I will see the world with wonder, with gratitude, with respect. I will strive to stay, though ever moving, right in the happy middle: the intersection of longing and contentment. I will not close my eyes to the harsh realities of life and will endeavor to respond with compassion and action, but I will keep my rose-colored glasses on hand, in my carry-on, and remember to count my blessings.
I will not count how many countries I’ve been to, though I won’t think poorly of people who do. I will try to resist the temptation to count because I don’t want the number to be my motivation. I don’t want to travel just to tick a place off a list. I don’t want to say: “My name is X and I have been to Y out of Z countries,” though there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I just don’t want to feel like I’ve left behind the rat race only to join the passport stamp race. I’m sure the number is much less than I would want it to be and much more than majority of the people in this planet will ever have the means to achieve.
I will travel because I want to, in the manner that I want to, and I will allow others the courtesy to do likewise. I hope never to catch myself saying those who can’t leave behind the comforts of home should stay home. I hope never to become the sort of person who thinks I have the right or omniscience to dictate who should and shouldn’t travel, and how. I hope never to get sucked into “traveler versus tourist,” a distinction that may have started as a well-meaning attempt to describe different levels of interaction with a place, but is now too often a none-too-subtle ploy to pat one’s own back: a traveler is me and a tourist is someone not like me. I will always endeavor to dive deep into a place, to hear the hidden drum beat to which it marches. But I will not judge those who rush from place to place, for it may be the only time they have, with the wealth they have or lack thereof, to see the places they’ve always longed to see with their own eyes. I will not be the sort of self-validating traveler who thinks he is better than people who have never been outside their hometowns. I believe — no matter what Mark Twain says — that a person who stays in one corner of the earth all his life can still be capable of “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men.” I believe a person’s passport does not define his character. And I believe people who have truly sucked the marrow of the road will have hearts too full to find fault in others.
I will challenge myself. I will talk to locals and fellow travelers even though I’m someone who usually keeps to herself. I will try to capture an experience, in words and in images, the best way I know how, but I will also take time to just savor the moment, that even if my notebook gets lost or my camera gets stolen, the memory will have been burned into my heart to keep forever.
I will not stop dreaming. Someday I will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, glorious lions in the wild…. And I will encourage people to dream. I will never tire of telling them: someday you will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, and glorious lions in the wild.
I will inspire by being ordinary. There are too many inspiring stories of people who leave everything behind in order to travel the world. I will tell stories of people who stay, who find contentment in what would seem a humdrum life, who work and go home and save $10 a month in their travel fund, most of the paycheck having already gone to milk for their kids and educational funds and utility bills…and who, after 10 years, finally go on a whirlwind 5-day dream trip to Paris. I will celebrate the courage of working with what you have, the heroism of looking at the banal and saying: “This is my life and I am happy with it.”
I will travel whenever I can, for as long as I can, and while doing so I will create a home worth going back to. I want to be excited to leave and happy to return. I will create such a home that when my children and my children’s children go out, in their turn, to explore the world, no matter where their feet may take them, they will always feel that the best place on earth to be is still home.
There’s nothing romantic about midnight trains.
Oh, there’s romance in the notion of stepping from a wooden platform onto a steel carriage, from solid ground to motion, to adventure, to the dark.
There’s nothing romantic about not knowing where, exactly, in the designated platform of a rather long train, two people with a ticket that says “CNL 1319, 2 Liegeplätze, Wg. 186, Pl. 55 56, 2 Oben, Abteil, Nichtraucher, inkl. Zuschlag” should stand to wait for their car; nothing romantic about expecting the cars to be ordered numerically all throughout, then finding out they’re not, then having to decide — fast! — whether to go forward or back; nothing romantic about deciding, at the last minute, to board a random car and searching from car to car for the right car and the right compartment; nothing romantic about dragging your luggage along narrow corridors and having to wait for rowdy groups of people to settle themselves into their compartments so that you can pass by to get to yours.
