It was my sister who gave me the hot tip for this week’s Real People featured traveler. She said Jelly Macachor, her classmate in high school, had been having the most amazing adventures and I should feature her, like, stat. She was right! Not only has Jelly been in the most beautiful places, she also has heaps of tips for those of us dreaming of walking where her feet (or flippers!) have tread. Read on and be inspired.
Although I was born and raised in Cebu, for the last eight years of my life I was living in Manila and was Client Services Director for the country’s largest PR firm. I was blessed to be in a practice that was challenging and rewarding – one that allowed me to do my fair share of traveling for both business and leisure. But I genuinely wanted to come back home and explore my opportunities here. The exploration continues to this day, in between travels and discovering potential new addictions (like watercolor drawings).
HOW DO YOU FUND YOUR TRAVELS?
While I was still working, I made it a point to take two trips every year, as much as possible to places I have never been. In January, I would estimate an amount for each trip and work towards it. Any impulse travels in between would be paid for, suffered through, but ultimately savored via credit card. The lesson here is: avoid debt; have both short term and long term travel funds.
Also, two years before my sabbatical, I was saving 20% of my monthly paycheck for my mini escape fund. This is what has taken me through three international and two local trips in the last four months. I should mention though that my boyfriend Joey, who is equally passionate about traveling, likes to feed me well during trips. This has largely contributed to me still being able to pay my bills today.
WHERE WAS YOUR MOST RECENT TRAVEL?
Since having been licensed as an open water diver last June (and maybe having a boyfriend who’s a dive master has something to do with it as well), I have been targeting destinations that allow for an underwater adventure side trip. This includes Bali, Indonesia (for gargantuan manta rays and elusive mola-molas in Nusa Penida) last August and Palawan (for barracuda and turtles in El Nido and a taste of wreck diving in Coron) last October.
As for tips, I have so many! I’ll try to be brief but forgive me if I get carried away, especially in my restaurant recommendations.
Where to go: If you can (and you must), do not just stick to one area of the island. Nearly all parts of Bali have something unique to offer and a distinct vibe to appreciate (and they aren’t all like Kuta). This trip, we covered Ubud with its rice terraces, temples, museums and coffee plantations; Seminyak with its beginner-friendly surfing waves, trendy local designer shops and so many yummy restaurants; and a small island called Lembogan where you can snorkel with manta rays all year round. But I wouldn’t mind discovering Ulu Watu, Sanur, Gili Islands or even posh Nusa Dua for the next time!
What to eat: Bali is foodie heaven. I cannot stop raving about (and craving for) the food we discovered there. From chic seven-course meals overlooking the cliffs of the island to hole-in-the wall warungs that will have you addicted to their sambal – you’d have to be deaf, blind and mute to not find your way to good food there. Topping my list is La Luciola, Mozaic, Ultimo, La Plancha, Mama San, Naughty Nuri’s, Babi Guling Pak Malen or Babi Guling Ibu Oka, Bebek Tepi Sewah or Bebek Benggil (oh deep fried duck, where are you), Warung Made, Bistrot, Potato Head, Revolver Coffee. The list is miles long. Just start on Seminyak St and eat your way through to Oberoi.
To DIY or not DIY: I’m the type of traveler who enjoys some planning, but also some not knowing and getting lost, so all of my travels have been DIY (case in point, a surprise 9-hour pump boat ride from El Nido to Coron). Palawan, however, would probably be the only place I would recommend having at least some parts of your trip taken care of by a travel agent because of the permits needed to visit some spots. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, for example, can be tricky to visit especially in high season as they only accept a certain number of visitors per day.
El Nido or Coron: It’s hard to pick between paradise and heaven. These two gorgeous, majestic islands each have so many things to offer travelers beyond their beautiful beaches. If, like me, you have a flirtation with diving, it’s impossible not to get tempted with the idea of diving in Tubbataha or diving all the wrecks in Coron. At gunpoint though, I would have to say that the hidden beaches and secret lagoons of El Nido took my breath and my impartialness away.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING NEXT?
Phuket, Koh Phi Phi and Krabi in Thailand! I was in Phuket for business about five years ago and was sad to not have had the chance to really explore the island. This time around, I’m cramming everything into my magic wish list (85% of my last Bali list came true) and praying to my travel fairies.
WHAT ARE THE PLACES AT THE TOP OF YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET LIST?
I have a 30 Before 30 list that includes more than its fair share of travel to-do’s including traveling alone, getting myself to Harry Potter World, and visiting six new places in the Philippines.
But if I had to name my dream travels it would include:
- Philippines — Biking in Batanes, diving in Saranggani, Tubbataha and Apo Reef, looking for whale sharks in Bicol.
- Asia — Spending Autumn in Osaka and Tokyo, cruising along Halong Bay in Hanoi, getting lost in Shanghai, and diving in Sipadan in Malaysia.
