A couple years ago, I heard the famed travel blogger Nomadic Matt say that everyone should take a solo trip at least once in their life because enriching and you’ll discover something about you — even if it’s that you prefer group travel. You never know until you try.
Soon after, I fell in love with the beaches of the Philippines thanks to a travel vlogger called Lost Leblanc.
So I took my first plunge. I learned a lot through my journey, including the fact that some of it is isn’t as easy as Leblanc makes it seem, but some of it is just as exhilarating and beautiful.
For my first ever international solo trip, I decided to save as much money as possible within reason by sacrificing convenience and time to get to my destination. I figured that I’m young, and I have the time, but not the money. I have now learned that too much sacrifice is not worth it.
Why the Philippines? It has beautiful beaches, it’s affordable, and it’s largely overlooked by most American tourists.
To explain my crazy journey, I will explain my first couple days of my trip. I will have to start at the beginning with how I got to the Philippines.
First, my friend could only drop me off at the bus stop at 6 PM. My bus then depart until 2 AM the next day. So I stayed in the bus place, sleeping on the seats, listening to an audiobook and YouTube videos on my phone, and then moved to the floor until one attendant told me I couldn’t sleep on the floor. Even though someone else was sleeping on the floor.
I managed to overhear a Filipino family sitting nearby. I told them about my travel plans. They were friendly and gave me some tips about places to visit and said they were shocked that I was going there with no relatives and on my own. At 2 AM, I got on the bus and napped until about seven or 8 AM when I arrived in New York, New York.
I spent a couple hours walking around Time Square with my suitcase, then taking the connection bus to Queens.
In Queens, I looked up cool things to do since I had an hour and a half to kill, and ended up going to their Park. I was surprised the park was so empty given that it was New York but I guess Queen’s is out of New York and it was a weekday. The park wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and I feel good about that because part of me always thought I was missing out on something not being in a big city where all the action happened. It looked like just a normal park to me except bigger. There were a couple cool sculptures and occasional people jogging around.
I then took a Uber to the JFK airport. That was an ordeal. The first Uber driver took his time driving there and then, couldn’t find me so he canceled the ride. When I got the airport, I grabbed a quick lunch at the food court. I briefly talk to a set of American twins with big hiking backpacks who were going on their own to another part of the Philippines, Palawan. It excited me that there were other Americans who kinda understand the magic of Philippines travel, and we were more-or-less going to that destination. They seemed a bit reserved, so I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. I said good luck and boarded the plane!
Now, I had to face the 18-hour plane ride to Shanghai. Overall, this went well until it didn’t. Yep, I had to become the translator for someone who had a peanut allergy attack on an international flight that had no allergy pen or medicine. But we’ll get to that story later.
They had some pretty good movies to watch that were brand new. But towards the end, I just got so sick of it all because you just can’t feel comfortable trying to sleep sitting up. I long to for a bed where I could lie down horizontally and it was a pleasure I had not realized I was taking for granted. Also, there was a snafu. The couple I was sitting next to was from Queens. I had some great conversation with them. The dude it was so cool. He was Hispanic and he loved anime. We bonded a lot on that since he watched a lot of the same anime I did.
He and his girlfriend were born in raised in Queens yet even though I was from a different place, I felt there was no original difference I could detect. We’re just people with similar interests. He could’ve been right from where I lived. We also talked a bit about the park I visited. He told me that his girlfriend told him to pick any place in the world and they will travel there. He chose Taiwan so that’s where they were going and this was also their first international trip. I thought they were a bit under prepared because I told them I was surprised that they didn’t bring any type of translator or translation book. His reaction was to ask me in a somewhat scared voiced should he. I told him Taiwan is a Big city and so is Shanghai which they will stay the night there before flying to Taiwan. So such an international big city should be manageable, even if they don’t speak Chinese. But looking back, frankly, even in Shanghai, a ton of people if not everyone doesn’t speak English well. It’s kind of sad. Maybe I should’ve told him to get a translation thing. But it may have been too late anyway since china blocks that stuff on the internet. They were excited, and I think they will end up fine since they went with some tour package.