There is, I suppose, something romantic about the thought of going to sleep in Paris and waking up in Venice, as if transported by dreams in a drizzle of pixie dust.
In unromantic reality, you wake up when the authorities need to see your ticket and your passport, and again when they are returned to you. Or if the air conditioning is wonky, you wake up every 30 minutes or so: when it becomes too hot, and again when it becomes too cold. That is if you can sleep at all, in your cramped berth, your 1 couchette in a crowded car of 6.
And yes, it might be romantic: the idea of 6 strangers seemingly thrown together by fate, their life’s journeys interconnected for a time altogether too brief.
What’s not so romantic? Not being able to sit up in bed, having to creep into it, and staring at the roof of the train just a few inches from your nose, because a 6-couchette compartment in a 12-compartment 26-meter car does not a penthouse suite make.
There is nothing romantic about midnight trains.
Just the idea of them.
I still love them.
I love that the experience is raw and real, not a smooth ride contrived for my paying convenience.
I love that they remind me of why I travel: to experience the unfamiliar, even when it’s uncomfortable.
And I love that they remind me of my favorite stories, the ones with happy endings. They give me hope that, someday, after the curveballs and the uncertainty and the discomfort and the pain, in the end I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.
(In Venice, sipping a latte.)
How Much to Budget for El Nido (6D/5N)) | SGMT
An El Nido vacation can cost as little as ₱5,000 to as much as…I don’t know…₱5,000,000 or more. This budget, which we used for our Palawan trip last June, is somewhere in between. It’s nowhere near luxurious but it’s not exactly cheap either. It’s for smart spenders — people who are willing to pay, but not needlessly — who want to treat themselves to a nice, easy, stress-free holiday covering the best of both Puerto Princesa and El Nido.
For the Palawan itinerary covered by this budget, see:
El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers.
Airfare – ₱1,322
We got our round-trip Cebu-Puerto Princesa tickets during a Cebu Pacific seat sale. Philippine Airlines and Air Asia also fly to Puerto Princesa while direct flights to El Nido can be booked with AirSwift.
Accommodations (5 nights) – ₱5,884
This price is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room, and covers:
- 1 night at Orchid Lagan Place Palawan (Puerto Princesa) — ₱1,952.00 — ₱976.00 per person
- 3 nights at Spin Designer Hostel (El Nido) — ₱7,835.00 — ₱3,917.50 per person
- 1 night at Holiday Suites (Puerto Princesa) — ₱1,980.00 — ₱990.00 per person
For more accommodations options, see these lists:
Firefly Watching Tour – ₱1,037
This activity starts at around 6 PM and is a great option if you have a free night in Puerto Princesa. You can save a few hundreds if you go DIY, but the tour package, which we booked through AsiaTravel, already includes hotel pick-up and dinner as well as the tour itself.
Dolphin Watching Tour – ₱1,000
Another half-day Puerto Princesa tour, this one takes place in the morning and is a wonderful last-day activity for people whose flights don’t leave till the afternoon. After canvassing prices, we booked with Dolphin and Whales Travel & Tours and had the best time.
Island Hopping Combo Tour – ₱2,000
After considering the pros and cons of single vs. combo tours and comparing tour operator prices and reviews, we decided to go on El Nido Paradise’s Combo Tour A & C. Our rationale in a nutshell: a combo tour saves both time and money. Separate tours would have taken two days and cost ₱2,600. The drawback is having less time in each stop compared to a regular tour but we decided we would rather do all the sightseeing in one day so that we can spend the whole day after that just chilling and beach bumming. No regrets: we loved our island hopping tour — you can check out our experience in Island Hopping in El Nido: Combo Tour A & C so you can decide for yourself — and we got to spend the next day lazing around Nacpan Beach, which some people have called the most beautiful beach in the world.
You can check out El Nido Paradise’s other tours here.
Van Transfer – ₱1,150
To avoid hassle, we also pre-booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. Each van transfer (PP-EN and EN-PP) costs ₱550 and we also paid a ₱50 surcharge to be picked up from our hotel in Puerto Princesa. It’s a 6-hour ride so check out: How to Survive the Van to El Nido.
