A Philippines Travel Guide for First-Timers

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As a Filipino-American, it took me some time to warm up to my ancestral homeland of the Philippines. But once I experienced it for the first time myself, I fell in love and haven’t looked back since. As one of the most scenic locations in all of Asia, the Philippines has become a vacation hotspot in recent decades, drawing in a whole new wave of tourists from all over the world. It’s not hard to see why-pristine, remote island beaches accompanied with friendly locals and stunning wildlife make for a once in a lifetime trip. For those who have never been, the following are just a few key aspects of this country that may sway you in visiting sooner than later.

Hospitality

As mentioned, Filipinos have a reputation as being very kind and generous, being warm and welcoming to tourists and encouraging them to explore their native country. Many Filipino’s take pride in their country, showcasing the best parts of the Philippines for visiting tourists. Singing and dancing is an enormous part of the culture here, so don’t be surprised if you’re pulled into one of the many celebratory events going on throughout the summer.

Rarely is a tourist’s naivety or unfamiliarity taken advantage of in the Philippines. The locals are happy to lend a helping hand and ensure that your time spent in their country is enjoyable, memorable, and leaving you wanting to come back again.

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Having said that, it’s also highly important to remember that as a visitor in their country, you should be respectful and humble at any place you find yourself. There are many things you might find odd or strange in their culture that might conflict with your own, but it’s always a good idea to respect the differences and focus on just enjoying your time.

Beaches

Being one of the largest collections of islands with 7,107 total, the Philippines has some of the most flawless beaches in the world. White sand, crystal blue waters, and incredible rock formations make up hundreds of these somewhat private locations, which are not always flooded with tourists so long as you know where to look.

Perhaps one of the most iconic beaches and best one for your Instagram feed is White Beach in Boracay. This beach consistently finds a spot on the list of top 10 beaches in the world, and is one of the most famous. That being said, the crowds here may be a little larger than what you’re looking for, but the aesthetic is absolutely worth the trip.

Nature

If part of your vacation plans involves seeing exotic wildlife, the Philippines then becomes that much more appealing. Home to some of the most diverse animals and plant life on Earth, this country includes nearly 200 species of mammals, over 600 species of birds, hundreds of reptiles, amphibious creatures, and coral species. One of the most popular attractions here is swimming with the native whale sharks.

In terms of geography, there are a total of 37 volcanoes found throughout the Philippines, all of which are accessible via hiking tours in addition to the country’s many caves, lakes, and waterfalls. To add to its beauty, temperatures here rarely ever reach levels of extreme heat or cold, making a trip here ideal in nearly any month of the year. However, experienced visitors typically recommend anytime between the months of November and May.

Food

As the late Anthony Bourdain once famously said, “Filipino’s love feeding people”. While Filipino cuisine may not be as well known around the world as their Asian counterparts, you might be more than impressed with some of the food you may encounter here. A traditional Filipino meal will have tourists experiencing a mix of Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and even American-style cuisine, with foods like pancit, sinigang, barbecued chicken intestines, halo-halo, and much, much more.

The fruits found growing around the Philippines are among the freshest you will most likely ever try. From fresh mangos, pineapples, to coconuts, to papayas, Filipino fruit grows within an incredibly nurturing environment that adds to its flavor.

And good news for the avid seafood enthusiasts, the plethora of sea creatures found around the Philippines’ many coasts including lobster, crab, tiger prawns, and octopus among many others. Chefs around the country are highly skilled in preparing some of the most delicious seafood meals in Asia. However, if you are less inclined to try something adventurous, there are still plenty of options for those that are more accustomed to the Western ideals of flavor.

And did I mention how inexpensive eating out in the Philippines can be? More often than not, you’ll pay a fraction of what you might pay for a similar meal in North America or Europe.