But the man had a peanut allergy and brought a smoothie bottle onto the plane. Halfway through the flight towards the end, he said he started to feel a lot of problems with his throat and trouble breathing. I asked him and his girlfriend how severe his allergy wise and his girlfriend said it wasn’t usually that bad and this had never happened before. But the point is, the man had a peanut allergy and brought a smoothie bottle onto the plane. Halfway through the flights towards the end, he said he felt a lot of problems with his throat and trouble breathing. I asked him and his girlfriend how severe his allergy wise and his girlfriend said it wasn’t usually that bad and this had never happened before. But she was also confused about it and gave the sense that she wasn’t too familiar about it and it could be a big allergy. I asked the dude, and he said it wasn’t a big deal and he will just sleep it off but he kept coughing. The flight attendant came and long story short, I had to translate in my mediocre Chinese to the flight attendant. We found out that the airplane has no allergy medication or shots which is ridiculous.
They ended up making an announcement in Chinese to all the hundreds of passengers about a “peanut allergy incident” and asked if there were any doctors on board even though me and the man kept insisting that it was OK. Maybe I translated badly or maybe the flight attendant was just nervous, probably both. Anyhow, two doctors came both trying to diagnose at the same time. One only spoke Chinese, the other seem to be Indian and spoke perfect English. The English Dr. eventually took over and he seem to know what he was doing and seem to have diagnosed it as something minor hundreds of passengers if there are any doctors on board even though me and the man kept insisting that it was OK. Maybe I translated badly or maybe the flight attendant was just nervous, probably both. Anyhow, two doctors came both trying to diagnose at the same time. One only spoke Chinese, the others seem to be Indian and spoke perfect English. The English doctor eventually took over and he seem to know what he was doing and seem to have diagnosed it as something minor That one result in death or anything.
We gave him water and told to rest and also given a little of medicine. The other Chinese doctor passed some medicine over and a bunch of passengers crowd sourced medicine, almost all of which wasn’t close to allergy medicine. I had to get out of my seat so they could have room to talk. Eventually, the man went to the back of the plane just to rest, I was there to go to the bathroom, and out of the blue, he threw up into the trashcan. He came back feeling all right and that was the end of it. He was a pretty cool dude and I wish we stayed in touch.
Now I’m in Shanghai, almost there right? Not yet. I had to get out of my seat so they could have room to talk. Eventually, the man went to the back of the plane just to rest, I was there to go to the bathroom, and out of the blue, he threw up into the trashcan. He came back feeling all right and that was the end of it. He was a cool dude and I wish we stayed in touch.
The airport more or less looks like just another huge airport, but maybe with more plastic chairs rather than cushiony chairs. nothing out of the ordinary. It was big and expensive. I talk to a few of the other passengers waiting because they spoke good English and they were Filipino. I thought I could relate. I was still cleaning on for American sentiment as you see later is something that I was looking for. I guess I wanted some level of companionship with someone I could relate to. Anyhow, they gave me a few good tips on where to go and to exchange currency only at the official places to avoid fraud. A few hours later and now I’m in Cebu, and my journey is still not over.
I realized selecting this remote island as my first stop on this trip was a mistake. I was already mentally exhausted and somewhat physically exhausted.
My plan was to grab a taxi and hit up one of the good restaurants in the area to try lechon, a famous Filipino barbeque pork delicacy, for the first time. It was the middle of the night, so according to a taxi driver, that wasn’t possible – everything was closed. Plus, I had only a few hours to kill before my connection flight to Tagbilaran City, and I didn’t want to risk missing it.
I could probably could’ve found a fast food version, but it would’ve been a risk. I bought my Sim card from a stall for the first time and then tried Jollibee, their version of KFC in the Philippines, for the first time and waited in the airport for him no several hours. I tried to sleep a bit but I couldn’t sleep all in those chairs. I think I was also partially it was the middle of the night so that wasn’t possible. I had several hours to kill and I didn’t want to risk missing something. I could probably could’ve found a fast food version but it would’ve been a risk. I bought my Sim card for the first time for this part of the countries did you go phone service and then tried to Jollibee, their version of KFC in the Philippines for the first time and waited in the airport for those several hours. I tried to sleep a bit but I couldn’t sleep all in those chairs for some reason.
