One way I’m looking back on 2012 is how I pulled off (proudly ) a year of traveling while at the same time leading a shorthanded team and meeting deadlines, and of course, being a mom to my cellito. Not that it was a much heavier year. But I actually planned on cutting back on having to go through the often heartbreaking ritual of having to say bye to my little one and explain over and over that mama had to work and would be back in a few days’ or a week’s time.
It wasn’t the sole reason (shirking from work wasn’t one) I wanted to travel less last year, but anything that involves a little one crying and begging you to go back to bed would easily land on top of many moms’ lists. Anyway, that’s beside the point.
My biggest realization as I looked back on another year of hard work and juggling was that, it was doable – and doable with success. Meaning, I could meet my work commitments that involved traveling and at the same time fulfill my parental responsibilities. I could take advantage of my traveling opportunities to open my eyes, and mind, to new and other realities and at the same time be a hands-on mother.
While I have help at home and have only one child to think about, it still takes little sacrifices to be able to do both.
The emotional factors have to be the biggest of these little sacrifices. The guilt, sadness, and longing can be particularly overwhelming for a first-time mom. I remember struggling to leave home for the airport for my first business trip after giving birth. I was booked on a midnight flight to Seoul and had to leave home around 10pm. I spent a good half an hour looking at my baby sleeping so soundly. The thought of having to spend the night on a plane instead of next to her was heartbreaking that I had to muster some strength and logic to walk to the door.
Time, of course, is another factor. Time spent traveling and working abroad is time spent away from loved ones and friends. I particularly feel bad about leaving or being away on a weekend, as it’s the time I spend most of the day bonding with the little one.
One thing I realized last year was that my security and safety could also be an issue, something I didn’t pay much attention to when traveling within Asia. I’m more or less familiar with major Asian capitals, having traveled to them the past almost five years. But in June, I found myself in Latin America for the first time, armed with neither travel guide nor memorized basic facts. Worse, someone else booked my hotel for my first two nights in Rio de Janeiro and I didn’t have even some minutes to check on its location and livability. I only had the printed booking confirmation to show the taxi driver.
Confident I would get by fine like I always did in my other trips, I got on a cab at the airport, went to my hotel, checked in, and took the lift to my floor. When the lift’s doors opened on the 5th storey, voila, pitch darkness! Turned out, the hotel was using motor sensor to control the electric lighting of some of the common areas. So since the floor was empty, the lights turned on only when I stepped out of the lift and made some movement (forced movement out of fear). Though I liked that energy-saving practice, to be in a dark, enclosed space in a place I had known for less than three hours threw me to a scene of a psycho thriller movie (Hitchcock in my mind).
Wait, there was more. I got into the room, dumped my things onto the bed and pulled the curtains to this view:
Those houses up on the mountain are a favela, the name used to refer to a squatter community in Brazil. No, the fact that the hotel was close to a favela didn’t scare me. What did was the fact that my windows couldn’t be locked. Try staying alone in a 5th floor room of a hotel near a slum, with its windows free to be opened by anyone who would dare scale the building. Then see if you could sleep. I couldn’t and didn’t. So I headed to Sofitel, the hotel that could accommodate me only from my third night in Rio, and begged the check-in counter staff to let me in a night earlier.
They let me in, and the moral of the story was not to be an award-winner in begging, but to insist on my safety, on staying in a reputable hotel with a good location. The other moral was to make sure I booked my own room, but only after doing some research on the hotel and its locale. Doing that could have saved me the trouble of having to write about that episode here
Finally, yes the last one, I came face to face with the reality and danger of falling ill while away and alone in a hotel room. I considered the episode, a long night (thankfully my last night during that trip in Kuala Lumpur) of severe tummy pains and diarrhea, minor cos I was able to get up the following morning and drag myself and my luggage to the hotel lobby and then to the taxi to catch my flight. But it got me thinking of worse possibilities – serious afflictions with no one to run to my rescue, except perhaps the hotel staff, though I don’t think they would literally run
But for all these “troubles”, few instances in life offer better opportunities to experience things and people firsthand and open one’s eyes to so many realities in ways both challenging and engaging than traveling.
Had I not packed my things and caught flights, I wouldn’t have felt the pangs and guilt of leaving a sobbing child behind and the joy of coming home to her open little arms. I wouldn’t have reaffirmed the power of the mind to beat physical frailty, and valued more having loved ones to help me get through any malady. I wouldn’t have spent a night wide-eyed and terrified in Rio, and gone out to its streets to see its old yet homey beauty and hear its din and pulse that took me home to a city I love, Manila.