A Filipino’s First Time Travel to America: Expectation Vs Reality

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Time check, its 2:20 AM in the Philippines and I am wide awake. With coffee on my right and my laptop charged 100% I have decided to write this blog – First time travel to America coz heck jet lag is real.

This is a blogging milestone for Erik the Hungry Traveller. Not to be overtly emotional about this but who would have expected that I would step foot on American soil?

Nope definitely not me.

Upon my return to the Philippines one of the goals i set for myself is to publish a post about my travel experience in the US.

I needed to write it within a week upon my arrival as I wanted fresh memories immortalized on my blog.

The farther away from the time I went to the US I write my post, the less accurate are the events that happened.

Erik the Hungry Traveller’s First Time Travel to America: 8-26-19

My first time travel to America happened last August 26, 2019. First off, no this was not planned ahead of time and two this was for work- I mean my 9-5 job.

So thank you dear employer for bringing me over to the States, ask me about my full time work on the comments below if you are that curious (wink).

My first time travel to America had many debunked preconceived notions. My view of America were what I see in movies and television.

So upon landing on American soil I was pleasantly surprised that the TV America is not the real America – well at least on the region I visited.

So before you raise you’re eyebrows and bash me, let me give you a spoiler that No this is not a rant post nor am I choosing to glorify one country over another.

This is based on facts- out of my experience when I traveled to America.

The US VISA Experience

Expectation

I expected my VISA experience to be stressful as you need to wake up early in the morning for your schedule appearance, costly and draining- regardless of the result.

With my previous jobs I was one of those who approves employee’s travels.

And by approve, these employees can not proceed with purchasing a ticket nor go through VISA application if I do not click on the approve button in our system.

Ironically enough, the approver – ME – never had the opportunity to be on an International assignment. Good thing I transferred employer. (Wink)

I have heard stories of our employees in my previous work not getting an approved US Visa.

And when asked do they know the reason why they got disapproved they could not directly establish the reason.

Thus on the day of my US VISA appointment, I only had 2 hours of sleep – if you can even call it sleep.

My anxiety was high because of the whole USA Ordeal.

I even lied to my family as to why I had to fly from Cebu – Manila. What they know is that I was attending a seminar in Manila for 2 days.

It was only until after my US VISA appointment that I sent them a message telling them that hey I’m going to America.

I expected or I hoped for my USA visa to be approved but a part of me was also expecting that I might not get denied.

Flight heading to US

Reality

As a Filipino it’s difficult getting a US Visa.

It’s like applying for a job wherein the initial, HR, final interviews and the job offer are done at a maximum of a 3 hours timeline.

The stress is both the waiting in line and the internal battle of being positive that your Visa will be approved versus the reality that you may get denied of a visa.

Plus the fact that an applicant needs to pay an application fee that ranges from 8000- 12000 Php (or even higher) dependent on the type of Visa you are applying for.

This payment will not be refunded back in the event that your VISA application gets denied.

And if you plan on applying again you have to pay the same amount again.

As a first time visa applicant, I expected the worst but hey it all paid off.

I tell you it was an intimidating moment. Standing in line for a couple of hours and having the interview for less than 5 minutes.

This experience definitely is one for the books.

But despite the unique and nerve racking experience I got my VISA. So needless to say my expectation on getting a US VISA was the same as Reality.

The Flight Itinerary

Expectation

Upon knowing my flight details – I got excited. An 8 hour layover in Seoul Korea, a four hour layover in San Francisco and a 14 hour layover in Taipei heading back to the Philippines.

Being that it is my first time to travel to America, this got me very excited. I imagined me watching movies throughout layovers, taking photos of the skyline and interacting with the passengers.

I also researched on layover tours. Korea and Taiwan offers one so I had it all planned out in my head.

For Filipinos, in order for you to enter South Korea you also need a Korean Visa.

However, an exemption would be if you are visiting the country for a layover and you have a ticket to your final destination which should be America.

Taipei lifted visa requirements for Filipinos for a year. So I got very excited especially in visiting South Korea.

Reality

Let’s compare this to getting drunk.

On my first layover from Cebu- Seoul I was a bit tipsy. Still very excited to explore Korea. Had a 4 hour tour of South Korea which I am to write about on my next post.

