Today’s Solo Female Travel interviewee is one hardcore backpacker. From the volunteering for free beds, to the 30 hour bus journeys, to the exploring small cities in faraway places, she’s really done it all. I thought I was quite the seasoned backpacker, but evidently I’ve still got a few unchecked things on my list.
She’s also from The Philippines, which is perfect, because I get a lot of queries about travelling for Filipinos and how they can navigate visa issues etc. So, to my Filipino readers, hopefully I’ll be introducing you to someone who can help you get those questions answered.
Who is she?
Say hi to the always-smiling Trisha Velarmino from P.S. I’m On My Way
Introduce yourself! Who are you?
I am Trisha Velarmino, born and raised in Subic Bay, Philippines. Last year, I I ditched my job to travel the world but before that, I was working with the high maintenance world of fashion in Manila and Milan. I played football growing up and loved surfing and skateboards. I worked for the United Nations before and I want to do it again as a long-term endeavour. I love food and one day, I dream to work for Anthony Bourdain or be Gordon Ramsay’s apprentice for life.
What was the first trip you took abroad by yourself? What was your inspiration?
The first trip I took alone was in Europe, when I went to fashion school. I was barely 21 and knew nothing about travelling. Yeah, I guess fashion was the inspiration first. I was actually maintaining a fashion blog back then but when I had the chance to travel to different cities in Europe, my interests changed. I was even more excited to go to a different city every week than to wake up for school. I then shifted my fashion blog into travel. From then on, I told myself, “One day I will travel the world”.
What’s the response been like to you going nomadic and breaking the ‘traditional’ mold of job, marriage and kids?
So far, nothing. Yeah, with the job, there’s a lot of things. People raising their eyebrows saying, “You worked in fashion and now you’re doing some low-earning internet job?”, things like that. For some people, it’s all about having a huge house, an expensive car and a perfect career. I used to be one of them but now, I’d rather own nothing. You know how it is in the Philippines. At my age, I should have a family and raising children at home but I’ve met a lot of travellers older than me who are still pursuing their dreams. Good thing I am surrounded by a very supportive community and these norms are not applicable in our lives. They’re with me all the way! And those who are not, I made it unofficial on Facebook (aka unfriend). HAHAHAHA!
What tips do you have for packing light as a female?
I used to be very bad at this because I worked in fashion. I think I still am. I have a 90 liter backpack for a year now and believe me, it’s always full. As long as I can fit something, I will try to occupy that space. I didn’t have problems carrying it around though because I only move every 2 or 3 months. I don’t think this is a problem when you’re travelling long-term. I really don’t believe when people say “pack light.” Sure, maybe if you’re on a 2-week holiday, you can do that. Everyone I met on the road, men or women, travelling for 6-mos to 1-year has at least a 75 liter backpack and it’s full. Where I am right now, each country’s weather changes so I really have to have everything. My sole tip for the ladies: don’t bring a suitcase. Get a backpack. No matter how heavy it is, it will always come handy.
What is the biggest thing you have learned about yourself while travelling solo?
I learned that I can be my own best friend. I became very close to my inner self and have eradicated all the negative habits that I used to have, spiritually. There are a lot of things, actually but for me, self-care and knowing yourself better was the best thing that ever happened to me. And I am not just saying it, I can feel it everyday.
I see you’re a keen student of several languages. How important do you think it is to learn the local language while travelling, and which methods of learning do you find most effective?
That explains my lack of English humor in this article. HAHAHA! I’ve been speaking Spanish and Portuguese for over a year now (everyday) and it’s true, you lose the grammar sometimes. I didn’t go to any language school but then I found myself fluent in different languages. First, I think you should have the heart for it. For most places I’ve been too, I stay a long time which gives me a better chance to blend in and speak the language. I like languages. No, I love it. And you have to want to learn it. I have a friend who’s been in South America for almost a year but can’t speak anything, because he doesn’t try. How are you supposed to learn if you don’t even try? My most effective method is just speaking it, even if you’re right or wrong. Along the way, people will correct you and you’ll get by, I swear.
Many people are reluctant to travel solo because they feel like they’ll be alone and won’t meet anyone. What’s your experience?
You will feel alone for sure but clearly, that’s not an issue. When I volunteered in a bar in Peru, I didn’t expect it to be as amazing. The people I worked with are now my long-time friends. We even travelled to Bolivia together. But then again, we are all different people. Some prefer to be alone and others are not as talkative as I am, I guess. I can make friends with people without forcing it. You know, it just naturally comes. Come to a place with no expectations and just let it flow. Stop thinking about the future. Train yourself on how to enjoy the present.