Meals – ₱3,200
There are tons of dining options in El Nido but meals in restaurants and cafes can prove to be rather expensive. We didn’t want to scrimp on food so we budgeted ₱400 per meal for a total of 8 meals. Whenever we went over ₱400, we re-balanced our budget by eating at a carenderia next time. Luckily, we enjoyed free breakfast at the inn/hostel/hotel we stayed in and the tour price for island hopping already included an absolute feast for lunch.
Our go-to place for good food in El Nido was Trattoria Altrove. Art Cafe was also good. For cheap meals, try the carenderia across the Catholic church in El Nido — a meal of rice and delicious chicken adobo only cost us ₱60 there.
In Puerto Princesa, we enjoyed dinner at Kalui, which certainly lived up to its reputation as the no. 1 restaurant in the city.
Miscellaneous – ₱1,407
Some of the expenses we took out of our miscellaneous fund are:
- ₱500 – transportation to and from Nacpan Beach (₱1,000 per tricycle, negotiated down from ₱1,500)
- ₱150 – transportation to and from Marimegmeg Beach (₱300 per tricycle)
- ₱25 – transportation from the El Nido van terminal to Spin Designer Hostel (₱50 per tricycle)
Total Budget – ₱17,000
For a frugal traveler like me, ₱17,000 can sound like much but, when you think about it, it’s for 6 days, it already includes airfare, and it enabled us to have the most unforgettable experiences in both El Nido and Puerto Princesa. Anyway, if you were going to spend nearly ₱20,000 on travel, wouldn’t you rather spend it on your own country so your countrymen can benefit from it as well? And Palawan is absolutely worth it. If you haven’t been yet…go! You won’t regret it.
SGMT | Painted Hall, London
Exactly a year ago, at the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College, London.
It was our first day out and about in London. Our friends had asked us where we wanted to go and we’d said we’d like to see their favorite places in town, so Adam took us to Greenwich. The Painted Hall was one of our first stops. Originally conceived by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor as a dining hall for naval pensioners, the Painted Hall has since been described as “the Sistine Chapel of the UK,” and its painted walls and ceilings by Sir James Thornhill are indeed a sight to behold. Mirrors, such as the one pictured above, are strategically placed around the building, enabling visitors to examine Thornhill’s masterpiece without having to keep their necks in perpetual hyperextension.
Fast forward a year later. I haven’t traveled overseas in a while — and I haven’t written much lately either. There’s just been so many things going on, responsibilities, old and new. Travel while you’re young, they say; travel while you can, before life’s commitments start weighing you down. But oddly enough, I don’t feel chained by my responsibilities at all. In a way, I’m glad that there’s more to my life than just me, than just what I want. I’ve said travel is the food of my soul, and it still is, and it always will be, but now my spirit draws sustenance from many other things too. And just like a simple dining hall can end up being a grand work of art, the little things in life, if you pour your heart and soul into them, can turn out to be a greater adventure and give you greater joy than any trip in the world.
List of Philippine Holidays 2017 | SGMT
Time to start planning your travels next year!
Here’s the list of regular holidays and special non-working days for 2017, as decreed in Proclamation No. 50, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last August 16 and released by Malacañang today, August 18. The special holidays for the observance of Eid’l Fitr and Eid’l Adha will be announced as soon as the official dates of these celebrations are set based on the Islamic calendar. Long weekends in 2017 are in red.