Korea to America

After the tour in South Korea the longest plane ride of my life happened.

This was my flight from South Korea to San Francisco. That was when I started to feel the tingling buzzing sensation of someone about to be very drunk.

The feeling that you are aware of your surroundings but you’re just too tired to move or to be pleasant. The safest thing to do is to keep quiet and pretend to act normal.

Now I know how celebrities feel when paparazzi’s interview them at the airport.  

I got hyperactive while exploring Korea that I forgot that Sout Korea is not my final destination. On the plane ride I almost missed out on dinner as I was fast asleep.

Drinks on the plane- my saving grace!

One great moment while on the plane though was when they served up drinks. And my conversation with the flight attendant went on like this.

Flight Attendant: What do you want for drinks?

Erik: Do you have anything alcoholic ( this was me attempting to joke around)

Flight Attendant: Yes we do , what kind of drinks?

Erik: Really! (Dumbfounded) I’d like to have wine please

Flight Attendant: What type of wine?

Erik: A whole bottle type, no just kidding a glass of Red wine would do for me

Yup I was drunk even before I consumed alcohol.

The Latest Movies on the Plane Ride

Aside from trying to get drunk on the plane I also enjoyed watching movies.

Keyword was watched never said I finished them.

I enjoyed watching snippets of The Secret Life of Pets 2, Alladin and the whole last season of Veep.

I wanted to watch a horror flick but I feared I might shriek or gasp to loudly so i went for the light comedy movies.

The Americans– And yes I love this TV Show as well

Expectation

As I have said early on my view of America was what I saw on Television.

And by that I mean Grey’s Anatomy, ER, Vampire Diaries, Big Bang Theory, Friends, Breaking Bad, Chicago Hope and the Good Place.

In a nutshell America is pleasant but you expect a certain ounce of bad luck to fall on you while you are there.

Reality

The pleasantness and warmth of the people from Midwest was undeniable.

I stayed mostly in Wisconsin and Illinois and me being Asian I pretty much stuck out like a sore thumb there.

Despite my apprehensions about America and Americans. I was pleasantly surprised about not feeling different while there.

To be honest, I expected to feel a bit alienated but nope it never happened.

I was able to enter stores, restaurants and public transport without me feeling uncomfortable.

Strolling Around Wisconsin

I walked into designer stores and dabbed on some Giorgio Armani perfume, tried on some Nike Airs and fitted a Michael Kors shirt while wearing a hoodie and board shorts.

To all my Filipino readers you know what I mean- you have to dress and look a certain way to get into designer stores and get the best customer experience in the Philippines.

In a nutshell Americans are nice and pleasant people.

The Food in America

Expectation

Huge servings, sugary, savory and delicious.

I love my McDonald s here in the Philippines so I wanted to try the US version if there is any significant difference.

Aside from visiting known tourist spots in the area. What I am most excited about is trying the food in America.

My first travel to america must be loaded with good food and unique dining experience.

That is my expectation and Ill make sure that it turned to reality throughout my 2 weeks stay.

Reality

Food in America is expensive, well “real food” that is. For you to get a quality meal you need to spend a little over 15 USD to 40 USD (700 – 2000 Php) or even higher.

First Time Travel In America
Filet Mignon Steak at 35 USD

That is why Americans prefer fast food options. For less than 5 dollars you can get a full meal.

Drink options are also unlimited- although I noticed that cola in the Philippines has more fizzle than the US version.

First Time In America
Deep Fried Pickles

I was lucky that I experienced both eating a full coursed meal and trying some staple American fast food meals.

Both options are worthwhile experience so if you have the resources to experience both then I highly recommend doing it.

And oh about McDonald’s. They taste essentially the same.

I got a big Mac and some fries and their pretty similar with Philippine McDonald’s edging out on the French fries.

So in essence , I kind of manipulated this part. I made sure that my expectation is the same as my reality.

Expect a detailed post about my all American food trip in both Wisconsin and Illinois.

Related Post: All American Food Trip in Wisconsin

This will give you my awesome readers an in depth idea of the restaurants I visited. All the food that I tasted that are uniquely American.

The Quality of Air – Environment

Expectation

I always regarded America to be polluted and unhealthy.

