ETHT’s First Time Travel to America: Expectations Vs Reality
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. 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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. 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
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.
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.
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.
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
The Quality of Air – Environment
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.
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.
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: 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.