An Open Letter to Filipinos: Travel the Philippines First

To my dear fellow Filipinos,

“If you were given an all-expense-paid trip to any place in the world, where would you go?”

That was the exact question that started my talk on budget travel last October 15 when I was invited as a resource speaker for Take the Risk, an Alternative Classroom Learning Experience (ACLE) held at the University of the Philippines Diliman organized by the , which aims to teach students about budget travel, backpacking, and hiking with travel bloggers as teachers for a day. While I gave tips on how to make budget travel possible, the heart and soul of my talk was my ‪#‎PhilippinesFirst‬ advocacy- to inspire Filipinos to explore more of the Philippines.

UP Travel Society Take the Risk poster

I asked the students to write their answers on a piece of paper . I then showed them photos of random places around the world, telling them to raise their hands if they know where that place is. The entire class of about 50 students raised their hands when I flashed photos of places like Santorini in Greece, Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal in India, Eiffel Tower in France, and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.


But first, a selfie with my class for the day!

The audience seemed like a well-traveled bunch, so I flashed more photos, this time I showed them 5 places in the Philippines. You’d think that Filipinos would know their own country well, yet no one (in 2 instances, just 1 student) in that classroom raised their hand when I showed images of majestic places like Hinatuan Enchanted River in Surigao Del Sur,  Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, Mt. Pulag in Benguet, Tinipak River in Rizal, and Kanlaob River Canyon in Alegria, Cebu.

Tinipak River Rizal

Tinipak River, Rizal

Then I randomly picked 5 students from the audience to read what they wrote in the piece of paper a while ago. None of those 5 students said a place in the Philippines. With 50 students in that classrom, I had to ask who wrote a destination in the Philippines – I saw 5 hands. Only 5 out of 50 people chose the Philippines.

The Philippines is beautiful, yet we know more about travel destinations in other countries than places in the Philippines. Despite the fact that we were born, raised, and have spent our entire lives here, most of us are guilty of only seeing a small part of it.

I shared the classroom with two other bloggers, Jed Rossell of Biyaherong Barat and Matelle Rivera of Bluish Trekker. While the three of us gave talks on various travel activities, our discussions all boils down to one thing - explore the Philippines more. 


If you were to ask me that same question a couple of years ago, I would have also answered some exotic country that is not the Philippines. The realization that I needed to give the Philippines more love dawned on me during my first trip to El Nido, Palawan. Ever since, I’ve been advocating for Filipinos to explore #PhilippinesFirst through this blog and our social media accounts – showing how affordable it is with our own budget travel experiences.

Banaue Rice Terraces

Some years ago, I had an interesting conversation with someone who also loves to travel. She asked me where else have I been outside of the Philippines and I told her that I want to travel more of the Philippines first. I will never forget what she said “I really admire people who do that – choosing to travel the Philippines first.” This person had money to travel as much as she wanted yet she chooses to travel outside of the country more.

Why do some Filipinos think that it’s a brave thing to choose to travel our own country first?

Traveling to places in the Philippines is way cheaper than traveling to other countries. You can hop on a bus and hours later you’re already in a place as beautiful as Sagada or Benguet. With seat sales, you can easily fly to parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and spend a meager amount of money compared to going to Singapore or Japan. Is it because we feel prouder or more extravagant when we post a social media update like “Touchdown Hongkong!”?

mt pulag benguet

Mt. Pulag, Benguet

I work with a number of expats and their travels in the Philippines are always conversation starters. Being a foreigner, they want to travel as much as they can here even if they’ll be staying here for years, saying that they’ve heard so much about the beautiful places in the Philippines and that they want to see them for themselves. And you know what, they’ve actually seen more of the Philippines than most Filipinos who’ve been here their entire lives. Why have foreigners tell you how beautiful your country is when you can experience it for yourself?

You don’t have to be rich to travel a lot, you don’t have to save for years either.  Take advantage of seat sales, research places that you can reach by land travel, make a bucket list for local travels and find someone to travel with – give the Philippines more love, choose the Philippines first.

Does #PhilippinesFirst mean you shouldn’t travel abroad if you haven’t explored the entire Philippines yet? NO. 

