“I wish I had your job” is a phrase you often hear as a travel
journalist. Often touted as a “dream job” (and in so many ways
rightly so), travel journalism isn’t all about exotic new
destinations and beautiful hotels; especially for an immigrant
looking to earn a break in an industry that’s often inherently
My struggles began even before I set foot in the UK. My
partner and I jumped every bureaucratic hoop to overcome a
never-ending barrage of immigration requirements. This included
paying for expensive English tests, organising a paper trail of our
entire relationship as if we were in a detective serial and saving
up £67,000 to convince the government I would not become a burden
on public funds.
After 18 months, I finally moved to London
with my then fiancé, now husband, starry-eyed and hopeful for new
opportunities. As an outsider looking in, there was nothing I
wanted more than to write for the very same platforms that inspired
me to pursue a career in journalism.
After a five-year career as a journalist in the Philippines,
I thought I could pick up right where I left off and share my voice
on an international stage, but I was in for a rude awakening. Those
five years spent honing my craft, working for one of the country’s
top titles, had suddenly become irrelevant. Interviewers would take
one look at my CV, mentally note my previous, unfamiliar employers
and my – quite literal – foreign work experience, and move on to
the next candidate.
It didn’t matter that I’d graduated top of my class in the
prestigious university I attended in Paris or
that I’d worked for several top publications in Asia. What mattered
was whether I appeared familiar enough to take a chance on. There
were plenty of other travel writers who had instead, spent years
building industry rapport and relationships I knew I would never
have. In many cases, my lack of Britishness outshone my talent, and
I was convinced I had to compensate.
I remember being told during an interview that while I was
overqualified for the role, I also lacked experience working in a
London. I was told I needed to understand how British people
worked and would benefit from applying for an unpaid internship,
which they coincidentally had open spots for at the time. I was
essentially being asked to work for free to gain more experience in
a role for which I was apparently overqualified. I convinced myself
this was an acceptable price to pay.
The next few years were defined by a slew of these unpaid
internships, some good and some bad. An ominous cloud followed me
everywhere, reminding me that I wasn’t enough; and that I always
had to do more and be more to be seen. I felt like my British
counterparts were always a few steps ahead of me and I strived to
make up the difference, imagined or not.
During a particularly difficult agency stint in
London, I found myself in tears climbing inside a skip, looking
for a product that one of the executives had accidentally thrown
out the day before. My manager went outside for a cigarette and
spotted me carefully combing through yesterday’s rubbish and
“jokingly” said, “If I were you, I’d get inside that skip –
otherwise you’re never going to work in this industry again.” I
found the sample and told them I would not be returning the next
day. I cried on the bus home.
Even the opportunities felt like taking one step forward and two
back, a dance of sorts between compromise and the fleeting feelings
of accomplishment. I remember having to apologise to other
journalists for causing a delay in the airport, simply because I
had to queue at the non-EU line at immigration. Unlike my British
counterparts, I need to pay for a visa for every destination I
travel to, often eating up the little fees that I do earn and
making this “dream job” just a little bit more unsustainable.
I remember being told to take lots of photos because “Asians
like that sort of thing” and having to keep my cool – for fear of
being the “difficult” one on a press trip. When I was finally
offered a job at an independent magazine, I worried that my meagre
editorial-assistant salary wouldn’t be enough to retain my
leave-to-remain visa, which required a significantly higher income
for me to stay in the country. I grabbed every one of those
opportunities with a smile and truly believed that I was one of the
lucky ones. In so many ways, I still do.
I am painfully aware that these experiences are not unique and
that so many aspiring journalists who have come to London in
similar circumstances have faced far worse. I am also aware – even
as I’m writing this – that I come from a position of privilege,
where others may not. Despite the setbacks, I was still able to go
on those trips. I was still able to afford to live in London and
accept those unpaid internships. I had a partner and family who
supported my dreams, which is a privilege in and of itself too.
Despite the challenges, I turned every event, every trip and
every meeting, into an opportunity to grow – and I kept growing.
After all, it only takes a few good people to see your value you
and give you the support you need to elevate your career. I met
those people, finally, and now know I’ve escaped the version of
myself that was crying in that skip, thinking she’ll have to sell
her soul to get the coveted dream job.
Today, I sit here knowing that I have the rare opportunity to
travel and discover some of the world’s most breathtaking places.
While the landscapes may be vast and the opportunities endless, I
still wake up every day knowing I must convince those around me
that I am worth more than my passport. I know that when I return
from these “dream destinations”, that I will still be questioned at
immigration as to why, and how, I’m travelling without my husband;
as if any sort of independence as a Filipino immigrant is simply
unfathomable. I still smile when people politely ask me if I’ve
travelled to China recently, as I watch the mild panic come over
their faces when they realise that no I am not Chinese, and no I’m
not a COVID-19 carrier either. I use a double-barrelled surname to
feign familiarity and, unsurprisingly, it has made things a little
creative industry is a wonderfully diverse community, filled with
some brilliant and fascinating people. Yet while I have not
experienced explicit racism in my career, it was abundantly clear
to me that the opportunities afforded to each of us were not equal.
As a foreigner, I will continue to face unspoken pressures to
compensate for what I lacked – and that is my lack of
I still feel that I am one of the lucky ones.