Thirty-seven countries (and counting!), seven continents, two Filipinos, and one love story that has us believing in meant to be again. Meet the young Filipino couple who has proven you can do it all — live abroad, conquer LDR, save up, get married, and travel the world’s seven continents all while keeping trusty desk jobs.
Where it all began
“We were actually batchmates back in high school. We were just plain acquaintances at that time and we went to different universities after high school. I went to UP Diliman and Aaron studied in UST,” recounts Irene Catiter-Gutierrez.
Irene says she and her now-husband Aaron reconnected in 2011, when he moved to Malaysia for work. It was around the same time when Irene found herself moving to Singapore for the same reason.
“He found out through Facebook that I also went overseas to work. We reconnected and we discovered that we have a lot of things in common. We were both new OFWs and we love to travel, so we were able to relate to each other and we became close.”
The rest, as they, is history. Fast forward to today: Aaron and Irene are now happily married. She handles operations for a software company based in Singapore, while he works for a pharmaceutical company as an IT consultant in the same country.
A common love for travel and how it helped make LDR work
But among other things they shared, a hardwired love for travel was probably what they had bonded over most.
“There was no ‘aha’ moment that we can think of when we realized that we love to travel. We just planned our first trip and never stopped. It’s something that our souls crave,” said Irene, explaining that travelling was something they thoroughly enjoyed even before they started dating. Without a doubt, something just clicked when Aaron first visited Irene in Singapore shortly after rekindling their friendship.
“He was based in Kuala Lumpur then and it was just a matter of time when he asked if we can meet again, and he visited me in Singapore. That was the first of his many visits in SG. Aaron would go to Singapore or sometimes I would go to Malaysia. Or we would meet in another country to travel and date at the same time.”
They got engaged after five years of being a couple — of weathering a mostly long-distance relationship and finding comfort in each other when they chose to uproot themselves from their hometown in the Philippines.
Giving back and their most memorable trips so far
And you guessed it — Aaron proposed during one of their many trips, specifically while on holiday in Krabi, Thailand in 2016. They were celebrating the milestone of being together for half a decade. While dining under the stars by the beach, with calm waters gently lapping on the shore, Aaron popped the question and Irene said yes to an adventure of a lifetime.
The two share more heartfelt memories forged during their travels: They spent their time in Pattaya volunteering at The Oasis Foundation Child Advocacy Center and Home for Rescued and Abandoned Babies, where they took care of the children and helped with daily chores.
Whenever they would go home to the Philippines for Irene’s birthday, the couple would throw what they fondly call a “Celebration of Life.” They usually do this with the Kythe Foundation to put smiles on the faces of terminally ill children admitted in various hospitals across the country.
While they embarked on their very first safari in South Africa for their honeymoon, they also volunteered a chunk of their time to Masicorp, “a small community-based NGO with a passion for education.” There, they stayed in a town called Masiphumelele, where they provided assistance at the local preschool.
Winning a contest on Instagram led Aaron and Irene to Fiji, the picturesque venue of their post-wedding photo shoot. Vacationing in Paris, France taught them to always look out for each other. They certainly have colourful stories to tell from all corners of the globe — like making friends in Argentina, going on an expedition in Antarctica, seeing the Nothern Lights in Iceland, and the list goes on.
Stepping foot on the world’s seven continents
Perhaps the couple’s biggest travel feat to date, though, is having set foot on the world’s seven continents. They achieved this after travelling for almost three weeks in 2018, when they journeyed from South America to Antartica by ship.
“We’ve always intentionally travelled to the places that we really want to visit but we didn’t think about completing the seven continents when we started travelling. We just travelled from one country to another then during our honeymoon in South Africa, we realized that Africa is the fifth continent we’ve been to together. During that time we’ve already visited Asia and the Middle East, Europe, North and Central America, Australia and Oceana,” Irene said.
This light bulb moment led to a goal that at first seemed far-fetched and “even impossible to achieve,” as Irene put it. “I proposed this idea to Aaron that we visit South America next (our sixth continent) since we’ve always wanted to go there, then visit Antarctica to complete the seven continents.”
