Reader Stories: How DJ Made All His Dreams Come True

DJ from Dream Euro TripIn our last reader story, I highlighted the story of Vikram and Ishwinder, an Indian couple who navigated a complex visa system in order to travel the world. Indians face a lot of restrictions on where they can visit and, for most countries in the world, face an extensive visa process.

So do Filipinos.

It took a Filipino friend in Bangkok four years to obtain an EU Shengen Visa, despite having a good job, a fiancé, and lots of roots.

So today, I talk to DJ from Dream Euro Trip. He’s a Filipino who has been living and traveling around Europe for years. He shares his experience getting approved for visas, travel tips, and advice for others from developing countries about realizing your travel dreams.

Nomadic Matt: Tell everyone about yourself.
DJ: Hello beautiful dreamers! I’m DJ Yabis. I am 29 years old and I grew up in the Philippines. I was born and raised in Cagayan and I moved to Manila when I was 17 to study Industrial Engineering at the University of the Philippines Diliman. In 2009, I moved to Europe for my Master’s in International Business as a full scholar of the European Commission through its prestigious Erasmus Mundus scholarship program.

I have been traveling the world since 2007 and I have lived in Sweden (Stockholm and Uppsala), Poland (Warsaw), Germany (Cologne and Essen) and the Philippines (Manila, Boracay, Panglao). I have worked as an Industrial Engineer, a pseudo-diplomat at the Philippine Embassy in Stockholm, a mystery shopper, various odd jobs in music festivals, and a Free Hugs organizer.

I realized while backpacking in Southeast Asia in 2007 that I prefer to live abroad instead of just hopping from one country to the next. That realization pushed me to apply for Erasmus Mundus which has been a big dream of mine. The longest non-stop travel I normally do is in the summer when I usually travel around Europe from June to September.

DJ from Dream Euro Trip

What inspired your original trip?
I actually draw a lot of inspiration from movies, literature and music. I love watching European films, especially Spanish and French films. For instance, my Erasmus Mundus experience was totally inspired by the French-Spanish film L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment).

I also love reading about David Sedaris’s life in France and novels from Swedish writers like Jonas Jonasson and Stieg Larsson. One of my favorite travel books is Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier and it inspired me a lot, too (go buy and read it!).

As a Filipino, you often can’t just show up to a new country. Do you find getting visas difficult? What are some of the problems you encounter?
Usually it is. It is particularly hard to get visas from most First World countries in North America, UK, and mainland Europe. Even if you’ve fulfilled all the requirements asked of you, the embassies still question your reason for visiting and always think you’re not going to go back home. This is especially true for single female travelers who seem to get rejected the most. My friends and I have all been denied visas at one point or another.

The requirements are no joke either. For example, if you’re applying for a Schengen visa to Europe, you need to show your itinerary, pre-booked hotels for your entire stay, travel insurance, flight reservations, your bank account, credit card statements, your income tax return, leave request from your boss and certificate of employment if you’re an employee or relevant documents of your business if you own one.

There are a lot of hoops to jump through and you still could get rejected for your visa simply because embassies always come in with this prejudice that we’re trying to illegally immigrate.

DJ from Dream Euro Trip scuba diving

From my talks with others, I would agree with you. So how do you make your application process successful?
To make your visa application successful, you have to submit all the required documents. I am 100% sure your visa will be rejected if you fail to submit one of them. Normally they require your passport, bank account, proof that you have a job or own a business, flight details, itinerary, travel insurance and of course your purpose of travel.

When you go to the embassy for your interview, dress appropriately and answer all the questions confidently. A lot of people tend to be scared because of all the stories they hear from others or read online. Don’t be one of those people. There is nothing to be scared of if you are honest about your intentions of visiting the country and you have all the required documents to support your claims. If you act nervous, you’ll just create more suspicion.

Most people who get denied don’t have enough proof they plan to return home. My best tip is to make sure you have all the supporting documents to prove that you have a job or own a business. The more roots back at home you can show, the better your application looks.

If you’ve submitted everything and still get denied, you can appeal the decision in writing. Most embassies are required by law to give you a valid reason for denying you and give you advice on what you should do to get approved.

But there’s no guarantee that you will get approved.

DJ from Dream Euro Trip posing like a fashion model

What countries are easier for Filipinos to get visas from?
Filipinos can go visa-free to all countries in Southeast Asia, some countries in the Middle East, Oceania, Central America, South America and Africa, so it’s not that bad. You can check the full list here.

