Recognizing your triggers in a relationship

Surprise! Your relationship problems are tied to your childhood wounds.

Do you ever find yourself getting pissed off at your romantic partner for the tiniest things? You know you’re acting unreasonable, but you can’t stop yourself from feeling so upset by this thing your partner is doing that feels so inconsiderate. 

Since we moved in together around two to three years ago, I’ve experienced this countless times with my boyfriend of six years. (I know this sounds mean but just stick with me here)

When we first moved in together, I was scared thinking that we had spent years doing long distance only to find out that living together wasn’t what I’d always imagined. Instead, I felt annoyed with him over the littlest things. I also felt like we were in a power struggle where I had to hide my bad behaviors from him because I didn’t want to be judged.

In 2017, my boyfriend Nate and I had agreed that we both wanted to eat healthier and exercise regularly. Before Nate moved to Guam to live with me, my diet consisted mostly of instant ramen, fast food, and endless snacks (especially right before bed). I was exhausted and stressed from my job, so I had created a habit of binge eating junk food at night.

Nate is very committed to his goals. Once he decides he wants to make a change in his life, he’ll actually stick to it. Unfortunately for a lazy person like me, he expects me to stick to my goals too. So after the first few weeks of healthy eating, I started to drift back to my old habits and Nate tried to get me back on track. 

At night, Nate would hang out in our bedroom and watch YouTube videos on his own while I stayed in the living room. I probably told him I was writing or watching something on my own, but I mainly stayed in a different room because I wanted to snack without judgment. And when I say snack, I don’t mean just a little bag of chips. I would gorge myself on rice crackers, candy, baked desserts, chips, and ice cream until I was too tired and full to eat anymore.

Sometimes Nate would come out of our room to go to the bathroom and he’d catch me on the couch with my pile of snacks. We’d laugh about it, but he would ask me if I was sure I wanted to be eating all that because of the fitness goals we’d set together. Every time he asked me if I was sure I wanted to eat some junk food, I got mad. I felt like he was judging me for overeating, and I was already insecure about my weight (I had gained about 15 lbs since I moved back to Guam in 2016). I also hated feeling like a man was telling me what to do.

I knew that he was just looking out for me and trying to help me stick to the goals I had set for my health. But still, I couldn’t help feeling so upset every time he made a small comment to keep me accountable for my own goals and nutrition. I felt like I was living with someone who restricted me from doing what *I* wanted to do. I started to resent him for this, even though from his perspective he just wanted to help me. 

I didn’t understand back then, but after seeing a therapist on my own, I realized that I wasn’t really mad at Nate himself. I had subconsciously recreated a scenario similar to what I’d experienced since my childhood. 

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve used junk food to make me feel safe and at home. I remember after my parents got divorced, when I first started getting to know my stepmom’s family, I always felt happier and more comfortable because they had foods like Pop Tarts and other snacks at their homes. Then when I was around middle school age, my dad and stepmom stopped buying me and my siblings junk food to eat at home. They wanted to give us more nutritious foods, which is understandable to me as an adult. But at the time, I felt like I was being controlled and restricted from something that gave me a sense of comfort when there was a lot of turbulence.  

Especially when we were living in different houses and unfamiliar places, I relied on those snacks to make me feel safe. I started sneaking candy bars in my backpack when I’d go to my dad’s house. I remember opening my bag and sneaking small bites throughout the weekend. It sounds silly and strange looking back on how much I needed that Snickers to get me through the days at his house, but it makes sense to me now that I’ve worked on healing.

So when Nate and I moved in together, it was a big change for me. I had never lived with a boyfriend before, I had never had my own apartment and paid for all my living expenses, I had never had to balance my relationship and career, I had never gained this much weight and didn’t know how to get back to a healthy place, I was going through clinical depression, and I started taking medication for my mental health issues. 

That was a lot for me to deal with! It’s no wonder I fell back on snacks to soothe myself during this transition. And when Nate was just trying to help me develop healthier habits, my childhood wounds stirred up and made me feel like he was my dad: depriving me of my self-soothing method when he meant to look out for my health. My subconscious recognized the similarities and lashed out because I felt like someone was trying to control me and take away my security blanket again.

