“I don’t understand why you solo travel in the Philippines? It’s not Safe being solo for a woman, you will also be lonely”
This is an overused line that I always hear whenever I am traveling in the country.
A thought of traveling solo might be nerve-wracking to many. While I could not exactly pinpoint everything that’s cracking me on my very first day traveling alone, I somehow understood why I choose to take the path.
Fortunately, at the age of 18, I had the opportunity experiencing first time in traveling solo. Although it was only a short trip, yet, it was strongly convincing in directing myself to travel more until this time. In case you don’t know, an 18-year-old Asian traveling solo as a woman is not a norm in my country.
The Philippines has been sighted as one of the not-so-safe countries to visit in the world. Moreso, for solo travelers who are women. While I may not be able to justify that, I would want to show you the other side of the country. As though we have different opinions regarding what does a “safe country means”, allow me to share my thoughts and opinion on things that a woman should know when traveling in the Philippines. Favorably, my personal exposure to 40 provinces of the country will hopefully give good insights to you.
Not only are women who asked the safety of the country, but, those men that I know of, wanting clear words from me how safe it is before they fly to the Philippines.
So, with this in mind, here are my top things a woman should know when traveling solo to this country:
How to Interact with The Local People
Embrace their Hospitality
The people of the Philippines are known for being hospitable. In which, to a point, they are willing to host you when you need a place to stay or food to eat. Speaking of which, food is the best thing they can easily invite you in. And there are also a group of men having drinking session on the streets that will certainly propose a shot for you, but of course, you can say “NO” in a polite way.
One of the things that you’d notice is that people will either smile, nod at you or they simply use their eyebrows to both raise it as their way of saying “Hello”. In addition, they also like initiating a conversation with the word “Kumusta?”, which to some shortened it as “Musta?”, translated as “How are you?”. On a positive side, they are ebullient, happy and welcoming.
Be also Vigilant, but imposed with politeness to avoid misunderstanding
Sadly, not all of the Filipinos are welcoming. So, when you are in the country and all of a sudden have a bad experience with people like this, I suggest to strongly use your strong instinct and avoid any contacts. Sometimes, we can unexpectedly experience being in the wrong place at the wrong timing. The same thing that could happen when in other countries. Big Cities like Manila and Cebu have locals that are in a rush most of the time so you may find them snobbish, not the majority of them though, but you will definitely encounter one.
Touristy areas are one of the hurdles, more likely to famous spots in a certain place. And yes, it happens as I myself had experience locals giving a bad impression to a place because of the way local tour guides and operators approach guests. Some would harass by following the guests wherever they are forcing them to take their service. This most especially happens when negotiating with boat operators, tricycle drivers, and tour operators.
Do NOT let them follow you, nor give them the idea on where you are staying! They will not stop chasing at you, this mostly happens in Moalboal, Cebu and Panglao, Bohol.
To avoid encountering people like this, YOU MUST RESEARCH ONLINE and ASK EVERY PERSON YOU KNOW who have been to a certain place.
On the other note, some locals that are not even in a touristy area will expect from you to give them something (a small token) when they are helping you. Though this doesn’t happen everywhere, there are instances that this exist. As a woman, this is tricky, because there are men who would love to be a “gentleman” by helping you out especially when they think you are having some difficulty. I AM NOT GENERALIZING men that ALL of them are doing this, but like I mentioned Research first about the place and Be Vigilant. And if you feel harassed, don’t hesitate to speak up.
Extend your Patience and Widened your Understanding
Being a Filipino, traveling solo is so unconventional especially for women. Thus, I get a lot of questions, concerns and somehow people are protective as well. Without a doubt, I do understand why they are like this.
I’ve been bombarded with questions like:
“Why are you alone?”
“Where’s your husband?”
and a surprising face (like an icon surprising face) with the word “What?, How come?”
“Aren’t you afraid?”
“It’s not safe, do not travel by yourself”
In my opinion and experience, these questions might come as offensive and really irritating, I do understand your predicaments. Furthermore, the way they speak can be implied as being judgemental, as well as with their tone of words. Sweat it out, for this is actually their way of being a concern and protective even for strangers or travelers like you and I. The culture they live in is like that, somehow extremely concern and would really extend help to people even if you are not asking for one. In addition, the way they approach may come as a foul play, if it is too much on your side, you have the reason to let them know.
One way to deal with or treat this kind of situation is to give them a smile and politely exit from this kind of circumstance. No words, and just by telling them “I do understand” and gracefully exit, people will absolutely be going to understand. But then again, if you think and feel that it is too much, you have the reason to act upon it.
To give you more awareness you may check this link about the Characteristics of Filipinos:
The transportation system is a bit complicated, a foreigner who is new to the Philippines might be surprised or get annoyed by the process. For one thing, with more than 7,000 islands it can get problematic especially the slow scheme. Although it is a bit hard, it is somehow workable.
Manila traffic is one of the worst in the world. Congested, overpopulated and polluted which will not help when weather is so humid. This is what to expect when you arrive in the capital city of the country.