As for countries that are easier for Filipinos to get tourist visas from, the following rank high on the list: South Korea, China, Dubai, Taiwan, Kuwait, Japan, Turkey and France (relative to the rest of Europe).

Let’s talk about your trip for a bit. How did you save up for it?
I used to work for one of the biggest Shipping and Human Resources companies in Asia. At 22, I already had a junior managerial position in the company which means I had a high salary relative to my peers. I worked hard for 2 years and saved as much as I could before my big move. I saved around 12,000 Euros (16,500 USD).

Even though I was going on full scholarship, I knew Europe was going to be expensive so I wanted to save as much money as possible.

How do you stick to a budget when you travel?
In the beginning, I used to write down every single expense in my notebook or mobile phone to keep track of my spending and to make sure I don’t go over my budget. I even used to have an Excel file that I updated with all my expenses.

After more than 5 years of traveling the world, I kind of intuitively know how much I spend on my trips. I don’t take note of every single expense now, but I do write down the biggest expenses. Some days I go over the budget and some days I am well under the budget. In the end, it always evens out. So it’s okay to go over the budget on certain days as long as you don’t go over the budget every day!

The major expenses during the trip are normally food, accommodation, transportation and activities. When paying for these things, I only stick to what is within my budget. I also try to avoid having a lot of miscellaneous expenses (yes, you don’t need that “I Love Paris” t-shirt) because they usually add up and ruin my budget.

DJ from Dream Euro Trip skiing

What advice do you have for others who want to do what you do?
My advice for people who want to have a life of travel is to just start traveling. Start small. Start traveling around your city and the places nearest to you. It’s not only easier, it’s also cheaper.

Then keep doing it.

I started traveling around the Philippines first and then I went abroad and started backpacking around Southeast Asia for 2 years while I was working. I considered these trips my training so I can get to know myself better and to know what I really like. During my 2-week backpacking trip in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand in 2008, I realized that I wanted to live and study abroad. After the trip, I got to work to make this dream happen and the rest is history.

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started traveling?
That dreams do come true. Coming from a poor country like the Philippines, a place where many kids do not dare to dream big and traveling is considered a luxury, people think that I must be very rich to be able to do what I do right now.

But I am not.

I just had a dream and worked to make it happen.

For one to achieve his or her dreams, he/she needs to truly believe in them and work towards achieving them. When I was younger, I knew I wanted to travel the world but I didn’t know how to make it happen. I didn’t believe in my dreams. And then I started meeting travelers who made their dreams happen. This changed my mindset and led me to where I am now.

This is why I call my website Dream Euro Trip because until now I still can’t believe that I am living my dream.

DJ from Dream Euro Trip at sunset on a beach, living his dream

So believe in your dreams and make them happen.

Become the Next Success Story

One of my favorite parts about this job is hearing people’s travel stories. They inspire me, but more importantly, they also inspire you. I travel a certain way but there are many ways to fund your trips and travel the world and I hope these stories show you that there is more than one way to travel and that is within your grasp to reach your travel goals. Here’s another example of non-Westerners who have made their way around the world:

We all come from different places, but we all have one thing in common:

We all want to travel more.

Make today the day you take one step closer to traveling – whether it is buying a guidebook, booking a hostel, creating an itinerary, or going all the way and buying a plane ticket.

Remember, tomorrow may never come so don’t wait.

  1. Nice to meet you DJ! I think having a dream to make it happen is what’s important. So many people think that you have to be rich to travel, and that is just not true! :)

  2. Inspiring story, DJ! I love the advice to start where you can. I think that first step us the hardest and is what causes the first bite from the big. After that, people will make it happen. I hate that Filipinos have so many road blocks in travel (since half my family us filipino) but it’s good to see that it’s still possible.

  3. I’ve traveled with an Indonesian passport, DJ, so I feel your pain. It’s a lot more expensive and complex. But it’s never about what you don’t have (whether it’s money or the right passport), it’s about what you do with what you have. :)

  4. Wow DJ, I had no idea Filipinos have to submit all of that documentation. It is kind of ironic that you have to show all of these hotel reservations in an area where just showing up seems to be the norm.
    I am very glad you are living your dream though. It just goes to show that some people just want it bad enough to make it happen!

  5. Wow – your experience should really put things into perspective for Americans (like myself) who find the biggest barriers to travel to be time off work and saving money. I am so happy for you that you have been able to overcome the obstacles before you and help others to do the same. Thank you for sharing your story, DJ!

  6. Andew

    what an inspiring story! def sharing this with a lot of people and def making good use of my Philippine passport :)

  7. Ronald


    Bravo DJ…your story is awe inspiring, as a Canadian, I realize how fortunate I am by not having to go through so much red tape.

