I spent ten days backpacking around five different destinations in Luzon, Philippines on a tight budget. It’s cheap. Really, really, cheap! And each trip gave me a new, exciting feel. Fueled by a few wonderful secret stories kept in my jar of travel memories, my wanderlust definitely doesn’t stop here.
Normally, I spend around 15,000 to 30,000 Philippines pesos (US$300-$600) good for three to five days only on domestic trips. You may think that’s fairly reasonable. Maybe if in other countries, but here in the Philippines you can spend less and save more money. Why do you think some famous Instagram/YouTube travellers like Jeremy Jauncey (Beautiful Destinations) and Christian LeBlanc (Lost LeBlanc) love this country and keep coming back?
There’s no doubt that Philippines is one of the beautiful countries in the world. It offers plenty of places to visit. If you are a nature lover like me, crystal clear beaches, jaw-dropping waterfalls, volcanoes and lush mountains await you anytime. But this is also a great destination for men and women who are into cheap backpacking trips.
A few days before I headed out to meet my friend, who was the mastermind of everything from choosing routes to eateries and someone to blame for my broken toenails (just kidding), a budget of $200 had been already set on my mind (and pocket LOL). I wanted to see how many places I could explore with that amount. And did I mention I never planned anything? I had no idea where to go. I was like a puppy just following along and nodding everytime. Besides, spontaneous trip is fun after all!
Okay, let me cut the suspense. In more than five different places in Luzon, the biggest main island of the country, I spent less than
$1000 $200 only. For almost two weeks (ten days), that’s remarkably a 1,000 ($20) a day budget! Now, take that as your next travel challenge.
You don’t believe me? One thing you should know about me is that I hate math but I can actually applaud myself right now of successfully adding, rounding off to the nearest tenth or hundredth and converting from peso to dollar just to come out with this list of expenses so I could share to you. Those bus tickets and entrance fee receipts were a big help!
As I’ve said, I was aiming a limit of $200. Did I do it? Here’s the breakdown.
1. Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte – Days 1, 2, 3
2. Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan – Day 4
3. Bolinao, Pangasinan – Day 5
4. Mount Pinatubo in Botolan, Zambales – Day 6
5. San Antonio, Zambales – Days 8, 9, 10
*Day 7 – rest day at a cousin’s house in Capas, Tarlac (which means free food & accommodation 🙂 )
*Will share my cheap backpacking experiences of each place in the next coming weeks, so stay tuned.
PhP 10,000 (US$200)
1. Saud Beach, Blue Lagoon, Kabigan Falls, and Patapat Viaduct Bridge (Pagudpod, Ilocos Norte)
Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Accommodation: 500 (250/night)
Tour: 390 (250 tricycle + 20 Blue Lagoon entrance fee + 120 Kabigan falls entrance fee + tour guide)
Transportation: 705 (330 LU-Laoag bus + 140 Laoag-Pagudpod bus + 185 Laoag-Vigan + 50 tricycle)
Food: 500 (approximately)
TOTAL: PhP 2095 ($41.90)
Duration: 1 day
Tour: 430 (350, although it’s 1400 but divided by 4 for small boat + 40 environmental fee + 30 environmental fee + 10 insurance fee)
Transportation: 499 (380 Laoag-Urdaneta bus + 119 Urdaneta-Dagupan-Alaminos bus)
Food: 150 (approximately)
TOTAL: PhP 1079 ($21.58)
3. Patar Beach and Wonderful Cave (Bolinao, Pangasinan)
Tour: 100 (Wonderful cave entrance fee)
Transportation: 774 (87 Alaminos-Bolinao bus + 400 tricycle + 287 Bolinao-Capas, Tarlac bus)
Food: 250 (approximately)
Others: 450 (shoes & socks)
TOTAL: 1874 ($37.48)
4. Mount Pinatubo (Botolan, Zambales or Zambales Mountains)
Duration: 1 day
Tour: 2250 (lunch and water included)
Transportation: 190 (200 tricycle or 100/pax + 60 tricycle + 30 jeep)
Other: 50 (shower)
TOTAL: 2490 ($49.80)
5. Pundaquit Beach, Mount Pundaquit, Anawangin Cove, Capones Island and Camara Island (San Antonio, Zambales)
Duration: 4 days, 3 nights
Accommodation: 750 (250/night)
Tour: 200 (400 for 2)
Transportation: 343 (140 Capas-Dau bus + 58 Dau-San Antonio bus + 100 boat + 45 tricycle)
Food: 700 (approximately)
TOTAL: 1993 ($39.86)
GRAND TOTAL: 9531 ($191)
Achieved!!! Talk about some cheap backpacking goal!
Now you may want to do the same on your next adventure. Check these general tips on how to save money while travelling around the Philippines (but these may be also applied to other countries).
1. Set a budget and stick to it.
As much as possible, do not spend on things you don’t need during your travel unless it’s for emergency. Research beforehand to find out if the places or activities are worth seeing/doing for.
2. Opt for cheaper accommodation,
“Homestay” rooms and transient houses (check Airbnb) are quite common in the Philippines. Many”homestays” are half the price of most hotel room rates. Couchsurfing is a great option too.
3. Do not overspend on foods.
Try to stay away from hotel restaurants and other places that offer overpriced menus.
4. Say no to tour guides.
I only realised that tours offered in the Philippines are overrated. In addition to entrance and environmental fees, you have to pay for tour guides. For instance, the Mount Pinatubo trek doesn’t need to have a guide since there’s a trail to follow and if you ask me the degree of difficulty is a beginner’s level.
One mistake we did was paying for a local tour guide for the Kabigan waterfall, which is very accessible within 20 minutes. No mountains to climb, no rivers to cross, just flat field surrounded by many trees and rice plantations. Paid for 120 pesos just for that, sigh.
It does help financially for most of my fellow citizens, especially boatmen and locals. I also understand that it’s for your own safety and security. But if the route is super easy to take (no hazard) and you’ve done trekking or hiking several times, skip having one. Unless it is required by the Department of Tourism (DOT) or the place is only accessible by boat, then you have no choice. Make sure to get a receipt (no receipt means not local government issued).
5. Travel with someone or a group of friends.
This is the best way to reduce your travel expenses. You share a room or boat with 4 or 5 people, you get to save about 50% to 75%. I do need more travel buddies who have that same wanderlust desire – more manageable when it comes to budget.
I was never comfortable trying to make deals with people just to get discounts or reduced price over things. But I learned it’s a good tactic if you want to spend less. From tricycles to rooms, we negotiate by simply asking a much cheaper price. Don’t quickly say yes to a rate they offer. Sometimes, your tenacity can pay off. After all, as a Filipino, we are known to make “tawad” moves haha.
P.S. Thanks to my friend ES for allowing me to use some of the photos above. Most importantly, for the amazing memories we made from this series of epic cheap backpacking trips!
What do you think of my cheap backpacking experiences? Do you think it’s a good idea to try cutting down expenses while on vacation? Were you able to have a fun, epic trip without spending too much money?