Relaxation

While all of the aforementioned aspects certainly fall under this category, the Philippines is also a perfect getaway for travelers who would prefer to do nothing other than relax, unwind, and fully embrace a week of well deserved laziness. For starters, prices for alcoholic beverages, just like the food, are significantly cheaper than most other countries. Rum is actually cheaper than most of the juices served throughout the restaurant scene seeing as these juices come from the highly sought after fruits around the islands. Their Red Horse beer cost just 20 pesos, and is a little stronger than the average beer with 6.8% alcohol; a cheap, delicious way to take the edge off.

Once you’ve settled in and grabbed a drink, add even more to your spiritual pampering with a massage on the beach, or at one of the many spas around the country. From Swedish, to Shiatsu, to manicures and pedicures, Filipino spas and masseuses offer several different types of massages and are usually more dedicated and experienced than the types of massages you’d find elsewhere. Additionally, over 75% of the country speaks English, so language barriers are hardly ever a problem.

For more info on the Philippines and how to book your first trip, check out this site here and do some research of your own. The experiences mentioned above are just scratching the surface of what you can do in this beautiful country, and if you’re still thinking about it, take my word that you won’t ever regret making the trip.

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Overcoming Language Barriers When Traveling

As exciting as traveling to a new country can be, the inability to speak the native tongue can be daunting. However, it should never be a reason not to travel. There are many ways visitors can get by in a country without so much as speaking a single word (though that certainly helps). I’ve brainstormed a few tips to overcome that language barrier and effectively find your way in a foreign land.

Download a Translation App

Perhaps the most obvious way to communicate with someone who speaks another language is to download one of the many language translation apps that exist today. While choosing one is based entirely on preference, many tend to work very well. Depending on the complexity of the language you are trying to speak, some apps may work better than others. These are great for deciphering menus or written text, and can even be used in conversation.

Utilize Body Language

If verbal communication is not an option, speaking with your hands and face is the next best thing. Be expressive with your body movements. Pointing, nodding, or shaking your head can accurately convey what you are trying to say to a local in that country, but be wary of socially acceptable and unacceptable gestures.

For example, signaling “thumbs up” may be seen as positive here in the United States, but in the Middle East, it is an extremely offensive gesture. In the United Kingdom, what we Americans call the “peace sign” is actually a very rude gesture when given with the back of the hand facing out. Do some research on the cultural norms of the country you are visiting beforehand to avoid any faux pas. It’s safe to say the middle finger is probably disrespectful anywhere.

Study the Basics

Even though learning an entirely new language can be time consuming and downright inconvenient just before a trip, it’s often seen as rude to not learn at least a few basic words of the native tongue you are about to be surrounded by. Simply being able to say things like “thank you,” “excuse me,” “sorry,” or “I only speak English” can effectively tell locals that you need their help in terms of navigation or translation. It’s also very respectful to show that you’ve taken the time to learn some of their language, which often translates to appreciation. In my experience, even saying “hello” in their native tongue can elicit a smile back.

Hire Assistance

If you’re visiting a country with an extremely difficult language to learn and are not comfortable getting around yourself, you have the option of working with a local travel agent for assistance. These professional guides know their way around the country and can step in to help translate certain situations. This is especially useful when you are trying to book a flight or lodging.

Local tour guides can be just as helpful, and are often much more in touch with their respective communities. Aside from being taken on breathtaking sightseeing tours, these guides can help you practice the local language and learn more about the layouts of the country. If you are staying at a hotel, oftentimes their concierge department can provide you with a trusty guide to join you on your ventures.

Get to know a local

Saving the best for last, by far my favorite method of overcoming language barriers is simply through meeting a local, or traveling with someone that speaks the local language. Having a friend who can interpret those tricky conversations can reduce a lot of confusion and frustration on your part, as well as the locals trying to help you. Plus, they can help you find your confidence with pronunciations, common usages, and cultural subtleties, which is difficult to learn through books alone.

Originally posted on LeonardRaymundo.org

New Zealand’s Greatest Attractions

Commonly referred to as the adventure capital of the world, New Zealand is full of exciting activities and stunning sights that locals take pride in and tourists can enjoy on a daily basis. With a landscape beautiful enough to garner the attention of numerous film crews (see The Lord of the Rings trilogy), New Zealand has just about everything. From adventurists to food connoisseurs, nearly everyone who visits this country is sure to find something for them.