- The rest of the world — Burning in the desert in Morocco, diving the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, spending siesta in Spain, beach bumming in Maldives and Fiji, trekking the Amazon in South America (Brazil!), and eating my way through France and Italy! There’s so much to do and see!
This would be akin to a mother choosing among her children but if I can amend the question a little and instead talk about my favorite travel experiences, it might be a bit more forgivable:
- Racing around Hong Kong with four sisters, four in-laws, four nephews and four nieces. We only had three days in the city but we managed to see most of everything. I don’t remember being so tired and exhilarated in my entire life.
- Backpacking through Vietnam and Cambodia with my best friend Leslie. All the bus rides bruised my butt but seeing the sun rise over Angkor Wat made it worth it.
- Riding around in motorbikes in Koh Chang in Thailand. Actually, put me on a motorbike riding around an unfamiliar island and I’m one happy cookie. But this was my first trip with my boyfriend and I guess everything about that place will always be memorable.
- Jumping off a small cliff from Sohoton Cave in Siargao with a handful of high school friends. Nearly every year through college and beyond, a bunch of us would make our way (haphazardly) to somewhere different, barbecue on the beach, and Red Horse our way through shooting stars.
- Seeing Monster Trucks in the middle of the Las Vegas desert. This was a short work trip but seeing the finals of the Monster Truck Show in a sky booth was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Chasing after dolphins in Guam. Another work trip that gave me many lasting memories (shopping included).
I usually scrimp on hotels to be able to spend more on food and dives so, admittedly, nothing special pops to mind. Maybe my favorite was Bumi Ubud Resort while we were in Bali. The pool overlooks rice paddies and, once, a komodo dragon casually walked by while I was sunbathing.
Of wanting to try everything and leaving behind all semblances of a balanced diet while traveling, I truly am guilty. If I had to choose my super favorites among my many favorites, it would include: brunch at La Luciola in Seminyak, Bali; tasting luwak/ civet coffee at the Bali Pulina Coffee Plantation in Bali; sunset dinner at Buddha View in the Bang Bao Pier in Koh Chang, Thailand; everything on every stall in Lau Pa Sat in Singapore; poolside meals at Amorita in Panglao, Bohol; lobster-all-you-can grilled right on the beach in Coron, Palawan; participating in a traditional Chamorro meal (complete with banana leaf-smoked wild boar) in Guam; street food in Vietnam (at a place whose name I can’t even remember but whose smell I can), and breakfast buffets at the Venetian in Las Vegas.
I have great respect for all types of travelers (except maybe for those who willfully choose to eat at a fast food chain instead of eating local) but I guess I always try to emulate being an explorer versus being a tourist. I’m far from a NatGeo specialist but in my own ways I try to make my trips more meaningful.
I only bring what I can carry. Sure, my 36kg backpack is a little chubby-looking but I always manage my luggage without help. A good rule might be: if you can walk a mile with it without complaining, then you have enough.
I open myself up to the local culture and heritage. Whether it’s talking to a local or picking up a guide, soaking up a bit of history while visiting a place can enrich your experience threefold.
I take photos for good memories but make sure I don’t miss out on the memory being made. I’m guilty of taking too many photos while traveling but I try to be more mindful of what’s happening in front of me than being behind the lens.
I practice good karma. I admit it, I’m a much nicer person when I’m traveling. I tip better. I am more friendly to strangers. I make it a point to help fellow travelers when I can. I try to help locals make a better living. It’s a way of life I try to emulate even when I’m home.
INSPIRATION FOR ASPIRING TRAVELERS
I am very close to my family and I attribute how I approach traveling to what I learned as a kid. I hope this makes sense to someone out there thinking of their travel plans.
Only you can make it happen. I come from a middle-income family and although our parents probably wanted to take us everywhere, travel wasn’t a big priority. What they did give me was encouragement, a sense of curiosity and adventure and the determination to work for what I wanted out of life. I grew up without a sense of entitlement, knowing that only I can make things happen for myself — and that includes traveling.
Collect experiences not things. Like any girl, I like pretty things (and when I say pretty things I mean handbags). But when it boils down to either shopping today or having more to spend on my next trip, it’s not a difficult choice to make. I consider many of my traveling experiences priceless and the thought of the limitless possibilities out there is enough to make me scrimp on my next pair of shoes.
I also believe that this lifetime will never be enough for all the travel adventures I want to have so I try to make do and live vicariously through other inspiring travelers like Edgar Allan Yap (eazytraveler.net), Corrine Thiessen (@corrine_t on IG), and Sole Sisters (wearesolesisters.com).
Be curious. Live curious. One of my mother’s favorite things to say is “At least, nakasuway ka.” (At least you tried it.) And she has always encouraged me to chase after what makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. Whenever I visit a new place, I try to leave behind all preconceptions and truly live in the present, absorbing everything, appreciating everything. I find myself thinking, what if I never pass this way again and it’s in these moments that I fall in love with traveling over and over again.