I felt concerned someone would steal my stuff. So then I get my connection to Leyte, grabbing my first mango smoothie in the food court before I go. Why? Because I learned quickly as I walked around that Filipinos love mango. They sell it everywhere and flavor everything with mango.
So I get to Tacloban, Leyte, and I walk out of the airport. I am annoyed and exhausted, and I get hounded by someone who is trying to get me to pay to drive me to my hotel. I ignore him because I did my research and usually the first people to hound you are overpriced. You’re supposed to walk a bit until you get cheaper people. But he kept pounding and as I walked out, there wasn’t any other people, so I took him up on his offer. I think I paid four dollars for what ended up being a 5 to 10 minute drive.
Along the way, he asked me why I ignored him, and I answered. He told me how he was a good person and didn’t try and rip people off because that will come back to him. He says he doesn’t overcharge. As you’ll discover, he was a liar.
Then, he asked me where I was going, and I mentioned I wanted to visit Kalangaman, the remote island and he gave a laminated piece of paper and pointed to the city that was near it, and the cost of getting there which equated to about $90 USD.
That was a lot more than it should’ve cost based on my research. I was partially thinking why not. I’ve come all this way if that really is the price, I would do it. I told him I’ll think about it and he insisted that I take down his phone number and call him if interested. They’d take his taxi van and I can stay the whole day. I was skeptical and tired.
So I get to the front desk of this hotel Z Pad, and this place had to probably the best customer service out of maybe all the places I went during my trip. Shout out to Z Pad Residencies! I highly recommend them! They are five star rated, a little pricey, but as you’ll see they prevented me from getting overcharged by the taxi driver and helped guide me around on my tour.
First, the receptionist was very kind and friendly. I told him the price the taxi driver offered, she frowned and told me the truth. Thank goodness for honest people. She flat out told me that’s not right; there’s a bus that takes people there for $5. She ended up working out all the details for me. She made a reservation for me on the island tourist center by calling ahead (not necessary since it wasn’t crowded the day I went, but nice), planned to call me at 6AM to wake me up, and prepared a bike taxi driver to take me to the bus stop.
And later on, I cross-referenced it with the travel guides online and she was right about the prices.
It was about 10 AM local time, and the sun was shining brightly. I felt physically decent but mentally exhausted. I hadn’t slept horizontal in over 48 hours. Since it was a bright, sunny morning, I pushed to visit the island the day of. The receptionist told me it wasn’t possible. You have to wake up really early to get there on time. It turns out that this was a good move. I was sleep-deprived and needed the rest.
I was a little let down since I only had a limited amount of time in this country. Since I pushed, she did some more research and called the tourist place that ran the island and she said that if I hurry, I may be able to catch the final ferry to the island although I would have to pay full price rather than split the ferry cost with all the other passengers. I’m glad I chose to decline. I would’ve only caught the final hours that the island was open.
So I went to my hotel room which was very small, but had a comfy bed that fit me. There wasn’t much room to move, though there was a shower next door.I thought about what to do as I stared at the wall in front of me. I wasn’t claustrophobic but I felt stressed, very anxious, and frustrated. I had spent two days suffering and traveling just to get to a destination and I still wasn’t there. And now, I was just alone staring at a boring wall, watching a fuzzy versions of Teen Titans Go on TV, cut off from interacting with people, and frightened to venture outside on my own.
There’s a difference between looking up destinations on your phone and actually walking out into them. I was in a city, which was more a “connection point” to my island. The city didn’t have any big landmarks on its own, and I was scared of robbery or danger by walking out alone.
After thinking about it for a bit, I made what turned out to be a great decision, which was to take a little nap, then wait until the next day and wake up early to go to that island before dawn. Instead, I decided to go out somewhere and talk to real people rather than stay cooped up lonely. I was traveling. If I wanted to just stay alone staring at a wall, I could do that at home.
The front desk clerk said there wasn’t much in the city, and the stuff they mentioned didn’t seem too cool. Plus, I didn’t know how dangerous or crazy the city was or what type of people were there and if they could speak English well so I didn’t feel too comfortable just venturing out on my own like they suggested to explore the amazing food in the area. Eventually, I settled on going to the local mall. They told me to go down the street, turn the corner, look for a bus, get on the bus, and then wait until I got to the mall.
