When we were still in the planning phases of our Big Trip, one of the things I researched most avidly was other travelers’ budgets and spending patterns. Travel guides are of limited use in this arena as everyone knows that they are out of date as soon as they’re published, and this is especially true when you’re working with one that you borrowed from the library that was published back in 2008. Of course, even when you find recent budget posts during your planning phases, unless you’re just a month or two out from your departure date, you shouldn’t be surprised when you’re on the ground and find that things are a little pricier than you thought they would be.

Like many travelers, we dealt with this uncertainty by setting ourselves a rough $100US/day budget—while we were in Asia, we expected we would routinely come in well under this number, which would hopefully make up for all the times in Europe—and Japan—when we would likely be hitting, or exceeding it, more often than not. It wasn’t until we made it to the Philippines, that we really saw this strategy come into play, as it was the first place we visited where we could say without any kind of qualifiers that everything was indeed very cheap. In China we struggled to keep below our daily budget, but in the Philippines, we sailed right under it most days without even thinking about it or feeling like we were depriving ourselves from taking the trip we wanted.

Even notoriously pricey activities like diving are not really that expensive in the Philippines: in El Nido, we did one day of diving with El Nido Marine Club in which we did three dives with a dive master, had lunch, full equipment rental and boat transfers all for the paltry amount of $70US per person. If you’re not a diver, you will not know whether that is a good price or not, but if you are, you’ll know you pretty much never see diving this cheap. We don’t have any pictures from that day because of our dead underwater camera (R.I.P. you bastard!), but it was a great day out and we were exceedingly pleased with our experience with El Nido Marine Club and cannot recommend them highly enough. They are owned and run by Filipinos, who are naturally incredibly warm and friendly, but also consummate professionals who are very knowledgeable about the area and have impeccable safety standards. If it were not for me contracting a raging head cold following our dives, we definitely would have signed up for more. El Nido Marine Club was one of those rare exceptions where you get far more than you pay for. But, as fate would have it, it wasn’t our sole time experiencing excellent value in El Nido.

Diving with blocked sinuses is a big no-no, so we found ourselves in the position of having way more money than we knew how to spend. You see, despite being a tourist hot spot, El Nido has no ATMs, so we had had to take out all the money we had thought we would need while in Puerto Princesa prior to our arrival. Thinking we would be spending plenty of time underwater, we had withdrawn a fair chunk of change and earmarked it for diving that we could no longer do. With all of these pesos burning a hole in our pocket and our time in the Philippines sadly coming to a close, we had to find another way to spend them!

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The Alternative, to the rescue! One night while relaxing in one of their nests and enjoying the fabulous views of the bay, we noticed they offered island hopping tours to many of the surrounding attractions. This is not a unique service by any means in El Nido—it’s pretty much the thing to do here, and you can barely pass two consecutive shops without at least one of them offering some kind of island hopping tour. Competition is fierce and the market is saturated, but the general gist is that all of the tours are the same and they’re pretty much all the same price too; there are 4 itineraries (creatively named A, B, C, and D, with tours A and C being the most popular) and they all cost about $20US per person and include lunch; some of them will also include snorkel gear in the price too, so there is some benefit to shopping around. Needless to say, all of the tour A’s from all of the operators all follow the same schedule and hit the same spots so even if you miraculously wind up on a tour by yourself (highly unlikely), once you hit the star attractions, you’ll be with everyone else. Clearly this did not appeal to us, and we spent some time grilling operators trying to find out if any of them had tours that were less popular in the hopes that, though we might get to see lesser sights, we would at least have them to ourselves. That didn’t seem to be in the cards for us, so all things being equal, we decided we would do our island hopping tour with The Alternative because we figured that they were likely to have the best food out of all the operators.

When I saw a pamphlet mentioning the possibility of a two-day island hopping expedition that involved camping on your own island, we knew exactly how we would spend our extra cash. This tour was definitely more expensive than the standard tours, but then again, how often do you get to spend the night on a private island? Plus, we had been looking for something to splurge on and could think of nothing better, so we went for it and booked the tour.

Captain Apo
Captain Apo
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Our guide, Balong
On the way out of the El Nido harbor
On the way out of the El Nido harbor

On the morning of our departure, we met our personal guide, Balong, and our boat captain, Apo, and set off into the bay, bright & early. Our first stop of the day was Small Lagoon, which, despite the early hour was practically overflowing with people. From our boat, the water looked crystal clear, but proved to be anything but once we were actually submerged and swimming about in our snorkeling gear, as all the agitation from the many visitors to the lagoon ensured that silt and sand were constantly being kicked up. It’s safe to say that we visited Small Lagoon under some of the worst possible conditions, but even so, it was really beautiful and we found some refuge in a little cave that had been formed in the limestone — a cave which most of the Filipinos in their lifejackets were too timid to venture into. We floated about lazily on our backs, staring up at the snatches of cloudless sky we could glimpse through the peephole that had formed at the apex of the cave and cursed ourselves once again for being without our camera…

