We’ve had the pleasure to travel the Philippines for one whole month. If you’re wondering if a month is enough, the answer to that is: no. Because of the many islands, it is more challenging to travel the Philippines than most other countries in Asia. That shouldn’t hold you back though as the Philippines is an amazing country with so many things to see. You’ll just need to prioritise what you want to see, but once you’ve decided that you’ll realise that to travel to the Philippines is one of the most amazing things you can do!
The Philippines was our first country of choice to kick off our new adventure as fulltime travelers and digital nomads. Since you don’t have to pay for your first 30 days of visa (click here for more information on visas for the Philippines), we decided to travel the Philippines for one full month and just see what we would be able to see. Our ‘plan’ didn’t work out but our month of traveling the Philippines has been great.
The Philippines have been a crazy, interesting, exhausting and enjoyable month at the same time. We’ve concluded that to travel to the Philippines isn’t for everyone and that there are some things you need to know to make the most out of everything. But once you know these things, you’ve got all you need to experience a fantastic time in this wonderful country.
We learned some valuable lessons that others might benefit from, so I’ve written them all down for you. Also if you need any more information on where to go in the Philippines, please check out our section on the Philippines that includes some of the best Philippines destinations!
1) Don’t plan anything too tight
We discovered that transport in the Philippines isn’t always very reliable. As our visa gave us 30 days, we decided to plan a few flights in advance. After our first week, one flight got cancelled, two days in a row. You would probably expect that this was a nightmare, but we actually ended up having dinner with the airline ground staff in a little local place, so it was so worth it in the end!
However, we’ve also missed boats and buses due to bad connections or delays and overall have probably lost about 5 travel days due to this. All of these things were fine as it is part of traveling, but the lesson for everyone is that you shouldn’t plan everything too tight and just take the transport as it comes.
2) Be prepared having to pay for a lot of things
When you travel to the Philippines, you have to pay for a lot more things than you’re used to. It starts with booking accommodation. If you would book something for example in Indonesia, all taxes are included. In the Philippines, you have to pay 22% on top of the online booking price, standard. The same goes for fees that apply to traveling the Philippines, especially by boat. You’ve got the costs of your normal ticket, then a terminal fee, then they also ask for a porter’s fee and if you’re ‘lucky’ they will also ask for a ‘fake’ terminal fee on arrival. We quickly found out that even these porter’s fees can be negotiated and that there’s no fixed price, so be aware of this!
3) Address the locals with Sir or Mam and get a smile
The Filipino culture uses the words ‘mam’ and ‘sir’ a lot, as a way to be polite from what we know now. We always love to get a bit more into the rural areas and experience some culture. Every time we were addressed as mam and sir, so we decided to return the favour. We realised how often people really appreciated this and we haven’t stopped doing it ever since. So we’d highly recommend returning the favour of saying ‘sir’ or ‘mam’ (or ‘miss’ if it is a younger girl), you won’t regret it.
4) Traveling the Philippines takes time
Who said it was easy to travel the Philippines? Not us hehe! There are few countries that have been so challenging to travel as the Philippines. One day we discovered that it was actually possible to get from A to B by van, boat, tricycle, another boat, van, bus and taxi. That is 7 different transports in one day, which in this case was from our resort in Siquijor to our hotel in Cebu City. It is not always as hard as this, but it is definitely very time consuming, so when planning any trip, take this into account so you won’t have unpleasant surprises.
5) Cut out the middleman to save money
When you travel from one place to another, especially when you use vans, these transports are often arranged by a middleman, such as a tour office or via your hotel. A quick example: we wanted to go from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton. The standard price was 700 pesos, because of everyone who is getting a cut. We decided to take a tricycle to the bus terminal and book our tickets from there, which was more than 50% cheaper. So if you like to save while traveling the Philippines, be smart and get straight to the terminal or port of departure.
6) Enjoy the beauty of this country
This post consists of a lot of good learning lessons for travelers, but this list wouldn’t be complete with just telling you to enjoy this amazing country! It has the tons of long white beaches, a stunning underwater world, beautiful Virgin Islands and is also home to some of the greenest and most beautiful natural scenery. What more could you possibly want?
7) Philippines weather: typhoons
The Philippines has different seasons and in some seasons you’ve got more rain than others. However, the weather forecasts are still not very predictable and while we were traveling towards the high season, we still did have the effects of 2 typhoons leading to severe storms and even our roof breaking one time. Again, this is all part of traveling and often we’ve laughed about it, but if you’ve just got your one time in a year holiday, you might want to check when it is the best time to visit the Philippines.
8) Read up on seasons: activities
The Philippines is a country where you can participate in tons of cool activities. Going on a surf trip or swimming with whale sharks in the open sea are just two of them. Make sure to be aware that there are seasonal restrictions for most of these activities. Waves aren’t always good and swimming with the whale sharks in the open sea can only be done during a specific few months. So be smart and read up on the things you’d really love to do, so you’ll be sure not to miss out!
9) Check where you exactly book your accommodation
One time we went to Port Barton, a little village and beach town that we had heard only great stories about. We had booked a nice accommodation, 2km out of the center. When we arrived in Port Barton however, we realised that the accommodation was actually not in Port Barton itself and was a 45-minute boat ride away, which cost us another $30 and got us further away from where we wanted to be. So pay attention to where the accommodation exactly is, especially in Port Barton!
10) Get close with the locals
Maybe the best advice I can give. We’ve had so many wonderful experiences with the local people; I can’t count them on my two hands. We had many local dinners, we went on local fisherman’s boats, and we ate some foods we never imagined eating. We’ve met so many nice Filipino people that we can now proudly call our friends. Now we know that when we’ll be back, we’ve got some friends to visit! Until next time!