As an Australian we are raised to understand the importance of international travel given our isolated geographical location. If you have read any of my blogs, or listened to my podcast, you will know that I am still living the travel lifestyle albeit I have put down roots as an expat in the US. I haven’t lived in Australia since I was 22 years old. In that time, I have travelled across the globe, so this blog, on the benefits of international travel, is one I know all too well.
My wife and I recently went on our belated honeymoon; 18 months after tying the knot. Leading up to the trip we had discussed many options for where we wanted to go to celebrate our nuptials. I personally hadn’t been back to a third world country in over 10 years, the last trip was in 2008 to Peru, South America. Similarly, my wife hadn’t travelled to a third world country in some time. Plus, we wanted to go on a backpacking adventure. So, we decided to head to South East Asia and landed on the Philippines as the final decision. The reason was threefold:
1) The Philippines is a developing country with incredibly remote destinations ripe for adventure,
2) culture/language differences,
3) our money would go further compared to a western country.
With the sense of adventure, we booked flights in and out of manila and only the first two nights planned out; the rest of the trip we would take-it-as-it-comes (we had mapped out the areas we wanted to visit, but by and large we were following our noses). For those of you interested, at the end of the blog I have a full itinerary of our trip with a few tips on where to stay.
The Juxtaposition in the Third World
Throughout our incredible 2.5 week trip we experienced a vast array of emotions, witnessed rich cultural traditions, incredibly kind and generous locals, and journeyed through some of the most breath-taking island/lagoons in the world. Everywhere we went I was struck by the rapidly changing economy in the Philippines; even in the most remote islands people still wanted access to the following, in order of preference;
- Data and telecommunications
- Water and food.
You might think this list is basic but to see it play out in real life was extremely interesting. We were constantly seeing many juxtapositions during our trip which lead us to believe that a developing nation like the Philippines was slowly changing from a 3rd world country into a tier 2 nation. Three examples stuck out during our trip. Firstly, the majority of signs (businesses, road signs, advertisements) are in English; the Filipinos pride themselves on their ability to speak English. Anyone under the age of 50 will have a basic grasp of the English language. Secondly, education is hugely important in the Philippines. Every town we visited had their town center based around the local primary and high school, regardless of how poor the community was. Usually the school buildings were painted with bright colors and the locals would recycle plastic Coke and Sprit bottles to form beautiful fences, sculptures and murals around the school. Every school I saw was clearly the pride and joy for the local community.
Secondly, everyone wants access to information first and foremost. On the second night in Coron (Palawan Island) we were riding on a Huble-Huble (a Filipino version of a Tuk-Tuk) in the outskirts of the town. It was dusk and light was fading fast. I noticed one of the locals had a light turned on in this little house/hut but yet he was using his cell phone to light a path in his garden to lead him to the main dirt road in to town. When I stopped to think about this situation this man, like many others, wanted access to the outside world through his cell, yet he didn’t have some basics that we take for granted like powered lights in his front yard to light a path.
Access to the outside world and information was the single biggest technology I noticed the locals wanting. Some may not have had clean running water in their homes, or adequate piping to handle sewage and waste, but they did have a satellite dish or a cell phone. In most cases I observed this ‘want’ having a positive effect on the local community as well. Given the information age we live in my wife and I wouldn’t have ever thought about visiting the Philippines if we didn’t have the internet. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have known about the gorgeous remote lagoons on Palawan Island, or the beauty of the Tasiers in Bohol if someone had posted a photo of these incredible beauties to the internet. So even though some locals would go without some of the basic life needs (ie: electricity, running water, waste management) their local economy was benefiting from information age driving tourists like us to the most remote parts of the Philippines pouring money into their economy.
Thirdly, another Juxtaposition we saw was when we were traveling by taxi from Cebu City down to Moalboal, a 2.5 hr drive through the mountains. En-route we passed the typical small road side villages with humble structures, a town center, and local food markets. As we approached one of these small mountains villages we slowed down and a group of cyclists in spandex rode past us. I asked the driver if this was the national cycling team training in the mountains and to my surprise he said no, these were locals out getting some exercise. So, on one hand you have a very basic local village with bad roads (potholes and all), poor waste management services etc, and on the other you had some of the locals wanting to get outside and do some exercise. This blew our mind. It was an example of the “have’s” and the “have nots”.
