10 Travel Lessons I Learned From My Father

Many of my fondest memories belong to being on the road with the first man I’ve ever loved. He was and continues to be most inspiring human being I am lucky to have ever shared a life with.

It is only apt that I celebrate Father’s Day and the first article I will write again ever since I left blogging with the travel lessons he has lovingly gifted me with for the short time we had as father and daughter.


1. “Take the slow route.”

My father always enjoyed scenic road trips over flights. I grew up singing along to the stereo on the backseat, listening to his jokes and anecdotes while we drove for hours along seemingly endless horizons.

There was a time when the nautical highway in the Philippines was as easily accessible as everything else and he would drive our family all the way south to Mindanao. At first, it was tedious especially for kids who don’t know any better. But he taught us to look outside – to the sprawling farmlands, cliffs, oceans – and value moments. He taught us patience. And most of all, I realized those moments spent on the backseat were when I learned more about him and everything down the family tree.

He was a very busy man, yet his chosen route slowed everything down for us enough to appreciate our lives and each other.

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2. “It’s alright to make mistakes.”

There is no such thing as the perfect traveller.

My father was meticulous when it came to research, schedules and itineraries. He always planned ahead and made sure everything was in order before embarking on a trip. Of course, this was the smart thing to do if you wanted a seamless family vacation. Exploration was a different thing though.

When I was old enough to understand, perfection became an illusion. He seemed to know what he was doing right from the start because of his collective travel experiences while he was younger. Plan B, C, D and E evolved from previously finding himself in precarious situations and having his plans go haywire.

My father was careful, but this didn’t stop him from fuelling his adventurous spirit.

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3. “Trust your instincts.”

There are times when instincts should override intellect. Be it finding yourself at a wrong turn, meeting strangers, or trying out a new experience. We can’t all know about everything there is to know. And yet the best discoveries and connections happen when your gut tells you to go for it (or not go for it for that matter).

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4. “Have an open mind and heart.”

The key to genuine delight and contentment in travel lies in openness and appreciation for the different. My father taught me to forget all preconceptions I have about a certain place or people and stay curious. In that way, nothing will ever be frightening or mundane for me ever again.

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5. “Your mind is your only limit.”

“I know you can do it,” were the words I most often heard from my father. If your mind can dream it, you can make it a reality. I knew in my heart how he meant this as he wouldn’t get so far in life if he didn’t believe it himself.

He constantly tested his limits. When he had some downtime, he would hurry off on his mountain bike and scour Cebu up and down on it. He made it all the way to Bantayan Island from the city, or through the once undeveloped Transcentral Highway trail, or around the mountainous terrain of south Cebu just with his two-wheeled friend. He would joke about wishing I were a boy so I could join him on those quests and not have mum (or me) make a fuss over it.

During my younger years, he once caught me flipping through the pages of an atlas and memorizing each country’s location, “Do you want to see the world? What are you waiting for?”

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6. “Be street smart.”

Mum and I liked calling my father “the walking encyclopaedia”. On top of his knack for everything from history to culture, current events and geography, he had a fascination for general knowledge. I could ask him anything that had to with traveling and at a bat of an eyelash, he had an answer. We joked about him making some things up but he got us convinced anyway.

Despite his book smarts, he had mean street smarts. He was not lacking in common sense and better judgement when out in the real world and I always found myself reminded of that every day. He commended academic intelligence but not as much as finally learning to commute, knowing where the cut-rate deals are, evading scams, or managing a life far from home.

He said that to be independent and free is to be street smart. I agree with that a hundred percent.

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7. “Travel makes you richer.”

My father knew he was raising a daughter with unconventional hobbies and desires. At the rate I was going, I’ve been criticized about a lifestyle that probably won’t sustain an orthodox future with a fat bank account. He reassured me constantly that people have different concepts of happiness and riches – that I was already rich in my own way.

Value, virtue, perspective, and a new-found concept of how life should be lived are all formed from one’s travels.

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8. “Where there is a path, you are never lost.”

We found ourselves off the grid several times but before he lost his wits he calmly reassured me that a path is paved by people, so people have been there before. As long as a path does not end, then there is a way out. It might make sense for life in general too I suppose.

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9. “Be grateful.”

There is always so much to be grateful for; the kindness of complete strangers, the love of family that transcends miles, a stunning sunset at the end of each day, a safe voyage through furious waters. He showed me that traveling in itself is a chance to discover these blessings – very often revealed to be around you the entire time.

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10. “The best journeys begin from home.”

Every childhood summer was spent traveling to visit our relatives both in Manila or my father’s hometown in Zamboanga del Sur. These were my initial exposures to life outside the comfort zone, yet at the same time quickly became part of what I call home.

My father was intent on teaching us the intricacies of our heritage while keeping hold of ties that are so easily unwoven by distance and time. To nurture his home, he travelled and brought us with him. That was my first real taste of purposeful traveling.

I realized that to understand the outside world better, it is essential to know what home is. This is one of the many reasons why my father also chose to explore the Philippines first before traveling abroad; to know his country before leaving for another. Up until his last day, he never did get to use his passport although he was finally ready to.

I’ve dedicated myself now to meaningful travel, and maybe someday see more out there like what he always dreamed to do.

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This post is in loving memory of my father, Rene F. Rafols MD, who left us for his eternal Home last January 22, 2013. I thank you for your valuable lessons, dad. I will take them wherever my feet lead me. I love you. Happy Father’s Day in heaven.

Your Isabella

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