Faith’s life hacks to travel the world

world urbanista faith

Some people seem to live a fabulous life traveling the world, but little do others know the sacrifices and tricks that come with going to great places.

Thirty-something Filipina Faith Azul, a physical therapist by profession, has been to 57 countries on 6 continents – while embracing all sorts of adventure from fun to  glum.

Traveling for her is a way out of the frantic corporate world of health care in the US, but as a traveler, she remains to be a health care advocate by “packing for a purpose.”

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What funds your travels?

My travels are funded by a combination of things.

I have been a frequent traveler for 16 years now and have collected miles – I only pay tax for some of my air travels. I also use hotel points so some of my stays were free. I am very frugal and make sure I save enough money for my trips.

Sometimes, I travel cheaply. I don’t mind staying in hostels, or getting on an overnight train or bus to save on hotel room. And with some money left, I can splurge on a handbag or spa treatment.

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I have also cooked while traveling especially when we stay in places with kitchens in order to save and to try local ingredients. And to get the most bang for my buck, I like going to multiple countries in one trip. That way, I only pay for 1 round trip airfare.

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How did your interest in traveling start?

I am a bookworm before I became a traveler. My childhood tendency of reading anything and everything sowed the early seeds of my wanderlust.

I credit Nancy Drew for my love of reading and nurturing my never ending curiosity.

Anne of Green Gables made me want to live in Prince Edward Island. Don Quixote had me longing to visit Spain. Anne Frank showed me in her diary how to enjoy the simplest bits of life like the chirping of a bird or a sliver of sunshine. The Little Prince taught me to experience life in order to know its meaning. Books widened my horizons and took me anywhere I wanted to go.

I evolved as a traveler when I spent six weeks in Vancouver after college. Although I stayed with family, I was left to my own devices during the day. I watched my first hockey game. I tried to learn how to snowboard and failed. I took public transportation to Victoria and Whistler. I hiked to Capilano Bridge. I learned to love cheese when I tried them for free at local farmers markets.

That was when I realized that traveling is not just about package tours that I did with my parents, it is also about collecting experiences.

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Who do you usually travel with?

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As the youngest in the family, my parents were my original travel buddies. Growing up, they would take me on vacations that I did not have any say. I would tag along and did whatever they wanted to do.

But it is my Dad who really influenced me for his sense of adventure. He could be scuba diving one day, then eating bugs and turtle eggs next. I got my “I’ll try anything” attitude from him.

Then as I got older, I started traveling with my high school and college friends. You really get to know people after you travel with them. To this day, we still make a point to travel together at least once a year.

My husband is also my travel companion. He is more adventurous than me and has been to 46 countries. We met at work and he would often tell me stories about his backpacking trip to Europe with his college friends. That was how we became friends and started dating.

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What’s in your bag?

I am an advocate for packing for a purpose especially when I visit developing countries. Meaning, I include things  (mostly school and medical supplies) in my checked baggage that I donate throughpackforapurpose.org.
They have a list of countries that need these things for needy children. Hotels and tour operators serve as drop off points and delivery agents.
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On my most recent trip to Cuba, I brought band aids, ace wrap bandages and pain relievers that I left in my hotel room because I heard that has been the custom of visitors going there to help. With the decades long economic embargo, Cubans have no access to the most basic needs and bringing something to ease their burden a little will go a long way.

On your own, or with your travel buddy, what countries have you visited?

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I live in the US and would often go on weekend trips to Canada.

I have visited the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico and Panama which are part of the North American continent. I have also been to Aruba and Bermuda but they are not considered their own countries. I have backpacked through Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru while in South America.

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My husband and I honeymooned in Australia where we spent 2 weeks exploring Sydney, Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef.

In Europe, I have done a combination of road trips and rail travels through Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the Vatican.

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Whenever I visit family in the Philippines, I explore neighboring Asian countries. Thanks to the proliferation of budget airlines, it was just a short and cheap hop to Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and Thailand. I have also been to Israel and Jordan in the Middle East.