Biggest Takeaways from Traveling to a Third World Country:
- Being grateful with what we have:
The biggest takeaways traveling aboard is somewhat self-explanatory, but it is especially evident when traveling to third world countries. There is something about experiencing the rawness of day-to-day life of people in need that makes you realize what we do have in our lives, in the western world, is pretty freaking amazing, and we should be great grateful every day. There is a lot of poverty in the Philippines, don’t get me wrong, and a lot of people go without, but I was still amazed the locals find joy and fulfillment in their community, laughter with their friends, and simply enjoying the present even if they have very little. A lesson all of us can learn from.
Getting out of your comfort zone, experiencing another way of life, new traditions and cultures gives us the ability to change our perspective of the world which ultimately helps us develop more empathy, more understanding and ultimately takes the blinkers ‘off’. We can all sometimes get caught up in our own little world and traveling abroad opens the mind to new ideas, new ways of thinking and develops a well-rounded perspective that helps us be well-rounded people, friends, leaders, husbands, wives, sons and daughters.
- Change is coming:
There has been a lot of talk in the western media about the shift of the middle class in developing countries like China. There is definitely evidence of this in the Philippines. Yes, there is still a lot of poverty and social justice issues but there was plenty of things I saw that made me take pause and realize the power of developing countries in world economics and what roles these countries will play to shape our future especially in the next 10-20 years.
The number one tourist in the Philippines were the Chinese. Given the Philippines geographical location to China it only makes sense that the Chinese are the number 1 tourists, but I also saw a lot of middle-class Filipino’s traveling for holidays within their own country which honestly surprised me.
My opinion is that over the coming decade, or two, there will be a major shift in world power to developing countries and hundreds of millions of people will emerge from low income/poverty into the middle class. This will have major impacts on trade, manufacturing, economies, social issues, and the environment. As entrepreneurs and investors in the Western World we must take note of the change that is occurring in these developing countries. There are many incredible opportunities to be a part of this change, and seeing this unfold before my eyes was truly an incredible experience to witness.
Don’t ever be afraid to travel and experience other cultures, world views, and breathtaking scenery, it will only make you a better human, and ultimately a better investor.
So be bold, be brave and go give life a crack!
It was the Best #backpacking honeymoon; we rode habul-habuls, experienced the incredible #culture/food, the sheer beauty and breath taking landscapes/scenery, the warmth of the locals, and learning a new language.
Our itinerary for those interested if/when planning your trip;
- Fly into Manila; we only stayed one night. Get to the islands!!
- Manila to #Coron(Palawan); this is where you will experience the beauty of the twin lagoons, Kayangan Lake and Barracuda Lake (these lagoons are straight out of Avatar); Coron is less crowded then #Elnido, also on Palawan.
- Coron to Cebu City; head straight to Moalboal (by taxi/private car), there you will experience the incredible Sardine Run, a massive congregation of 100’s of thousands of sardine schools. Truly incredible diving, snorkeling, and one of our trip highlights, canyoneering the Kawasan Falls aka the Gatorade factor for is blue water.
Stay at turtle bay resort!
- Cebu to #Bohol; this is the island of the chocolate hills, incredible diving, Alona Beach and Loboc River. So much to do on this island. We tried to jam as much as we could into 4 days. Places to stay; Fox and Firefly; cozy Balinese style cottages right on the Loboc River. This place only has limited cottages so availability is tough. We got rained out the day we trekked to chocolate hills but still worth the trip.
- Siargao Island: this is where all the surfing happens. Think Bali and Hawaii had a baby, this is Siargao. We spent the most time here surfing, riding around on our scooter and island hopping. Surfers, don’t head here between December to March. I was able to find some good waves but it’s windy season so it’s very off shore. Peak season is September to November. A must stay; Alon Beach Resort right next to the famous cloud 9 break.
This is just a small snapshot of what we did. If anyone wants more details hit us up and we would be happy to share!
We only scratched the surface of the Philippines and there is so much more to see and do, and that’s why we will definitely be back #livingourbestlife #backpackingasia
By: Reed Goossens