After coming back from the Philippines, I had about 800 thoughts to process. The Philippines was my 4th country traveling alone, and each time just reaffirms my love for solo travel more and more as it really helps me dive into meeting people, learning the culture, and finding myself.
As always, these are just my own observations and opinions and not meant to generalize in anyway, so please take what I say with a grain of salt, and PLEASE feel free to share your thoughts too – I love hearing them!! 🙂
On Filipino culture
- Nicest people in the world. Filipinos are hands down the nicest group of people I’ve ever met. The first few days, I was confused when locals tried to talk to me/help me/take a picture with me, but after realizing that they are just genuinely excited to see foreigners and wanted to meet, I let my guard down and welcomed it. I will never forget driving my motorbike through the rural mountains of Cebu where locals were not accustomed to seeing foreigners, and people would run out on the streets with HUGE smiles on their faces to say hi…so heartwarming. ❤
- Expectations vs reality –> beautiful but underdeveloped. My view of the Philippines before the trip was quite different from reality. I expected to see Instagram’s gorgeous beaches in paradise with touristy resorts behind it. In reality, the natural beauty was definitely there, but outside of it the Philippines was surprisingly very underdeveloped. Driving through the streets, you notice locals living in small huts and burning garbage (littering is a big problem there)…wifi hardly worked in any hostel or restaurant. I took several “bucket showers” and stayed in villages where they only turned on electricity a few hours each day. I once talked to a construction worker and learned he lived off of $6 USD/day. It was beautiful, authentic, and humbling.
- People don’t respect lines. Random note – people have no problem cutting you or merging from the side of lines. I learned this the hard way when I missed a flight for not being aggressive enough in an airport line. Just a cultural difference between the east and west.
- Speaking English. Most everyone speaks English in the Philippines which made communicating/bonding with locals much easier than other countries I’ve backpacked to!
- Motorbike + driving rules. I learned how to drive a motorbike in the Philippines, which was absolutely the best way to see the country – it was SO much more freeing and cost-saving than tours or hiring my own transport, and it certainly will change the way I travel in SE Asia in the future! There aren’t really driving rules in the Philippines except that it’s courtesy to honk and pass. I had to get use to this concept as honking usually means “F*!$ YOU” in the U.S., but over there it’s polite and no biggie, so get use to being honked at left and right in the Philippines.
On backpacking in the Philippines
- Backpacker crowd seemed older. I was quite surprised to see the age range of backpackers in the Philippines. I was expecting something similar to Thailand (which had a LOT of 18-22 year olds), but I was often the youngest person in my hostels, meeting lots of people in their 30’s. I think the Philippines is less on the SE Asia backpacking trail, plus with being so underdeveloped, it attracts an older, more seasoned and adventurous crowd.
- Where is your husband? The #1 most-asked question from locals was “Where is your husband?” I must have been asked this at least 5 times a day! At first I was flattered that all these people were hitting on me (kidding…kind of :P), but then I realized that it was a cultural shock to them to see a women travel alone. Filipino people are quite conservative with women getting married young and supporting their husbands (I saw SO many young moms!). Women – get ready to answer this question a LOT.
- Everything is spread apart. One challenge of backpacking the Philippines is how spread apart all the islands are. If I had more time, I would have loved to take my time getting from island to island…but with only 2 weeks, the choice between a $20 ferry ticket for 12 hours or a $60 flight for 1 hour was a no-brainer. I try to avoid domestic flights when traveling since it feels like “cheating” in experiencing the country to me, but I didn’t really have a choice this time.
- What is paradise? As I was lying on the beach one day, I was watching some local kids play in the crystal-blue water having so much fun…I wondered if these kids knew that they were in “paradise,” or at least what we consider paradise as foreigners. To Filipinos, what we have in America is paradise to them. Just some random thought that came to mind.
- On being American. I don’t meet a lot of Americans when I backpack, and so I love talking with backpackers from other countries about their opinions on Americans. Over the dozen+ countries I traveled, I’ve heard everything under the sun, that Americans are “loud, annoying, selfish, outgoing, friendly, confident, superficial…” you name it. Usually I’m curious to discuss and (for the most part) agree with people’s opinions as I do think there’s truth in that Americans tend to think we’re the best country in the world (but outside of America no one thinks that). But in the Philippines, for the first time I got a bit fed up hearing these opinions over and over, especially when it came up unsolicited. Onetime, I overheard a group of English people saying really rude comments generalizing Americans, and I had to jump in. Some of the most open-minded and genuine people I know are my friends right here in SF, and when we travel together, we try very hard to assimilate to other cultures. I like to think that Americans (at least the ones I surround myself with) don’t fall under these negative stereotypes, and rather than feeding into people’s opinions like the old me would, for the first time I felt it was important to bring a new, positive perspective on American culture.
