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The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto

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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.

 

The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 

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She took the midnight train going anywhere

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SGMT train station

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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.

So honestly?

There is nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Just the idea of them.

And yet…

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.)
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Nacpan Beach: To Go or Not To Go (and Spend P1500)

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El Nido Nacpan Beach 00


I’ll be honest: if the tricycle driver hadn’t offered to take us to Nacpan Beach for P1000 — instead of the usual P1500 — I might never have gone.

Nacpan Beach has been described in superlatives ranging from “the best beach in El Nido” to “the most beautiful beach in the world.” Friends who’ve been there told me: absolutely, I should go. And yes, I’d seen that oft-shared overlooking image of the twin beaches, Nacpan and Calitang, separated by a stripe of palm-tree-lined blinding white sand. Nacpan is nice — no question about that.

But sometimes, the more a place is hyped up, the more I hesitate. I feel like if so many people I know have already been to a place and unanimously agreed that it’s great, then there’s not as much motivation for me to go and see it for myself because…what could I possibly add to the discussion? And superlatives are all very well but I have to admit I’m a bit cynical about them, especially here in the Philippines where a surefire way to go “viral” is to tell us Filipinos we are the best at something. Online poll results I take with a grain of salt, particularly ambiguous awards like “best” or “most beautiful” because, well, how do you define good or beautiful? It’s all subjective. For me, it’s less informative being told that Nacpan Beach is the best beach in El Nido (or the world!) than being told exactly what makes it good, what people love about it.

So…in the end I went to Nacpan Beach. And in case anyone out there is also wondering whether it’s worth the P1500 asking price, let me tell you what I liked about it so you can decide for yourself.

What you’ll love about Nacpan Beach
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El Nido Nacpan Beach 08

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It’s 4 km long, nearly an hour’s drive from central El Nido, and the ride there — whether by van or by tricycle — is a bit expensive. All that means Nacpan Beach is not likely to be crowded and you can have an entire stretch of sand all to yourself.
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El Nido Nacpan Beach 04

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The sand in Nacpan Beach has often been described as white, and it looks white in a lot of the pictures I’ve seen, but it isn’t really. It’s more…what’s a nice word for brown? 😀 It’s golden, shall we say. But it’s nice sand: fine but not too soft, so it’s not difficult to walk on; wide, so you have plenty of space to spread a beach towel and sunbathe in; and it stretches far out into the water, so it’s a nice sandy bottom you’re stepping on while wading.
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El Nido Nacpan Beach 07

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The water is cool and clean and clear.
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El Nido Nacpan Beach 06

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And there’s this really cute island that’s like a nice smooth green mound with a single tall tree stubbornly sticking out of it.
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El Nido Nacpan Beach 03

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Aside from swimming and sunbathing, there are a lot of other things you can do at Nacpan Beach, like kayaking and stand up paddleboarding. Alternatively, you can just plonk yourself into a hammock and doze off.
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El Nido Nacpan Beach 02

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If you’re feeling more active, you can walk towards the leftmost part of Nacpan Beach and go up a small hill, where you can get a good view of the twin beaches — and no, I won’t post that same photo that everyone who’s been to Nacpan posts! 😀 If you go to Nacpan Beach and climb up that hill, you can see that view for yourself, and then please turn around 180 degrees because there’s this nice view at the back too.
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El Nido Nacpan Beach 99

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How to get to Nacpan Beach

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Any tricycle driver in El Nido will be willing to drive you to Nacpan Beach. The standard rate is P1500 for the entire tricycle, which can seat up to 4 people, but if you show only faint interest, and it’s off-season, the driver might voluntarily lower the price to P1000. (You can probably haggle it down even more, but do note that Nacpan Beach is around 20 km away from the center of El Nido, and the driver will be waiting to take you back instead of plying his usual routes, so P1000 is not very unreasonable.)

