Summertime is just around the corner. This 2020, challenge yourself to go on a new kind of adventure when you travel through backpacking. And where best to kick off this new travel goal at the beginning of a new decade than the ever zestful and sunny Philippines!
The Philippines is the perfect backpacking destination for you because you’ll have several options where to travel and how to travel especially if you’re a newbie.
This travel guide will help you prepare for your backpacking adventure in the Philippines. Know what to expect in the country with the help of this guide.
1. Learn the three Ps of backpacking prep
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Going on to your first backpacking experience? Then make sure you know the golden rules of backpacking: Plan Ahead, Pack Wisely, and Prepare for the Worst
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Backpacking is more than 90% successful when you make sure you plan your adventure ahead with 100% diligence and fastidiousness. By planning, you not only consider where you will be going but also the things you will be leaving behind. You may ask yourself questions like: “How long am I planning this backpacking to last?”, “Will this affect my work or studies?”; and even mundane matters such as “Who will take care of my pet while I’m gone?” and “Who will people be able to contact while I’m away?”.
Most of the time, backpacking and hiking is a spiritual journey. This is why it is preferable to allot at least 2 to 3 weeks for this kind of adventure. Lots of things may happen while you are backpacking and it’s important to plan and book ahead of time. This will give you more time to tell your loved ones about your plans to experience the world in a new light.
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First, this refers to the essential things you definitely need to bring. If you’re planning to go camping, a light and reliable tent and sleeping bag are a must. Bring portable water treatment filters and tablets since you’ll not always have access to potable water.
A mini-stove is an option if you plan to avoid people and hibernate, but you can forego this when you pick a destination near cities, towns or villages. If you plan on backpacking through the Cordilleras—the mountainous region in the northern Philippines—then you’ll be surprised by the hospitality where some locals offer you refreshments or even full meals.
Packing wisely is correctly storing the essentials in your backpack. You can’t just shove everything in your bag. Backpacking teaches you to let go of things you don’t really need. Ask yourself, will you really be able to read that 350-page novel when you’ll be busy either fending for yourself or meeting other backpackers along the way? Pack wisely so you can travel lightly.
Prepare for the worst
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No matter how much you plan everything, and pack all the essentials, there’s always something that’ll happen that you didn’t foresee such as accidents and sickness.
To avoid these, it is always best to have someone know every detail of your plan so you could contact that person when things go haywire. Plot the location of the closest medical center in your chosen destination, and make sure that you have their contact number. Getting necessary immunizations against diseases like flu and malaria will help eliminate these worries.
When preparing for emergencies, it’s important that you don’t allow panic to control you and let paranoia win you over. Backpacking is a nerve-wracking experience, but it is also life-changing. Knowing these three P’s already puts you on a great start.
2. Know the climate and geography of the Philippines
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The Philippines is a great choice for new and experienced backpackers. Summer in the Philippines starts by the end of March and lasts until mid-June.
Summer activities and local travel are in full swing all throughout the archipelago as families, employees and students scurry to find a destination to escape the summer heat. As a backpacker, you are likely to encounter huge crowds and other backpackers along the way so you won’t feel completely alone away from home.
In terms of geography, the Philippines comes in myriad forms of landscapes and seascapes since it is an archipelago of 7,641 islands. One of the main islands is Luzon, composed of the mountainous regions in the north where the Banaue Rice Terraces can be found, and a mainly flat region known locally referred to as kapatagan at the center where most of the agricultural livelihood is located.
The islands of Visayas is the region of the Philippines which fits the definition of the archipelago. Most known of these islands is the world-wonder island of Boracay in Aklan famous for its white beaches, pristine blue waters, and vibrant culture.
Finally, towards the southern region of the Philippines is the second-largest island called Mindanao. Backpacking along its coastal plains will definitely bring you closer to nature. Another option is to trek through the Chocolate Hills of Bohol composed of more than 1,500 small hills spread out in a land area of 50 square kilometers. Here you’ll meet the Philippine Tarsier (Carlito syrichta) which cannot be found in any place in the world Bohol.
Due to the varying landscapes and seascapes of the Philippines, most backpackers return in the Philippines to experience what each of the main islands offers. Choose any of these islands to have a taste of what the Philippines has to offer.