It’s not just limited to scenarios where you feel like your partner is taking some kind of control or depriving you of something like when you were a child — triggers of your childhood wounds can arise in many different ways.

What are the things that bother you most about your partner? Obviously I’m no professional psychologist and I don’t have a degree in this field. But just talking to my own friends and family members about what bothers them most about their romantic partners — I see how everything can be traced back to childhood wounds and issues with our parents.

Your boyfriend puts his friends above you in most cases? It probably bothers you because you felt like your parent prioritized their own career, social life, or needs over yours when you were younger.

Your girlfriend doesn’t respect your privacy and goes through your things? It probably bothers you because your mom didn’t respect your autonomy or privacy as a child.

Your boyfriend likes to stay out all night and doesn’t check in with you? It probably bothers you because one of your parents did the same thing to your other parent while you were growing up.

So the next time you get into a fight or feel betrayed with your partner, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the earliest memory I have of feeling this emotion or betrayal about this type of scenario?
  2. How did my parent make me feel at the time?
  3. What are some other times my parent made me feel this way?
  4. What are some other times in my life I experienced this type of conflict? Have I felt it in past relationships?
  5. Does this emotion and thought pattern still serve me? Or is it something I would like to let go?

I was able to figure out my struggle with Nate and binge eating by tracing back my earliest memories of using junk food as security and comfort. I thought back to all the times in my life when I was going through a difficult transition (moving to a new place, starting at a new school or job, living with a romantic partner for the first time). I realized that every single time, I went through a period of binge eating junk food — and often hiding my binge eating from the people around me.

Until we learn to look inward, notice our patterns, and confront the uncomfortable truths about our past — we’re going to keep living in cycles based on our childhood wounds. The patterns reveal the spaces in ourselves that need healing. It’s hard and scary to admit that our parents (as much as we love them) weren’t always perfect, and that we still may be suffering from things they did to us as children (especially because they didn’t mean to give us these issues). It’s also hard and scary to admit that we’ve chosen partners to replicate these painful cycles from our childhoods (as much as we love them too).

The good news is: everyone goes through this too, and you can heal yourself. But you’re going to keep repeating these cycles (no matter if you’re with your current partner or a new one) until you learn how to recognize them. The first step is noticing. Next time you get mad at your partner, look inward and think about what specifically is bothering you. What does the sensation feel like in your body? What are some times you’ve felt this in your past? The more you practice this process of noticing and tracing back through your past, the easier it will get.

It’s taken me two years of work, but I’m proud to admit that I’m getting better at noticing my triggers and handling my reactions. I try as much as I can not to snap at Nate over little things, and instead turn inward to figure out what exactly is bothering me and where it’s coming from. After I take some time to process (I like to write in my journal or take a shower and think back to my past to find the source), I tell Nate about my thought process and how I came to realize what my trigger was and where it came from. Now that I’m getting better at understanding my reactions, I’m able to communicate better and connect with him on a deeper level. 

I don’t blame my parents at all for the issues I struggle with. In fact, I’ve had many conversations with my dad about childhood wounds and how they affect romantic relationships. He gave me a copy of “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples” by Dr. Harville Hendrix, which explains these concepts in detail (I highly recommend it to anyone looking to heal themselves and their relationships). Healing my relationship with my dad has been so helpful in my own self-healing, and deepening my relationship with my partner.

When I work on healing my childhood wounds, it’s not just for my relationship with Nate. I want us to have an even healthier relationship by the time we have children of our own. There’s no avoiding giving your children some kind of emotional issues, but I’m doing the best I can to make sure I am a more conscious and intentional person with my words and actions by the time I do have kids. When we heal, we do it not only for ourselves, but to heal our lineage — past, present, and future.

This is an excerpt of my ebook draft about long distance relationships. In the book, I explore these topics in greater depth and share more of my personal experiences. For more writing updates and my future book release, follow me on Instagram @mestisachamorrita.

Life lessons I learned from my dad

Growing up, my dad has given me many a long talk about everything I need to know about life. My dad knows something about everything, and unfortunately I have to sit there and listen to him impart his wisdom to me.

