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Philippines Travel - Random Tips

When I say random tips, I truly mean random tips!
I kept a list of random things we learned while traveling in the Philippines. If you are planning on traveling there at any time, some of these could be very useful, some will just be some fun knowledge to have. Many of these tips you will not learn from your adoption agency or travel agency!

Here it goes!

BEFORE YOU GO:

Pictures of documents: If you are taking your smart phone or a tablet with you, then take pictures of emails, addresses, and phone numbers you may need. More than once I didn't have that one piece of paper that I needed with that random phone number, BUT I had taken photos of many of my emails with people's names and numbers and hotel addresses which saved us many headaches! If you have a smart phone, hold down the power key and the toggle key at the same time, and voila!, you take a picture of the screen you are looking at.

Gifts: Many people bring gifts for their hosts/drivers, orphanages caretakers, and other agencies you may work with. Couple ideas - I bought really cheap color gift bags at the store and some tissue paper. They were lightweight and easy to pack and when giving gifts it was really nice to give the gifts in these. Also bring a couple thank you note cards along so you can jot a quick thank you to your host, etc. We were told people in the Philippines especially like good milk chocolate, especially Dove chocolates, since they cannot get them there, so we loaded up on Dove chocolate and everyone really liked it. We gave a couple bags of choc. covered pomegranate seeds and people were happy about those too as you rarely see anything like choc. covered raisins and the like. We also bought state team hats which people enjoyed, nice stationary, and fuzzy socks (to represent cold Wisconsin!). There are many other ideas out there too, wish we could have had the money to bring more, but glad we at least had these things as a small token of appreciation.

Airline Baggage: If you need to travel domestically in the Philippines to a different island, please please please make sure you understand the airline baggage before you go! You will need to most likely buy extra weight for your baggage, otherwise they basically expect you to carry little to no baggage with you and they will charge a huge amount of money for every kilo of luggage you bring. It is a small extra price to pay compared to what it will be if you get there and are over the luggage amount. We had a ton of luggage because we brought gifts for the orphanage, plus all of our own clothes etc, so we bought 100 kilos of baggage per person. Make sure to include your bigger carry-on too, because they only want you to bring 1 carry-on and it is supposed to be small, not the big carry-ons we are used to using here in the U.S.  It is all very confusing, at least I think, so make sure you know what is going on! Our travel agent I thought had looked into it because she said it would all be ok, alas it was not!!! And fortunately we figured it out LITERALLY within the last hour of being able to buy the extra weight - our credit card was processed ONE MINUTE before the time was up! Scary.

Pack:
* a small notebook/journal to keep track of your adventures, foods you ate, spendetures
* deck of cards or uno
* Kid friendly items - cars (we even brought a little track), superheroes (the newer tiny tikes type collection is are easy to carry along), markers in a nice pencil bag (the original box will tear to pieces), small journal/notebook (throw this in your bag when traveling it's a great way to take time while waiting for food, etc.).
* Small snacks of various kinds. Our son preferred some things over others. We also found he has a chewing problem so some granola bars are harder for him to chew so he opted for softer foods and crackers.
*Light weight clothing and a sweater or two for air conditioned rooms. Don't forget your swimsuits!
*COMFY walking shoes/sandals. If you think you will do any hiking or nature parks, something that won't slip, like keens, would be smart to wear.
*Hats or sunglasses
*Thank you cards
*Not too much for the plane. If you haven't flown internationally, each seat has it's own personalized screen with 100's of movies, tv shows, music, and even some games like sudoku and solitaire. Pack a book to read and that is about all you need for entertainment.
*Sunscreen!!! You do not want to be on a 13 hour trip home with a sunburn or sit in a bumpy taxi with a sunburn. Not fun.