That was why I was surprised when a few days prior to my trip a good friend Janette from California told me to observe the air I’m breathing once I’m in America.

She said she felt she can breathe more and felt the air to be cleaner than the Philippines.

Reality

I am asthmatic and usually it gets triggered with dust and pollutants.

While on my way to the States I developed some allergic rhinitis which I usually get when I ride an airplane.

My friend’s theory will be put to the test. If what she claims is true then this allergic rhinitis that I am experiencing would disappear instead of it escalating to an asthma attack.

Is She Right or is she right?

She was right. The air was cleaner and to my surprise there were trees everywhere.

Now, don’t get me wrong I love my country but visiting the US or even Korea I felt that we Filipinos could do better in taking care of our environment.

Wisconsin Landscape

There are trees everywhere. You can roll down your car windows without eating dust.

And their parks, don’t get me started on their parks. Chicago despite it being very progressive has multiple parks with trees that are just divine.

Side discussion: I got to see a squirrel. A live squirrel. You don’t see those critters in the Philippines.

Where you can see skyscrapers but further down the block you can rest at a park with ducks/ swans (couldn’t tell which one but I’m sure they are birds) walking and swimming at a pond.

First Time Travel to America

First Time Travel to America: Expectation Vs Reality

Summing it up.

There were a couple of debunked expectations prior to visiting America and some that coincided with my reality.

Like any of my travels what I gained is a deeper understanding of the country’s culture.

I was lucky to be able to experience it first hand. And I will repeat this in this post over and over again. This travel was definitely unexpected but very much welcomed.

I gained a deeper appreciation and realization specifically on the following aspects during my trip:

1. We need to stop making what we see in social media as the basis of our reality and

2. Is you take what is good with the place and take it back to your hometown- be it a skill, behavior or mindset.

Even for just 2 weeks I learned a lot from my US trip.

On my first time travel to America. I learned to appreciate the little things in life, to care more for our environment and perhaps the greatest lesson of all is to be kind to everyone.

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Erik the Hungry Traveller

Erik James aka Erik the Hungry Traveller is a Human Resource Ninja and at the same time a travel & food blogger. He uses his passion for the arts particularly with painting and photography to add more fun and color to his social media pages. He loves extreme adventures and does not back out on any food challenge. His passion for food and travelling started during his childhood years where he would accompany his parents to business trips around the Philippines. He currently focuses on writing blogs on solo travelling and trying out restaurants that are not your usual run of the mill places. To counter his extreme love for travelling and FOOD he also enjoys swimming and mix martial arts so that he can stay “relatively” fit and healthy. Instagram : instagram.com/erikthehungrytraveller Facebook: facebook.com/erikthehungrytraveller Email: [email protected]

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63 Responses

  1. Avatar Erik says:

    Amazing read my friend! It was a pleasure meeting you in Chicago !

  2. Avatar Jenny says:

    I love this. So interesting to me to see your perspective. There are beautiful places here to visit. You picked one of the best. You must come back and check out more. When you mentioned that you never felt uncomfortable or alienated here, it made my heart happy.

    • Jenny thank you so much. That was my apprehension while i was heading to the US. I thought about the worst things that could happen and ended up pleasantly surprised. And yes will definitely be back next year and hopefully get to visit a few more states. 😊

  3. Avatar Michael says:

    Congrats! And yes It is really different from what you see here in social media from the reality. Try NYC and Vegas. 😉 Thanks me later.

  4. Avatar Sophia says:

    This was actually really fun to read as I live in the United States. Really cool to see different cultures and experience it all yourself.

  5. Avatar Sophia says:

    This was actually really fun to read as I live in the United States. Really cool to see different cultures and experience it all yourself.

  6. Avatar Bella says:

    This is so interesting , what a lovely share so neat to earn these things

  7. Avatar Sushmita says:

    Hahahahah! I love your blog post and I can so see this as a video blog material. Nevertheless, I moved to the US 3 months back and I couldn’t agree more! Right from your Visa experience to people to the food! You might want to check out my similar blog – https://sushmitamalakar.com/2019/09/15-things-i-find-astonishing-about-the-us/

  8. I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip to America!

  9. I am so pleased that you have a positive experience while visiting our country. Hopefully one day you will have the opportunity to visit again.