Solo travelers can take either Yellow Taxi or White Taxi upon arrival at both the Manila International Airport and Cebu International Airport. These are safe to take especially when you book ahead from Yellow Taxi, while White Taxi can be unpredictable as there those that will scam you with the rates, at any rate, you may check a calculated rate from this link. While White taxi has the possibility to charge more, always negotiate for the meter rate than a fixed rate. Also, don’t forget to check right away the meter if they set it immediately when you get inside.
Grab and Uber are also available which I frequently use when I’m both in Cebu City and Manila. If you feel taking a taxi is unsafe for you, there are carpools as well, just check both the apps of Uber and Grab to know their schedules or better yet, download the app before arriving.
Hiring a private car or taxis is expensive as a solo traveler. However, Angkas company is also serving for those in a hurry and can help you skip the traffic jam. Angkas is a motorbike service with a driver that can take you to places that are included on their coverage. There are selected areas available that you can check out here. Also, you must think wisely if it’s comfortable for you to take the ride with your huge bags in a motorbike.
Apart from taxi, local bus and jeepney are available. Take extra precautions when riding these local transport as there are so many instances where robberies happened. It’s not that I am telling this to scare you, it’s giving you ideas to protect yourself in case this happens. Cellular phones are the target of the thief, so be very careful.
One loophole when hiring a tricycle or a transport service to other towns, it can be really expensive for solo travelers, though haggling is advisable, joining local commuters is also helpful in slashing your cash. The turn-around time and waiting time when taking these transport vehicles from towns outside the big cities can take a long time to wait. It’s laid back when you are on an island taking jeepneys packed with passengers, as it’s really full. But it is also the most enjoyable riding experience.
Places to Stay (Hotels, Inns, B&B, Hostel, Homestays)
Rates of the places to stay in the Philippines are not as cheap as the other neighboring countries in SouthEast Asia. Though you can look for like Php 150.00/room, these can only be found in the remote and unknown towns outside big cities, like what I stayed in Hinobaan and also during my visit to Panay Island. Other areas may range from Php 500.00 – Php 2,000.00 for a bed and breakfast place.
Makati City is the best option when in Manila. The city is easy to navigate and near to the airport.
On the other towns and cities, the hostels and hotels are safe to stay in. As I mentioned, locals may also invite you to stay in their place, be that as it may, an impulsive decision to say “Yes” can be risky, use your strong instinct to make a decision like this. However, if you truly want to know local living, Couchsurfing.org can help you have this experience and the homestays.ph offers this kind of stay with a fee.
One tip which I’ve done many times is searching for the location where traveling salesmen or what we call “Ahente’s Place”. It’s a pension house where traveling salesmen stays around the country. The room is usually cheaper than many pension houses. The downside is, it is usually full during weekdays and some owners don’t allow outsiders during those time.
Filipino have a lot of exotic food, that’s why many foreigners that I met don’t like the country’s food. But, when you dig deeper there are a variety of tasty cuisines that this country offers.
Rice is the staple food of the country. This is an important lifestyle of the people as they eat more than 5 times a day. This consists of Breakfast, Snacks, Lunch, Snacks, and Dinner, where snack time could also be after dinner too.
Meat is quite famous, the reason that many vegetarian travelers had a hard time finding their right food especially in the rural and remote areas. But, if you search deeper, there are plenty and an array of vegetables that you can choose from.
Furthermore, street foods are also visible to many areas but not as rampant as it is in the neighboring countries. However, this also differs on which town and island you are in, there are towns that offer a variety and massive stalls for street food, while others have limited food stalls.
The best way to understand the different recipes is to check and dine in at local restaurants which we call as “Carenderia” can be found everywhere on the streets and with a price lesser than Php 100.00 ($2.00) per meal.
Kitchen utensils use are only a spoon and a fork. Additionally, they mastered using their hands in eating without the use of any utensils, indeed this is their way of having an enjoyable meal.
Filipinos also like sweets. If you crave for sweet food, theirs has one of the best. Check halo-halo dessert which is incomparable.
Food Price Range, in general, can be identified as Php 50.00-Php250.00 as local meal price, when a restaurant charges from Php 350.00 and up, that already means costly for the local.
It is safe to travel to different islands in the Philippines. In spite of, foreigners are restricted to visit Mindanao, but there are also very few islands that are allowed for them to visit, like Camiguin and Siargao. Please double check when entering the country about the restriction of the areas that you shouldn’t visit. Each island also varies when it comes to cost, some may be really cheap while others can be extremely expensive by a local standard. Take for instance Palawan, Bohol, Boracay, and Siargao, these islands can have a higher cost to travel to.
Traveling solo as a woman in the Philippines is SAFE, there are amazing women who have traveled in the country. Always remember to take precautions, be vigilant, research and enjoy the country.
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Author: Ferna Mae
Ferna is a spontaneous traveler from the Philippines who had a great experience traveling her own country first before she embarked to other countries. She thrives to be more independent in her own skin. Connect with her at email@example.com