January 1, 2017 (Sunday) – New Year’s Day (Regular Holiday)
January 28, 2017 (Saturday) – Chinese New Year (Special Non-Working Day)
February 25, 2017 (Saturday) – EDSA Revolution Anniversary (Special Non-Working Day)
April 9, 2017 (Sunday) – Araw ng Kagitingan (Regular Holiday)
April 13, 2017 (Thursday) – Maundy Thursday (Regular Holiday)
April 14, 2017 (Friday) – Good Friday (Regular Holiday)
April 15, 2017 (Saturday) – Black Saturday (Special Non-Working Day)
May 1, 2017 (Monday) – Labor Day (Regular Holiday)
June 12, 2017 (Monday) – Independence Day (Regular Holiday)
August 21, 2017 (Monday) – Ninoy Aquino Day (Special Non-Working Day)
August 28, 2017 (Monday) – National Heroes Day (Regular Holiday)
October 31, 2017 (Tuesday) – Additional Special (Non-Working) Day
November 1, 2017 (Wednesday) – All Saints Day (Special Non-Working Day)
November 30, 2017 (Thursday) – Bonifacio Day (Regular Holiday)
December 25, 2017 (Monday) – Christmas Day (Regular Holiday)
December 30, 2017 (Saturday) – Rizal Day (Regular Holiday)
December 31, 2017 (Sunday) – Last day of the year (Special Non-Working Day)
As you can see, we have 4 long weekends next year, not counting Holy Week and Christmas. Start planning and budgeting! 🙂
(And if you’re wondering, the beach in that picture above is Nacpan Beach in El Nido, Palawan. Batanes, pictured below, would be the perfect place to visit in the May/June long weekend. See: 7 things you should know before planning your trip to Batanes.)
How to Get a Schengen Visa at the German Embassy in Manila, Philippines | SGMT
When I visited Munich two years ago, I was on a trip through several European cities and had gotten my Schengen visa from the Dutch embassy. For that reason, when last week my mum’s friend asked me to help her get a visa to visit her sister in Germany, I told her I would still have to look up the specific procedure at the German embassy. (You see, procedures can vary among different embassies: some use third-party visa application centers, some handle it themselves; some require cover letters, some don’t; and so on.)
The website of the German embassy in Manila was very helpful but with the wealth of information there, it took several clicks to tease out just the information that I needed. So…I figured it might be useful if I gathered all the information for tourists/family visits and put them all here in one page.
Please note that this guide is for Filipinos who want to go to Germany either (1) for tourism, or (2) to visit family and friends there. The website of the German embassy in Manila can guide you if you want to go to Germany for other purposes:
- Au pairs (see requirements HERE)
- Business (see requirements HERE)
- Employment (get more info HERE)
- Fairs (see requirements HERE)
- Family reunion and subsequent permanent stay (see requirements HERE)
- Jobseekers – highly skilled professionals who want to look for a job in Germany (see requirements HERE)
- Language course less than 3 months (see requirements HERE)
- Language course longer than 3 months (see requirements HERE)
- Marriage and subsequent permanent stay (see requirements HERE)
- Nurses seeking employment in Germany (get more info HERE)
- Seafarers joining their ship in a German harbour (get more info HERE)
- Studying in Germany (see requirements HERE)
*Applying for a Schengen Visa at the German Embassy: The Basics
Basically, there are 5 things you need to do to get a Schengen visa from the German embassy:
- Prepare your travel itinerary.
- Fill up the online application form.
- Gather all your requirements.
- Set an appointment at the Germany embassy.
- Go to the embassy at the appointed date and time and submit your requirements.
Personal appearance is necessary.
The earliest time you can apply for a visa is 3 months before you intend to enter the Schengen area. For example, if your flight from the Philippines to Germany is on the first week of November, the earliest you can apply for a visa is on the first week of August.
According to the embassy website, processing will take one week — and it is NOT possible to expedite the visa processing.
Step 1: Prepare your itinerary
The first thing you need to do is to prepare your travel itinerary because you will need to write the details of your trip when you fill up your application form online (in Step 2).
The information and documents you need to have on hand are as follows:
Anti-Offloading Tips from an Immigration Officer | SGMT —
Plus guidance straight from the Bureau of Immigration and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).
