Sunday, October 6, 2013

Backpacking Pilipinas 101:Travel Tips for Every Juan

We all want to travel once in a while, right? Whether we choose to scale a mountain, or go to the beach or learn history, there's always something that seduces us to traveling. For some it has become a way to escape a chaotic daily grind; some find pleasure in exploring the off-beat paths; some for the simple reason of spending some precious downtime moments with love ones; some want adventure; some wants to challenge their capacities; some want to experience the culture and bring home lessons and experiences they will live by forever. For whatever reason you have, I think our innate desire to be mobile is the root of this bug called traveling.

When I started backpacking Pilipinas in 2009, my reasons were to simply run away from the city life every once in a while. But over time, when my travels increased from rarely to  monthly, this whole backpacking trip has become more of a passion, something that I want to share to many who reads this blog.

After visiting 80 of the 81 provinces in the Philippines, I learned some practicalities that I feel worth sharing. I hope this list will help or inspire those who want to travel but haven't started yet, and those who are already on the road. :)

1. Travel within your means. You should not rely on your credit cards that promise the "travel now, pay later" mentality. It is best if you have available funds that would actually finance your trips. Relying heavily on your plastics would cause more headache long after the trip is over. Lesson: Save up!

2. Be a poorpacker. I consider myself a poor tourist not really because I'm financially depleted but because I find some work-around in my budget to accommodate my micro-vacations. I wait for budget airlines seat sales, I sleep in cheap accommodations, I do DIYs instead of hiring a tour guide, and I walk a lot. I prefer to go low on accommodation and allot most of my funds on food and tour.

3. Visit a museum. I notice that not so many people I know are fond of museums, and I think they are missing out on a wealth of information because of this. My museum visits around the country taught me a lot about our rich history, culture, and traditions that are often not seen in our textbooks or taught inside our classrooms. Some of my favorite museums are in Batanes, Zamboanga City, Dumaguete City, Marinduque, Dapitan City, Marawi City and Manila.

4. Visit a church, temple, or a mosque. Our country has countless magnificent and historical churches that are worth visiting. Not only do I find my peace and quiet in these churches, I also feast my eyes with intricate designs and elaborate architectures, especially the old ones. It's not surprising that four of our baroque churches made it to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites --  Church of San Agustín in Paoay, Ilocos Norte; Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Sta Maria, Ilocos Sur; The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin in Intramuros; and Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miagao, Iloilo.

5. Support local products and haggle responsibly. Go to the public market if you want to buy the best locally-produced souvenirs (Ex: Pili nuts, sarong). Visit the local industry like the pots made in Ilocos or Tiwi in Albay, weaving center in Sagada or Benguet, the strawberry farm in La Trinidad, Benguet. One of my favorite travel souvenirs is a T'nalak cloth I bought when I visited the T'boli weaving school  of National Artist Lang Dulay, at Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. Seeing the effort put on in producing a single cloth made me realize how important that piece is, and I try not to haggle when I know that the product is their only source of income.

6. Talk to people. Everyone has a story to tell, and most of the time the stories of the people you meet on the road are inspiring and lingers on for a long time. Engage in conversations with the person beside you in a bus, your tour guide, the peddler selling souvenirs, and others. For solo travelers like me, engaging in deep conversations with the locals give me some perks like a free overnight stay and a free cup of coffee.

7. Learn the vernacular. Say "mabalos" instead of "thank you" if you happen to be in Catanduanes. Tell a pretty lady "magayon ka" and you'll surely be rewarded with a sweet smile in Bicol.

8. Go out at night and visit the town plaza or boulevard. Especially on weekends, some plazas in the province have gatherings worth checking out. Try scoring for some watering holes around the place. Just stay safe and go home before 12 midnight as most houses in remote areas are already lights off by that time.

9. Dress aptly. Especially when visiting the churches, it's better to avoid short shorts and flashy tees. While the Philippines is a tropical country, thus, wearing airy outfits is warranted, as travelers we should still be sensitive to the local customs. This is valid especially in Mindanao wherein it is advisable wearing modest clothes when going to the Muslim communities like in Marawi City. Save your skimpy outfits to your beach trips!

10. Eat local dishes. Our country has a myriad of dishes that varies in each province/region. One of the things that allows me to experience each place very well is by digging on their foods. I have sampled the variations of "pansit" from Cagayan, Isabela, Catanduanes, and Quezon. I've also learned how people from Visayas and Mindanao go crazy over grilled (inasal) chicken. I love halo-halo and lechon! I just loooove our fooods!

11. Observe traditions. I remember how upsetting it was when I talked to Lola Ida, owner of House of Dakay, one of the oldest stone houses in  Batanes. She shared how some tourists would just enter her house without asking for permission and without leaving their footwear in the front door.  Shame on those disrespectful tourists.