Although these talks nearly put me to sleep at the time (sorry Dad — I love you!), as I get older I realize how hard my dad worked to give me a life better than his, while he was the age I am now. I barely know what the hell I’m doing, so I’m glad my dad had more sense than I do now, and was able to raise me into a decent person.

I can attribute a lot of my decent-ness as an adult to my dad’s guidance throughout my life. He’s taught me everything I know (good and bad).

For his birthday, I’ve written down a few of them:

  1. Don’t spend what you don’t have. I’ve never gotten into debt — because I’ve been fortunate enough to have parents who can take care of me financially, but I’ve also never spent beyond my means because my dad drilled that into my head for years.
  2. Look at things from the other person’s perspective. I’m still working on this.
  3. Clean as you go while cooking. Less of a mess left by the time you’re done!
  4. Don’t accept anything for free as a journalist. Be safe and cover your own ass.
  5. “None of your beeswax” During the 1998 Guam gubernatorial election, I asked my dad who he voted for as we walked through the elementary school parking lot. “None of your beeswax,” he said. (This story isn’t that interesting but it stuck with me for more than 20 years so it must be worth something)
  6. Making illegal U-turns is fine, as long as you do it safely and with no cops around.
  7. You can get better at anything if you work on it a little every day. My dad has gotten my family to do 30 day challenges for different skills: sketching, push-ups, reading. Each time I do these challenges I find myself struggle a bit, especially during the beginning. By the end of the month, I’m so impressed with my progress that I can’t help but post all my pro sketches on Instagram. My dad shows me through his own example of perseverance that you can improve significantly at any skill, as long as you practice it daily.
  8. Start out small and have compassion for yourself if you don’t meet your own expectations. I can be a perfectionist, but my dad has taught me (through his own experiments and his example) that it’s okay to fail at first. You just have to try again tomorrow, and the days after that.
  9. Learn the love languages of your loved ones, and speak to them. My dad (and Eva) asked me and my siblings to take a quiz (more than once, it’s that important) to see what our love languages are. We each shared what our love languages were and thought about how it made sense or taught us something new about everyone. I naturally want to love in the love language I speak best, but this taught me to think about how I can show love in the way that will best serve the person.
  10. Trying something is never a waste of time. Dad taught me you’ll always be better off trying and learning from your mistakes than if you didn’t try at all. This mentality helps me put my best into the projects I work on in the present, to pursue an area fully if I’m drawn to it, and not worry so much about the future. He says that closing a business is never a failure — you can always build on your experience with what you’ll do after. What I explore now will give me the skills and direction to pursue what will come next.
  11. Set boundaries. And have the difficult conversations. Living back on Guam as an adult, I got overwhelmed within the first few weeks with all the family functions and obligations. I talked to my parents about this a lot, and my dad told me about how he had to say no to family members and set boundaries for how others should treat him and what to expect of him. It’s hard sticking up for myself sometimes, but my dad showed me by example that I should claim the time and space I need for rest, solitude, and freedom.
  12. Do whatever the hell you want. During my junior year of high school, my classmate told me she thought she saw a homeless man walking barefoot by the Hagåtña Pool, but it turned out to be my dad. Leo has also, on many occasions, walked barefoot down the nasty streets of San Francisco. If my dad can live with such abandon, so can I.
  13. Speak up for what’s right. Use your voice for good. Another story about my junior year! My dad wrote in a letter to the editor to PDN about how the local community needs to treat their gay family, friends, and community members with respect. He wrote it in opposition to the archbishop’s recent condemnation of gay people. I remember the principal at my all-girls Catholic school told me she read my dad’s published letter and how it went against the church. My heart burned with pride that he wrote it.