WHEN YOU ARRIVE:

Luggage Carts: These are free at all of the Philippines airports - use them! Also note that you very likely will be approached to be helped with your baggage, especially once you have a child or children with you, just take the help! It costs a little extra but it was usually very reasonable. They usually charged per bag and you gave a fee to a ticket box type lady and then you also give a small tip to them when you're done. Note, when you come to the airport, you often can't get out of the taxi before one of these luggage helpers will start helping - it is inevitable - just go with the flow and enjoy having your hands free to hold your child instead of your bags.

Money: When you exchange money ask for smaller bills, such as 20's, 50's, and 100's. It is really hard to tip without these in your wallet. If you don't ask, they will give you all 1000's which not only would make for huge tips, but even stores and restaurants aren't excited when you pull out the larger bills, they rather not make large sums of change. That being said, take advantage of change when you do buy things so you have more small bills. I also found that most hotels are happy to make change for you, at least into 100's. Most stores and restaurants accept credit cards. Don't forget to tell your card company you are traveling! We tried to use our card in the Tokyo airport on our layover and were denied because we hadn't told them we were traveling to Tokyo, only the Philippines! oy. Also have your id handy as many places, especially in the mall, wanted to see your id and credit card together.

Taxis: If you do not have someone picking you up, such as a driver or host, then get a taxi. We had very dependable taxi drivers. Well, I guess we did have one that was texting the whole time - ugh - but all the others were awesome! We took hotel vans and the airport transportaion a couple times and hugely regretted it when we realized how much we were paying! Find a city taxi and take it. If you have too much luggage, look for a bigger vehicle which you can often find, and if not, then take two taxis! It works and will save you a fortune! It does help to have your hotel address and know the general location, just in case the driver doesn't speak English very well, but many places, especially hotels, will make sure the driver knows your ending location before they will let you get in the taxi.

City: I wish you could have seen the eyes of the people we told that we were from a town of 8500 people! There eyes would pop out of their heads like characters you see in cartoons! You will most likely be traveling only in city areas when in the Philippines, and when I say a city, I don't mean downtown Chicago even! These cities are swarming with people, vehicles, and complete chaos EVERYWHERE you go, not just in one downtown or shopping area. It is busy on every street.  Keep your eyes open, your family and host close to you, and take it all in. The sites are amazing to behold. By the way, the city of Manila has 99.96% greater population than the town we live in. HA!

Humidity: We were there during the "coolest month" (January) and it was still mid 70s - Low 90's at all times! We could tell the humidity was high, although everything felt splendid to me at all times. We have been told humidity is awful, especially in the warmer months, so be prepared to dress in lightweight clothing, but bring a sweater for the very cold airconditioned buildings. Also note, that they try to stay out of the sun during the afternoon, especially the children, so they will not look highly on you if your child is at a playground in the mid-afternoon sun.

Bicycle vs. Motorcycle: If ever you are faced with needing to get a ride on a bicycle or motorcycle, take the bicycle!!! A motorcycle means just that, one motorcycle, and they are willing to cram 4 of you on! No joke! The bicycle means that the bike or motorcycle is enclosed with a little carriage - still totally unsafe I'm sure, but much more safe than the motorcycle! Out of the city sometimes you can find what they call skylabs where they put a board on the back of a motorcycle (so it kind of looks like an airplane) and people sit on either side of the board - sometimes up to 8 people!!! AGH!

BATHROOMS:

Need to go? - Ask for a "C R" which stands for "comfort room".

Toilet paper - The Philippines is a country that does not flush their toilet paper, instead they request you put the toilet paper into the wastebasket. We did not in our hotel, as there was no sign directing us, and quite frankly I kept forgetting as I am not accustomed to throwing my toilet paper away! However, they make it quite clear in most public bathrooms. For Women - I also learned that in many of the mall restrooms, there was no toilet paper in the stalls. After dealing with this a couple times, I realized there is toilet paper near the sinks, so you can grab some there and take it into the stalls with you.