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Any challenging trip you have in mind?

One time, I was tasked to plan a “multigenerational trip” with my family throughout Southeast Asia for my father’s 80th birthday.

How did the family trip go?

It was challenging because I had to satisfy travel needs of different tastes. There were 16 of us traveling together with age range between 9 and 79 including a special needs child.

We stayed in 5 different hotels and had to take multiple planes, ferries, trains, buses and taxis in 4 countries. We went to amusement parks for the kids and teens, the beach to relax, casinos for my mom, multiple temples and museums, and even shopped until we dropped. I pulled it off, but it was not easy.

And there’s also a trip to Israel and Jordan.

What happened there?

Three days before my husband and I were scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv, Hamas in Gaza Strip started attacking Israel with rockets.

We seriously considered canceling, but we still went. We changed our hotel to get closer to the American embassy in case we needed to evacuate.

Due to suicide bombings in public buses, we rented a car and drove to Jerusalem, Nazareth, Galilee, the Dead Sea, Eilat, Aqaba and Petra. Driving through the inky black desert at night was scary. Then the Israeli-Jordanian border got closed down 2 days before my husband was to run a half marathon in the desert.

Looking back, it seemed like everything went wrong and it took Herculean effort to rearrange our itineraries, but in the end, we had an amazing time.

What do you like most about traveling?

I like discovering how each country can be so different and yet similar with the rest of us. I like embracing new cultures and learning new languages. After all, traveling in itself is the best education.

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But most importantly, there is nothing else in the world that makes my pulse race and my eyes glow than trying new dishes. Food and travel go hand in hand. Usually, my first stop in a new country is the local market. I like buying what the locals would normally eat for breakfast and snack. I believe that local cuisine provides a deeper perspective in my travels.

Top 20 memories

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In no particular order, my best travel experiences include:

1. Riding a camel to the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt
2. Swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines
3. Riding a hot air balloon over Capadoccia in Turkey
4. Spending four days in a yacht while island hopping the Galapagos
5. Climbing the highest active volcano in the world in Cotopaxi, Ecuador
6. Food and wine pairing lunch at a vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina
7. Running a marathon in Bordeaux, France
8. Cage shark diving in Oahu, Hawaii
9. Staying one night in an ice hotel in Montreal, Canada
10. Sampling Bahian cuisine in Salvador, Brazil
11. Kayaking Phang Nga Bay in Thailand
12. Witnessing sunrise in Angkor Wat
13. Haggling in Morocco
14. Eating Kobe steak in Kobe, Japan
15. Soaking in the Blue Lagoon waters in Iceland
16. Floating in the Dead Sea
17. Riding a gondola in Venice, Italy
18. Doing a tapas crawl in Madrid
19. Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru
20. Hearing mass at the Vatican

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Why do you think should Filipinas travel?

Everyone has different dreams. Some people dream of traveling the world. Some dream of buying a house and climbing the corporate ladder. Similarly, everyone has varying degrees of adventurousness. Some want to climb the highest mountain, while some are contented to reading at home while sipping tea. And there is nothing wrong with that. Our differences make us unique. However, if you are a Filipina who likes to delve into the unknown, go forth and travel.

You owe it to yourself to push your limits, to see what you are capable of, to pursue your dreams. And when you return, you will be surprised by how much you have grown and how much you have learned. You will be itching for more. Trust me.

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Where to next?

Honestly, I don’t know. I may have trip ideas on my mind all the time, but I like spontaneity in my travels. When it’s time to book, I choose to go where airfare is cheap, where I have never been, and where I think I will have the best experience. Although my husband and I are always talking of going to South Africa or New Zealand someday, there are so many other fascinating places to explore. If money is no object, I would go to Antarctica in a New York minute. But for now, I’ll just keep going anywhere and everywhere.

Faith is @faithflashpacks on Instagram

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