  14. A parent’s job is to support their child’s dreams and help them get there. My siblings and I all have “untraditional” life paths as adults. E.g. my stepsister is studying in Japan to be a manga/anime artist. I’m 26 and still figuring out what I’m good at. My dad is always the first to get on board with our craziest life decisions, I think because he knows we’ll grow a lot from going out of our comfort zones.  
  15. Have fun! Some of my favorite memories with my dad are the times we’d play fight him as Bruce Leo, nerf gun fights, walked around dorkily in new cities around the world. My dad always makes time to have fun with us, no matter how old he is or how old we are.
  16. For the past year or two, my dad has been doing consistent work on self-healing inner wounds. We didn’t talk about it in depth while I was growing up, but my dad had a rough upbringing. This is heavy to write. None of us in my family want to disrespect my grandpa (especially now that he’s gone) but we all are dealing with residual trauma passed down from him (passed down to him from generations, the war, abuse). The cycle of abuse and generational trauma is hard to break. It takes incredible strength and resolve to undo damage and to change yourself. It takes humility to sit down with people you’ve hurt and ask them to tell you their side of the story and about how you wronged them. It takes love to go through all this work, because you’re not just doing it for you — you’re doing it for your kids and for generations to come, so they don’t have to go through it too. My dad does all this, and the work he does to fight toxic masculinity and empower all of us in my family (and helping others through the work he does) is a net good that will spread for generations. Assuming our bloodline doesn’t die off sooner due to climate change.
  17. I wrote a blog post before about my eating disorder, and how the “bad” voice inside tells me I’m unworthy of love and always thinks I will fail. A year of therapy, and lots of conversations with my dad, have taught me that the “bad” voice is actually the wounded child inside that needs love. Caring for my inner child has made me happier, more secure in myself, and so much better to everyone in my life. My dad also tells me affectionately when he sees glimpses of my child self in my current self. That helps me feel more connected to my inner child, and reminds me how important it is to take care of her and show her love.
  18. How to make thoughtful gifts
    My dad created our family tradition of making the most heartfelt over-the-top gifts for birthdays, Mother’s Day — and we reciprocate on his birthday and Father’s Day. I get so excited thinking about how someday I’ll teach my own kids how to make such thoughtful gifts (now that I think about it, this idea is even better because those gifts are going to be for me!)
  19. How to be romantic
    On top of making days special for the kids, my dad is seriously the most grand gesture-y person I know in real life. His example has shown me most men in the real world are a lot more disappointing when it comes to thoughtful surprises (I swear I’m not trying to be passive aggressive it’s just true!)
  20. Your reality is a reflection of the narrative you tell yourself.
  21. Importance of introspection
    My dad is always looking for new ways to improve himself, and always questioning himself internally. I find myself doing the same and love talking to him about our own internal journeys.
  22. Taught me about socialism/anarchy
    And the anarchist cookbook cookies are the best.
  23. You can change and reinvent yourself as many times and whenever you want in life. Just during my lifetime, I’ve seen my dad grow into so many different things: a reporter, a senator staffer, a blogger, a marathon runner, and a guy so famous that strangers come up to him on the street in different countries.
  24. I can do anything!!! (see above)
  25. Compassion for living things / importance of veganism. Just by living by example, my dad shows me it’s completely doable (and enjoyable/tasty) to eat without harming living beings.
  26. When I was in college, I spent a lot of my young energy getting irritated with everyone around me. As an anxious and also very sensitive person, I also got hurt a lot by reading into other people’s actions. I complained a lot to my dad and he told me to try thinking about other people’s actions as completely unrelated to me, like logs drifting through a river, occasionally bumping but unintentionally.

