was so afraid that I could not be by myself for an entire day. That’s when I decided I no longer wanted this fear to control me. The distant thought of travelling alone came up and I remember it scaring me to death.

My older sister had always told me to "do one thing every day that scares you".

It was one sentence that stuck to me.

I had always envied my older sister for being brave enough to go on trips by herself. She was an independent person that I hoped to one day become.

Her inspiration was the seed that planted in me: without realizing it I felt the desire to follow her footsteps. I dreamt of the day I would travel by myself, thinking it was such a crazy, far-fetched dream that it couldn't be anywhere near possible, until I told myself I would finally travel after graduating University.

Sole Sister Emma langtang-trekking

Quitting my job

I had a great job that fashion enthusiasts would have killed for. My job was far from mundane and I was great at it. I knew I could make a career out of it, but I also knew that I was made for something much greater.

I realized that as cliché as it sounds, I really do just have one life to live. If I quit my job, I could get it back, or I can find a new one if I really wanted to. Yes, I will leave my life of routine and stability, but the desire to discover what was on the other side of the fence was much more appealing than security to me. At 23 years old, I was young and fresh out of University. Yes, I had to leave a great job, but what else was there for me to lose?

Quitting a job is probably the most uncomfortable thing to do, and it never gets easy. But once you have made the decision to quit, you just have to face the fear of confrontation and do it. Don’t settle out of fear. Step beyond that line of comfort and you will see a million other doors opening in front of you.

Sole Sister Emma langtang-summit

Excitement for the unknown

I left a career in the rising for a path leading to the unknown. I quit the job I enjoyed in exchange for uncertainty. I wanted to feel the risk, and I wanted to put myself in a place so uncomfortable that I would have to face my fears on my own.
Finally, after having made my decision to travel the world, I booked myself a one-way flight ticket to Australia.

By travelling alone, I discovered and still learn about who I truly am. There is really no one else to rely on but you. Yes, you meet amazing people along the way and you never actually end up being alone, but you develop a habit of making your own decisions by doing what you want.
You are always free to do as you wish and no longer need to care about the social pressure of having to be somewhere or doing something you think you should do.

Sole Sister Emma school-teacher-nepal

Choosing a reality

It was only until I left my comfort zone that I discovered something I truly loved that made me feel alive. Sometimes I look back at how quickly these two years have flown by and can definitely say that my decision to not pursue a career has changed my life.
By now, at 25, I could have been married. I could have owned a house, or a condo, or a car. I could have been working at a reputable firm to pay for things I think I need, to buy things I think will make me happy, and to do what I think I should be doing at this stage in my life.

I would also probably be day dreaming about some exotic place in the world, while planning out my next vacation to come in 40 something weeks. I probably would be wondering what it would be like to be a carefree explorer, travelling to exciting places and going on all kinds of adventures.

Luckily my reality is exactly that, and I wouldn’t trade it for any career in the world.

Would you ever trade your career and choose the nomadic path? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Sole Sister Emma activetravlr-climbing-thailand

Sole Sister Emma of The Active Travlr is an adventure traveller from Canada, backpacking around the world. With the love for nature, an obsession for rock climbing, and a passion for travelling, she packed her bags and decided to explore the world, with no return date. The travel bug bit, and her year-long travel plan fell through. Two years later, she’s still on the road for the unknown, to a destination off the beaten path. She also just recently raised 12,000 CAD to help rebuild remote villages affected by the quake in Nepal through her independent project The Travelling Movement. She is currently back in Canada planning for her next big trip.
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