A few more tips
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  • If you want to stay overnight in Nacpan, you can camp out at Jack’s Place. You can bring your own tent and pay only P150 per person per night. You can also rent a tent from them — P500 gets you a tent big enough for two, a mattress, pillows, and a blanket. (And if you still haven’t decided on a place to stay in El Nido, read: Where to Stay in El Nido: 15 Great Options. We stayed in — and I can personally recommend — Spin Designer Hostel.)
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  • There are nikniks at Nacpan Beach. I’m not sure what they are, exactly, but they’ve also been referred to as sand mites and biting midges. (I’ve had midges swarming around me in Scotland, but these are different.) At Nacpan, we stayed in this small eatery that also had a beach hut and hammocks, and there weren’t any nikniks there. However, when we went up the hill I mentioned earlier, that’s when we encountered nikniks. They don’t feel like much while you’re being bitten but after a while the bite marks can grow big and red and really itchy — mine still aren’t fully healed, actually — so put on insect repellent!
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  • Go to Nacpan if you can, it really is a nice beach. 🙂

El Nido Nacpan Beach 05

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Nacpan Beach: To Go or Not To Go (and Spend P1500)© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.
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Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

SGMT | Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach — 
Do yourself a favor. If you’re going to El Nido, set aside at least one day for beach bumming. Spend a lazy afternoon at Marimegmeg Beach and stick around for the sunset. You won’t regret it.
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El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 04

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It was more bed weather than beach weather, the day we arrived in El Nido, but we didn’t want to waste the chance to spend the afternoon at Marimegmeg Beach. Never mind that the sun wasn’t likely to put in an appearance that gloomy day. Never mind that we weren’t likely to witness one of Marimegmeg’s spectacular sunsets. Plans are not plans which alter when they alteration find, as they say, and a little drizzle wouldn’t hurt us.

How we got to Marimegmeg Beach

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We found a tricycle driver — or rather he found us, standing outside the office of El Nido Paradise. Tricycle drivers have to hustle a bit in low season and Jack at first approached us with an offer to take us to Nacpan Beach for ₱1500 ($32). When we didn’t bite, he mentioned Las Cabanas — the other name for Marimegmeg Beach — and this time we eagerly agreed.

We paid the standard rate for a trip to Marimegmeg and back to the bayan — ₱300 ($6.40) for the whole tricycle, which can accommodate up to 4 people. I suspect we could have haggled it down but, hey, might as well support the local economy. The tricycle couldn’t take us all the way to the beach — the last few meters were just a narrow dirt road — but it was a short distance from the roadside to the beachfront and the walk didn’t take more than 5 minutes.

Beach bumming

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No doubt Marimegmeg would have been splendid in the sunshine but the cloudy skies didn’t stop anyone from enjoying the beach anyway. This was taken right in front of the Beach Shack…

El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 00

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…which was where we hung out for most of the afternoon. Their carrot-pineapple cake was awful but it was a small price to pay for being able to overstay in their beachfront lounge chairs. And their shakes were good.

On the other end of the beach was Las Cabanas Resort, one of the first to set up shop in Marimegmeg, which is why the latter is sometimes called Las Cabanas beach. It’s pricier than the average El Nido accommodation so there weren’t too many people there.

El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 08

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They had some of the most beautiful views though.

El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 06

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El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 05

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Las Cabanas isn’t the only resort there now; several more are being built. Sustainability is a constant struggle in El Nido, and although they’ve hopefully learned some of the lessons of Boracay, it takes a lot of political and social will to say no to easy money. Either way, Marimegmeg is unlikely to stay unspoiled so go there while you can still enjoy it like this.

 

Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach

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As expected, there wasn’t much of a sunset that time we were there but it was still a peaceful, wonderful place to end the day in…

El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 01

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El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 03

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El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 07

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…and even without color, beautiful.

El Nido Marimegmeg Beach Las Cabanas 02

 

 


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Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach | Posterity
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Contents verified as of 06 July 2016.