    At first, I was annoyed and thought why couldn’t he just give me normal people advice and not this zen stuff again! Then I grew five years and realized this (along with most of what my dad tells me) is great advice and I am grateful I have a dad who loves me enough to always talk my ear off, hoping something will stick eventually (and it is).

Carrying the love and resilience of my grandparents

Since I’ve been back on Guam these past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents.

I lived with my Grandma Shannon in Santa Rita, where she has a lush garden full of tropical flowers. Whenever I walked around the garden, I was always drawn to the red and pink ginger flowers, for their interesting shape and vibrant hues.

My grandpa Jose Babauta painted the pink gingers into a collage of tropical leaves and flowers that wrap me up in childhood memories growing up surrounded by the jungle. When my cousin and I visited one of the earliest exhibitions at the new Guam Museum, we found another small sketch that looked similar to these flowers in the corner of his art on display.

When my Grandpa Larry (my mom’s dad) was sick in the hospital before he passed away earlier this year, my grandma gave me a bouquet with these gingers to bring to him. When he was at his weakest, these flowers brought him joy. I’ll never forget how these flowers and the thoughtful gesture gave him the biggest smile.

The red gingers remind me of the lipstick my Apong (Grandma Rolita) used to wear. Flowers remind me of her softness. One of my favorite memories of Apong when I was little: I bumped my head crawling around under a table, and she got down under there with me and rubbed my head softly where it hurt. But these gingers are also tough, like her.

These flowers aren’t indigenous to Guam, but they grow everywhere around the world (including here and the Philippines, where my maternal grandparents are from). Just like my four grandparents, these flowers thrived in new places, even if it wasn’t their original home. They give me hope that when I go to new places and take on new challenges, I can be just as resilient and grow like they did.

My two grandparents, Grandma Shannon and Grandpa Larry, took care of me and taught me so much while I was on Guam away from my parents. Every day, I text my grandma asking for her help with my job (reporting in the same newsroom where she used to work). I look at the photo of my grandpa I keep on my desk, whenever I’m stressed and need encouragement. When I drive by Pigo Cemetery, or a bingo hall, I think about my other grandparents, whom I wish I’d gotten to know better while they were still alive.

I keep them all close, near my left hand — with one leaf to represent each of them carrying and protecting me, wherever I go.

My journey with depression

Early this year, I sobbed alone in my apartment as if someone had died.

I had just dropped my boyfriend off at the airport, so he could go back to California and visit his family for a month while studying for the Guam bar exam.

This was the first time I truly felt alone in months, since we’d moved in together last September.

It was embarrassing, crying so hard over something so small — I mean, we’d been apart for a whole year before we moved in together, so this was cake. It wasn’t like anything bad was going to happen to me, or to our relationship, and it wasn’t like I couldn’t take care of myself on my own.

It was scary, because I knew that him going away wasn’t the real reason I was crying — but I wouldn’t find out why until I started therapy months later.

My breakdown was my wake-up call to realize something was definitely wrong with my emotional and mental well-being. It was one of the moments that pushed me into finally getting professional help.

I can’t remember the last time I truly wasn’t depressed.

I think back, and it may have started in high school. I remember I was for sure depressed when I moved to California with my family at the beginning of my senior year of high school, when I had to start all over at a new school with zero friends.

I get scared when I think back even farther, because I remember crying hard to my mom at night in elementary school, stressed out about whatever little Chloe found troubling at the time. It’s scary thinking I might not remember a time when I wasn’t depressed.

This year has been a rough one for me.

In January, Nate and I had to spend about a month apart while he was in California (though I did see him for a couple days when I also was in California to see my family). I realized how much I started relying on him for emotional stability since we’d moved in together, and how much anxiety I got about being apart since we’d just gotten over a three-year long distance period.

I relied a lot on our relationship to make me happy, and when I wasn’t happy, I thought things weren’t good with us either.

After working through my own issues and seeing a therapist, I realized it wasn’t about him or us — my depression was something separate from my relationship. But I started taking out my frustrations at home without thinking, which definitely wasn’t fair to him.

Transitioning into living with a romantic partner can be tricky, and I guess it doesn’t help much either when you’re depressed (go figure) and don’t have your families around.

In February, my uncle and I had to take my 92-year-old grandpa to the hospital, where he stayed for days (more than a week, even? It felt like this period went on forever). My mom flew here that same day from the states, and we made arrangements to care for him while he was in worse shape than ever.

I had already booked my flight to visit my parents and siblings in California, so reluctantly I went on my trip, worried it might be the last time I’d see my grandpa.

It was.

We buried him on a Saturday in early March, then celebrated my birthday the following day.

Of course, I know I still have many things to be grateful for — I write them down in a “daily gratitudes” journal my mom gave to me. I used it to remind myself of all the wonderful parts of my life (big and small) when I felt empty inside.

