Wednesday, June 23, 2010


People say that I have some birthmark in my feet soles. Well, I check them every day but I find none. That is actually a figurative way of saying that you are “fidgety”, that you can not sit still, you can not settle in one place.

I guess I am in terms of travel.

I love to travel a lot, I can not stay put or I get bored if I sit still in one place. Maybe this is why I am granted a job that requires me or that gives me opportunity to travel. My job that relates to traveling started when I worked with foreign-funded projects. First was in Department of Finance under its World Bank-funded Community Based Resource Management Project. Second was in Department of Agrarian Reform under its Asian Development Bank (ADB)-funded Agrarian Reform Communities Project. Third was in Department of Agriculture under its ADB-funded Infrastructure for Rural Enhancement Sector Project. And currently I am with Development Alternatives, Inc. under its US Agency for International Development-funded Philippine Water Revolving Fund – Support Program.

These projects have granted me the chance to reach and step on soils of the whole Philippine Archipelago (almost) from Cagayan Valley in the north down to Tawi-tawi in the south. I said almost because some rich provinces like Ilocos Norte were not included in the project areas. The Central Luzon also was usually not covered by the projects I worked with. And I have not stepped into Sulu soil, and I tell you I will never dare.

For more than 9 years now, I have earned lots of mileage and learned lots of travel lessons at the same time. The lessons learned from traveling as I am going to thoroughly discuss later focus solely on “survival”. My travel experiences do not only account for domestic trips but also some international (Asia Pacific, so far) tours I have afforded so far. Surviving in a place that is alien for you is the huge challenge. May it be domestic or international soils. May it be lands of people that speak the same language or not. Survival is foremostly a concern.

The following checklist of lessons that I learned from traveling around could also serve as travel tips to readers. I hope this can somehow help in one’s survival while in a new environment, new place, most especially in foreign lands.

Number 1. Have enough money, change or coins primarily.

This does not really apply for domestic travels. Basically because we know our currency (Philippine Peso or Piso), counting and changing monies is never a burden. But when you deal with foreign currencies, especially when it’s your first time to handle them, you will really encounter some level of difficulty. In regard to preparation of enough coins (barya in Tagalog or Filipino), Philippine transport requires barya only in morning trips or if you ride tricycles or pedicabs; buses are not really particular with that. However, buses in Hong Kong and Singapore require exact amount of fares; they won’t mind how much you pay for as long as it is not below the minimum. Excess payments are considered tips. So what must you do to find change? You go directly to customer service. You look for one within the airport, bus terminals, and train stations.

Number 2. Ask first if the person you approach speaks English.

You don’t need to find one when you travel domestically. Well, most Filipinos can speak English; even Carabao (uneducated) English is understandable. But all Filipinos can speak and understand Tagalog or Filipino so it won’t be a problem when you ask for direction or instructions or if you have questions. Unlike in foreign lands, especially in Hong Kong and Macau, notwithstanding the whole Mainland China, you really have to make sure first that the person you are about to ask for anything really speaks English. When I say speak, it means that he or she must not just understand English but can actually utter English term (never mind the grammar or composition and intonation). In Singapore, almost all people, Chinese and Malays, can understand and speak English. Only that understanding Chinese-kind of English-ing is difficult. I remember buying a bottled water in one of the Chinese hawkers, I was then asked by a Chinese guy who entertained me “pic os mol?” I really find it hard to decipher the message, in fact I ask him “what?” several times, until finally he signaled the message through his two hands. It was only then that I understand what he was talking or asking about, “big or small”. You just have to be courteous, patient and kind. English of Malays is relatively comprehensible. So don’t forget to ask first, “speak English?” When one answered yes or simply nods, then he or she is your guy.

Number 3. Always bring the map

Don’t ever forget tugging along with you maps. Maps of a place or country are available at the airports tourist information counters. Just make sure that it is in English or language understandable to you. Consider it as your bible when you are in that place. Losing the map will eventually leave you lost in the middle of nowhere and that’s the time to go back to number 2 tip. Another advantage of having the map is for the person, the last person you even find and ask for destination, to simply point your aspired destination in the map.

