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How one sentence can immediately change travel plans | Don't Ever Look Back

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How one sentence can immediately change travel plans

How one sentence can immediately change travel plans

I’ve been to the Philippines 3 times in my life – once as an infant in 1986, again as a child in 1995 and I finally made it there as an adult in 2008. The reason for my multiple visits? My mother was born and a grew up in Anao-Aon, a small fishing village in the Surigao Del Norte region and her entire family still resides there.

The Philippines holds a very special place in my heart because of these strong family ties and our most recent visit ranks high among our favorite travel experiences as we were able to live with the local people (my family) for a week and experience the Filipino culture first hand which was certainly unique for us.

In early April 2011, 30 months after our last visit, Amy and I will arrive in the Philippines again and spend a few nights in my mother’s home town in what will be my fourth visit to the country. Unfortunately this visit isn’t entirely for pleasure though, the reasons this time are a little more sombre.

After moving out of our apartment recently in a move to save money for long-term travel, Amy and I excitedly began discussing our upcoming travels and trying to organize a start date for our round-the-world adventure.

‘Should we leave in June, July or August?’

‘Can we bring it forward? We want to leave now!’

‘Are we still going to start in LA? Or should we change our plans and head somewhere else first?’

As all of these thoughts engulfed our minds and we excitedly considered the various options that were available to us, we were dealt a heartbreaking blow. One sentence that would immediately change our travel plans in 2011.

‘Your grandmother has pancreatic cancer and only has 6 months to live.’

Philippines 2008 - Kieron and his grandmother

Nanay and I in 2008 - Talisay City, Cebu.

I wouldn’t say that my grandmother (better known to me as Nanay) and I are extremely close – the physical distance of about 3,500 miles and the language barriers makes it difficult. However, we do share a special bond that was established when I was much younger.

During our 2008 visit, Nanay made the 8 hour overnight ferry trip from Surigao to Cebu just to spend a few days with us. Often during this time, I would catch her just staring at me and smiling with love in her eyes. And while she doesn’t like to speak English out of fear of saying something incorrectly and embarrassing herself, I’ll always remember when we said goodbye at the airport – she gripped me so tightly with tears in her eyes and wished me a safe flight.

Because of my grandmother’s illness, my mother is going to the Philippines on January 4 to spend at least 5 months with her family and Amy and I will be a couple of months behind her. This may set back our RTW adventure and take a big chunk of cash out of our travel savings, but this whole experience has taught us that family always comes first and we need to cherish our time with our loved ones!

While our stay in the Philippines in April will be limited to 2-3 nights due to work commitments and our RTW plans, it’s enough time for me to recite the words ‘gihigugma kita’ and say them to my grandmother one last time.

This means ‘I Love You’ in her native Visayan language.

I love you Nanay.


  1. Posted December 30, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    My heart goes out to you and your family.
    Katrina recently posted..Southwest Co Cork

  2. Posted December 30, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear this about your grandma. Things like this always have a way of putting life and priorities in perspective. I have no doubt she’ll cherish the time she gets to spend with you.

  3. Posted December 30, 2010 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Oh no, I’m sorry to hear about your grandma. Must be tough to make such a sudden change in your plans, but I’m glad to hear that you’re keeping your family as first priority.
    jill recently posted..4 Ways to Get Around Jakarta Like a Local

  4. Posted December 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    It is an early lesson to learn that being flexible is the best. Our RTW trip was also delayed due to family illness but we never regretted changing our plans. All worked out for the best in our case – we were delayed only a few weeks and our family member has recovered…I wish the same for you. You won’t regret putting the love of your family first…it’s all an experience whatever it looks like. All the best to you and your family.
    Gillian recently posted..Leaving India- One Year Ago

  5. Posted December 30, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear about your nanay. I’m glad you’re planning on going to see her, and you just never know. Sometimes doors open when you least expect them. Blessings to you and your family.
    Talon recently posted..Tigger’s Poem- I Am

  6. Posted December 30, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for the kind words – one thing Amy & I were discussing prior to deciding to go on our RTW is what would we do if a family member got sick? I’m actually halfway through writing that post and we essentially decided that family always comes first which this experience has confirmed. We’ve set up an emergency fund separate to our travel savings to deal with matters like this when we get on the road.

    At the end of the day, we consider ourselves extremely blessed to be able to go and spend some time with her and incorporate traveling at the same time. It may be a small setback for our RTW, but definitely not a decision that I’m ever going to regret!

  7. Posted December 30, 2010 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Kieron – I’m so sorry to hear that. It is so good that you will be spending time with her. Family is the most important thing.
    Andrea recently posted..Auckland’s Coast to Coast Walkway- From Waitemata Harbour to Manukau Harbour

  8. Posted December 30, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kieron and Amy,

    My wishes goes out to your family and your grandmother. She’ll be so happy to see you and in my opinion not a setback to your rtw per se – it’s just part of the overall adventure. I believe everything happens for a reason, even if the purpose may not be apparent when you’re in the moment… your visit may change your life or your rtw travels, for the better 🙂

    Lily Leung recently posted..26 Highlights from 26 Days in Incredible India

  9. Posted December 30, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Kieron — so sorry to hear about your grandmother. I’m sure she appreciates the love and support you all are sending her way and will relish every moment she spends with you.