 

 


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Island Hopping in El Nido: Combo Tour A & C

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It was our first time in El Nido, and it wouldn’t be our last
 — or so our guides assured us. According to both Jack, the tricycle driver we engaged on our arrival in town, and Sam, the boatman who led our island hopping tour the next day, most of the people who come to El Nido almost inevitably come back.

First, they go home. They tell everyone they found paradise out west, at the very edge of the Philippines. And then they return, many with a new batch of first-time visitors, fresh converts, in tow. If El Nido were a secret — and it isn’t, not anymore — it seems to be a secret no one can, in good conscience, keep to themselves.

And after going on the island hopping tour myself, I could definitely understand why.

El Nido Paradise - Island hopping combo tour A and C

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The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands to its name, and island hopping tours here are a dime a dozen. The ones around El Nido, though, are special — even to those of us who’ve lived our entire lives in close proximity to swaying palms and white sand beaches.

For one, the seascape is different. Dozens of towering limestone cliffs dot the seas around El Nido. There are strips of white sand aplenty, but many of them are nestled between rocks of gray and clumps of green and glittering blue seas.

Another difference: a sense of space. The town of El Nido itself is cramped and necessarily busy, as one would expect of a place descended upon by busloads of tourists everyday. But out in the sea, there is an unfamiliar vastness. You feel like you’ve come to the edge of the known, that a Dawn Treader-type adventure was waiting just beyond the horizon, if you would only dare to go forward.

El Nido Paradise combo tour A & C

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How to Survive the Van to El Nido

2016 July 02

El Nido

The sharp, harsh, imposing limestone cliffs and the sparkling, placid, impossibly blue waters are just some of the reasons people are determined to visit El Nido at least once in their lifetime.

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El Nido, Palawan is paradise on earth, but as with most paradises, it’s a little tricky to get to. Visitors with a generous budget can fly direct to El Nido via AirSwift; everyone else must fly first to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, and from there take a 6-hour ride by bus or van to El Nido. The long travel time in occasionally cramped quarters can test the patience of even the most motivated travelers, but survival — and even an actually enjoyable experience — is quite possible with a bit of preparation.
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  • Book ahead and specify — insist! — that you want to reserve the seats in front, beside the driver. This way you’re likely to have more legroom and less likely to develop motion sickness. We were able to book our van transfer through El Nido Paradise for only P550 — we recommend them. Instead of you having to go to the bus terminal, El Nido Paradise can arrange to have the van pick you up at the airport (no extra fee) or at your hotel (for a P50 surcharge). They can also arrange your tours in El Nido and accept payments via PayPal, which rids you of the necessity to bring too much cash during your trip.
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  • Sleep if you can. Most people do. Bring sleep accessories if you like, such as a neck pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.
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  • Alternatively, bring entertainment. A 6-hour stint in a van is the perfect excuse to finally read those books or watch those movies you’ve previously been too busy for. Make sure to charge your phone and/or laptop before boarding, and if you have a power bank, bring that along too.
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  • If you’re prone to motion sickness, take your Bonamine an hour before ETD.
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  • Bring water and food you can snack on if necessary.
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  • Six hours can be hell on the bladder; take advantage of the pit stops. The van will stop 2 or 3 times during the journey so people can buy food and do their stuff. Fair warning: the bathrooms along the way aren’t exactly 5-star-resort quality but you’ll be fine.
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  • All vans from Puerto Princesa stop at the Corong-Corong terminal in El Nido. A tricycle (tuk-tuk) can take you the rest of the way to your hotel for only P50.
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  • On our way back to Puerto Princesa, the van we booked was scheduled to leave at 9:30 AM. We got to the terminal in Corong-Corong at around 9:10 AM, and an earlier van that was about to leave invited us to fill its last two seats. We agreed. Unfortunately, they were at the very back of the van — not even the last normal row but in the space where the luggage should have been — and we spent the next 6 hours in a very tight space. We could feel every bump in the road too. Don’t make the same mistake.
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  • If you want, you can have an entire van all to yourself. You can arrange this with El Nido Paradise as well.