Or better yet…

Number 4. Plan your itinerary ahead of time.

Research ahead all the required information of your destination and then print it out. The printed itinerary will serve as your map. It should at least include answers to when and how to get there. I remember befriending a group of Cebuano youngsters during my one day tour in Macau, one of them kept checking loose leaves of printed articles. They confirmed to me that it was their pre-planned itinerary. I heard the girl reading “walk you way up” or “walk your way down” or “ride a bus to” sorts.

Before landing, ensure as much as possible that the itinerary is revisited. This strategy will facilitate smoothness in your travel events, from the purchase of theme parks tickets, to the familiarization of routes, to the mode of transportation to take.

Number 5. Travel alone, as much as possible.

Traveling alone is light, as in no baggage at all. This will lighten up your baggage, even if you bring with you long and huge travel bags, physically and emotionally. Touring in solo will save a lot of things. One is time; you manage your own time without compromise or maybe if you compromise your travel time, nobody else will be affected. Two is emotion. It will save you from feeling grumpy, especially when you appear to be the lead. It will also save you from feeling guilty of bringing along these people with you and lost in the middle of an alien place with them.

You may bring along someone that share the same zeal of adventure. Someone that is adept to any circumstances that come along the way. You tour to this new land might be planned but along the way you will encounter unplanned happenings or events. Events that can hold up, interrupt, or destruct your initial plans. Choose a company that can help you in anyway when needed; one that is proactive and primarily one that won’t blame you for any inconvenience or misfortune you stumble upon along the way.

Number 6. Enjoy the adventure.

You reach a particular new environment, alien place, foreign land because you want adventure, you look for new experience, and you hunger for up-to-the-minute escapades. Consider all the ups and downs of the tour as adventure. Being lost along some of the ways is more fun than the smooth-sailing journey. Plus, it is more lesson-learning or knowledge-building than unscathed tours.

Being in a new environment, in an alien place, in a foreign land is already an accomplishment. Hearing incomprehensible languages is a tough challenge. Being lost in the middle of unknown place is fun. All these and more have made your travel or tour or journey, whatever you call it, very much adventurous.

Register every single thing to your bank of lessons. You may prepare a journal or narrative report or a travel checklist to account every thing in every step of your way. So that by next time you travel, whether to the same place or a new one, you can check on it or them (if you take journals in your every trip). This will help a lot. Of course, you will encounter more new adventures, learn more new lessons, get lost more, but the point is that you have battle shields no matter how tin-made and thin, so to speak, at least you have cover or back up tips.

Number 7. Travel while young.

This is not really a requirement but at least you enjoy traveling or wandering around while at young age. Personally, I believe that touring, traveling, wandering is more enjoyed by youngsters than old adult people – I mean retirees. Let us accept the fact that it is an acceptable fact that for Filipinos, we tend to submit ourselves to hardwork when we are young and think of saving for our retirements. And only upon retirement did we think of enjoying life, having saved a lot for it. It is only then that we plan of traveling around, made a tour away from home or homeland.

For me, we don’t have to wait for retirement or retirement age to arrive. Saving for retirement is actually for mortuary purposes and not for other purposes, traveling included. Traveling while young is better, it lets you enjoy all the fun, rides all you can. Theme parks around the globe in fact are young people-friendly. Who would enjoy walking along Boracay beach in bikinis under the heat of the sun if you are old? Who would enjoy the roller coaster rides in Ocean Park or in Disneyland or in Harry Potter Wizarding World if you are old? Is it not awkward to queue for pictorials with Cinderella or Snow White or Fiona or Goofy or Pluto or Mickey when you look wrinkled and old?

My father always reminds me, “Save while you are young for your old age”. But I say, “Save and travel once in a while while at young age.” Once in a while I mean at least once a year. Travel I mean overseas. Enjoy life to the fullest starting while young so that when old age come the adventures in life could be a treasured memory.

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