Small Lagoon
Small Lagoon

Having enjoyed our time at Small Lagoon but wanting a little bit more privacy, we jetted off to Big Lagoon. The waterway leading to the lagoon proper was too shallow for our boat, so we got out and walked up to its mouth, marveling at how some rather determined clown fish had made homes in clusters of anemone in just 1 foot of water, and spotted some rather impressive sea urchins flecked with luminescent freckles, as well. We splashed about quite happily at the entrance to the lagoon, enjoying the cool water and solitude, posing for pictures, and simply enjoying the unspoiled natural beauty that surrounded us. The only travelers at Big Lagoon were touring it via kayak, and they very generously offered to let us take a quick tour in it telling us that the interior of the lagoon was far too magnificent to miss. Their generosity was well appreciated as, with nothing but the sound of our paddles dipping into the water echoing around us, our tour around the lagoon truly felt as though we were paddling straight into the heart of a primordial paradise.

Big Lagoon
Big Lagoon

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Of course, as a reminder that were still on this mortal plane and not actually in a fairy tale with a slightly adventurous bent, we hit a rock on our way out of the lagoon, which broke the boat’s engine propeller straight off! Thankfully, pros that they were, Apo and Balong dove right in and were able to get the boat back in working order after just a few minutes. Good thing too, because it was time for lunch on a private beach!

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The ride to the beach gave us time to really pause and soak in our beautiful surroundings. The landscape of the Bacuit archipelago is ridiculously stunning—everywhere you look, you see jagged limestone peaks scattered out on the horizon, their dark harshness forming a searing juxtaposition against the water, which is impossibly blue and so serene. Whenever I see sights like this, I feel deep within me just how unimaginably old the earth really is: to me, the limestone summits are towering testaments to the solidity of the land as they have withstood the ravages of time and weather.  It’s hard to imagine that anything else on the face of the earth could ever compare to this, could ever hope to be more beautiful, and it was instantly and undeniably clear to us that El Nido’s greatest charms are the ones found above the surface of the waves.

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Upon reaching the beach, we did some snorkeling while waiting for our lunch to be prepared. Happily, the small pocket of coral offshore was healthy and colorful and some of the nicest in the area. It was patrolled by a massive triggerfish who got our pulses racing, but thankfully, wasn’t feeling territorial and let us paddle by without issue. We collapsed back on the beach absolutely famished and tucked into our amazing lunch that looked big enough for six people but was decadently all for us. We glutted ourselves on freshly caught grilled fish, barbecue chicken, potato salad, cucumber salad, and of course, a hearty helping of rice. Just as we had expected from The Alternative, lunch on the beach was a veritable feast and finger-licking good!

Fully sated, I think we were both craving a post-lunch nap, but it was time to head to Snake Island, called thus because the island touches a narrow and sinuous sandbar that looks like the lithe body of a snake. The sandbar extends all the way to a mangrove cluster, and when the tides are right you can traverse between the two and look as though you are walking on water. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to emulate Jesus just this once, so we strolled across to check out the mangroves, before heading back to the island where we made the short hike up to its very top. were joined on our hike by Balong, who pointed out various interesting flora to us (like pitcher plants!), and two resident puppies who intermittently guided and frolicked with us. Other than that, the island was completely abandoned and we were reminded that we were squarely in the center of paradise, a fact only emphasized by the amazing 360º panorama of the area we were rewarded with at the peak.

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Snake Island flora, a pitcher plant
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More flora: some sort of flower

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Snake Island. No snakes, only sand.
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Balong and Steph, walking on water
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The mangrove forest opposite Snake Island

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As the sky began to darken, we got back in our banka and made our way to the campsite for the night. In a day jammed full of beautiful beaches, this nicest one of the lot, and it was gloriously ALL OURS! Laughing, we plunged out of the boat directly into the waves that beat against the shore. Wriggling our toes in the silky soft sand, we threw ourselves against them, trusting them to carry us back to our home for the night.

Our room for the night
Our room for the night

Gamboling in the waves, we saw a second boat dock at the beach and disgorge six people. We naturally assumed that some other visitors had booked a tour similar to ours and we would have to share our private paradise after all. That notion was quickly shattered however, when we realized that all of the new arrivals were staff that would be tending to us that evening. That’s right, our package got us a private boat tour of the most beautiful islands on the planet AND the opportunity to sleep on one of them where you will then be waited on by a staff of eight people. That is madness.

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Oh, and let’s not forget the bottle of wine. Within a blink of an eye, we were set before a roaring fire and had yet another amazing feast placed in front of us, all the better to soak up the complementary booze that was included in our package. As we nibbled on grilled pork steaks, chicken cacciatore, curried rice and cucumber salad, we chatted with Apo, our boatman, and tried to entice the staff to share our wine with us. They all politely but firmly declined, saying it was against the rules, before scurrying off to their quarters. Truth be told, as decadent as all of this sounds (and it really was), we both felt just a shade uncomfortable about having all these people running about waiting on us hand and foot, treating us like royalty. It’s nice to be pampered, but this went above and beyond: at one point, one of the staff asked us if we’d like anything else to drink and when we said we’d each have a beer, he jumped in the boat and sped off to the other side of the island so he could get our drinks. That’s right, he sailed 4 km, just to get us TWO BEERS. Madness!

