Wednesday, September 09, 2015

How To Travel Safely in the Philippines

The Philippines is a very beautiful country. It has everything everyone is looking for – long white sandy beaches, heritage sites, endemic plants and wildlife and great people.

In most cases and in several places, it is actually very safe to travel in the Philippines even if you are a conspicuous foreigner or a first time tourist.  You can actually do a “walking tour” around Manila and other major cities without getting harmed.  Filipinos are generally friendly and you will meet smiles as you walk from one destination to the other.  If you need to ask for directions or need help in taking your photos, it is generally safe to ask anyone for assistance.

But just like in other countries, there are remote and isolated cases of petty crimes such as theft, pickpockets or getting ripped off by unscrupulous individuals. Yet, after traveling to different parts of the Philippines and living here for decades, I can assure you that it is very safe to travel in this country.

Here are some tips for foreigners and first-time tourists who are planning to travel around the Philippines:

(1)  Hire a reputable travel agency. Sad to admit that the Philippine transportation system has lots of things to improve. For a foreigner, it is very difficult to travel around Manila and other major cities commuting or being dependent on the mass transportation system. 

    From the airport, it is not easy to hail a taxi to your hotel due to the traffic and the number of passengers waiting to get a ride. Due to this situation, foreigners and first-time visitors often fell prey to rip-offs when riding a taxi. There are notorious taxi drivers who instead of running the meter will resort to the illegal “contracting system” which usually result to a higher fare.  It is great to know that in Baguio, Cebu and Davao these cases have become “isolated” thanks to the campaigns of the local government. 

However, if you hire a reliable travel agency where upon arrival at the airport there is a ride waiting for you, you will be saved from the inconvenience, hassle and being victimized by these notorious taxi drivers.  Moreover, travel agencies usually provide a “travel guide” who can give you valuable information about the Philippines and how to travel safely not usually found in travel books.

(2)  Keep bad remarks or comments about the Philippines to yourself while traveling. -  While there are several great things about the country, there are matters that somehow require your understanding and patience. One is the traffic congestion problem. According to a report, the Philippines now ranks 5th in the world with the worst traffic.  Thus, if you intend to travel around Metro Manila and Cebu City, bring with you loads of patience. From the airport to your hotel, you would immediately get the reasons why Metro Manila has garnered such an appalling distinction. However, no matter the traffic situation, the road condition, the garbage on the streets, pollution and any inconvenience you would see on the road keep it to yourselves until you are in the privacy or comforts of your hotel room. Do not assume that since you are speaking in your native language, you cannot be understood by anyone while you rant about the Philippines. There are many locals who can understand foreign tongues aside from English.

When you travel around the Philippines, act in a way that will not give you unwanted attention or create enemies. Do not do things that would put you in trouble even in your own country. Be friendly while being wary about your surroundings at all times. Show respect and you will beget respect.

(3)  Dress simply and appropriately. -  If you decide to go backpacking and opted not to hire a travel agency or a guide to herd you from one tourist destination to the other, dress simply and appropriately. Avoid wearing expensive pieces of jewelry.  

If your main purpose in visiting the Philippines is to see the sites, enjoy great food, experience the culture and meet people, then why wear that expensive jewelry? In order to avoid getting noticed by or attracting the wrong people, dress simply without those expensive pieces of jewelry. Do not give the impression that you are someone loaded with money.

What’s best to wear while in the Philippines? Since the Philippines is a tropical country, it is best to wear clothes meant for the summer season. If you intend to travel around the country wear light-colored attire, fast dry t-shirts, jeans or walking shorts and rubber shoes. It is not appropriate to wear sleeveless shirts while traveling or even within the hotel premises. Wear attire that blends in with what the locals are wearing. In this way, you get less attention and you can move freely without getting those obnoxious stares. Keep a low profile while moving from one place to the other.

(4)  Be always on the alert. Just like in any other country, there are pickpockets, snatchers, and rip-offs whom you got to be cautious about. When traveling in the Philippines, it is best to bring a small bag with “snatch proof” features where you can keep your valuables. Be alert of street children who can easily slip their hand into your bags and pockets. Wherever you are, keep an eye on your valuables. You got to realize that these mischiefs can disguise themselves by being well-dressed.

If you opted to stay at the Heritage Hotel and you decided to hunt for bargains in the nearby Baclaran area or in 168 Shopping Mall in Divisoria (again) dress simply.  I suggest a good pair of jeans, comfortable t-shirts, rubber shoes while hunting for bargains.

Being alert also means learning the art of ignoring strangers including beautiful women and well-dressed individuals. If you are approached on the street as if they are offering something, just casually move away and continue walking to your destination. Filipinos are friendly people. However, it is not customary for us to approach strangers or foreigners on the street without reason.

(5)  As much as possible do not travel alone. If you travel in groups there is a lesser chance of you being mugged or harmed. When traveling in groups, move casually without getting unnecessary attention. Do not display your expensive cellphones, cameras and other gadgets in public.

(6)  Avoid visiting informal settler areas. If are staying at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City, I suggest you take a taxi in going to Ayala Center. You can actually walk from your hotel to Ayala Center but you will pass rows of informal settler houses. As a precaution, walk on the other side of the road avoiding the area.

(7)  Just bring enough cash when traveling. Enough cash means sufficient money to last you through the day or until you get back to your hotel unless you intend to buy some stuff. If you travel away from major cities, ATM Machines can be hard to find. Moreover, having an ATM Card can give the wrong impression that you have lots of money. Keep your extra cash in the hotel at their safety deposit box. Exchange your foreign currency only at reputable money exchange centers. Do not forget to count your money before leaving the counter. When exchanging your foreign currency it is a good idea not to do it alone.

Again, the Philippines is a very beautiful country where it is relatively safe to travel. Filipinos are friendly, honest, and very helpful to tourists and foreigners. However, just like in any country there are isolated cases of crimes that can be avoided.  A foreigner may be subjected to lots of inconveniences or find something not right while traveling in the Philippines. Nevertheless, once you see what the country can offer, you will say that it is really worth visiting the Philippines.

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