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How To Prepare for a Mindanao Backpacking Trip

Who says you need a travel agent to put together a great vacation backpacking trip?


This post aims to provide some helpful tips for anyone who wanted to travel long term in Mindanao. While mine may not be a hardcore backpacking trip as most of the provinces I’ll be visiting comes with a relative living in the area, my plan could still be adapted and customized by whoever wants to go on a Mindanao trip. Without further ado, allow me to share some of my preparation plan for this Mindanao backpacking trip.

Plane Tickets 

Piso Fare roundtrip tickets for Mla-Gensan-Mla

I booked roundtrip tickets (Mla-Gensan-Mla) last August 2012 during their much awaited Piso Fare Promo. As you can see, that’s like almost one year before my travel date. Excited lang right? But hey, booking that piso fare promo way in advance meant I was able to save more or less Php6,000.

Approximate year round fares (roundtrip): Php7,000+
My Cebu Pacific Piso Fare Promo (roundtrip, with check-in baggage on my return trip): Php611.04
Savings of: Php6,000+

Tips for a successful Piso Fare booking: 
  • Be flexible with your travel dates. Stay away from holidays and weekends.
  • Be a 'fan' on Facebook and Twitter pages of Cebu Pacific. 
  • Book solo or just in small group (2-3 pax) per booking. It's quite impossible to book in groups of 10 or more.
  • Be decisive and book fast. Plan the trip in advance so once the fare is out, you'll be quick to act. Ready the names and birthdates of fellow passengers. Remember, you'll be competing with thousands of Piso Fare fanatics, so type quick. 

Travel Period 

July 11 – September 25, 2013. That’s roughly 3 months or 76 days to be exact. Why 3 months? I wanted to experience T’nalak Festival once again and to experience the Talakudong Festival for the first time, which meant I have to be there from July to September. Plus 3 months would allow me to really go back to my roots, dig a deeper understanding of my birthplace and nearby places barely explored. I will travel slowly.

Slow travel is about making conscious choices. It is about deceleration rather than speed. The journey becomes a moment to relax, rather than a stressful interlude imposed between home and destination. Slow travel re-engineers time, transforming it into a commodity of abundance rather than scarcity. And slow travel also reshapes our relationship with places, encouraging and allowing us to engage more intimately with the communities through which we travel. (source)

Why travel during the rainy season? I welcome rain as much as I welcome the tropical sun. And I did experience a couple of hard rains during my previous visits. But the thing is, it’s typhoons that really hinder a great outdoor escape. And generally speaking, there are no typhoons in the areas I plan to visit. The region is relatively more conducive to travel during these months than traveling in Luzon. Not to mention it’s off season, and that meant more savings. Rain or shine, I’m going outdoor.

Destinations 

3 Regions. 7 Provinces. 8 Cities. These are my target destinations (pre-trip).

SOCCSKSARGEN REGION
South Cotabato - Koronadal, Lake Sebu, Polomolok, Surrallah, Tboli, Tupi
Cotabato - Cotabato city, Kidapawan 
Sultan Kudarat - Tacurong, Isulan, Lebak, Kalamansig 
Sarangani - Glan
General Santos city

DAVAO REGION
Davao del Sur - Davao city 
Davao del Norte - Samal Island

CARAGA REGION
Surigao del Sur – Bislig

The Soccsksargen region is home, it’s pretty much my travel playground of choice so my itinerary is jampacked with a lot of return trips. I've been going back and forth here and still leaving the region with so many places left to explore. I know that every travel is different so I’m really excited to explore the region once more and see my relatives and friends that I dearly miss.

TIP: Afraid to start your first 'solo' backpacking? To ease the fear, why not start traveling on the region you have the most relatives. Yes you may have to do solo trips on day tours but wouldn't it be comforting to know you have familiar faces you can count on in case you need a helping hand.

Route and Itinerary


View Larger Map
(sample route)

Creating the itinerary is like making a taping and location guide for a teleserye episode (which has been part of my past production work), only this time, I have more places to cover and more time to explore. To start, I based my route and itinerary on these 4 Mindanao festivals (Davao’s Kadayawan, South Cotabato’s T’nalak, General Santos’ Tuna Festival and Tacurong’s Talakudong Festival). Here’s a glimpse of my schedule:

July: South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat
August: Sultan Kudarat, Davao and Surigao
September: General Santos, Sarangani, Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat

Budget

Since my plane tickets were secured one year before the scheduled flight, it’s more than enough time to prepare my budget. Here are some of my travel tips to help fund your wanderlust. Check out some of my posts on how to stretch your travel fund:

For my 2013 Mindanao trip, my goal is to only spend Php300/day or roughly Php20,000 for the entire 76 days.

Not enough? That’s obviously a shoestring budget and is not applicable to many, but I’ll be saving a lot on food and accommodation - one of the best things when you have relatives or friends from provinces you want to visit, in my case a huge clan all over Mindanao areas.

But just like in every trip, emergency fund is highly recommended in case you need to stretch your budget. Even if you go below or blow your budget, it’s comforting to know you still have funds available in case something goes wrong. They’re life savers!

Travel Tipid Tips:
1. Plan ahead
2. Use those free food treats from my credit card freebies
3. Communicate with relatives to let them know I’ll be visiting.
4. Be resourceful. 

My personal 'must haves': Credit Card (enrolled online for easier tracking), ATM Card, Cash (Do have COINS always) and GCash.

Research 

Many people who travel and don’t research beforehand tend to go over the top their budget. Oftentimes, these are the people who’ll say that traveling is expensive. And it can be, if you don’t arm yourself with the right information.

Where to get travel information?

1. Google is your bestfriend when it comes to researching. Here are some keywords you may also want to use:
  • Hot to Get from Point A to Point B (take note of bus schedules too)
  • Things to Do in your chosen destination
  • Cheap Local restaurants
  • Transportation cost, entrance fees, activity fees, tours, accommodation
2. I’m so lucky to be a part of Pinoy Travel Bloggers. PTB blogs has been my dependable guide.
3. Wikimapia is damn cool. Printing street maps and studying them is perfect for travelers who has tendencies to get lost, like me.
4. Travel guides (use those brochures horded from Philippine Travel Mart)
5. Ask any travel advice from relatives or friends living in the area. Locals know best.
6. Do check out TripAdvisor.com and ChoosePhilippines.com. Helpful local websites I regularly visit for this Mindanao trip includes SouthCotabato.org, Gensantos.com, Tacurongcity.net, Cotabatoprov.gov.ph

Packing List 
I am bringing my 45L Sandugo Ascent and a day pack. I packed clothes that I'm comfortable wearing and those that are quick to dry. Here's my detailed post on my packing essentials: Packing For a Mindanao "Backpacking" Trip 

Communication
I’m brushing up once again my Ilonggo skills. Having Ilonggo parents, I can very well understand Illonggo and Visayan dialects (thought I still couldn't fully grasp their difference up to now, parang pareho lang kasi). But no worries, most locals in Mindanao can understand Tagalog and English.

Final Tip
Layout the Plan but also make room for adjustments. Have your master plan printed out (mine’s in an excel format) and make sure to leave a copy of your itinerary at home.

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