Hang Gliding

Being the adventure capital of the world, New Zealand’s enormous mountain ranges make for some of the most opportune hang gliding experiences. Beginning at Coronet Peak, the highest takeoff point in Queenstown, visitors are paired with an experienced instructor before flying over some of the most scenic landscapes you will ever see.

The Tamaki Maori Village

For one of the coolest history lessons you’ll ever receive, check out the Tamaki Maori Village in Rotorua to learn about Polynesian culture and their practices. Guests can stay overnight, taste traditional food, and see traditional rituals and ceremonies dating back to the 13th century. These ancient warriors are of the most proud cultures in the world, and express their deep roots through some truly awesome dances and songs.

Zorbing

As weird as this activity may sound, it can be incredibly fun. Starting right here in New Zealand, Zorbing involves tumbling down a hill in a giant protective orb typically made of inflatable transparent plastic. They aren’t as dangerous as they sound. Their protective makeup is also buoyant, so they can remain floating in a body of water. Those inside are strapped safely with harnesses before they are sent rolling down various courses.

Rotorua, being the birthplace of this activity, has numerous courses visitors can check out, as well as plenty of hot springs to help you relax following the plenty of adventures you’re bound to have.

Whale Watching

Being a coastal country, New Zealand is home to many of the world’s sea creatures. In Kaikoura specifically, both humpback whales and orcas are spotted so frequently, that if whale watching groups don’t see any during their time at see, all guests are refunding 80% of their ticket money; a pretty confident, yet admirable gesture.

Originally posted on LeonardRaymundo.org

The Least Touristy Places to See in Europe

While seeing some of the most well known locations and landmarks in the world should be on everyone’s travel-related bucket list, avid, more experienced travelers rarely want to visit a place with enormous crowds.

Given the sheer number of popular destinations located in Europe, visiting any country within this continent may seem like a tourist trap. However, if you know where to look, you can find a number of roads less traveled. Below are a few spots to check out that rarely see hordes of people reminiscent of the zombies from World War Z.

Latvia

It’s surprising that this neighboring country of Scandinavia is not visited more frequently given the sheer beauty of its capital Riga. With German architecture boasting some of the most colorful buildings you’ll ever see, the gardens filled with impossibly vibrant flowers are even more accentuated. As an added bonus, hotels and Airbnb’s here are often much cheaper than those within surrounding countries.

The Gauja National Park is another visually stunning Latvian destination that should be included on your European itinerary. Here, guests can see the natural beauty of local nature, take historical tours, ride horseback, kayak or raft, and much, much more.

Calabria, Italy

Visiting Italy to get away from the crowds may seem counterintuitive, but the town of Calabria (otherwise known as the “toe” of the boot) is often left unvisited due to the huge number of must-sees throughout other regions of the country. It is a gorgeous cliff-side city with some of the best beaches in Europe, the only downside being you are less likely to find an English-speaking local within its boundaries. But, the food and ambiance alone is enough to convince you to stay for at least a few days.

Salema, Portugal

This is a fishing village exposed to the Atlantic Ocean that is perfect for travelers that want to experience the reality of life in a quiet town. Salema is unlike its neighboring resorts that attract so many tourists. Its beaches and serene community are a nice break from the noise and liveliness contained within an all-inclusive. Visitors can relax on the sand, dine in local cafes, or hike along the cliffs while enjoying the silence accompanied with the quaint little village.

Lofoten, Norway

Located in the county of Nordland, Lofoten is a visually stunning district with one of the highest temperatures relative to latitude in the Arctic Circle thanks to the Gulf Stream. The amazing weather here is the icing on the several-tiered cake that includes scenic hiking and outdoorsy spots such as Trollfjord, the Lofotr Viking Museum, and an up-close-and-personal look at the country’s nature via the Røst Islands.

Check out LeonardRaymundo.org for more!