The biggest concern with solo female travel is safety. How do you get over that fear? What steps do you take to make sure you stay safe while on the road?
Since becoming connected to my inner self I’ve never attracted harm or danger. I don’t know. I think safety is Universal and what happens to us is a product of what we do. To be honest, I don’t take any safety precautions. I just live, have a good feeling and enjoy the ride. I don’t want to tell your readers a particular way of being “safe” because we are all different. Different things happen to us, and that’s what makes us humans. However, I want to say never let your guard down but don’t be too paranoid. Breathe. Attract the positive force. All you have to do is have a relationship with the Universe.
You’re from The Philippines, which is a notoriously difficult passport to travel with. How do you overcome this problem and what advice can you give to others for dealing with the travel and visa issues that stem from this?
Travel in visa-free countries. That’s the thing, Filipinos always think about going to Europe or USA and that’s their dream, I respect that. However, we Filipinos always get rejected by these man-made rules that forbid us to reach our goals. For over a year in South America, I didn’t need a single visa to any of the countries I’ve been to (except for Argentina and Chile). I think let’s just not push it. If it’s for you, it will come. Most of my friends say, “You just say that because you already went to Europe.” Well yeah, maybe. But when I went to Europe, I didn’t push it. It just happened. “When you really want something, all the Universe will conspire to help you achieve it.” Again, maybe this visa thing is a Universal experience.
(Note from Bren: The universe relationship is a reference to the book “The Alchemist”; read it!).
How do you afford your travels, and what tips can you share for keeping costs down while on the road?
I maintain a travel blog which earns me enough money to travel and also, I have an online job. I am doing audience expansion for companies (aka social media management) which lets me work anywhere in the world. No office or time requirement. I also volunteer in exchange for free bed and food which keeps the cost low. Basically, what I am earning now is only when I want to move or buy something for myself or splurge on a night out. I just realized I don’t really pay for anything because of volunteering! You can read more about that on the the volunteering and working remote sections of my blog.
What is one place you have been that was completely different to what you expected it would be?
Bolivia. I was looking forward to a 20-years ago setting (yes the place looked like it was from the 80s) but the wildest parties happened there when I was really expecting that from Europe or some countries in South America or Asia.
OK, a couple of fun questions – who’s your celebrity crush?
I honestly don’t have one but I fancy football players: Andre Schuller (Germany), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Argentina) and Iker Casillas (Spain). Oh, I love the sexy Adam Levine too!
And, which country have you been to that, in your opinion, has the most handsome men?
Oh my God, I feel like you’re my friends back home! They ask me the same questions! I am not sure. In Europe, everyone has a fair share of beautiful men but generally speaking, I’d go for the French. In South America, I’d say Peru and Argentina. Oh, and Brasil too! I really don’t know. I met a handful when I was travelling and they’re all different in their ways. I just don’t look at men physically; we need to have a good vibe as well.
Imagine a Hollywood studio wanted to make a movie of your life. Who would play you and why?
Rachel Bilson. Or locally, I’d choose Lauren Young.
Are you a nomad for life? Why? Why not?
I can live this life forever! People think I come from a very rich family and that my parents are funding my travel but I guess, that’s how everyone looks at it when you’re travelling immensely. I am just living my life without regrets and thinking of the future. I don’t even miss the comfort of having my own bed! I feel spiritually rich at the moment and I’ve collected memories all over the world – ones I can share with my grandchildren while rocking on a chair and sewing mittens for them. It’s something that is addictive and when you get by, you’ll never want to stop. I was scared when I started, too scared. However, after a year, I don’t feel strange anymore. I can be anywhere and just fit. My life changed a lot in a course of a year. There were some hardships, yes, but life doesn’t come easy. I found a path where realizing my ultimate dream is possible and I wouldn’t trade that or let the opportunity slip. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow but still, I go forward because I have faith. I believe this life is for me.
Lastly, for those planning or considering their very first trip alone, what advice do you have for them? And where would you recommend they go?
Anywhere you want! If you have a good feeling about a place, it will all work out. I cannot dictate where you want to go but I can give a piece of advice for your headstart: volunteer. It will change your life. You will be a person of compassion. You will learn how to fend for yourself and live simply. These are the things you need before going on your own. Today, I look at volunteers as superheroes and being a part of this league is one of the best things that ever happened to my life.