Europe, Travel
Comments 5

How my backpacking trip became a journey of faith

Last May 4, about a year after my first solo trip around Europe, I once again loaded my backpack, headed to the airport, and traveled across the world. It’s been two weeks since I came home, and I’ve been asked many times how my trip went. I hadn’t known exactly what to answer. Great doesn’t quite fit the bill, because there were parts of it that weren’t great. Okay is too ho-hum. Amazing is too “woo hoo!”

Blessed. I’d say it was blessed.

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Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, also called Sultan Ahmed Mosque—a sight I kept going back to

When I think of my trip, I classify it in two parts—Turkey, and everything after.

Turkey was where I met up with my sister, whom I traveled with for 10 days. We explored Istanbul by ourselves then flew to Kayseri for a tour that took us to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, the travertine terraces of Pamukkale, and the ancient ruins of Ephesus.

Each place was something new to marvel at, something different to learn about. Though we booked our accommodations and traveled between cities on our own, the tour agency we hired made sure that we were picked up and properly shown around.

Organized, comfortable, and secure—that’s how the first part of my trip was.

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My sister and I gazing at the houses of Ortahisar in Cappadocia, Turkey

Then, it was time to go solo. Goodbye, hotel rooms and private tours. Hello, dorms and free walking tours. Goodbye, order. Hello, whatever goes.

“There is a problem with your visa. We need to talk to the international police for passport control.”

Of all the things I’d worried about, this was one thing I never expected—to have trouble leaving Turkey. My chest was tight, heart pounding heavily as I followed an airport officer and two guards to passport control, where they cut in front of the line. Those minutes of not knowing whether I’d be able to get on my flight were some of the most nerve-wracking of my life. There was nothing I could do but pray.

At the start of the line, a stranger looks at me and gives me a thumbs up. The guard walks back to me. Smiles. “No problem,” he says.

I could breathe normally again.

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Second time around, and Budapest still remains to be my favorite city

Last year’s trip was about learning to be independent. This time around, it was about learning to just let go and have faith.

From the beginning, so many things were beyond my control. There was my Schengen visa, which didn’t arrive until five days before my trip. The next days saw me booking last-minute flights and running last-minute errands.

After the passport fiasco in Turkey, I grew anxious about my shuttle ride from Budapest to Belgrade. My worries were twofold—passing border control and my safety in a country I hardly knew about.

Then came my flight to Santorini. I fell asleep expecting to wake up in one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Instead, I woke up to the pilot saying, “Welcome to Athens.” There was an emergency at the runway, so the Santorini airport was closed until further notice.

We waited in line at the Skyserv desk for hours, only to be told that we could either file for a refund online or get on the next available flight with RyanAir. Guess what? Flights were fully booked until two days after—the day I was scheduled to fly back to Athens.

I decided to take my chances with a different airline and apply for a refund (which apparently will not happen). I waited in the airport until my 11:55 PM flight, not knowing if it would actually push through.

Rains delayed the flights ahead of mine, but they pushed through. So did mine.

And like everything else, all turned out well.

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Ending a free walking tour around Belgrade at the Church of Saint Sava

“God meets you where you are,” I was told.

And He did. He met me at the Izmir airport as that reassuring stranger. In Budapest as Kyana, a girl I met on a free tour whom I had lunch and evening drinks with. In Belgrade as Jules. She had problems with her credit cards, so I paid for our dinner. We met up again in Athens, where she surprised me by treating me for my last dinner in Europe.

In Athens, I met God in Chris, a fellow Pinoy at my hostel who just happened to be traveling to Santorini the following day, like I was. We explored that incredible island together, making me feel a bit more at home in a foreign country.

In Santorini, God was everywhere. In the white churches that peppered the skyline with crosses. In the restaurant we found somewhere between Fira and Oia, which served the best cheeseburger I’ve tried—and had a much-needed toilet. In the breathtaking sunset that greeted us after our 5.5+ hours of hiking.

But I found God especially in a nameless woman on a motorcycle. I’d taken the wrong bus, which dropped me off at a dark, abandoned street on the other side of the island from my hostel. It was about 9:30 at night. Cold. I heard an engine and saw a woman driving my way. I called her. She stopped. I told her I was lost, and she called my hostel, then a taxi company. When she learned that all cabs were busy, she told me to hop on.

“Come with me. I’ll take you to Karterados.”

No questions asked, no payment demanded.

Oia’s sunsets are so amazing, people clap after the show

These encounters, and many more, reminded me over and over again that God is real. He does love me.

On this trip, I was blessed to have been able to visit some of my dream destinations. Istanbul, Cappadocia. Athens, Santorini. My favorite Budapest, the wildcard Belgrade. But of all the sights I enjoyed and the things I experienced, what I remember the most is God’s presence.

And I know I’m truly blessed.

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5 Comments

  1. Rose Linda O. Bautista says

    Marian, this is so beautifully, wondrously written! The travelogue is interesting, but it is the message that touches the heart! Your story almost brought me to tears, feeling one with you in the realization that God is present and real, here and now, and that He loves us!
    What a grace-filled experience — thank you for sharing this. Wishing you continued blessings as you continue to let go and let God.

  2. Pingback: Turkey All Greeced Up and Then Some | wander write now

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