  10. Avatar Steph S says:

    America is good but you should visit Canada! Super friendly and lovely place! Lol I’m Canadian eh! Glad you had a good time in America!

  11. It’s so cool reading your post. I wish to be able to America at least once and see the Niagara Falls ( I really wish that I get to see it before I die). I got so curious in knowing how it feels stepping in US for the very first time. Medyo nabitin pa ako sa post mo but maybe that’s the beauty of it as I’ll be checking out your blog more soon.

  12. This was really fun to read your experience. I’m originally from Wisconsin and we have a saying that there is a “Midwest nice” attitude that folks seem to encounter. Glad you found us welcoming and friendly. Happy to learn more about your culture too while reading this!

  13. Avatar Maureen says:

    This was a good read. I bet the Visa part must be the most difficult.

  14. Erik,
    I loved your post! I always love reading the comparison views Before and After a person visits a country/culture.
    I’ve never been to the Philippines. Time to visit!

  15. That sounds amazing, looks like you had an awesome time there at America. Love reading about your experience and glad that it’s all good.

  16. Avatar Jen says:

    Glad you had a great time in the US. Hope you can visit again and bring with you your family. 🙂

  17. Avatar Kuntala Banerjee says:

    While reading your article I could trace the days when I travelled from India to US to stay for almost 2 years. It was a huge transformation from a conservative country to an open minded country. And then the point you mentioned about clean environment, thats really amazing.

  18. Avatar Ellie Plummer says:

    I love how you have written this. Glad you had such a great time, hope you get to travel more in the future.

  19. Avatar Sundeep says:

    I never been to America. But one of my friend lives in America and yes he mentioned each and everything which you wrote above. I am going US next year.

  20. So great to read about how your trip lived up to your expectations!

  21. Avatar Jasmine M says:

    I loved that you compared your expectations to reality of America. It also seems like overall you had a good trip and your opinion changed a bit too. I would recommend using Groupon to save money whenever you plan to visit here again. I usually check the menus of different places a couple of days before I go and check their groupon rates/reviews. Then I buy the groupon and print it out. You will be able to save money on restaurants that way. ^_^

  22. Avatar Rachel says:

    I LOVE that you were treated kindly here in the midwest. And I’m glad to hear that you had an overall positive experience. I can only imagine what people elsewhere think of our country and I’m just so happy you experienced the good parts.

  23. You post is so informative for people coming to America. I love your transparency. Thanks for sharing.

  24. Avatar Cat Lin says:

    You’ve got a nice opportunity with your employer… This is such a good read. It just shows how much you can learn while traveling. Visiting places and experiencing them first hand is definitely eye-opening… I can feel your excitement in your post and it makes me excited as well travel more, to see the world..

  25. Avatar Yukti Agrawal says:

    I am relating to each and every point to your article as I just returned from Illinois and that too traveled from Asia. I too agree we see USA’s lifestyle as unhealthy or polluted due to big cities but so many trees and greenery in Midwest made me changed my perception. Also grabbing those branded stuff was my craze too. Even I too noticed that food is expensive here though USA has so many foods locally grown here but I can’t understand why food is expensive. Fast food joints are cheap and that is why people in USA splurge on that.

  26. Such an interesting perspective to contrast your expectations with the reality for the various aspects of your trip. I think you are right that good food can be more expensive than people realise, though still cheaper than many parts of Northern Europe, and may explain why there is such a prevalence / love of cheaper fast food. I enjoy both when we visit the USA!

  27. Avatar Val says:

    I really like the angle of this article. Great to read that you experienced warm hospitality, that was also my experience. And I totally agree with you that we should base our knowledge of a place on Instagram, cause in most cases that’s not the reality!

  28. That’s a beautiful comparison. Good to know that the people were warm and kind. I’ve read much about how the a full-meals in USA is pretty expensive when compared to fast food. Amusing to know that its pretty much true, from your experience too. Also, good to know that there are trees everywhere and the air is relatively better.
    Its indeed an honest and heart-felt comparison.

  29. It is so good to read your experience in the US. I understand the Visa process is actually really tough, even though I am an Indian, I almost feel the same issue while applying for the US Visa. You are lucky that you experienced it so smoothly without any issues. It was really great to know what you learned over the vacation of yours in the US.

