Recreational Outdoor Exchange (R.O.X.) had a free lecture last Sunday at their awesome store at the Bonifacio High Street. They invited speakers who have done it, are currently doing it, and will be doing it. Backpacking, that is.
First to speak are newlyweds Gabby and Mench Dizon. They are both avid travelers, and to finance their upcoming Morocco trip, they decided to make a different kind of wedding registry. Instead of setting up a registry with Rustan’s, they put up their honeymoon itinerary in their wedding site, www.manilatomorocco.com. Friends and family can just pick out the activities they want to pledge for as wedding gifts to the couple.
Nice idea, eh? So far they were able to raise 75% of their trip budget, and looking forward to raising the remaining 25% before the trip in October.
The next speaker was student and travel blogger, Ivan Henares. Ever the true traveler, Ivan has just arrived that day from Spain, and is preparing for his next flight out of the country. He shared his tips on how to save money on airfares: sign up for airline’s mailing lists to avail of heavily discounted fares. When choosing a destination, he recommends going to the Unesco World Heritage Sites. There are five in the Philippines: the Baroque Churches (San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila; Church of La Nuesta Senora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur; Church of San Agustin in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, and; Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo), the Historic Town of Vigan, Ilocos Sur, the Rice Terraces of the Philippines in Cordillera (Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Nagacadan, and Hungduan), the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, both in Palawan.
The last two were Robert Alejandro and Jetro Rafael. Both Robert and Jetro went on a backpacking trip a couple of years ago through Southeast Asia and China. Jetro wasn’t really happy with his job anymore, and as fate would have it, an e-mail came in that (sort of) changed his life. The sender asked if he wanted to go to 9 countries with only Php45,000. Together with Robert, they met with the original writer of the e-mail, a guy who turned out to have already done it, and just wanted to do it again. For three months they traveled from Manila to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Bangkok, Kanchanaburi, Luang Prabang, Vientiene, Siem Reap, Phnom Phen, Ho Chi Minh, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hanoi, Nanning, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzen, Macau and Hong Kong. They took all forms of cheap transport: budget airlines, trains (in lower class cabins), public busses, and slow boats. They slept in hostels, and made friends from all over the world. Traveling cheap IS possible, and fun to boot.
Now R.O.X. asks, How do we create a backpacking community? There are established online communities of backpackers online: Thorn Tree forums, Bootsnall, CouchSurfing. In the Philippines, however, there’s none. Ivan says it’s because there’s no established backpacking trail in the Philippines.
I guess it’s because we’re still in the process of realizing that we can travel without spending a lot of money. Years ago, traveling has pretty much been the realm of the rich and the overseas worker. Nowadays, thanks to budget carriers, it’s easier and cheaper to travel domestically and even internationally. Thanks to the internet, it’s also so much easier to research destinations and book transportation and accomodation ahead of time.
One of the attendees remarked that when you say backpacker, the image is usually that of a male traveler. She asked Mench for tips on backpacking as a woman. Having traveled solo, and having meet other solo female travelers, it’s surprising to hear this statement. Actually, from experience, when locals learn that I’m traveling solo, they become more concerned about my safety than I am about my own. Well, whether you’re a guy or a girl traveling, always be alert and use your common sense. You don’t necessarily have to distrust every local you came across (they’re not all trying to scam you), but at the same time, be mindful of where you are.
Back to the question, how do we create a backpacking community? The talk is actually a great start. Another would be to provide information of possible places to go, as well as itineraries and estimate budget. Another would be to organize group trips, where people can sign up and get a first hand experience on how to travel on a shoestring budget.
I’d think of a couple more ways, but my head is now filled with thoughts of backpacking through Asia I can’t concentrate. Have to plan for next year!