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The van ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido won’t be the absolute best 6 hours of your life but it’s survivable and El Nido will be worth it.

 

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No, I’m Not Always Traveling

And other common misconceptions about people who love to travel

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Northloom_Passport Holder_Backpack

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I’ve just finished preparing a rough budget for a trip I plan to take next year with my family, and against every fiber of yearning in my body, I’ve come to accept the inevitable conclusion: I can’t afford it.

I started saving for the trip last January. It wouldn’t have been till April next year, so I still have nearly 10 months to save some more. I found a really good price for the plane tickets (and it doesn’t even involve Sheremetyevo). And I actually earn an okay income for someone who works part time.

But despite all that, I still can’t afford the trip.

Just…can’t. Not next year anyway.

And so because I’m feeling really frustrated about it at the moment, I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the most common misconceptions that people have about people who like to travel.

No. 1
No, we don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around.

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Some people are born into money and go globe-trotting even before they are potty trained.

Most of us aren’t those people.

Most of us are able to travel because we save for it.

Sometimes we really, really, really want to go somewhere and we can’t because we don’t have the budget for it. Sometimes it takes us years to save for one trip. Sometimes we save for years and it still isn’t enough. And that’s okay — not asking for sympathy, but not gonna apologize either for those times we are able to save enough.

Travel, really, is just one of those things that you decide to do and then you try to find a way to do it. It’s like when you decide to buy, say, an iPhone or a car or a house — none of which I have, by the way — and you find a way to fit the monthly payments into your budget. It’s not something you just have, it’s something you work for.

It’s funny because sometimes, when you’re traveling, people will say, “oh, wow, you must have lots of money,” and they just don’t realize that at that exact moment, you’re actually feeling like you’re practically bleeding money because you’ve spent so much already and you know it will take you a long, long time to earn that money back.

There are exceptions, obviously, but most of us — we don’t travel because we’re worth a lot, we travel because travel is worth a lot. The experience is worth the money we lose doing it.
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What You Need to Know About Online Passport Application in CEBU (2016)

25 June 2016 | What You Need to Know About Online Passport Application in CEBU
DFA Cebu - Online Passport Application in Cebu

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Good news! You can now apply for a passport online in Cebu and elsewhere in the Philippines. Now there’s no need to start standing in line at the crack of dawn.

Previously, the DFA online appointment system for passport application/renewal only worked in selected DFA offices. Now, the online appointment system has been expanded to include the following DFA Regional Consular Offices and Satellite Offices in the Philippines:

  • Angeles
  • Bacolod
  • Baguio
  • Butuan
  • Cagayan de Oro
  • Calasiao
  • Cebu (yay!)
  • DFA Manila (Aseana)
  • DFA NCR East (Megamall)
  • DFA NCR Northeast (Ali Mall)
  • DFA NCR South (Alabang)
  • DFA NCR West (SM Manila)
  • Davao
  • Dumaguete
  • General Santos
  • Iloilo
  • La Union Legazpi
  • Lucena
  • Pampanga
  • Puerto Princesa
  • Tacloban
  • Tuguegarao
  • Zamboanga

Take note: you still have to go to the DFA office to submit the required documents and have your biometric data captured. The good thing about the online appointment system is that while most DFA offices outside Manila operated on a first-come-first-served basis before — prompting people to start lining up as early as midnight — now you can just show up at your appointed time. Plus, you can now fill in the necessary information online, which saves time at the DFA. Easy!

Online passport application in Cebu

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Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the passport.gov.ph Home page to read the instructions.
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  2. After reading the instructions, click on Schedule an Appointment on the gray bar at the very top of the page (or just click HERE). There a few more instructions on this page. After making sure you understand everything, check the box next to “I have read and understood the instructions and information on this page, and agree to the Terms and Conditions on the use of this online appointment and scheduling system.” Then click on the blue boxes for either Start Individual Appointment or Start Group Appointment.
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    • You can book an appointment for up to 5 people using the Group Appointment function.
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  3. Fill in the necessary information.

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