August 12, 2017: I’m grateful for the beauty of Litekyan, a fun day at the beach with my cousins, my beautiful island, healthy food, my sweet Grandma, cats and dogs, funny coworkers, the healing power of the ocean, my Grandpa still around in his old age, freedom to travel, beautiful shells, freedom to rest, friends who love me.

So if I have so much to be grateful for, why do I feel so empty?

After aching inside too much, crying nearly every day and not knowing why, and talking with Nate and my family, I decided I needed to finally see a therapist.

When you’re depressed and don’t have motivation to even feed yourself or take a shower, it’s hard to take the steps to get help when you don’t know where to go.

I started small, giving myself the task of just looking in my insurance provider directory for therapists in my area (I knew if I had to drive farther, I’d probably come up with excuses not to go). I narrowed the list down to just female therapists, knowing I’d feel more comfortable talking to a woman.

Weeks passed, and eventually I called the different numbers until I could find someone who would see me. Even just talking to my therapist over the phone for a few minutes, I knew I could trust her. I felt better already, after taking small actions to make this big step for myself.

I thought a lot about what we would talk about, during the days leading up to my first session. I’d seen counselors at my university years ago, and found it useful. I didn’t even know what issues I might have to talk about, or what was making me feel so sad and empty.

Everything in my life was great on paper: I have a lot of reasons to love my job (and I do it well), I have a life partner who loves me, I have a network of supportive family and friends, I have a comfortable life, I live in paradise.

I just couldn’t understand what made me so unhappy when I had so much to live for.

Since I started seeing a therapist this year, I’ve allowed myself to be vulnerable — which is the scariest part of all.

During the first few sessions, I told her my life story: from childhood, to my parents’ divorce, to my high school relationships, to the toxic ones, to my move back home, to now. She asked more questions about my parents and my childhood, and I tried to smooth over them, not wanting to dig deeper and unearth unresolved feelings I’d worked hard to move past.

I really can’t complain, because on most accounts I’d say I had an enjoyable childhood (and still have the friends I made in elementary school). My parents worked hard to give me a better life than theirs, and pushed me to do better.

I won’t get too far into it right now, but being the eldest child (and the product of what was nearly a teen pregnancy) put a lot of pressure on me to succeed. My parents pushed me in ways they didn’t with my younger brothers and sisters, which was rough on me sometimes.

If I could change my upbringing though, or trade for another spot in the birth order, I wouldn’t. And I’ve also learned through talking to my therapist and parents that working through issues festering from my past doesn’t mean I don’t love my parents or that I blame them for anything.

I’m happy with the life I have now for the most part, and I am the person I am because I’ve always been pushed to do my best. At some point, it went from them pushing me to do my best, to me pushing myself.

But always pushing to be the best means I often feel like a failure, or like I could at least do better. It means my college essays aren’t good enough to me, my news stories aren’t good enough, my social media presence isn’t good enough, my effort to make a positive change on the world isn’t good enough, my body is definitely not good enough.

It means I eat less to look the way I think I should, it means I lie awake in bed at night thinking of all the things I could have done better, it means if I don’t get enough likes on my picture I’m ugly and unpopular, it means I am a terrible person not worthy of love.

I say these hateful things to myself daily, and I’ve written about how it manifests in my life in different ways, like my eating disorder.

Over the past months, I’ve been trying to stop this negative cycle more actively (though it’s  just second nature to me at this point).

I’m working on developing a healthier relationship with myself, which is turning out to be more a lot more difficult than three years of a long distance relationship with someone outside of myself.

I’m not writing all this so people can send me concerned messages or to get attention. I’m not writing this because I have any answers. I’m writing this because sometimes it’s okay to be sad, to not have a solution yet, or to not even know what the problem is.

The point is, I’m working every day to get better. Even if I don’t feel completely better yet (and though I worry most days that I never will), I have to hope. I have to trust myself to work through the issues that hold me down, and try different methods to see what works.

This isn’t my whole story (I promise I’m okay for the most part, and I’m not always this serious), but I wanted to at least scratch the surface of writing through this complicated path of self healing.