We’re not saying that we’re discouraging you to travel outside of the country. We travel abroad ourselves once in a while. For example, we have a 1:3 ratio for international and local trips. For every international trip in a year, there should be 3 (or more) local trips in the same year. That way, we get to explore more of the Philippines and have more opportunity to know it better – that’s the main point of our #PhilippinesFirst advocacy. We’re not asking you to do the same thing, you can set your own rules. Travel as much or as little as you want, in your own time. We’re not forcing you to do anything. 

If you really want to go to EVERY place in the Philippines, do know that it will be a BIG challenge. While short trips in the Philippines taken one destination at a time can be done on a budget, traveling the whole country will cost you. Uncommon destinations in the country are usually harder to reach because of expensive airfares, with some of them not being covered by seat sales. Sometimes you will have to take connecting flights or multiple land travels. But please, don’t let that stop you. Let these people inspire you:

Journeying James for example,  went on a journey called 100 Days of Backpacking in the Philippines the Cheapest Way Possible. Then there’s Xŭ Líng Fēng (or Edgar to his Filipinos friends), who is a Chinese national but has traveled to all the 81 provinces in the Philippines!

Now, let me ask you the question again: “If you were given an all-expense-paid trip to any place in the world, where would you go?” If you’d ask me, I would gladly use that all-expense-paid trip to explore the entire Philippines – from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi! 

I highly recommend checking out Guide to the Philippines, where you can book tours and activities in a ton of local destinations and read travel guides to help you plan your trip around the country.

Take the Risk photos from UP Travel Society

  • lemisstache

    Love the photos! And I agree, Philippines first, then the rest of the world. :)

  • Marjorie Gavan

    When I was young and haven’t really traveled that much, I didn’t include the Philippines in the list of my dream destinations. This all changed when I finally got a chance to see more of our country. I realized the Philippines is breathtakingly beautiful and we are so lucky that we don’t even need a passport to enjoy the lovely places that we have here. I think we just need to promote our country, not only to the foreigners but more so to our people. Once they discover just how beautiful this country really is, they won’t be needing much convincing.

  • Pingback: #PhilippinesFirst Friday: Palawan is the Best Island in the World (Yet Again!)

  • Ray Pit Senyor

    I am so glad Filipinos are now conscious and aware of what they have , not just a great country but a unique and spectacular beautiful country. As a foreigner after my first visit in 2008 I was hooked now I have visited 4 times already and more future trips on the way as I have only just begun to scratch the surface of my Philippines adventure’s.

  • Daniel

    Great article! I, for one, have the goal to travel the Philippines first before going overseas. There are so many things we have to see here first!

  • Hannah S.

    Agree! A couple of my friends and i actually made a pact to go travelling together, but especially starting with all the places we’ve always wanted to visit here in the Philippines before flying out regionally, then internationally. The last thing we want to happen when we’re traveling abroad would be to be asked by the locals about our home country and have nothing to say because we’ve never actually explored it— sad!

    However; to answer in all honesty your question of an all-expense paid trip to anywhere in the world? Assuming that i can on my own afford to explore the Philippines at any time; of course i’d choose somewhere probably far and different from the 7,107 beautiful islands i call home ;)

    • GamesGadgetsGizmos

      Yup.. all expense paid trip, of course not here in the Philippines. I’d take advantage of the opportunity and choose the most expensive place that I can’t afford to visit :)

  • Pepe Maglutac

    I think it really depends as to what you’re looking for when you travel. If you’re looking for the beauty of natural resources, then locations inside the country are a must! But some people travel to experience foreign cultures, or to see the marvel of man-made structures, some of which you can’t find in the Philippines.

  • Potpot Pinili

    When we travel abroad, we become ambassadors of the Philippines. When we socialize with other travelers or locals, they will always ask what’s life like & what are our attractions back home. It pays to know our country first so we can share more. One of the reasons why we travel is because we want to experience something new other than what we have here. Well said, Gem.

  • Rjay Marcos

    I’ve never been to any destination abroad because this is what im currently doing. I would feel guilty if somebody will ask me abroad what place i will recommend if they want to travel the Philippines and I couldn’t recommend one. Been to 10 regions., 28 provinces not that much but its a start.