Toilet seats - There are none. Quite Often. The woman squat in the Philippines, not quite sure how the woman do it, but because of it they take the top of the toilet seat off most toilets. So frustrating! Our son actually puts his feet and hands on top of the toilet bowl and then squats to poop - interesting huh? This should be quite the task to change!

Waiting for a stall - In a very busy mall restroom, I learned that they do not form a line by the door waiting for the next stall, instead you line up at the stall of your choice and wait for that stall to be emptied. Oh, and the sinks were SO busy with girls primping their hair and make-up! Good luck washing your hands!

Scenery - A good chunk of the restaurants are outside, therefore their bathrooms are also semi-outside. There were still stalls for the toilets, but you often have quite the view while washing your hands!


PUBLIC AREAS:

Pictures (of you!) - We not only took a lot of pictures, but many pictures were taken of us. We would randomly see people's cameras directed right at us, or even better, sometimes we were asked to take a picture with people. I'm sure are faces are randomly out there on FB somewhere with random Filipino people we do not know. But I guess I can't blame them, we really did stick out wherever we went, especially myself and Caleb. We often saw caucasian men with Filipino woman, but I only saw a couple caucasian women at the last hotel we stayed in that was a very westernized, more modern hotel, close to the airport.

Trash Cans - there are none. Seriously. I rarely could find a trash can when we needed one. Especially at the airports - nada, nada - except for in the bathroom. Drove me crazy! Maybe carry a small baggie with you just in case (like when my son had car sickness after a long taxi ride!).

Driving - I have more to tell about this in a future post, but do be warned that the traffic is truly terrifying! lol! You will be amazed by the traffic here and it doesn't even phase the drivers, it's just part of life. Get ready for your head to echo honking for hours on end and maybe a little motion sickness. Oh, and when you adopt your child, be aware that they have most likely never warn a seat belt and are likely to move around in the vehicle! And this is perfectly normal for them... for me, I was a panicked wreck trying to keep him sitting in the seat!!! Most back seats do not have seatbelts by the way, but it is a new law that all front seat passengers must wear a belt.

RESTAURANTS:

Napkins - You will be laughed at if you ask for a "napkin"! In the Philippines a napkin is a feminine product. Instead, ask for a "tissue" if you need more napkins at your table.

Food - Try as much as you can! Most of it tastes a lot like chinese food to me, but their use of coconut  and some other flavors are a lot of fun. Ask your driver/host to order for you or suggest food, we even asked the waiters what to order. I especially like their garlic rice - why have I not thought of this before! I will never again eat plain white rice! Also be aware that many of the meals at restaurants are meant to be SHARED, we learned this the hard way far too many times!

Water - Most of it is filtered in restaurants or you could see that they were using a "culligan man" type system. Do ask before you drink it, and if at all weary, buy bottled. We went to local Seven-Elevens and bought big bottles of water to carry with us and drink in the hotel. The hotels often provide really small bottles that only hold a glass or two of water.

FOOD:

Balut - I would completely recommend trying food that the "locals" recommend, but if they offer you some Balut - Smile and run! Balut is often offered to travelers as part of a hazing type event. For some of the more adventurous type, maybe this food would not bother you, but for me at least - yuk! Balut looks like a hard boiled egg, but it is actually a duck egg that is boiled when the duckling is just about ready to hatch. yeah... not a fan.  :(

Buffets at Hotels - Although these can be spendy, do look into them. They are a feast! Our main hotel had the buffet as an extra cost to the room, but it was bundled with internet use and pool use so we got it, and I was so happy I did. Breakfast buffets are not American hotel buffets, their buffets include it ALL. There was fresh island fruit (that we ate bowls and bowls full!), numerous breakfast sweets, cereals, various eggs, rolls, meat dishes (fish, chicken, beef), noodles, rice, oatmeal, sushi, salad, and even dessert! I love breakfast, but am not used to eating so much in the morning, but I quickly got used to trying many new foods and enjoying the large selection. The morning buffet filled us up so that we could have a decent lunch and then a light supper. We rarely ate snacks because we were full. And did I mention we got to try a ton of new dishes and fruits!?! SOOOO worth the price! I also was thankful for the buffet because it served noodles and meats for our newly adopted son, which he is much more interested in than the traditional American breakfast cuisine.

