Last year, I went traveling to the Philippines for the first time on my own. Top travel bloggers, like Nomadic Matt, have written extensively about the benefits of solo travel. And from personal experience, I will say I learned a lot from my journey.
I journaled down some of my top lessons learned because I wanted to help others. Honestly, there were so many lessons that I couldn’t fit them all in here in a concise way. But I think you’ll find these tips more than enough.
- Sometimes, your trip won’t go according to plan no matter how much you plan. An entire day may be wasted but that’s okay. Make the best of it. Smile. Sometimes, you can turn it into something better or make it work. (This happened a few times during my trip. One day, I did almost everything right, arriving by ferry at 8AM to Bohol island, only to be told that I needed to get to the beaches by 6AM for the day-long tri-island tour. I ended up haggling with a local sailor for a tour on his boat for a reasonable price.)
- Be prepared for bathrooms of all levels of cleanliness, especially if you’re staying at hostels. Poop at the good ones while you can and before you need to. (Not all toilets are bad. Some hostels had some pretty clean toilets.)
- Bottled water is plentiful and affordable. Drink clean water while you can but don’t bring any before a flight since they aren’t allowed.
- Sometimes, you’re going to find that there was a much cheaper flight or tour plan after already booking and going on one even after tons of online research. And sometimes, taxi drivers will overcharge you and you cannot do a good job of haggling them down. Or they will give you one fee, then ask for a higher fee when you arrive (I’m thinking of a specific driver I encountered in Boracay.) It happens, and it’s okay. Consider it an investment into the country and realize it wont break the bank (or give the driver a little extra but not all of the fake, higher amount).
- Many Filipinos don’t generally speak English as well as expected. Talk slow and use simple words with most of them. The young ones sometimes speak it well.
- Spending rather than extra money is sometimes worth it. You can save money and time and cut out the parts of a guided tour you don’t care about by traveling to the destinations on your own, which is what I did in Bohol. But the bus ride and taxi will take much longer and you will have a bit higher anxiety and stress making sure you get off at the right stop, get a good price, and don’t miss the last bus or motorcycle of the day. Sometimes, not always, a guided tour is just worth the peace of mind. (One memory comes to mind specifically. I ended up holding onto the outside of an over-packed bus to get back to my hostel because I went on my own to the Chocolate Hills, stayed too late, and refused to pay the only moped driver left a hefty fee to drive me back.) You can save money by taking the longer routes with a bus or a car. But sometimes, saving money isn’t worth sleeping on the floor, knee pain, cramped leg room, and difficulty sleeping in a chair. Sometimes, it is better to treat yourself to some comfort by paying a little more.
- Travel teaches you more about what you like and don’t like. I learned I like parts of the socializing (I like meeting new people, but don’t talk my ear off.), the quality of the food and beaches, comfortable living quarters, and bargain prices of hostels, but I don’t like unclean bathrooms or beds, noisy roommates, or insects. I realized through the trip that I don’t like super remote destinations, unlike some travel YouTubers. Spending two to three days in an airplane, bus, motorcycle, and ferry for a 3- to 5- hour payoff isn’t worth it. I’d rather spend a few hours to get to a beach and relax there for two to three days. And some touristy parts of a beach, like Alona beach, are actually pretty cool as long as they aren’t super overcrowded. I liked how food and tours are accessible nearby.
- The Filipino people are usually, friendly and helpful. Of course, there are bad ones too. I was warned that I should still be smart. If I lay my stuff around, it will get stolen. Filipinos are different, but in general, they’re upbeat, friendly, and helpful. I remember one girl passenger poking me and telling me to get off when I overslept a bit and wasn’t sure which bus stop to get off at while returning from the Chocolate Hills in Bohol. I remember others assuring me they’ll tell me when to get off on a mini-bus when I was trying to go to the mall in Leyte. And I remember the generous family who took me on a tour of the island that Magellan planted the first cross in the Philippines and paid for my food and stay.
- Get off the beaten path. The Philippines isn’t a popular destination for U.S. citizens, so you may think it’s already off the path. But there are still well-trodden tourist destinations in the Philippines. Keep an eye out for new, less popular destinations. For example, my hostel was in the forest in the middle of Bohol Island. It had a beach you could walk out to, which 99% of tourists don’t know about. Instead, everyone goes to the popular beach on the coast.
- On Siargao, a seasoned traveler told me that the Philippines is much larger and spread out than Thailand and other South East Asian countries. Therefore, you need more vacation time to see it fully and not feel rushed. I learned the hard way that it takes a lot of flying, busing, taxing, mopeding, and ferrying to get to certain islands and beaches. If you’re strapped for vacation time, Thailand is a better fit.
- I should’ve brought extra towels to dry off, mosquito repellent for those itchy bites, less clothes and coats to carry, sunscreen (since it’s just as expensive there), extra sandals for dirty floors, a backpack instead of a duffle bag carry-on for more convenient movement, and a lock to protect my bag if anyone searches through it while I’m swimming.