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The Road to 193 with Dr. Reysa Alenzuela

Dr. Reysa Alenzuela at Loket Castle in Czechia 
Where and when was your first trip outside your home country?

It was in 2004, I went to Hongkong and nearby provinces of southeast China i.e. Guandong, Guangzhou and Schenzhen. During that time, Filipinos didn’t travel as much as we did a decade later. I was relying on the travel agency and joining the bus tour. But since I was a first timer, that was the most I could get for an experience. As expected, the bus tour brought us to those jade museums where we ended up buying unnecessary things. I remember we were also brought to a factory of leather products. That was my first vicarious experience of a different culture - the tour guide told us about legends of the five goats in Guangzhou, how people love tea in China. It was the first time I bargained by only using a calculator. That was pretty much a superficial experience but my love for travel grew from there. I became curious about different cultures.

What is it about traveling that appeals to you the most?

Learning new things first hand is the first reason I travel. It is fascinating to read about places and people but it is totally different when you interact with them, taste their unique cuisine, hear the story about their customs directly from them, immerse in their culture. You develop a different understanding especially when you go beyond the touristy places. Traveling also pushes me to the limit and tests my character. Being a solo traveler, it makes me cautious of everything around me while being with colleagues makes me think of my travel buddy/buddies - are they tired, hungry, safe, etc. It is also fascinating seeing little acts of kindness along the way. From locals who would go an extra mile to accommodate our needs to strangers who help along the way. Oftentimes, I am dependent on strangers when I travel alone. For instance, when I went to Bukhara in Uzbekistan, a young teenager whom I met on the train stayed with me, toured me around the city so I wouldn't get duped. She was so sincere that she even wanted to pay for her own expenses which I also refused. I also found new friends from different parts of the world with unique stories about how they travel and some still remain as my friends to this day.

How many continents and UN recognized sovereign countries have you visited?

I’ve been to about 30 countries, 4 continents - Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania. I started traveling more often less than a decade ago. My previous job would only allow me to travel to one or two countries a year. I take traveling as a relaxing experience so I really create my itinerary and check how comfortable my hotels are. I even prefer to live in a country and not just visit several countries in a few days. I lived in South Korea, Kazakhstan, Vanuatu and now in Czechia. Sometimes I do quick getaways for a weekend breather.


Are you counting countries? 

No, I would prefer to be immersed in the travel experiences and fulfill specific things I have in mind rather than rush to reach a specific number of countries in a short period. I even go back to some countries several times. I’ve been to Thailand and Australia around 10 times. I just have a list of places I wanted to go to and activities/events I wanted to see like what I did in past travels - go to Hobbiton in New Zealand, soak in a thermal spa in Karlovy Vary (Czechia), visit a cultural village in Vanuatu, see the magnificent Taj Majal, spend 4th of July in Washington, D.C., immerse in Korean culture, etc. In the near future I would like to chase the aurora borealis (Norway, Sweden or Iceland) and do volunteer work in Armenia. There’s a lot I want to do.


What was the most difficult country to enter in your experience thus far? 

I can’t remember I had any major issue except for the fact that it is costly to apply for a visa in the Philippines if you live on another island and have to fly to Manila or Cebu where the consulates are located. Another struggle is when the country you are going to has no consulate in the Philippines. For example, to get my visa for Kazakhstan, I needed to stay in Malaysia for two weeks until my visa was ready for pick up. When I went to Vanuatu, I didn't bother coming back to the Philippines as it would take me months. I do not apply for a visa in the Philippines for most of my travels since I lived in various countries. 

I am a very cautious traveler. I either go with friends who know the place or I research the country and the place I would want to visit. Aside from little airport hassles, I never experienced being sick or being left by a plane or being in danger (thank God!). I was denied entry in Malaysia once because my passport was a few days short of the 60-day validity requirement, but that’s all.


What was the most inaccessible country that you visited to-date? 

In 2017, Central Asian countries like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, were not travel destinations for Filipinos. Same with Vanuatu and Fiji. It takes several flights to get there. 

Reysa in Borovoe, Kazakhstan

What place draws you back more than any other and why? 

