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Travel has always been a part of my life – whether local or global, with family, friends or alone. Ever since I was three months old, I’ve been taken to the hundreds of beaches that line our archipelago and to weekly road trips to the countryside. I was in my early 20s when I traveled solo for the first time – to mystical Japan, no less!

Don’t get me wrong — I love the comforts of home: a fluffy bed, food at my disposal, and unlimited hugs from my dogs. And I also love having a stable career — finally the long years of late-night studying and cramming, the thousands of cups of coffee, and my “lost childhood” were starting to pay off. But the world was just too big, and I wanted to see it for myself, and that’s not something you can do a lot of when you’ve got a full-time job and home life.

I was definitely grateful to get into a prestigious Dermatology training program. To be among one of two applicants chosen among 50+ applicants all over the country, to be able to train in one of the leading hospitals in the country with state-of-science machines and procedures, and to be one step closer to the career I always envisioned for myself — there was a lot to be thankful for.

But being in training for the next three years also meant not being free to travel as much as I wanted. No more spontaneous trips to Bali with my girl friends, no family holidays in Japan, and no weekend hikes and trips to any of the 7,107 gorgeous islands that dotted our country — or so I thought.

Amazingly enough, I was able to incorporate travel into my residency training years. By keeping travel a priority, I was able to find the time and resources for it. Now, on my final day of residency training, I’m looking back at all I was able to do in the last three years, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t really missed out on a lot.

Here’s a little trip down memory lane and my personal take on how to balance travel and work.

2013: The Adjustment Period

Balancing Act 2013

I officially began my residency training on January 2013. The first year was the most difficult year. I was on 24-hour duty every other day for six months and most days I come home and just die on my bed. I had to do a lot of leg work and scutwork and could hardly keep up with my reading. 90% of what I was doing was not really related to Dermatology or even being a doctor, and most mornings, I wake up with a most depressing thought: what is this life?!

I was in a new environment surrounded by strange faces. To keep myself sane, I began exploring the neighborhood surrounding my new hospital, which happened to be a haven for foodies where new restaurants and cafes where always coming up. Alone or with my friends (who I was begging to visit me almost every week), I discovered spas, interesting flea markets, and bazaars which were all within a few minutes’ drive.

Happiness is in the small things - good food, a cup of coffee, and a view of the sea

When it gets toxic, find happiness in the small things – good food, a cup of coffee, and a view of the sea

The next six months were a flurry of patients, reports, and research. Despite the sinking feeling that I wasn’t accomplishing anything worthwhile, I was able to finish and present my scientific research during the annual nationwide research forum — my research was among the top 5 interventional researches from all training institutions across the country and made me one of the youngest residents to participate in the forum!

Despite the long days and nights working, the call of the sea was too great. Long weekends were too great an opportunity to pass up and I took every chance to go to the beach. It didn’t matter that it took time away from paying my sleep debt. A couple of days staring at the sea, eating seafood, and drinking cheap alcohol was a much better therapy anyway.

Lessons learned:

  • Love local! Explore what’s around you and don’t take your hometown for granted. Remember that somewhere around the world, someone is dying to go where you are.
  • Go on little holidays. Donโ€™t let the pressure and demands of work hinder you from having a little fun. Come back to work refreshed and with a clearer mind, ready to give your best work yet.


2014: Getting Better at This!

Balancing Act 2014

2014 marked the second year of residency. While the work was more demanding and the pressure to excel was greater, I was now equipped with better time management and efficiency. Best of all: free weekends! I continued to explore locally albeit I became more ambitious, going outside the city to visit art museums and hipster cafes away from the metro.

I also began to have some “senior perks,” like being sent to the lovely island of Cebu to undergo a week-long leprosy training course. Of course, we managed to sneak in a short trip to the nearby beaches of Oslob and Sumilon, and thus began a long slew of successful attempts at mixing business with pleasure.

Plan big! Use your vacation time wisely.

Plan big! Use your vacation time wisely.

Another “senior perk” was – finally! – a two-week vacation leave! And how else should I spend a much-deserved and much-needed leave but with flair! So despite a relatively short vacation and the barest minimum budget, I was able to fly all the way to Europe to visit four countries — and meet the love of my life! Thanks to months of obsessive-compulsive planning, an eagle-eye watch on travel deals, and the amazing wealth of knowledge on the Internet, I was able to pull it off and have the time of my life, without being broke.

Lessons learned:

  • Continue to explore locally
  • Mix business with pleasure. Sneak in nearby getaways to business trips.
  • Plan ahead so you can plan big. Let your type A personality shine and A/B test all possible travel options in your MS Excel so that you can come up with an itinerary that you’ll be absolutely happy with.


2015: Ending with a BANG!

Balancing Act 2015

2015 was by all means a great year. I had lovely co-workers, a much-better working environment than we had previously, and I was in a very loving – albeit long distance – relationship. Life was generally peachy!