    I had pre-trip conversations with my family about what we would do in various scenarios and with my two remaining grandparents in declining health, I’m always thinking about them while I’m here.
    Heather recently posted..Heather’s Holiday Hiatus

  10. Posted December 30, 2010 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Kieron, sorry about this news. Wishing your family the best, and I hope your visit with her is special.
    Brooke, WhyGo Austra recently posted..Things You Should Know About the Gold Coast

  11. Posted December 30, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Andrea, Lily, Heather and Brooke for your supportive comments. Very much appreciated.

    @Andrea Yep, family is definitely the most important thing in the world! Looks like you guys are having an amazing time, we just had a friend come back from NZ who said we just have to go there!

    @Lily Completely agree with your point of view! It might push us back a month with our RTW (maybe not if the Aussie dollar stays stronger than the US dollar!), but we get to spend time in Singapore and the Philippines which should be great despite the circumstances.

    @Heather My other grandmother is quite sick as well as is Amy’s grandfather so we’ll need to consider these scenarios as well when we do leave on our RTW. What did you end up deciding?

  12. Posted December 31, 2010 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Aw, sorry to hear the news about your Nanay. I hope you can spend some quality time with her in the coming months.

  13. Posted December 31, 2010 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother! That’s wonderful of you to put off your trip in order to spend some time with her. I’m sure you will never regret delaying the trip in order to be with her. I agree with you–family comes first! The world isn’t going anywhere 🙂
    Emily recently posted..Keystone- Colorado- Day 3- Dew Tour &amp River Run Village

  14. Posted December 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    It is so amazing how you put your family first. Major kudos to you and I’ll be sending good thoughts to you and your family. Best wishes!
    Erica recently posted..Travel Vaccines – The More You Know

  15. Posted December 31, 2010 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear about your Nanay. I hope when you see her again, your connection and bond will override the language barriers. I’m sure she knows how you feel even without the words. Best wishes.

  16. Posted January 1, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Thanks so much Laura, Emily, Erica and Connie for the lovely comments – you’re all awesome! It’s great to know that everyone agrees with what I’m doing and just reconfirms that I’ve made the right decision! 🙂

  17. Posted January 2, 2011 at 2:44 am | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear about your Grandmother. I am really glad to hear that you two are getting a chance to go visit her, you have definitely made the right decision. It’s clear just in your post how much you mean to her and will be such a great thing for her to see you again.

    Plans change, as does life. It will just be one more experience to add to your list. Enjoy your time with your Grandma.
    Annie recently posted..My Big Fat Italian Christmas

  18. Posted January 3, 2011 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    I’m so sorry about your grandmother. What a sweet post. You are so right, family does come first, it is nice that you will be able to visit her at the end of her life. She clearly loves you dearly. Best wishes to you and your family.
    Kim recently posted..Snowshoeing near Mt Hood

  19. Posted January 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    So sorry to read about your Nanay. I also had a similar conversation with my family prior to leaving on my travels. I’ve had similar news to you however am still in limbo on my decision – so my hat comes off to you for being so firm with yours. I think it’s the right one.

  20. Posted January 3, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the awesome comments Annie, Kim and Dayle – it really does reassure me that we are making the right decision. Hopefully she’ll still be in reasonable health when we get there and we’ll be able to really cherish our time together.

    @Dayle – it’s really not a nice situation to be put in. We’re in the fortunate position of still being at home with nothing booked yet, the decision would have been a lot more difficult if we were already on the road! I hope everything works out for you and you make the right choice, if I can do anything to help just shout out!

  21. Posted January 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother, but I agree- if travel has taught me anything, it’s taught me just how important relationships are. Safe travels to the Philippines and well wishes for your grandmother.
    Laura recently posted..Montage Monday- The Oldest Town in Denmark

  22. Posted March 21, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

    I just read this Kieron! I’m very sorry to hear about your grandma. You really have your priorities straight and I agree that family comes first. I was in the US when my grandma died and did not have the opportunity to go home because of visa issues. My prayers go out to you and your family!
    Grace recently posted..How I escaped a dangerous scam!

  23. Moriel Empalmado
    Posted June 19, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    My heart goes to you Kieron, I end up getting teary eyed on this blog seriously and I really feel sad about your Nanay at the same time happy because she has a grandson like you who really considered that family comes first above all indeed.

    By the way, you made me one proud Manileña here, I salute your appreciation towards Filipino culture.
    May all is well for you and your family.
    Wishing more travels to you Kieron :))

  24. emelie abing
    Posted April 5, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    hi Kieron,
    thats just a very sad thing, its been 4 years already… im from cebu too, glad you call your grandma as Nanay, we actually call our Lola and for grandpa as Lolo … anyway… life goes on.. just want to say thanks for appreciating a filipina …

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