Sole Sister Spotlight: Julienne of Morena Travels

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

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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