For the past two years, I’ve been yearning for a great escape from this pandemic. I’ve been wanting to break free from following ever-shifting protocols.  I couldn’t help but think that traveling abroad would be the only key to solving my misery. So when my sister invited our family to go to the United States last December because she was getting married, I knew that compared to my parents, I was way more excited.

I can still remember how thrilled I was soon as my sister told us that we had to go there for the wedding. Being a millennial who’s too invested in my social media accounts, I instantly thought to myself, “this vacation would be great for my Instagram feed.” Since opportunities to post anything creative have been lacking since the start of the pandemic, the idea of getting to fly again gave me visions of artistic photographs and well-thought-of outfits that I knew I could use during our trip.

I didn’t mind being on top of all the paperwork just to make this vacation happen. For months, I kept updating myself with government restrictions and airport requirements so that my trip to America with my parents would go smoothly. I was laser-focused on my goal which was to create pretty online content that I would be able to share. True enough, as soon as we landed in America, my immediate knee-jerk reaction at the airport was to grab my phone, capture the moment, and instantly upload it.

However, when we finally arrived at my sister’s neighborhood in Plano, Texas, I couldn’t help but notice how different it was compared to what I saw on the east coast last 2018. That year, we got to tour New York City with my sister and I could still remember how everything there was alive, colorful, and Instagram-worthy. On the other hand, in Plano, houses were far apart, almost every building was in a monotonous color, and the most exciting tourist spot in the area was a railway museum that displayed trains from the 1900s.

During my first few days, I struggled with the frustration of feeling I was missing my goal. Since we arrived two weeks before the wedding, my sister was too busy juggling both wedding preparations and her work as a physical therapist. She barely had time to drive us to places I would have wanted to see. At the same time, heading out on my own via Uber was too costly, leaving me feeling I was locked down all over again just like in the Philippines, but this time in America.

However, as time passed, it began to dawn on me that the focus of this trip was not me or my Instagram account—but my sister. I got so caught up with my shallow frustrations that I lost track of the main reason why we had to pack our bags and fly all the way there despite all the restrictions. My sister has been living alone in the United States for more than a decade already and this trip was our chance to be present for her as she gets ready for her wedding day.

I would never forget how our family spent several nights helping make decorations for the reception. To save money, my sister had to do most of the wedding planning herself, but with us there, at least she had help with all the preparations. Those nights were quiet, nothing fancy, but after a long time, I saw our family work again together toward a common goal, and that made me realize that the best moments in life are those that are not seen online.

And on my sister’s wedding day, I remember just being so happy seeing her happy. Cliché, but it was a kind of happiness that no amount of Instagram likes would be able to provide. I didn’t mind lifting heavy boxes and cleaning up all the petals in the chapel while everybody else was joyously dancing at the reception. It was my sister’s big day, and I wanted to make her feel that despite being apart for so long, she still has a brother who is there for her no matter what.

I’m now back in the Philippines. Luckily I did not get infected despite my various exposures during the whole trip. The vacation was also definitely expensive. The plane ticket was pricier compared to before because of the pandemic and the amount of money you had to spend for hotel accommodation for the government-mandated quarantine was no joke.

However, if you ask me, would I still want to go back to the US despite all the costs and risks? My answer would be: Definitely. But next time, it would no longer be for my Instagram followers, but for my family.

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