3. Know the language, meet the people
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Backpacking and being far from home gives you a feeling of alienation. What if you’re asking about directions and locals couldn’t understand you? What if they see you as an intruder and become hostile to you? Well, you’re in luck because one more reason the Philippines is the best destination for international backpackers is the famous notion of Filipino hospitality, even with strangers.
Filipinos are known for their hospitality, making the Philippines one of the friendliest countries in Asia. International tourists also need not fear about the language barrier since English is the second language of the country, and has in fact blended with the vernacular resulting Taglish (a melange of Tagalog and English).
Learn basic greetings such as “Kumusta ka” (How are you?”) and questions such as “Magkano?” (How much?) and “Paano pumunta sa ___?” (How do I get to ___?). Trust that Filipinos will be amused in your attempt to speak their language.
Locals are most definitely going to welcome you with smiles on their faces and will be eager to answer your questions. If they don’t understand you, then expect that they’ll look for someone who will. It is no wonder then why the Philippines was ranked the 3rd happiest country in the world in the 2018 Gallup Index.
4. Select a destination of your choice
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Now that you are familiar with the geographical landscape of the Philippines, it’s time for you to find the best backpacking destination that will suit you.
If you want to immerse yourself in the cultural heritage and colonial history of the country, then consider Vigan in Ilocos Sur which is 404km from Manila. The Philippines was ruled by the Spaniards for more than 300 years, influencing the architecture and planning of major towns in the country. In Vigan, time seems to have frozen as the town managed to preserve the humble nipa hut and European style of architecture.
If you’re looking for a trekking adventure, then include in your bucket list the Cordillera region. Two of the most notable destinations here are the payews (rice terraces of Banaue and the Sagada mountain trail. If you are familiar with the drone photography policies of the Philippines, then capturing an aerial view of these mountainous destinations will give you breathtaking views and unique perspectives of the region.
You may also explore different beach destinations. Most notable, of course, is Boracay Island in Aklan, which has gotten more tourist-friendly after the three-month cleanup and renovation in the island.
The best thing in the Philippines is the diversity of experiences and destinations. You would definitely find a place that suits your taste. You may even try all of them if you’re an experienced backpacker.
5. How to travel to and within the Philippines
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There are three main international airports in the Philippines: the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) located in Manila, Clark International Airport in Pampanga, and Mactan-Cebu International Airport.
Most tourists arrive at NAIA where they could get non-stop connecting flights to different locations such as Kalibo, El Nido, Puerto Princesa, and Iloilo. The Philippines is not a visa-free country. There are some countries that allow no Visa, yet others still do— you can check all the necessary Philippine Visa Requirements first before booking your airfare.
You have several transportation options if you want to save money and ditch the regular or ride-hailing taxis like Grab. One option you might want to try is the jeepney. The routes and destination of jeepneys are painted colorfully on placards that are hung on its front windows. The point to point route is also painted on its side. The minimum fare is Php9 (0.18$). If you’re unsure about the destination of the jeep, there is usually a person who assists the passengers in transport terminals.
Another slightly expensive option is the tricycle. Just tell the driver the name of the place where you need to go, then he/she will bring you there. Of course, this is not as immersive as a jeepney ride, but it is more convenient.
There are tons of destinations available, so to keep yourself from getting lost, try apps like Sakay.ph where you could look for guides and directions on how to get to a particular route via commuting. Or if you really want to embrace that lost-in-an-unfamiliar-land kind of vibe as a backpacker, just ask people for directions.
6. Know the Philippine currency and learn to use it
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Philippine pesos comes in coins and paper bills, The Central Bank of the Philippines constantly updates the foreign exchange bulletin so make sure to constantly check this site. The largest bill available is Php1,000. Avoid paying large bills from small eateries (carinderias) or when paying jeepney fares. Sometimes they can’t give you enough change. You also don’t want to end up with Php500 worth of 1-peso coins.
Now that you know the basics of how to prepare and what to expect when backpacking in the Philippines, you can now start planning and preparing for the new adventure that awaits you. Happy trails and good luck with your travel goals!