The whole thing was a bit intimidating with all these different people in which seem to be a mishmash of a city and a countryside, with motorbikes, bicycles, tiny buses, and other things driving past. The moment I started walking off the dirt path off the hotel and onto the main road, my anxiety dropped. It wasn’t this dangerous-looking, crowded city that I pictured in my head. The sky was bright, and I saw a bunch of friendly looking people just trying to get through their day , driving bikes or riding the bus back from work or to the store.
I got on the first bus I saw him with a bunch of others, the people were friendly on the bus and asked me where I was going. They found out that I was on the bus going in the wrong direction. They told me to get off and wait for another bus going in the opposite direction of the road. I got on, and eventually, it stopped at the mall.
The locals were friendly and pointed things out. When I got to the mall, it was a breath of fresh air. The mall reminded me of a Chinese mall. Chinese malls are half like American malls with their recognizable brands, but the other of stores seem like someone who had a $1,000 or less budget just bought their own supplies to set up the store. Basically, a lot of stores don’t look professional and polished like in the U.S. but bootstrapped. But then, there were those big corporation stores, like H&M, which is just like the H&M in America but more Asian. This mall really gave me a breath of fresh air and reduce my anxiety because amongst a sea of Asian faces walking around, I would occasionally see a group of white people or just people that were black or seem to be from America.
I would walk up and ask them a quick question about what their favorite restaurant was at the mall or something like that. When they would talk back in English, I just filled at ease. I wasn’t here alone. I talked to one group of American men. I told them I was about to eat at this one cheap buffet and a vocal one told me that place was “shit” and to avoid eating there. (He didn’t mean it in a rude way. It was a friendly way.) He gave me some other recommendations. And I laughed. Something just felt good about being able to talk to someone while I was on the other side of the world. I also talked briefly to two white young ladies who were on a mission trip. They must’ve been a couple years younger than me, and very brave.
So then I return to my hotel around 5 PM and just clocked out. I took some much-needed sleep, and a phone call awoke me and told me to meet my motorbike taxi driver out front at 5 AM to take me to the bus terminal. The people at the front desk had hooked me up. They arrange for a jeep neep taxi to drive me to the bus in the early morning so I can get to the remote island on time. I waited at the bus terminal for about 30 minutes before the bus took off, and the bus was just a van, where I rode with all the locals for about three hours until I got to the city closest to the remote island. From there, I took a motorbike for 1 mile, paid the guy a dollar, and arrived at the tourist destination center for the remote island of Kalangaman. If you pronounce this island wrong to locals and ask for directions, they’ll get confused since they don’t know what you’re talking about. Until someone realized what I was saying and pronounced it correctly, I had trouble getting help. I would’ve eventually found it anyway. It would’ve just taken longer.
I waited in a short line and when I mention my name, the front desk clerk said that my hotel had already called in and reserved my name. That way, they could kick me off if too many people showed up. Maybe it was just a good day or maybe it was always like this, but the line was short and I didn’t have to do much waiting.
I had read online ahead of time that there was a whole registration process, and the videos and articles made it seem like a bigger hassle than it was. I waited two minutes in a short line, paid $10 in Philippine currency, filled out a quick form showing that I was a foreigner, so had to pay rather than get in for free or at a massive discount as a local.
Until this point, I didn’t see any non-Filipino’s during the whole bus ride or neighboring towns and cities I drove through. But once you stepped onto the island, there were people from all over. They all found a way to get here. . Now that I was at this remote island ferry, I was seeing a lot of international travelers from all over. I asked where people were from: Sweden, Germany, France, Spain … all over. I talked to a couple groups of two young women travelling together. I thought they were very brave to have found their way all the way there.
It made sense because this island is popular in a lot of travel groups on social media. The pictures are astounding. But no one told me how tough it was to get here. And it would’ve been even longer if I opted to bus from Cebu to Tagbilaran instead of fly. Most people bus according to articles online.
But before I started my trip, I told myself I would treat myself a bit and fly for the last connection. Later on, locals told me that it would’ve been cheaper and more convenient if I took the ferry out of Cebu. The ferry is cheap and will get me directly to a city near the island.
This was a new day, so I was refreshed, excited, and it was the real first payoff for all my struggle to get here. I was excited. I couldn’t stop smiling.
