Hazel Borres Apuhin skydiving in Dubai
What inspired you to travel?
I am often told that I got this itch for travel from my grandfather. I haven’t met him but he was once known as “the man with a sea fever” and was featured in a local newspaper in 1970’s when he and my two uncles tried to sail to America in a wooden outrigger. They were unsuccessful and found themselves on Taiwan shores, pretended they were fishermen that were carried out there by a storm. I was always inspired by my grandfather's stories growing up and I know he lived a great life and I thought to myself that I wanted my life to be well lived and different from others too. While in my teens, my mom used to tell us her experiences in the various countries she lived in and how different their culture, their food and people’s mindset in these countries were. This also fueled my curiosity and thought to myself that I will be traveling and seeing the world someday.
What is it about traveling that appeals to you the most?
Traveling is more than just taking photos and posting them in social media. I believe that the best education I can get in life is from traveling and meeting people. Not in the 4 corners of a room. When I travel, I get out of my comfort zone and am stripped off of the things that I don’t need. The more I travel the lesser the value of things and the greater the value of relationships, connection and time.
I like to experience the world and see it from different people’s perspectives. I am always curious and find myself traveling whenever I can to hear first hand stories from people, see it for myself and learn from these experiences.
By traveling, I’ve learned that in different parts of the world, there is always kindness in humanity no matter the race, age, gender or beliefs.
How many UN member countries have you visited? How many continents have you been to?
20 countries and 3 continents.
When did you start counting countries?
I started counting countries after I was able to travel outside of Asia. So that was way back in 2017.
In your experience, what was the most difficult country to enter?
Since I am just starting, I am going to Southeast Asian countries first where I can get a visa on arrival or visa free entry. Then to countries where I have friends and relatives so I can get a sponsor letter to visit them. I am being careful until I get a lot of stamps in my passport but so far, I guess I find the UK and Schengen visa countries difficult to enter especially when holding a Philippine passport and working online.
What is your favorite country to visit and why?
I always love and am proud of the Philippines. But apart from that I like the Czech Republic. They have cheap beers, little restos with great food and the Gothic feels of castles and churches in Prague is what I like the most. It’s like walking to another era especially in the old town square. Coming from a tropical country, I also had my first snow experience in Prague so that makes it more memorable for me.
What is your most memorable travel experience to-date?
At the top of my most memorable travel and by far the longest I’ve been in another country is my travel to India. Me and my partner were backpacking around India when the pandemic started and got locked down there for 10 long months. I felt a roller coaster of extreme emotions when I was there - happy, sad, scared, confused, bored, etc. We all have our own lockdown stories to tell but being in another country during a pandemic with no certainty what is going on with the world and almost having nowhere to stay, I was fearful that it would be like in “the walking dead” series. But looking back, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Traveling can drain your wallet fast. How do you finance your travels?
I don’t have huge savings and certainly don’t have any inheritances. I worked my way up. At the early stage of my travels, I worked then saved and traveled for a few days out of the country and back.
Then I found myself wanting more and was juggling 3 online jobs while traveling in Europe. I was able to stretch traveling in the UK and Europe for 6+ months by staying with friends or relatives to get free accommodations and only pay for my food and transportation. I was able to maximize the use of my visa but it was exhausting to balance everything.
I needed more money and more time to travel. I also needed to be able to prove my rootedness and make my bank statements pretty so I will be approved for a visa in whichever country I want to apply to and travel longer. So, I became more strategic, organized and had a year off from traveling from June 2018-2019. I upgraded my skills by learning to code for 3 months in a coding bootcamp while still working online. Then I pitched to my then clients that I will be opening a VA/Webdev agency under my name, pay my tax and will still work for them but will be training and managing people under me instead of having to do all the work myself. It went well and I got referrals to their circle of friends who needed my services too. It allows me to double my income and to work less hours.
In 2019, I went traveling again after accidentally bumping into a British backpacker in Siquijor and got invited to join his remaining trips around the Philippines and it went on until we both got locked down in India.
I am now in Dubai getting my freelance visa and waiting to get free vaccination and residency. And while I stay here, me and my partner also rented a 2 BR apartment and sublet it so we can earn some more. I am also doing different kinds of investments like real estate, stocks, starting up a blog and I am hoping that in time I will get different passive income streams that will allow me to just enjoy traveling around the world smoothly. Even though traveling is halted at the moment, my advice is to always be strategic, be aggressive in saving, investing and increasing your cash flow. I started with nothing and because I really wanted to have a travel lifestyle, I worked hard for it.
Do you prefer to travel solo or with a friend/group? Why?
I enjoy little trips on my own but I prefer to travel with someone. It is nice to have somebody to share my experiences with. Like when you gaze upon the stars in the Sahara desert, telling it over a phone to a friend or family is way different from sharing the experience with them. I prefer to be in awe of the world’s wonders, having to go through difficult situations and laugh about it later on and relive it again and again with someone.
What do you carry in your travel bag?