On my personal journey and growth
- I got this backpacking thing down. This was my 6th big solo trip (and 4th one internationally), and this time, I got this very satisfying feeling of: “I got this backpacking thing down.” A few ways I noticed this transformation:
- 1) Handling Adversity. Overall, I didn’t nearly worry as much as the “old me” would – things that use to stress me out I was able to handle! I was totally comfortable waking up one day and not knowing where I was going to sleep that very night. When my flights were delayed and I was a hair away from missing the Tao boat tour, I oddly had the mindset: “if I don’t go, then it was meant to be that way. I’ll figure something else out.” I had no problem walking down the streets and to scope plans with different tour companies versus booking in advanced (HUGE change as someone who loves to plan). I think the hardest part of traveling alone is handling adversity with no one to lean one, and after several solo trips, I’ve noticed how much I’ve changed from a worry-er who would plan every detail and cry if things didn’t go my way, to a more level-headed and stronger person. 🙂
- 2) Focus outward. Because I was spending less of my energy worrying/focusing on myself, I felt like I was able to direct more energy “outwards” this time. I felt much more calm and attentive to my surroundings, smiled at locals vs ignored them, and didn’t feel too shy to approach/talk to backpackers – something that was difficult for me in early solo trips.
- 3) Less shenanigans. Trip after trip, I feel like I’ve been getting into less “shenanigans,” a.k.a unsafe or crazy situations. The old me would do just about anything for a good story…I don’t know if it’s from getting older or more seasoned with backpacking or both, but I was more focused on doing things that made ME happy this time, versus doing things just to do them.
- 4) Picky with friends. While I absolutely believe the people you meet are a huge component of solo travel, my mindset has shifted: My first few times backpacking, I was OBSESSED with meeting people, even if it meant sacrificing my own plans and goals. I would enter a new city and felt like I NEEDED to find my best friend right away. This time, I was a lot more picky and patient with deciding who to spend time with, and I feel the people I dedicated time to were quality people who I truly clicked with and with whom I’d love to stay in touch – and outside of these people, I was a lot more confident spending time with myself this time.
- Digital detox. On the Tao boat tour, I spent 5 whole days without any phone service or wifi. Not gonna life…I was a bit nervous about it, but it ended up being the biggest blessing in disguise to have this digital detox. I felt more present with my surroundings and bonded with people on the boat…I loved it so much that I decided to keep my phone off when we got some service on the islands! Going through this really brought to light how much I relied on my phone, and how gratifying it was to take a break from constantly using it. Even after coming home, I’ve hardly touched social media as I really want to do everything I can do continue this journey of being more in tune with reality versus my phone.
- Canceling Sri Lanka was meant to happen. As this blog knows, I was planning on and really looking forward to visiting Sri Lanka in May, but after the Easter bombings, I decided to cancel this trip and somewhat randomly picked the Philippines instead. All I can say is…I truly believe that I was absolutely meant to be in the Philippines at that point in my life. While it’s incredibly sad what happened in Sri Lanka, and I’m constantly “wow-ed” thinking about what my life would look like if I hadn’t gone to the Philippines and did I the things I did and met the people I met. Everything absolutely happens for a reason, and each trip makes me that much more sure of it. ❤ I absolutely want to visit Sri Lanka at some point, and I know I’ll get there when the time is right.
- Integrating experiences. One major topic that was on my mind the whole trip was how I want to work on integrating my travel experiences back into my “normal” life. I really feel like a different person when I’m backpacking: I’m adventurous, patient, kind, outgoing, curious…I like to think I embody these qualities in my day-to-day, but it’s definitely to a lesser degree –> i.e. if my Uber is more than 5 minutes away I get really impatient…but when a bus is 1-hour late in the Philippines, I think “Whatever, what’s another hour in an 8-hour journey?” Something I’m working on is trying to integrate my mentality and experiences to my everyday life in SF, so that these trips are not just a vacation, but part of my life journey.
I’m beyond grateful for every moment in the Philippines. The country surprised me by being filled with the nicest people on the planet, authentic beauty, and challenging me to “rough it” more than I pictured. I truly can’t picture my life right now if I didn’t make it to the Philippines and meet the quality friends I did…I truly fell in love with life all over again. ❤