The ferry still took about an hour and a half and was a bit bumpy, but I was so excited. The water kept getting more aquamarine. I had never seen anything like it.
Suddenly, I see the island from a distance and a light blue ring around it. I just got so pumped! We got off the boat, and I started exploring. The island was small, and the sandbar was the major attraction. But it felt so amazing to realize that I had seen something online that was so distant, and turned that dream into a reality. It was more the mental journey than anything else.
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Gary Vaynerchuk @garyvee often talks about how no matter what hardships you’ve experienced, your next job toward success is to make the most of what you have now, stop complaining, stop dwelling on it, and succeed. He argues that too many people let those hardships convince themselves not to move forward or that they can’t succeed. They’re stuck complaining about it. And Gary’s response is “and…?” your parents are horrible. And…? You can continue complaining to people about it or you can do something. He also stays to find someone, just one person, who has went through your struggles and succeeded in spite of it and that will blow away all your excuses. Some people have unique cultural backgrounds or at nursery so they may not have an exact parallel, but just finding people have gone through A ternal struggle can be useful as well. I understand that this is hard for people who have gone through huge struggles to really swallow gone. What may help is something I discovered again after reviewing the book summary of What I know for sure by Oprah Winfrey. I forgot most of what I learned from that book since I read it a few years ago. What I discovered was that Oprah did they screwed up childhood. She was abused as a child and she was pregnant at 14. Her baby only lived for a couple weeks. I think it’s one thing to just say you’re going to succeed despite all those challenges.. It’s so much easier to do so when you actually see the details of a real world person who has gone through harder struggles than you. That’s why I think biographies or just videos that detail peoples lives can be so impactful. This pic means a lot for me since the dream to get to this remote island on the other side of the world was achieved! It took a lot of planning and tons of draining waiting… days worth on a plane, ferry, taxi, bus… but I did it.
Another thing they don’t tell you about this remote island is that if you go on a cloudy day, like I did, it doesn’t look even as close to as good as the social media pictures. But I didn’t care. I had made it. And it still looked pretty darn awesome. Later on, I found out from an Instagram account that if you have the time, you can rent out these tents to sleep overnight and just keep waking up at the crack of dawn until you get a cloudless sky and beautiful lighting for social media.
The other half of the island is a pathway surrounded by trees and bushes that leads to a circle of tents. The tents aren’t fancy or comfortable, but you can pay to sleep in them overnight. I heard from another Instagram influencer that to get the best shots, you have to sleep there overnight and wake up at sunrise when no one is there. That’s a lot of work to travel to this location and sleep with no electricity in a tent.
Influencers forgot to mention the work involved in getting to a destination and taking those aerial shots. That was the case for this island since I only saw the emphasis on the beautiful blue waters when I saw the YouTube videos about this destination. They don’t mention the trouble to get here, how cloudy days really affect how it looks, or how the sand is filled with seashells so you can’t walk barefoot.
Nonetheless, it was exhilirating to be here. I made my dreams come true. I saw it, and I made it happen. I traveled to the other side of the world, road on a plane, a van, a motorycycle, and a ferry to get here.
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Some young guy or girl out there in the world right now is just going to win at life. I wonder what they’re doing. I wonder what they’re sacrificing. I wonder how they’re feeling. I believe that person isn’t mean. At least it doesn’t seem like it’s me, but you never know if you are a success or failure until you die. Who knows what might change? It seems to me like I’m doing decent and trending in the right direction but also struggling at times to get the decent results. Nonetheless, knowing that in this World of so many people, there are winners out there right now who are just win at life. I just wonder where they are, what they’re doing now, how they think, and I know they will fall through, and fail, but they’ll get back up and succeed. I hope to meet some of them and learn a thing or two from them. on another note, I want to honor my great uncle. He recently passed away and he lived a long, happy life with good children and descendants. I’ve visited him often going up and it’s one of my first family deaths. Do you live by example showing me that you don’t have to live a flashy life to live a good one. He lived a simple, comfortable, humble life from what I saw of him.
Keep in mind it’s a remote island so there’s not much to do other than swim, walk the sand bar, barbecue, and sleep. Most people spend a few hours here and then ferry back. Most ferries are gone around 4 or 5 PM. They do have grills that you can cook raw food on. But it seems you have to bring your own food to cook, which many of the local Filipinos do. I met a bunch of Filipinos from neighboring cities or towns who had made this trip a big vacation trip for them. They had never been to this island either.