I have a 10-15 kg small luggage and a day backpack that I’ve been carrying for almost 2 years now. The secret is if I were to buy a new shirt, I am letting go of an old one. I always make sure I have masks and alcohol with me. A pair of flip flops and a pair of sneakers. Then with clothes, I bring 2 dresses, 2 long sleeves and 2 jogger pants, 1 hoodie, then T-shirts, shorts, 2 swimsuits, quick dry towel, undies and socks (we use it as our secret money bank if we are carrying a lot of cash). For beach days, I have my sunglasses, cap, sunscreen lotion, water bottle and snorkeling mask (better to bring your own for COVID safety and to save from renting). I fill my day pack with electronic gadgets I use at work, universal adapters, power banks, pocket wifi. I also bring an extra old Nokia phone for when I need to buy a local sim card, I can transfer my Philippine sim card there if I need to get messages and otps on my bank transactions. I also learned recently in the PGE community to bring a door stopper for extra protection by blocking the door when sleeping in a dodgy hotel or hostels.
I put all my gadgets in a plastic or drybag and always bring a padlock with key duplicates spread in different places just in case I will lose one and still have a backup. Always choose to pack quick dry and lighter clothes. And stash dollars somewhere for emergencies. I remembered when crossing the Laos and Thailand border, my partner needed dollars to pay for his visa and we ran out of their local currency and they only accepted cash since it was the weekend so it’s the officers’ off and they didn't have a card terminal.
Were you ever seriously ill while traveling and how did you cope with it?
I am so lucky not to have been seriously ill in my travels. I had food poisoning in the Czech Republic when we went for dinner in a KFC restaurant. But I recovered after a day of fluid intake and plenty of rest. Also, you need to keep medicines and pain relievers with you when traveling.
How has the pandemic affected your travel plans?
After India, I was supposedly going to Sri Lanka and Maldives then back to Southeast Asia. But I stayed longer than planned in India and I spent the holidays in Dubai with my siblings. I decided to make Dubai my base and I am in the process of getting a freelance visa and get vaccinated against Covid-19 while waiting for other countries to open for tourism again. I will definitely be back on the road when opportunity permits.
What is your plan to see the remaining countries on your list?
I still have a long way to go on the list. This year, once I get vaccinated, I plan to go to Canada, America, maybe Mexico then back to Europe and hopefully to the UK. I was advised by fellow PGE members that it is better to get a US visa first since it is valid for 10 years. And one of the privileges is getting a visa on arrival in a lot of other countries once I have a valid US visa. It will make obtaining other visa applications easier too.
What travel advice can you offer to someone who would like to travel the world?
Be gritty and never stop finding ways to get what you want. Be strategic and always be careful when traveling. Always do your research, plan it out and make several backup plans. Traveling is not always a holiday but make the most out of every situation and learn. There will be setbacks and hindrances but if you put your mind to it, you will eventually get there.
You recently launched a travel website, Itchyfeet Adventures. Tell us what this is about.
I have always wanted to start a travel blog, and during the lockdown, our traveling was put on hold and we needed to do something productive. My partner and I both love the Philippines and so the birth of Itchyfeet Adventures blog. It is an adventure travel blog that promotes the Philippines. Our mission is threefold:
● To showcase the hidden treasures of the Philippines and help the country become a top destination for backpackers and holidaymakers in Southeast Asia.
● To help the people plan their visit to the Philippines more smoothly and enjoyably with tips from both a local and a foreigner.
● To develop a community of travelers that promotes responsible and sustainable tourism for more unforgettable and fun experiences for both Filipinos and foreign travelers.
We not only have an adventure travel blog, we also currently provide VA and WebDev services. And in the future, I also want to reach out to my tribe and inspire them to work online like us and to be able to earn money while traveling. I am also thinking of giving out ways and means on how to realize this lifestyle by giving free training (which I am already doing anyways but to my team only) and advice on how to start being a digital nomad. Working online and traveling opens a lot of doors for me and I would like to share the same opportunity with my tribe.
About Hazel Borres Apuhin
Hazel loves the great outdoors, new adventures and traveling. But her previous job didn’t give her the financial freedom to do what she loves. Instead, her 9 to 5 workday left her burnt out. In 2015, she founded her own VA and Web Development Agency which is now a thriving business and has given her more time to pursue the things that matter to her the most. She was traveling in India in 2020 when the pandemic happened and was stuck there for ten months. During that period, she and her partner worked on their website, ItchyFeet Adventures, and launched it the same year. You can check the blog here: https://itchyfeetadventures.com/
Photos from Hazel Borres Apuhin
The Road to 193 is a series of interviews with world travelers who are on a quest to visit all 193 United Nations recognized sovereign countries. About 121 travelers from around the world have visited all 193 UN countries, according to NomadMania, a non profit organization that validates the countries and regions visited by its community of travelers through a rigorous verification process. The goal of visiting all 193 countries is elusive at times and fraught with challenges including trying to get a visa, going to a war torn country, finding passage to a remote island nation, traveling to dangerous locations and when the budget doesn’t quite fit the bill. But once conquered, the traveler joins an exclusive club of world travelers who persisted to reach their final destination.