In future blog posts, I want to write about other mental health issues I’m learning to deal with, like overcoming the fear of starting medication, how to talk to loved ones about my mental health issues (and knowing not everyone is going to completely understand), and my journey with getting diagnosed. This whole issue is so heavy, and I’m glad I’m finally writing things down and opening up to more people. I’m not sure how useful this will be, but I hope if anyone reads this and is going through something similar, they’ll feel less alone and know that there’s still hope.

Traveling solo in Bali

About a year ago, I took my first solo trip (ever) to Bali!

At the time, I was going through a new self-love phase, after a difficult breakup and living away from my family. I finally had a job where I made enough to pay for my own travels, and after hearing my aunt talk about how much she loved going to Bali alone (for yoga training), I decided I was going to go there myself.

It was scary thinking about going to a new country alone for the first time, but my aunt assured me the area she went to was really safe, with many other travelers and friendly people.

She stayed in Ubud, which is considered the cultural heart of Bali. Ubud is up in the mountains, with so many cool little shops, and it basically feels like you’re in some magical jungle village. Even coming from my tropical paradise on Guam, being in Ubud felt like a dream. The trees are amazingly tall, and everywhere you turn just walking the streets there are different statues and hidden gardens.

My parents had just visited Ubud and other parts of Bali months before my trip, and my dad recommended I stay away from popular tourist areas like Kuta. I read reviews online about the beaches being trashed and just full of western tourists partying, and felt bad thinking about the impact of outsiders on a beautiful country — especially because we experience similar things on Guam with trying to take care of our island. I decided I wanted to avoid that area and stay in Ubud, to try to have a more authentic cultural experience in Bali.

Although my experience in Ubud was amazing in many ways, I think it’s just getting way too popular among western travelers so I felt like a lot of places were too touristy to cater to that demographic (myself included, ironically). There were shops selling yoga clothes and tank tops that read cheesy things like “namaslay” or other puns on “namaste.”

At some points, I felt kind of disillusioned seeing everyone taking photos and thinking about them posting like Bali is some mystical place when really it felt like a westerner fantasy and not authentic due to the mass amount of tourists coming through.

I feel like remote places in the world like Bali and Guam get their authenticity sucked out by catering to tourists and watering down culture in some ways, but a lot of our economy depends on tourism. It’s just a complicated experience traveling as a westerner and also being part of an indigenous population struggling to keep its culture despite outside influences.

Anyway, if you choose to venture to Bali, I highly recommend going to Ubud. Just know that even though some parts of it are definitely beautiful, you should still expect it to be pretty touristy (probably even more so over the past year since it’s becoming an increasingly popular destination lately).

Here are some tips I learned through planning my own trip:


First, I recommend using Google Flights to search for the best prices for your trip. It’s simple: you just put in the dates you’d like to travel and it’ll show you the most inexpensive options.

Flying from Guam, I used Philippine Airlines to book my trip. I went from Guam to Manila, and had a long layover (more than six hours, I think) so I went to the SM Mall of Asia. It’s not far from the airport (just take a Grab, or taxi if you haven’t downloaded the Grab app). Shopping options aren’t so great on Guam (besides buying from local makers, which I try to do as much as I can), so I had fun browsing the shops like Uniqlo and Zara. They also have a ton of food options (from fast food to dine-in/sit-down restaurants), so I had an inexpensive meal at a small Japanese restaurant at the mall.

It’s best if you have cash exchanged before you get out of the airport — maybe exchange cash for Philippine pesos at your local airport. I ended up not having cash with me so the taxi driver brought me to a stall in the city where people exchange money, but it was sketchy as hell and I was scared I was going to get robbed, especially as a woman alone. Luckily it was fine, but I wouldn’t recommend exchanging money unless it’s at a credible place. Also be sure to download an exchange rate app so you can check if prices sound reasonable to you and don’t end up over spending.

I made sure to book a hotel room near the airport when I first arrived in Bali, then headed to Ubud with a driver from the hotel the next morning. It was great to have a room waiting for me nearby, because I was so tired from traveling the day before, and it takes like an hour or so to get to Ubud from the airport (that’s an extra two hours of traveling you don’t want to do at the end of the night).