  30. Avatar Cat Lin says:

    I like your post. It just shows how travel can be eye-opening… Indeed, having the first-hand experience of a place can show you and make you realize a lot of things. I am happy for you. You’re lucky with your employer.

  31. Avatar Clarice says:

    Enjoyed reading your post. Funny that you related your trip to drinking (LOL!) Happy to know that you found their environment cleaner and healthier. We’re visiting next month so, your post just made us excited. 🙂

  32. Avatar Clarice says:

    Enjoyed reading your post. Funny that you related your trip to drinking (LOL!) Happy to know that you found their environment cleaner and healthier. We’re visiting next month so, your post just made us excited. Thank you for sharing this.

  33. Avatar Annick says:

    It sounds like you had a good trip overall – I wish my employer would send me abroad! I think we all have certain expectations of what other countries and people will be like. I enjoyed seeing America through your eyes. Cities are improving their air quality and things are certainly more relaxed. I look forward to visiting the Philippines in the future.

  34. Really interesting to compare your expectations with the reality. I heard about the visa difficulties for Filipinos :/ good that you still managed to get there. I just went to Orlando and will go to New York in a few weeks 🙂

  35. Avatar Agnes Vazhure says:

    This is a really important to all first timers that will go to America for them not them not to be so surprised.

  36. This is such a great post. I loved reading it. It’s a good perspective I think to compare what you expected versus what you got and I’m glad you enjoyed your trip and it wasn’t too far off.

  37. Avatar Elizabeth O says:

    Amazing! I really enjoyed reading your experiences in the US. Well, you never know what to expect in a country unless you experience it yourself. Glad that you enjoyed your stay.

  38. Avatar Laura Axtman says:

    What a fun adventure! I especially loved reading the expectations versus realities of your trip to the States. I am glad you were able to come and were welcomed during your trip. Thank you for your post and I hope you can visit again. Head toward Montana you will see lots of squirrels, definitely a deer, and maybe even a bear.

  39. Avatar Leah says:

    I’m glad that you had a pleasant experience overall. As an American, it’s always interesting to see how others view us when they visit. There are so many regions in the US, and each one is truly unique. I’m happy hear that you enjoyed the Midwest!

  40. I was interested to read your first reactions on travelling to America. It was good to know you did not see “TV America”. So glad that you were warmly welcomed. And the air was cleaner than you expected. I did not appreciate how nerve racking it might be for others to go to America. As Canadians, we can visit pretty freely. If we stay too long, the U.S. comes after us for taxes! Your first visit is only a small slice of America. But glad it was so positive.

  41. Avatar Joella says:

    Glad that your first experience to America was a good one. You had quite a few flights and a very long journey to get there so I am happy that after all that you were not disappointed. Food here in the USA is expensive especially if you compare to South east Asia for example. But although pricey I prefer it to the fast food. So glad that your allergies did not get bad and that you got to see a part of the USA with plenty of trees and good quality air. Not everywhere is like that and I feel we can also improve in taking care of our environment. Hope you get to return and thanks for sharing your unique experience.

  42. Avatar Blairvillanueva says:

    I like your ‘expectations versus reality’ kind of post. Travel helps us to learn more and expand our horizons. Glad you had a wonderful time in America 🙂
    Where are you heading next?

  43. It’s funny what preconceptions you have in your head when visiting a new country based on TV or social media. I’m glad you had a positive experience with the people in the US. It’s an interesting observation about why you think people opt for fast food due to the cost. Sounds like you had an awesome trip!

  44. Avatar Anda says:

    Hahaha, what a funny story! It really made me smile, because it reminded me of my first contact with America when I immigrated here from Europe. I also didn’t expect to get alcoholic drinks on a plane the first time I went abroad. How interesting that for Filipino it’s difficult getting a US Visa. Why would that be?

  45. Avatar Adele Gee says:

    As I read your blog post, I was trying to think back about the first time I went to the US. I too felt that the real US is not how it is portrayed on TV. So much perfect people everywhere on Tv and in real life , normal folks. Great for me a fellow Asian to get around without having too much attention. I really get that. I am glad you enjoyed your trip.

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