Luckily, the newlyweds knew that the secret to making this dream happen was simple, even amid schedule constraints and the arduous task of having to save up for the excursions: “Like in all things, the first thing to do is believe. Believe that your dream is reachable and it can come true.”
How to make a travel goal happen
Now, this is where sceptics would usually butt in with a heavy, “Easier said than done.” But Irene and Aaron certainly made it happen, and they believe that anyone can — despite settling down, despite having to save up for the future, despite holding a full-time desk job.
“That’s why we want to share this story as well, to let everyone know, especially those who have the same dream that it is not impossible and you can make it happen. Believe, work hard for it and have faith that it will come true.”
That said, here are a few practical tips from Aaron and Irene, who are undeniable #couplegoals and #travelgoals.
On saving up
- Don’t compromise saving up for your future by saving up for travel. When you receive your pay, be sure to responsibly divide it into portions (e.g. investment fund and savings, necessities fund, travel fund).
- Don’t spend recklessly, especially if you’re married or about to settle down or if you’re already married.
- Try to cut down on costly everyday wants or expenses (e.g. fancy coffee, eating out every night, gym membership when you can workout at home).
On limited vacation leaves and full-time day jobs
- If you like what you do and are decently paid to do it, don’t quit your full-time office/day/desk job for travel. Your future self will thank you for the stable income.
- If you like the people you work with and are happy with the company culture, don’t quit your full-time job for travel. There’s a way to make it work.
- The calendar is your best friend. Use weekends and public holidays wisely; learn to make the most of them.
- If your company allows offsetting, take advantage of this perk. Work on days off so you have “credit days” for when you’re beginning to pencil in your vacation leaves for the year.
On being a married couple that loves to travel
- Prioritise your marriage; you are partners in everything, especially while out and about in a foreign place.
- Be wise with the money you spend on travel. Talk about it. You’re managing conjugal resources, after all.
- Set a budget. Get good deals and make the most of said budget.
- Accept that it’s okay not to be together all the time. Trust in each other and give one another space to grow as individuals.
- Be patient and accept that things will not be A-OK 100% of the time. What matters is you’re there for each other through thick and thin, through (travel) triumphs and (travel) blunders.
- Trash the blame game. Don’t point fingers when something goes wrong with your itinerary or any booking. Bonus: Readily apologise when you already know it’s your fault.
- Get a good grasp of what you both want when travelling. Preferences matter, but be reasonable and flexible. Also, accept that your (travel) preferences may and will change over time.
- ALWAYS enjoy each other’s company and presence.
On travel planning and making your itinerary work
- After taking into consideration your partner’s wants (travel must-sees and must-dos included), master the art of compromise.
- You MUST plan ahead. This is crucial if you plan on making the most of every travel experience… especially if you only have limited vacation leaves in a year.
- Allot ample time and resources when planning for travel. Especially if you have a Philippine passport, which is not as powerful as other countries’ passports.
- Research, research, and research some more. The Internet is your instant travel buddy.
- If you’re travelling as a couple, craft the itinerary together. Have fun planning sessions!
Takeaways from seeing all the world’s seven continents
There’s much to be said about being well-travelled. As the Gutierrezes prove, you’ll have as many travel stories as there are lessons learned. For Irene, though, the greatest takeaway of having set foot on the world’s seven continents is this universal truth: “Our world is really a beautiful place.”
Protect mother nature
She adds that travel has made them more conscious of the environment’s dying state. Seeing the world has somehow made the couple reflect on how we can all take better care of this planet we call home to “preserve its beauty for the next generations to see and experience.”
Be a global citizen
Another great thing that the Gutierrezes charge to travel is heightened cultural tolerance and acceptance.
“We have also met wonderful people during our travels. Travel made us more open-minded and it made us realise that there’s really no right or wrong way of doing things so we must not impose our ways to others. We just have to respect each other’s culture and beliefs, and we can all live in harmony.”
Finally, Irene touches on how travel connects people despite distance — how “even the most remote of places, though they may seem separate from us, is definitely a part of us as well.”
Clearly, there are many things that distance can do. For Irene and Aaron, distance was what brought them together. And in a way, up till now, it is what keeps them inseparable (aside from love, of course). That is their drive: traversing the world’s distances far and wide, as best friends, as forever travel buddies, as husband and wife.