On the way back to Guam, I had like a 12 hour layover between Manila and Guam which was ridiculous. I was exhausted from traveling on a redeye flight, so all I wanted to do when I got to Manila was take a shower and rest. As per a recommendation from one of my coworkers who travels a lot, I booked a cheap hotel room in Manila just for the day so I’d have somewhere to relax. It wasn’t in a very safe area, but I just tried to stay in the hotel most of the time and went to the mall nearby to grab food. If you do something similar, I would recommend booking a hotel closer to the airport so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic on the way back. Rush hour in Manila is no joke!

My Airbnb right by the Monkey Forest.


My dad taught us to travel light, with just a backpack (even on a month-long trip to Europe). It’s faster and easier than bringing luggage, because you don’t have to check anything in and can skip the super long wait at the luggage carousel.

I only went on my trip for about four to five days, so it wasn’t too difficult for me to pack light. I made sure only to bring comfortable shoes and clothing (especially stuff I didn’t mind getting dirty, just in case). I packed a white t-shirt, sports bras, a couple tank tops, a light maxi dress and jean shorts (plus undergarments and socks). For the flight and travel days, I wore Adidas track pants, a t-shirt and a hoodie to stay comfortable.

I also bought clothes at the mall in Manila which I ended up wearing during the trip, but I made sure everything could still fit in my backpack.

Instead of bringing my laptop for the flight, I bought an iPad the day before the trip (which I realize isn’t an option for everyone, and was probably a rash decision on my part). If you have a small portable device to bring on your flight, I’d recommend leaving laptops at home in case they get damaged (plus they’re heavy).

Here’s my packing list I kept on my trip planning Google Doc:

  • Passport
  • Global Entry card
  • Yoga clothes
  • Basic clothes
  • Small toiletries: face wash, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner
  • Basic makeup: mascara, brow pencil, lash curler
  • Portable charger for phone
  • iPad, charger
  • Journal, pen
  • Book/Kindle, charger
  • Medicine, melatonin, birth control
  • Eye mask, ear plugs
  • Earbuds

For lodging, spas and activities, you can check out a story I wrote for work with all my recommendations: Chloe Babauta explores Ubud, the heart of Bali.

I would’ve just written out all my recommendations in this post, but I think I already wrote it best in that article (and I can’t copy/paste it here because it belongs to my work company lol).

Breakfast in Ubud, Bali.

Also a few more tips I wrote down after my trip:

  • If staying in Ubud, best to book a room/Airbnb closer to the center of the town. I was on the edge next to the Monkey Forest, which was nice because it was close to that attraction and a bit away from the noise, but it was a far walk to get anywhere and made me want to go out less. Pro: it made me walk more.
  • Make sure to pull a lot of cash before getting there, exchange rates are expensive at ATMs (I think) and I had to pull a lot of cash. Also best to use cash because not everywhere accepts cards.
  • Greenbike cycling tour was hands down the best experience of my trip! So beautiful cycling/touring through parts of Bali I would’ve otherwise never seen on my own. It’s worth the price — includes food and tour guides are great.
  • Get a massage every. damn. day. They’re cheap as hell and if you find one you like, the masseuse will know how to take care of your body better if you want to come back. Tip big: a little money goes a long way there. Book ahead for a full spa day, which is so worth it (like $60 for a 5-hour spa package). I booked mine with Nur Salon Ubud.
  • It’s fun to be spontaneous, but plan ahead. If you want to do classes or tours, they’ll probably already be booked. I wanted to do a silver-making jewelry class, yoga at the Yoga Barn, etc. but didn’t have enough time and couldn’t work within their time slots because they were booked.
  • Get a DRIVER. This was the best decision I made on my trip. It’s like $40 for them to drive you around and show you around for a day and you get to hit all the spots in comfortable transportation. Also mine ended up being my photographer since I was traveling solo!
  • It’s a bit obnoxious, but bring a selfie stick just in case if you’re traveling alone. Going to Bali is a once in a lifetime experience, so take as many pictures as you can (but stay in the present as much as you can too). I only used the selfie stick when I was alone in my room or at the pool at my Airbnb, so I wasn’t disturbing anyone or being outwardly annoying (as some tourists can be whipping out their selfie sticks in public places).