Recently people have been asking me about the costs of my three months journey across the Philippines. A little poll on my Facebook Page also showed that there seems to be quite an interest in this topic. And because I never went much into detail in terms of budget and numbers, I would like to give you all a rough overview about what I spent and how I calculated beforehand. First of all it needs to be mentioned that this is very personal and might change a lot depending on how you like to travel individually and what kind of things you are after when on a holiday. Of course, if you are after luxury and maximum comfort, then you will end up spending more than someone who is more a backpacker kind of traveler. The activities you do while on holiday can also make a big difference. Diving can be expensive and so can longer guided tours for example. All of these factors make budgeting for such a trip in the Philippines a very subjective matter, but let’s start with some of my own numbers:
1| Average Costs
Overall I spent about 800 EUR per month which equals 1.100 USD and around 47.500 PHP. This included all the transport in the Philippines, all the accommodation, all the food and all the activities we did. I didn’t include extraordinary expenses like hospital bills (after I almost broke my ankle on Mt. Bulusan), medication, visa fees and such. However, I need to mention that I was able to save quite a big chunk on accommodation costs since I was invited into friends’ houses and also camped outside at the beach for about a week. That made a big difference.
For the paid accommodation I calculated an average amount of 6,30 EUR (8,60 USD / 375 PHP). For most of the time I was traveling with two friends I had met in Laos before. That way we were often able to share costs. And this would also be my first tip for you guys. Try to team up with friends or find travel partners online. You will be able to save on accommodation costs and you will generally have better arguments when bargaining for better offers. Our type of accommodation was usually simple, yet nice and comfortable. Clean, cozy and definitely not the cheapest flea pit in town. We stayed in guesthouses, hostels, regular hotels and resorts. It often helped that we usually didn’t book in advance but checked out several places when we arrived at our destination. That way we were able to compare and even bargain for better prices. You have to be careful though, during the peak of high season this might not work out as places like El Nido tend to become pretty crowded. If you stay longer at a place, I would say three days and more, you have a good argument for getting a better quote as well. Try it, all they can say to you is no.
I usually ate local at Carenderias and other local food joints. It not offers the cheapest food but for me, coming from abroad, it also makes for the most authentic experience. I of course want to sample the local cuisine and taste the traditional dishes. Even if it means giving a go at Balut; and as you know, I just loved my Tapsilog for breakfast. I spent about 9,50 EUR on food per day (12,90 USD / 560 PHP). This also includes drinks, snacks and the random sunset beer by the beach. It is worth to mention that I do like my beers but I tend not to party a lot and get drunk often. It not only gives me the worst hangovers but it also tends to tear a huge hole in your budget. In every country I visited, alcohol and partying was by far the most expensive activity. I am sure that the Filipinos among you could probably get by with even less money since you know places better and also don’t need the regular fix with western food as we had to do it. Make sure to treat yourself every once in a while with a nice dinner, that of course belongs to traveling just as well.
Activities can really make a huge difference. It really depends what you are after and what you want to do. Relaxing at a nice beach is cheaper than diving for a whole day or doing an island hopping tour. But I can recommend you one thing here. Try not to be too cheap here, meaning that these activities make your holiday enjoyable and the highlight you want it to be. If you really want to do that island hopping tour, then do it, if yo really want to climb that moutain, then do it. Who knows when you will be back there again. Try to save on some other positions instead, like accommodation, food or transportation. Over the course of my journey I spent about 6,00 EUR (8,00 USD / 350 PHP) per day on activities. As this is a rather pointless calculation as you don’t do special activities every single day, I want to list a few examples of things I did along the way:
Trekking Mt. Pinatubo: 2.400 PHP
Mt. Bulusan-Trek & Guide Fee: 460 PHP (we were a group of 7)
Puerto Princessa Underground River, Sabang: 410 PHP
Motorbike Rental: 350 – 600 PHP (El Nido was the most expensive)
Diving in Coron: 3.000 PHP
Island Hopping Tour El Nido: 900 PHP
Island Hopping Matnog: 500 PHP
Butanding snorkeling Donsol: 880 PHP
Boat to White Island, Camiguin: 160 PHP
These are just a few examples to give you a rough guide on how much things cost. But prices in the tourism industry change very quickly, hence please don’t take these numbers as set in stone. They might have changed already. Always confirm prices beforehand to avoid getting surprised. I also recommend you to calculate expenses for activities a bit more thoroughly if you are on a tight budget. It will save you from overspending. For example renting a motorbike is one thing, but you will also need to buy gas. Things like that can easily add up.