Leftovers - We were told by four different Filipino people that it is ok, and good, to give your leftovers to the street children instead of money. My son was notorious for leaving full meals on his plate that he hadn't touched, so we did bag a couple things and give to kids.

Snacks - When you have a child or two along, don't forget to pack some snacks! We had a couple times that I wish I had remembered a granola bar or two, and then sometimes I had snacks that were never even given a glance. I also suggest carrying snacks for the street children. As in the leftovers, they are happy to receive food. When we were approached by window washers on a taxi ride, I realized I had granola bars and goldfish so they were each given two items to eat. These were snacks for us later that my son was nervous we would miss, but of course we never thought twice about them after that and I was so happy the children hopefully had at least a little something in their stomachs that morning.

Fruit: Eat it! Try everything new you can! Cherish every morsel and then be saddened as you take off on the plane home and realize you cannot get most of these fruits in the U.S. (Well at least not in WI)!

Durian: Do you know of this fruit? It is the fruit that smells like hell and tastes like heaven... at least that is what they say! We were never fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to try this fruit, but we saw it in many places. Apparently it smells rotten but tastes very sweet. Take a look around at windows of places you go, you will notice most places forbid you to bring Durian in, which includes Taxis, Hotels, and the airport - lol!

Ketchup: The ketchup is REALLY sweet in the Philippines. Really sweet. You've been warned. They also have banana ketchup and another kind (sorry I forgot), but those I'm assuming are even sweeter.

Milk: is primarily drank through drymilk mixes or yogurt type drinks. We definetly were lacking calcium by the end of our two week trip.

HOTELS:

Impressive! - We were very impressed with the hotels we booked. They were all relatively around the price of a nice room at a 3, maybe 4 star hotel in America, but they were soooo much nicer than anything I've ever booked in America for the same price. Look for rooms that "have a view" as it is fun to look at the busy cities and water lines.

Tipping - Notice there is already a service charge on most bills at the hotel and restaurants, therefore you do not always need to tip. Of course, a nice tip there usually equaled only about $2 in U.S. dollars so we often still gave a little something, but do be aware of this. When we got our hotel bill at one place I realized we were given a service charge for every little thing, including calling and asking the front desk a question!

Noisy windows - I never heard noise come from our neighbor rooms, but we almost always could hear noise from outside, even though we were always many stories high. The traffic in the Philippines is loud with lots and lots of honking, and there always seems to be loud music or yelling in the streets, so be prepared to hear some noise at night. It was never anything that kept us awake, but if you are a light sleeper you may want to prepare with earplugs. Also there are roosters in these big cities. Yes, roosters! And they crow starting at about 4 am. No joke! They even woke up our son one morning!

Order in - This goes beyond everything I know. I dislike spending on extra for room service, but it may be totally worth the extra cost. The days were busy when our son joined us and a little overwhelming for him. We finally realized one of the last nights it may be beneficial to just eat in our room, versus trying to keep the boys seated at a dinner table and keep them occupied while the food is being cooked. It was the best decision we made about our meals and I can't believe we hadn't thought of it sooner! Also think about how you order, you may be able to side-swipe the room service cost. We ordered at the hotel restaurant that was slightly cheaper and then they sent it up to our room so I didn't have to wait for it - slight extra cost for the delivery was way worth the fact that the boys could run around the hotel room and get on their jammies during that time!

They want to help - I kid you not, have your small cash ready because they want to help you and it's nice to tip! I swear we could not go anywhere without an offer to help us with our bags, our food, etc. It isn't like America where you fend for yourself! Well, at least in the hotels I sleep in! We turned down the help sometimes, but especially when you have children along, it doesn't hurt to let them help you. You will often be glad you had the extra hands.

