Money must be on top of the list of reasons why people don’t travel more, followed by their day jobs, and then families, and so on. Budget travel isn’t for everyone, but if you can hack the little “inconveniences,” then you might as well try it. Instead of spending P2,000 to P4,000 a day on a nice hotel room and pricey restaurant food – how about staying in a hostel, homestay or a tent, and then eat like the locals and go to the roadside carinderia (eatery) for your meals?
A few years ago, I never used to eat in those places where the little eatery has the food already cooked and is displayed out in serving platters (usually in a glass box or with lids). I saw those places as dirty and didn’t want to risk my health eating there to save a few hundred bucks. Fast forward to today and whenever I travel around, those are the only places I eat in. And I’ve never gotten sick. I don’t even have a particularly resilient immune system, I really think immunity just slowly builds up as we are exposed to minuscule amounts of bacteria here and there.
Coming from the food industry, I know a bit about bacteria. There is bacteria virtually everywhere – and they double every 20 minutes – whether you’re eating in a fancy restaurant or in a carinderia. Also, if people would repeatedly get sick from the fare of a place, it would lose popularity, revenue and would eventually close shop, so I usually choose the semi-busy places if I could help it.
I also never used to stay in homestays or hostels, not really knowing what they were like. It was more an apprehension of the unknown than anything else. I only knew fancy hotels and resorts, thanks to my family and their travel standards. My friends of a similar feather, would also only choose from a moderately high standard, so it was costly whenever I went out of town with friends.
I’ve realized that I still am very comfortable even with the barest of amenities and facilities. I don’t need to sleep with air-conditioning, I don’t need a sparkling white tile bathroom, I don’t need room service, a receptionist, or housekeeping, nor do I need huge windows with stunning views.
Since travel expenses seem to be the main hindrance to more traveling, perhaps we should try doing with less on our next trip. Cheap does not equate to dirty. Some homestays and hostels I have stayed in for P250 a night are consistently cleaner than more expensive places I’ve stayed in. The money you save by spending less on unnecessary luxuries can go to your next trip, more food, or other things like renting a motorbike, a boat, hiring a tour guide, etc.
Having recently just come back from a trip in Mindanao, my average expenses (on food, 3-4L of water and lodging) per day was P400 to P500 ($10 USD).
Weighing the costs with the time consumed, it is often more economical to take flights rather than boat trips and buses for cross-island travel. But when traveling within an island, it is almost always cheaper in the country to travel by bus and van.
As a general rule, I always choose to start my travel days early in the morning – that gives me ample time to reach my destination before sundown. For longer trips (i.e. anything more than 6 hours), there is sometimes a night bus that leaves major cities around midnight or a few hours before so that travelers arrive in their destination at 6 or 7 in the morning.
It always pays to do some online research on bus and van schedules. Some cities are more organized and have more information online while others have no online presence at all. For places like these, always ask the locals if they know the departure times of buses or vans going your way. Make it a point to arrive at the bus terminal at least 30 minutes before departure time.
For a more in-depth guide to transportation in the Philippines, read my article on it here.
A final word of caution in transportation: when trying to catch any flight in another city, it is best practice to arrive in that city by bus, van or boat a day before said flight. Unforeseen circumstances (which aren’t uncommon in developing nations) like a traffic pile-up, flat tire, or road obstruction can give you unneeded stress and cause you to miss your flight altogether.
Sometimes I rent a motorbike for a day or two to explore the less crowded places in a town or city. I find off-the-beaten-path nature trails, vantage points on cliffs and beaches. Be aware, some faraway towns have plenty of potholes and sections of dirt roads, drive carefully and use a helmet. It’s recommended to check your rear mirrors about every 5 seconds to check for passing vehicles.
If you plan on renting a motorbike: bring a clear pair of protective eyewear to keep your eyes from catching any stray rocks, insects and dirt – a dangerous hazard when riding.
Amidst all the junk food we seem to have adopted from Obese America, there are some snacks we can purchase just about anywhere in the country. From the comforts of your bus seat (vendors hop on and off, hoping to sell to lazy passengers) to each bus stop, to each tindahan (store), I usually get fruits and peanuts.
While it won’t hurt to pack your own trail food like granola bars, dried fruit and nuts, you won’t have to worry much about going hungry on the road.
In every town, no matter how small, there will always be carinderias along the road, near the center or even on the outskirts run by business-minded housewives and their families. I’ve realized that the less populated and less busy the town is, the later they wake up and thus the later breakfast is available for hungry travelers.
Generally though, the local fare is usually fried processed meats (hotdogs, longganisa, chorizo), fried fish, sauteed ampalaya with some egg, and fried egg. Choose what you want, have it with rice or not, and you’ll come out fueled for the day having spent P50 to P80 depending on how much you ate and how low they price their food for you.
Lunch and dinner are usually more diverse in selection and dishes range from meat stews to fish soups, Pork Sisig to vegetable Pinakbet, Tortang Talong to Balbacua – traditional Filipino dishes. As the meals are better taken earlier (the longer the food sits out, the more bacteria it has), I sometimes have lunch as early as 11 and dinner at 5:30pm.
If you’re caught up in other activities and can only eat a late lunch at say, 3pm, I recommend eating only vegetables and rice or acidic food (bacteria does not thrive in acidic food) like Adobo, Sinigang or Paksiw. Lunch and dinner would cost me on average around P70 – P90 per meal.
With a little foresight when choosing where and when to eat in carinderias, I highly doubt you’ll have any stomach or bowel problems – majority of Filipinos eat this way, after all.
Before arriving at any destination in the Philippines, I look online ahead in Booking or Agoda for user reviews, prices and ratings. While Hostelworld is a very effective tool in other parts of the world, it doesn’t seem to be as popular among business owners in the Philippines.
I also do a quick search in google in the lines of: “Places to stay in Lanuza, Surigao del Sur,” for example. This directs me to travel blogs that share specific information about homestays, hostels and hotels in a place – even including some establishments that aren’t listed online at all. Because a place isn’t tech savvy enough to market online doesn’t mean they don’t know how to make a bed or keep their rooms clean.
I don’t book anything online because the platform (website) gets a commission every time their service is used, which usually translates to us having to pay 10% to 20% more than a walk-in client. Do I need to mention that the savings add up after years of doing this?
The establishment oftentimes also gets less revenue from the transaction when you use these websites. It pays to do some research on when the peak season is for your destination. As long as you don’t go during the peak, you shouldn’t have occupancy problems. Prices are also lower when you travel off-peak.
With the help of Booking or Agoda, I take note of 2 or 3 of the best reviewed and cheapest places: their names and addresses. I, then, simply ask the tricycle (habal-habal or skylab, depending on where you go) driver to take me to my top choice. In the very rare occasion that my top choice was full, I was glad to have a 2nd choice.
If you run out of names or lose your list, you can always just tell the driver your budget and ask for his recommendations, or popular ones around the area. Depending on where you are, try using different terms like “pension house,” “backpacker’s,” “homestay” or “bedspacer” – not everyone in the country knows what a “hostel” is, simply because not every town has a hostel.
Hostels and backpacker’s, though, are a good choice – not just for frugality’s sake but also for their usually comfortable common areas where you can relax and socialize if you’re in the mood to; if not, you can just lie down, read a book and enjoy the breeze and sunshine.
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