While on the ferry, a Filipino family kept asking me to join them on their adventures for the days after the island. They had a birthday feast, a trip to the island where Magellan first planted a cross, a Holy Week celebration, and more. A couple of the members live and work in Oregon, only here to visit family, so I felt some kinship. I was hesitant to join. But after they invited me to their feast on the island (they brought fried chicken, Pancit noodles, Sprite, and more), I decided they were safe people. They even rented a hut on the island that they invited me to.
The photo below shows a ferry coming into the island and a table and area blocked out, reserved by someone. By the mid-afternoon, at least a dozen ferries will have docked on the island.
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It’s OK flight from the main city of the Philippines and then waking up at 5 AM to take a motorbike to a bus and then busing with locals for four hours to get to the closest city then a five minute motorbike to the ferry terminal and then a two hour ferry ride to get here. I didn’t expect it to take this long, so I should’ve done some more planning. I did research as I went to figure it out since I did do a lot of planning before hand but instructions were a bit wrong. Also, I discovered how to pronounce the island correctly, which definitely helps with getting directions because if you pronounce it wrong, then they won’t recognize it. Some people love this type of remote island traveling like @lostleblanc and @mylifesatravelmovie I think this was a good experience and to get under my bucket list, I will probably do more limbo traveling in the future, but I do seem to prefer some of the more accessible destinations like Boracay. Was it worth it? It was to me. The day I landed on this island, it was cloudy so the water wasn’t as shimmering as I wanted to, plus there was plenty of tourist. To get that amazing remote view, I’ve asked other travel bloggers who have been here, and they rent out the tents available here, the only way to stay here overnight, and then wake up early in the morning and hope for a sunny day with less clouds. Drones help too. Ever since I started my journey to the Philippines, I am seeing Filipino people everywhere. I saw and talked to a group of them on my Greyhound bus at the start of my trip, and now I see them everywhere after my trip at social gatherings and so forth. I think they’ve always been there, but the nationality and country didn’t mean as much to me. But now, I think my reticular activating system is focused on them, similar to how you start seeing a certain brand of car everywhere after you start considering buying it. It’s a great year for the Philippines, they won to miss universes and they have Manny Pacquiao. It is a good country
Getting invited to eat with the family saved my butt since I didn’t bring food to the island. I thought they would sell it at the center or the island, but they don’t.
I immediately had to explore the island when I landed. I told the family I’d be right back as they set up the picnic at their hut. The island is fairly small. It took me about 15 minutes to jog from one end to the other. The narrow sandbar takes up half the island and is the main attraction of the region.
This island is a purposeful excursion. You ferry there, stay most of the afternoon, then the last ferry departs around late afternoon. If you want, you can repeat it the next day. But eventually, there’s not much else to do. The whole thing is a big excursion for a one-day event since it’s not anywhere near any of the other big tourist attractions in the Philippines, which are moreso concentrated around the Boracay, Cebu, and Bohol area. You have to eat the all-day commute to get here from Cebu.
Later on, I discovered there was a city that was much closer to this island than Tacloban that I should’ve landed in to save time. That said, I don’t regret any part of that journey. I got to stay in a city and walk around a mall that 99% of foreign tourists miss.
One of the people from the family told me that this island wasn’t as great as others she’d seen. Yes, it’s a big, local attraction, but she said there are islands all over the country, and she’d seen some better. My adventure with the family after I said “Yes” is a detailed story for another day. But suffice to say, I had an enriching, slightly risky, and enlightening time. It made me grateful and exhilarated.
I also learned that locals really know more about a place than the travel bloggers online with their comprehensive articles. The family told me that the other attraction in the area Tres Islas, wasn’t that great based on their experience, but was probably better than Kalanggaman. You wouldn’t know that completely from the Internet since influencers like to hype up a place they visited sometimes.
Now I have to ask you. Where are you in your travel journey? Where do you want to go? What’s holding you back?
If you’re interested in the top beaches of the Philippines, check out the Pinoy Vagabonds blog. It has some of the best articles on the topic.