Sleep: We actually found going to the Philippines it was not too hard to get onto the new schedule, it was coming back to the U.S. that really kicked us in the rear. But either way, in both places to help with the transitions, we took melatonin. I learned about this before traveling from other adoptive parents. It is a naturaly supplement type vitamin. Our bodies release melatonin when we are getting tired, often this happens when the sky starts getting dark (which explains why I'm always so stinking tired at 5pm in the winter!). If our bodies release melatonin too soon at night then it can be hard to fall asleep later, and vise versa, if it hasn't been released then it is hard to fall asleep. So we took melatonin shortly before it was our new bed time to helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. We didn't take it more than 2 or 3 days in a row, and it didn't work every single time on all of us, but I'm quite sure it did help us most of the time. I found melatonin in the vitamins section at Walmart in a gummy  and pill form (1 hour release) and a fast dissolve cherry flavored tablet (20 min release). I brought both types with me but we most often used the 20 min before bedtime fast dissolve tablets.

Toilettries: Can I just say among the free shampoos and conditioners hotels give, Filipino hotels typically also include a hairband for ladies and a small bag of q-tips. Can I say brilliant!?!

SHOPPING:

Kultura: We had really hoped to get to some markets where we could find local purses, pearls, and goods, but we had a hard time getting to one. The closest we came to was a market/mall type thing in Davao where almost every store had the same items and every one really wanted you to enter their tiny little store. It was a little overwhelming and frustrating to try to bargain, etc. Instead we found the store Kultura, which is located in a few of the malls. This store has all of the cultural items, souveniers, clothing, etc. I thought the costs were good, the staff was very friendly and helpful, and we were able to shop for ourselves, our son, and our friends and family all in one place. We spent loads of money there and I'm so happy we did. It is so fun to see different things around our house now!

Staffing: Oh my goodness you will not believe how many staff there are when you go into stores!!!! We walked into a toy store and in EVERY aisle there was a store staff. Kid you not. It almost felt impossible to shop sometimes because there was someone always watching you or asking what you were looking for. Cost to hire, often young staff, is cheap, so many places have a ton of people working there. I never did get used to it, but it was just another part of the culture that made me laugh and smile.

Malls: Are Everywhere! Wow. Every few blocks is another mall. And I don't mean just a little strip mall of 10 stores. No, we're talking HUGE malls of at least 100 different stores in each mall, plus tons of food, plus usually a supermarket, plus people Everywhere! There are tons of malls and each one is packed with people nomatter what time of day you are there. It is craziness! Although I'm not much of a mall person, especially since most of the stores I could shop at in the States, it was interesting to just be in the malls and people watch and see how their malls function. Very interesting indeed.

Bookstores: The other store I would recommend if you get to a mall is the bookstore. We found numerous Children's books written in Tagalog (which unfortunately our son doesn't really understand since he speaks more Bisayan, oh well) and they are also written in English, and we found some more tourist type books about the areas, as well as some street maps of the cities we visited. Our favorite books are a series of books about Jepoy the Jeepney. The series has a jeepney, bicycle, and all sorts of other typical Filipino transportation type characters.

ON THE WAY HOME:

They say get to the airport three hours early. It will take all three hours to get to your flight! The Philippines international airport has you go through at least six different checkpoints before you leave, including three baggage scans, and passports checked at least four times. We also had to wait in the hour line for our tickets because our adopted son could not be checked in on-line. Have food and something to do if you have to wait in this long line!!! Also use the bathroom before entering your final boarding gate. Once you enter (with a final baggage scan) there is no bathroom until you board the plane. 


Each person's trip is of course different, but hopefully some of this can prepare you better for your trip to the Philippines! I do wish I had known a little more before I went, thus why I wrote the post. Take the advice as you need it and then just enjoy the rest as it comes! The Philippines is amazing! I hope to go back someday! Sooner than later!

Mara

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