I recently had the chance to put a few questions to an Immigration officer and he kindly agreed to give me a few tips for travelers who might be nervous about getting offloaded. (I promised him I would keep his identity confidential, even though he didn’t really require this as a condition to answering my questions, and I also assured him he didn’t have to reveal any “trade secrets” from the Bureau of Immigration.) Please take note that these tips are for legit tourists, particularly first time travelers who might understandably be worried about the possibility of being offloaded. If you’re reading this so you can find out how to fool the Immigration officer at NAIA, I urge you to please, please reconsider your plans. You may have good intentions — maybe you just want to work so you can send your kids to school and get your family out of poverty — but the risks can be very high. It might be your family who will end up having to sell everything to save you, so please think about it.
Required Documents: The Basics
First of all, if you haven’t read “Pinoy Abroad: List of Documents Required by Immigration for International Travel” please do so right now. (The link will open in a separate tab so you don’t have to leave this page.) That article will give you a list of documents you have to bring when you travel — the basic requirements, the additional documents that may be required if the Immigration officer has doubts about you, the requirements if someone else is paying for your trip, and the list of people who need a DSWD travel clearance or a Travel Authority. If you want to be really prepared — to the point of being over-prepared sometimes — you’ll find even more tips here: “Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs.”
An Immigration Officer’s Tips
Here’s the gist of what the immigration officer said when I asked him for tips for first time travelers:
SGMT | List of Documents Required by Immigration —
In 2014, I wrote a post titled “What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration” and since then, I’ve had a lot of people writing to me and asking for advice on how to “pass” the Immigration screening. Two years have gone by since that article first came out so I thought I’d create this updated list of documents that travelers may be required to show at the Immigration counter.
What documents are required for ALL Filipinos who are traveling abroad as tourists?
- Passport issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) – must be unexpired with at least 6 months remaining validity*
- Visa – if required at the final destination
- Return ticket
*I emailed Immigration some time ago and they verified that the passport must be valid for 6 months from the date of departure.
The visa must be unexpired.
You must have a ticket for your flight back to the Philippines. A few people have asked if return tickets are still needed if, for example, they plan to go backpacking around Southeast Asia and don’t want to set their schedule in stone. I asked an Immigration officer about this and, yes, you still need a return ticket. This is because the country you are heading to — and most other countries — will almost certainly require tourists to present a return/onward ticket upon arrival, as proof that you don’t intend to stay in their country illegally or for longer than you’re permitted. Without a return/onward ticket, you could be sent back to the Philippines.
- If you really intend to go on a trip without making specific plans for return, I suggest you set an estimated date of return and: (a) buy a ticket back to the Philippines from a budget airline, so it won’t hurt your pocket too much if you decide not to use it, OR (b) buy a ticket from an airline that will let you change travel dates. This strategy might cost you a bit more but that’s better than being sent back — prudence is cheaper than regret.
Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa | SGMT
Who doesn’t love dolphins? (No, seriously, who doesn’t?) We had the chance to go dolphin watching on our last day in Palawan and it was absolutely one of the highlights of our 6-day Puerto Princesa/El Nido itinerary.
Our flight back to Cebu was scheduled to depart Puerto Princesa at 3:20 PM and at first we had nothing planned for the day. We figured we would probably just use the time to shop for pasalubong — we were staying at Holiday Suites, which is conveniently located right across Robinsons Palawan — or simply lounge by the hotel pool and enjoy our last vacation day before plunging back to reality. However, while researching Puerto Princesa tours, I stumbled upon a group offering a half-day dolphin watching tour and it just seemed to fit perfectly into our schedule, so we went for it.
A guide picked us up at 6:30 AM and drove us, along with half a dozen others, to the Puerto Princesa Baywalk, where we boarded a boat staffed by another guide, a boatman, and a dolphin spotter. As we headed out to the Sulu Sea, the guide explained that the tours were seasonal (April to October) not because the dolphins were only there for part of the year, but because we were going out to open sea and the waters tended to get too rough for comfort during the rest of the year. She said they can’t guarantee that we would see a dolphin that morning — but, she added with a wide smile, the chances were around 95%. Hurray!