I almost exclusively traveled overland which means that I heavily relied on buses, mini vans and also ferries. I only took one domestic flight and that was from Cebu to Puerto Princessa, Palawan. And to be honest, if I would have had the time, I would have taken the ferry which goes via Cuyo. Using the local types of transportation again makes for a much more authentic experience for a foreigner and of course, it will usually be cheaper. But… I could only do it this way because I had the luxury of time. If you have only one or two weeks, you understandably want to make the most of the time you have. Hence taking a quick flight might be the better alternative in this case. I personally like the local transportation and it always got me where I wanted to go. It was also part of the adventure, figuring out how to get from one place to another, asking for connections, riding topload and sometimes getting lost. A flight won’t offer that.
On average I spent 5,50 EUR (7,50 USD / 325 PHP) on transport per day. Here are a few examples for different types of transportation and their prices:
Bus Manila – Baguio: 460 PHP
Bus Manila – Naga: 1.000 PHP
Minivan Lagazpi – Sorsogon: 85 PHP
Tricycles: 15 – 100 PHP
Banka charter Gubat – Biri (Samar): 2.000 PHP (500 PHP per person with 4 people)
Ferry Cebu – Bohol: 400 PHP
Ferry Bohol – Camiguin: 350 PHP
6| General considerations:
It all really depends on your own personal travel style and also the amount of time you have. Traveling in style, staying in resorts all the time and partying the night away will cost you more than taking the backpacker path. I found that a mix both can make for a great experience. Go cheap but also treat yourself. Do these activities you always wanted to do and do go out and have a few drinks every now and then.
Time is an issue. You will certainly be able to travel cheaper if you have more time. You will be able to take cheaper transport, you don’t necessarily need to book beforehand giving you more opportunity to compare prices at your destination and you will be able to negotiate prices when you stay longer than just a day or two.
Always keep an eye on your budget. Write things down, even that odd coffee you may drink in the morning. Buy a small notpad for it or use one of the many budgeting apps out there. Don’t worry, you are not considered cheap if you do so, it will just help you to keep an overview and to not overspend. This is especially important for longer journeys.
If you have a tight budget and are planning for a rather short getaway, research prices beforehand and calculate. This way you will avoid bad surprises that might break your budget. Shorter travels will also require a bit more planing ahead and as mentioned above, maybe taking a more expensive means of transportation to save on time.
Haggle for deals, especially during low season. If you are in a group, you have an advantage. I found that you can haggle for almost everything. I am not too good at it but it is always worth a try. Booking things at the location will give you more of an edge as well.
You don’t necessarily have to make reservations beforehand. We almost never did and we never had any problems … well maybe this one time in El Nido where we ended up in a place pretty far away… But only for one night. Booking accommodation at the spot usually leaves you with more choice and you can compare prices.
If you are really low on dough, consider camping. It i an experience in itself and it will save you heaps of money.
What I did, traveling the Philippines for three months straight, was probably rather exceptional. And please my friends, you don’t have to do it like this to have a great time. You don’t have to see all of these places all at once or in one journey. I saved up a long time for this trip which overall lasted a year. You don’t need to travel for such an extended period of time. Just do what is in your budget and what your schedule allows. Don’t feel bad if it means to only go away for a week or even an extended weekend. In the end it’s all just about going out there, seeing something new, meeting new people and broadening your horizon. And for that, you often don’t even need to venture far or spend heaps of money. Adventure might just be around the corner. Just get out there and have fun. The Philippines has truly more than enough to offer and to explore.