Travel has a reputation for being expensive. Sure, you’ll need to allocate some money, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. We’ve seen itineraries and travel diaries where people only spent around P2000 per day while still having an enjoyable, well-rounded experience. Here are eight hacks for saving money when traveling in the Philippines:
Head somewhere budget-friendly.
How much you spend depends on where you’re going! Not all places in the Philippines have the same cost of living, and as expected, attractions that draw in thousands of people every year are bound to demand higher prices. If you really want to cut down on expenses, why not go off the beaten track and check out up-and-coming destinations? Check out our list of top 10 destinations in Zambales–it’s a province that has plenty to offer, including islands and coves that’ll cost you less than P1000 per day, or even lower if you’re with a group. Despite being semi-popular, Baler is also surprisingly kind on the wallet. A two-day trip costs less than P2000, and you can explore their non-surfing spots as well.
Don’t follow the crowd when choosing travel dates.
The first step to not spending excessively on your trip is to plan your travel dates well. Avoid peak periods when traveling is on everyone’s mind. In the Philippines, this means holidays such as Christmas (December) and New Year (early January), along with Holy Week (April), a weeklong Catholic tradition that occurs right before Easter. If the bulk of your itinerary consists of beaches and outdoor activities, you might want to steer clear of the summer months of April and May as well. It’s not just about being cool and having the sights all to yourself—everything, from flights to hotels, is a lot more expensive during these periods.
Book cheap flights.
A huge chunk of your travel expenses is bound to come from your flight, especially if you’re crossing over several oceans. Never underestimate how cheap flights can get. There are crucial windows of time every year when certain airlines offer piso fare sales: you can literally book flights that cost only 1 peso each, although there are minor hidden fares and competition for these is as intense as in the Hunger Games—expect to struggle with website loading because of the traffic, so make your move fast. To catch wind of these as well as other discounts, subscribe to airline newsletters (we’d recommend Cebu Pacific and AirAsia), and check out Piso Fare for news about cheap flights.
Scout for travel deals.
Even in the Internet Age, coupons can still get you far. One essential to-do for all travelers looking to save is checking for discounts for accommodations, restaurants, attractions, and tours before they even leave. A good website for this is Metro Deal, which usually offers the whole package and slashes costs down by 25% to 60%. You can also check Deal Grocer—the two are pretty similar in terms of travel deals, but Deal Grocer slightly focuses more on specific amenities, such as massages and buffet breakfasts. To stay updated, sign up for their newsletters—although don’t go the opposite route and be tempted to splurge on a lot of deals unnecessarily, and please, please do thorough research beforehand.
Go alternative for accommodations.
The longer you’ll be staying, the more you should be budget-savvy with accommodations. Out with hotels and in with alternative accommodations such as hostels, AirBnB, and even couchsurfing. While you’ll probably miss out on a glamorous lobby and 24/7 room service, these other options are usually comfortable enough—clean water, wi-fi, outlets, decent beds, all of the necessities that’ll get you recharged in between your explorations. Hostels have the added benefit of sociability (and might bring back memories of your college dorm days). AirBnB is becoming more popular in the Philippines, and so is couchsurfing.
Don’t rely on restaurants for food.
Here’s how to follow this tip for beginners: find out what the tourist traps are (a.k.a. the restaurants with steep prices that target gullible tourists) and stay away from them. These are typically located right in the middle of tourist attractions, and the food’s often more commercialized and not very authentic. When it comes to food, go with local wisdom—there are bound to be foodie haunts and local hangouts that aren’t featured on the tourist brochures, and you can pig out better there without taxing your wallet. Pros can take this one step further and even bring their own food. You don’t have to do meal prep like a boss—fruits, crackers, nuts, and other tiny snacks can stave off hunger in between meals.
Learn the art of negotiation.
Okay, that’s our fancy way of telling you to haggle. This is quite tricky, though, because you have to take into account the context. Not every situation is good for haggling—for example, you’d be ill-advised to try it for event tickets, coffee shops, or establishments with standardized prices. Tours, on the other hand, are fair game, and you can get great bargains for souvenirs, clothes, and other wares from stalls and outdoor markets, especially if you buy them in bulk. But remember to be polite and respectful when haggling. Be mindful, too, of when prices are already low enough and your sellers are trying to make an honest living—in that case, it might be best to settle.
Take public transportation.
The Philippines is notorious for not being very walkable because of the weather (which seesaws between incredibly hot and humid or incredibly rainy) and the lack of organized pavements. Most of the time, your only choice is to ride some sort of vehicle. Taxis can be overpriced, so you can consider taking public transportation instead, such as jeepneys, tricycles, and buses. As always, street smarts count for a lot—ask locals about the regular prices for transportation, and keep your valuables stashed away. But if you’re really searching for convenience, you can use Grab, a real-time ride reservation service similar to Uber, in certain cities and opt to share a ride with strangers through GrabShare.
Track your expenses.
It all boils down to awareness and planning. You can make expense-tracking way easier with the help of general personal finance apps like Mint or Wally. However, there are apps specific for traveling. Topping the list is Trail Wallet, where you can easily list down your expenses and compare these against your pre-set budget. The user interface is great, it’s simple and nifty, but the downside is it’s only available for iOS. Android users, don’t despair—you can rely on a cute-sounding app called Fudget, which functions similarly to Trail Wallet. Its strength is its minimalism, since it hinges on one-tap lists and you don’t have to worry about categories and other complicated features.