12. Take the local transport. It definitely adds thrill to the experience to go out and hit the road or the sea aboard a local transport. I still fondly remember riding atop a jeepney in Sorsogon, the crazy ride on falowa boats in Batanes, the colorful motorelas in CDO, and the fast and furious habal-habal ride at Bislig City.

13. Draft an itinerary, but be spontaneous. I learned how important planning is since all of my trips recently are DIYs. Although not a very structured one, my itinerary is a hodgepodge of places I want to see, how I could get there, rates for the local transport, list of hotels in the area, what to bring and what not to bring. It's also advisable to not rely solely to your original plan, making Plan B helps. Lesson: Always make a good research of the place you are about to visit.

14. Pack light but don't miss out the essential. I've been using a Northface backpack for years and it holds all the things I need to survive a trip -- clothes, camera, phone, chargers, slippers, book/notebook, water, hat, umbrella, foods.

15. Safe travels. If traveling in areas with high security threat (like Zamboanga City or Basilan), I strongly suggest you ask help of a local guide. Stay informed and know the situation before pushing the trip. Stay safe!

16. Seek help. Better if you could contact the tourism office in the area. They know the place better and could provide helpful tips on where to go and what places to avoid. Most often, they also provide maps which could come handy while exploring the place.

17. Be kind and friendly. I notice that many people tend to be friendlier and kinder when traveling. Many friendships are developed when on the road because people seem to be smiling very often, too. ^_^

18. Be courteous. When talking to people, it helps if you tag along the good-old words and phrases "po" "opo" "thank you" and "please" wherever you go.

19. Keep a travel journal. While photos are good mementos, writing or blogging about your trip is a great way to relive the experiences you had. Taking blogging to higher purpose, it may help others who are also in the look-out for information about places they want to visit. The internet is an amazing marketplace to share away experiences, and we all benefit from it.

20. Take photos but make sure you enjoy the view without the lens. When we travel, we tend to be very overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and very often we spend too much time taking photos rather than enjoying the view in its raw and unfiltered form. Especially when witnessing a beautiful sunset, I usually just allow the whole scene pass without taking photos and leaving the experience processed in my own memory.

21. Enjoy the lean season. We usually think that it's best to travel during the summer season.. But alongside traveling with sunshine, you also meet a heavy influx of tourists especially in touristy areas like Boracay or Palawan. Why not try booking your flights during lean season and enjoy the same scenic view sans the noisy crowd?

22. Check within your borders.  There are a few great places you might be missing out near your area. Without crippling your finances and to save you an expensive air fare, try looking for places to explore closer to home.  Example: Here are some places to go near Manila.

23. Leave a low carbon footprint. One of the things I realized while exploring the Philippines is how blessed and beautiful our country is. And we all have the responsibility to keep or preserve our nature for the future generation's sake. We can do some simple eco-friendly practices while on a trip. Examples: Turn off the aircon and lights when leaving your hotel, walk if going to a place nearby, bring a trash bag and avoid littering especially our beaches.

24. Travel with purpose. Find what the local community needs and take actions in your own little ways. Traveling is a great teacher, and it allows us to see things in a different perspective. The issues on poverty and literacy are two things that I get to see firsthand from my travels around the country. And this propelled me to start my own advocacy. With BookSail, we aim to bring books to some remote islands in the country. :)

25. Don't be a stranger in your own country. Go backpacking Pilipinas! :)


  1. I agree with you. You've been doing those things everytime you are traveling. You are a certified backpacker. :-P You just forgot to include "bring foods and drinks" especially when you are in a long bus ride. :-) You are now one province away from your goal. I'm so proud. :-) What's next? :-P

    1. Thanks Anchi! So close to finishing the goal, and I'm super excited about the prospect of starting a new one. Hmmm, maybe something more serious.. or delicious maybe. hihihi.

    2. I love the idea that you will start culinary classes soon. :-P

    3. Your gourmet right now is already awesome for me. I can't wait to taste the real gourmet. :-D

  2. Cool and practical tips! All great backpacking tips in one post! :)

    1. Thanks Eph! All these are lessons I learned while on the road. They come handy wherever I go. :)

  3. Nice tips for backpackers.

  4. Selfie talaga? :p Pero infairness okay baga ang mga tips. hehe

    1. selfie selfie din daw bek. :D If you have some tips you want to share, let me know para maupdate ko. :)

  5. Thank you! Galeng! Inspiring =) tara na byahe tayo =)

  6. I CAN WAIT TO GO AROUND THE 80 provinces as well (kidding) kahit half lang ;)

  7. can i ask po sa palgay mo ano po yung kadalasang kinakaharp mong problem kapag nagtrtravel ka po?

  8. Quite a helpful information regarding to backpacking. Looking forward for more posts like this one.
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  14. "Travel as much as you can, while you’re young. And be changed forever." This line sums it all up. Thanks for this! Truly, truly inspiring!


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