    I too love to travel and explore this beautiful multicultural global village…we are citizens of the world minus government boundaries!

    I wish to have enough drive and motivation in doing this also one day.

    Keep on roaming the globe! you are a trend setter, your life is full of promise!

  8. Hi DJ
    I know exactly where your’e coming from. I’m a South African and when I went to the UK and Europe for the first time during the 80’s, I had a lot hassles getting around not just because apartheid was still prevalent in South Africa but because I also had to get visas for just about every European country except Switzerland. Germany and Greece. Having said this the visas were expiring before I could get through the various borders. I did manage however to use my instincts and managed to see every country I wanted to visit. I travelled for six months in a camper van I bought in Birmingham UK. It’s a lot easier for me to travel now and I spend a lot of time in South East Asia particularly China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Cambodia. I have still to visit the country of your birth in the Philippines. I have heard so many good stories about the place and have made a few friends there via my website. You can read all about my travels in Thailand by visiting my site. All the very best to you on your travels. Hope we can share more stories like yours.

    • Thanks Grahame. Yeah I can imagine. Thank God the European borders are more open now. Imagine when I was living in Poland I need another visa just to visit Sweden or other countries too? Good thing that changed 6 months after. You should definitely visit the Philippines. It’s a beautiful country.

  9. Fritzie

    Hey DJ! nice story – thanks for sharing.

    Like you, I also carry a Philippine passport but I’ve been living in SG for the past 10 years. I’m 25 now and just received my first Schengen visa rejection :O

    I just graduated from university here, and I would like to know more about the Erasmus programme for Filipinos! I always thought it was more for Europeans, but now that I know that you’ve done it, I am very excited to apply 😀

    Any tips on how to buff up my application, or how to go about it? I am planning to do international business/management Masters programme hopefully in either Germany or Italy as I have been picking up the language for the past 1.5 years now.

    Any advice is mostly appreciated :) we can take it offline as well if you like.

    Btw where in the world are you now? 😀

  10. Hi Fritzie, I’m currently based in Germany. Erasmus Mundus scholarship is open non-Europeans. You can find all the Master courses here:

    Well since it’s a merit scholarship, you should either have really good grades or really good track record at work. There are thousands of people applying worldwide and there are only a few spots so it’s pretty cut-throat. But if you can convince them with your motivations and education and professional background that your profile fit the program perfectly then you shouldn’t be worried about the competition.

    Good luck!

  11. Kristin

    Thanks for the insight, DJ! I have many relatives in the Philippines and I never knew just how difficult it was for them to travel in terms of paperwork. My younger relatives and their friends have been pretty successful in travelling so I didn’t realize how much work went into it. It makes me appreciative of my relative ease of travel with a North American passport. Hope you enjoy the rest of your travels!

  12. Great story, DJ! Congratulations on overcoming some major hurdles to travel the world!

    We’d love to get to the Philippines someday. We were very close in November as we were in Sabah in Borneo, just a skip away. Unfortunately, it was not a long trip and we weren’t able to make it. There’s a large Filipino population in Sabah though and we were there just after the horrible typhoon devastated the Philippines. Watching the news and being out in the streets of Sabah at a Filipino market gave us a bit of a connection with the disaster.

    Anyways, happy travels and keep up the good work on your blog!

  13. audrey

    well done DJ! It must be a dream come true and living in that dream is just amazing i bet.

    with determination and faith you made it happen :)

  14. That is just inspiring, DJ.

    I want to visit Spain for the basketball world cup this August. It is my first time to go abroad. To keep my expenses cheap, I plan on doing couchsurfing and workaway/helpx. The embassy peeps seem cold about it when I inquired. What is the likelihood of me getting rejected for a Schengen Visa with those factors in place?

  15. Sopphia Caballero

    Good Day DJ,
    Wow I love what I am reading,I dream of Traveling the world too,as far as I could remember,I started dreaming of myself being able to see the World when I was 15,(pls.dont mind my English grammar,I’m trying)I was move to tears by reading you’re humble begginings,and I want to travel so badly.And youre right Dreams do come true,August Last year I am 19 I travel to Singapore,and Malaysia .I waited this to happen,and it happens to after 4 years..before that when I was 15 I started traveling to our country because of that I realize I want to go abroad and just like you I am so inspired of my friends who already are traveling and Currently I am studying at Misamis University and I am planning to visit Europe this Summer ,I am preparing for it now and I wish to read everything more to get some tips…

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