This is not to say that work was not hectic. I was appointed as Chief Resident – which is not at all as glamorous as it sounds! Apart from the standard patient-research-academics work load, I had to plan the academic year, take care of a lot of logistics, sort out the sporadic workplace dramas, occasionally act as the duty officer for the whole hospital, and basically make sure that our program was going fine and dandy.

With more responsibilities, of course, come better perks! I was first dibs in choosing my vacation leaves — so of course I chose to have them on my two favorite seasons: summer and autumn!

I planned a great summer trip to my country for my boyfriend and was able to make use of official holidays to extend my vacation leave. I also planned around a Dermatology convention so he could tag along and we could explore the area. It being the height of summer (and tourism!), I had to beat the crowds and book waaaay in advance. I built our entire itinerary from scratch so we could take our sweet time exploring the islands.

READ MORE: Summer Lovin’ in the Philippines!

2015 was all about rediscovering the many faces of Asia - tropical Philippines, dynamic South Korea, and mystical Japan.

2015 was all about rediscovering the many faces of Asia – tropical Philippines, dynamic South Korea, and mystical Japan.

My co-residents and I were also able to find a dermatological surgery conference in – drumroll! – Seoul, South Korea! After a flurry of securing permissions, fixing duty schedules, booking flights and accommodations, and coming up with a very rough draft of places to see in Seoul and beyond, we were off! We were giggling like school girls at the airport. It was exhilarating to be away from the hospital and we were all first-timers in South Korea. There was so much to learn from our Korean counterparts, and after high-yield full days of conference activities, we spent evenings exploring Seoul. My co-residents introduced me to the world of night shopping and I took them on a road trip to South Korea’s countryside. With a perfect mix of spontaneity and smart budgeting – and the fact that doctors can stay awake, like, forever –ย  we were able to pack a lot of punch on our 5-day business trip.

READ MORE: South Korea Road Trip

My last vacation leave was spent in beautiful Japan, just in time for autumn. This was the most impromptu trip I’ve ever had – I got my visa and booked my ticket just one day before my flight! The sad backstory to this was that I was supposed to go to Italy with my boyfriend – but because my work contract was about to end, and a dozen other reasons that I couldn’t understand, I was refused a visa. It was definitely the shock of my life, as I’ve never been refused one before.

But, like a good sport, I dusted myself off and made other plans. I went to Japan instead (who graciously granted me a rush visa) and had an amazing time visiting family and friends and rediscovering solo travel. Having been to Japan many times before and having already covered the basic touristy stuff, I had the chance to explore lesser-known areas and take my time to admire the beautiful colors of fall.

READ MORE: Snapshots: Seasons in Japan

Another plus to my Japan trip was a very impromptu mini-observership at the Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai. Thanks to amazing friends I’ve made over previous trips to Japan, I was able to meet the dermatology consultants and staff of the prestigious hospital, join in on their daily hospital duties, see interesting dermatological cases, and be reacquainted with the admirable Japanese work ethic. Overall, it was a very fruitful and fulfilling trip!

READ MORE: Looking back on this amazing year – in travel pictures!

Career-wise, this year has also been quite fruitful. Our department hosted two big nationwide scientific conferences, held lots of skills workshops and medical missions, and took part in public health events. I published a scientific paper, presented two case reports and a dozen lectures, and gave an oral presentation during the annual national dermatological convention — the morning before flying to Japan!

Lessons learned:

  • Optimize holidays. Peak seasons are at peak for a reason. Especially when going to seasonal destinations (like the beach or for autumn-viewing), the perfect time to go there may be the most crowded and touristy time. Plan ahead, book early, and go DIY so you don’t stress about reservations and you can go at your own pace and time. Also look into offbeat destinations so you can avoid the crowds.
  • Prioritize and budget appropriately. Have a clear vision of what you want to do on your vacation. If you want to go on a road trip, save on accommodations and splurge on a rental car.
  • Learn to be flexible and be spontaneous.ย Get lost, talk to locals, explore! Don’t let your things-to-do/places-to-see checklist cramp your style.
  • Welcome mini-career moves while on holiday. It could lead to new adventures in the future!

And the most important lesson:

  • Work hard, travel harder. Because #YOLO and all that.


Final Words / Graduation Speech

Balancing Act - Lessons from 3 years of work and travelI still think that travel is a privilege and that we shouldn’t take it for granted. It requires lots of resources – time, money, creativity. It requires visas, vacation leaves, and a great deal of time management.

But travel is also a choice. It doesn’t always have to be grand or costly or long-term. It could be a simple act of walking around your neighborhood, or Instagramming your next meal, or stopping for a few minutes to appreciate that weird street art you pass by each morning. Adventure is out there – but it’s also everywhere and in you. You just have to snatch it every chance you get and make travel possible despite the demands of work and life in general.

How about you? How do you incorporate travel into your life? What are some of your tips to successfully balancing a full-time career and a life of travel? And what are the difficulties?