I like being here in Prague and my next option would be Poland. It could be any European country. But I am also planning to go back to Japan as I have only been to Tokyo. I don't think I have a special place. Each place is unique. There will always be wonderful people you meet along the way. There are countries I find safer but all the countries I’ve visited offered me great experiences. 


What is your most memorable travel experience? 

I remember one incident that is more hilarious than striking. This is not like meeting VIPs or something. I joined a tour to Mt. Yasur in Tanna, Vanuatu and as we were going down from the tip of the volcano, the Chieftain shouted to other locals to help me (I did not understand what he said); but suddenly, two huge guys grabbed each of my arms to help me go down without even touching the ground. It looked ridiculous but I really appreciated their concern. They thought I might fall from the way I walked. Likewise, my travels are always memorable particularly when I am with friends or when I meet new friends, like the time I went wine-tasting in New Zealand with my college best friend, temple hopping in Cambodia with a former colleague and friend and celebrating Holi Hai (an Indian Festival of colors) in South Korea with fellow Ilonggas. My recent holiday trip to Austria and Serbia with two work colleagues who became real friends was pretty amazing.

How do you keep friendships and diffuse tensions caused by unpleasant surprises when traveling with friends?

I do not remember any major issues with my travel buddies except a slight disagreement with some friends on where to go and what to eat. When one is upset with an inevitable situation, we let it pass or inject some humor to the situation to distract from negative vibes or at least keep quiet. I go with friends from diverse nationalities but they are old friends so we know each other. I don’t remember if I had an argument which lasted more than a minute.

What was the most hairy experience you encountered while traveling? 

I don't remember a very dangerous trip except my travel before the pandemic lockdown in 2020. I just had a two-week old laparoscopic surgery when I went to Palawan. We needed to rebook our flight so we will not be trapped in Palawan during the lockdown. That was a nerve-wracking experience. I am lucky I was with a friend. We had no choice but to take a boat back to Iloilo in economy class as chance passengers. That 17-hour trip with all the uncertainty was the worst experience I had. 

I am also not an “off the beaten track” kind of traveler. I have been to countries which are not so popular but I take calculated risks especially when I am alone. I research the country I’m planning to visit to even the tiniest bits of information like what kind of gestures will offend the locals. 

What do you carry in your travel bag? 

Travel documents, whistle (for emergency), debit card, first aid medicine, money in different currencies. Even though I go to a place that has its own currency, I keep some US dollars and euros. Smaller bills for tips, some to save the day. Even in Europe, there are occasions when they don’t accept credit cards.


Were you ever seriously ill while traveling and how did you cope with it? 

Thank God, I never experienced it. I am always careful with water and food. 

Reysa in Hobbiton, New Zealand

How do you think the pandemic has changed or will change your travel plans?

Aside from the fact that I am more conscious with my carbon footprints, I don’t think the pandemic will stop me from my travel plans. Before the pandemic, I really aimed to do a European tour. I planned to work in Europe or somewhere near Europe. I am just blessed that I landed a job in Czechia - so my plan now is to do a continental tour here in the most energy efficient and environment friendly way.


Where are you off to in 2022?

If there is not much improvement with the pandemic situation, I’d go to nearby countries again - Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Balkans, Scandinavian countries. I just want to visit countries I have never been to and which have interesting places to see like Lake Bled in Slovenia, Dubrovnik where Game of Thrones was filmed, Transylvania - known as Dracula’s home, Interlaken region where some parts of  “Crash Landing on You” was shot. Life is truly wonderful when you see how special our diversity is and how unique yet similar in some ways other parts of the globe are.  

About Dr. Reysa Alenzuela

Dr. Reysa Alenzuela works at the Oriental Institute of the Academy of Sciences in Czechia. In between being an international librarian and a professor in Library and Information Science, she conducts research and publishes articles related to her field.  Before Reysa was bitten by the travel bug, she served as the Director of Thomas Jefferson Information Center at the US Embassy in Manila, Philippines.

About The Road to 193

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. Less than 300 travelers from around the world have visited all 193 countries, according to Nomad Mania, 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.

Photos from Dr. Reysa Alenzuela




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