Slightly sloshed and very sleepy, we climbed into our rustic little hut and were swiftly lulled to sleep by the gentle crashing of the waves that were just feet from our bed. We only woke once during the night when the pitter-patter of rain on our roof forced us to roll down the siding to our breezy sleeping platform.

In the morning, we found a delicious breakfast of omelets, pancakes and fresh fruit waiting for us. We ate as slowly as we could, savoring every bite, as not only was this some of the best food we had been treated to in the Philippines, but we knew once we were done, we would have to pack up and say farewell to our little island.

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All too soon, we were settling into the boat, which ferried us away for our second day of island hopping. The first stops of the day were two more private beaches owned by The Alternative: one houses their Nipa Hut “camp” site which is a step up from where we slept, as you get a private cabin, while the other is still under construction and will feature an entire two-story house replete with electricity, kitchen, and A/C once it is completed… as well as rogue monkeys from a neighboring beach whose daring we witnessed during their attempts to grapple across the rocky outcroppings on the shore in order to scope out the construction site. This wasn’t our first time encountering monkeys on our trip, but when the thrill of seeing wild monkeys leaves me, then I’ll know it’s time to go home! One of the beaches featured a huge limestone cave that is rumored to have once been filled with human bones and treasure, but is presently filled only with bats. After scarpering around the cave for a bit taking goofy photos, we got to snorkel in the sheltered reef and feed the fish, which were out in abundance. With Apo leading the way, we spotted some batfish, triggerfish, needlefish, and my very first barracuda!

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Our final stop of the day was by far the very best beach of the entire outing, and possibly the entire Philippines. It looked like it had been ripped straight out of a heavily photoshopped travel brochure and featured sand nearly as white as snow. We felt as though we had well and truly arrived, finally having found the beach we knew had existed somewhere scattered amongst the thousand of islands that make up this country. We spent our last few hours simply admiring the beach and snorkeling the shoals in search of turtles. Though we were not successful in our quest, we were still rewarded with the freshest of coconuts, which we watched being plucked from a tree high above our heads.

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Everyone who heads to the Philippines does so with the belief that beautiful beaches are plentiful. The truth, however, is that the best beaches in the Philippines are not low-hanging fruit: you need to invest a bit more of your time and your money to find them; for us, this meant taking a private tour, and the rewards were well worth it. Yes, we paid more for the experience, but we received so much more in return as a result. Things that are easily reached in the Philippines are generally overrun and under-preserved, but if you are willing to do just a little bit more than the average tourist, you cannot possibly imagine the splendors that await you.

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We arrived back in El Nido tired but utterly content, knowing that our splurge money had been spent in the best possible way. The area around El Nido is so gorgeous that it would be hard to have a visit go sour on you, even if you did go with one of the cookie-cutter tours. But, in this instance, I’m just so happy that we decided to do something a little bit different, something a little above and beyond, and were willing to invest in a truly special adventure. Sometimes you look back on a situation and are plagued with regrets about all the things you would change if you could go back in time and do it all over again, but this was the complete opposite of that. Our two-day island-hopping extravaganza was one of those times where even in retrospect we give ourselves a pat on the back for having made exactly the right choice.

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Of course, you came to this article wanting to know how you can spend $100US while in the Philippines. Now it’s time for me to pull the rug out from under you when I reveal that this whole amazing expedition won’t even cost you $100US a day. No, incredibly, our entire expedition only cost us $85 a day!

To recap, here’s what that money got us in the Philippines:

• A private boat with captain
• A private tour guide
• All the island hopping you can cram into two days
• A private island on which to sleep
• Three amazing feasts
• A bottle of wine
• A staff of 6 who will wait on you hand and foot
• The adventure of a lifetime

So as not to have you feel like I’ve misled you, however, if you’re dead set on spending a cool $100, make sure you tip the staff and crew who took such good care of you (a $5 tip is considered extremely generous in this part of the world) and then go get a pizza at Altrove. That’s what we did and if you do the same, we think you’ll agree that your money couldn’t have been better spent!

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (37)

  1. May 8, 2013 at 10:50 am
    May. 8, '13

    Oh my gosh! Wow…damn. I have so many exclamations for this post. What a great way to spend some extra money. It would be a little weird to have all those people waiting on you, but at least they knew you appreciated it. And how flipping romantic is that little bed on the beach? I would definitely splurge on that.

    And, you look amazing. Not just thinner, but your smiles are brighter, too.
    Carmel recently posted..FINDING MY VOICE

    • May 9, 2013 at 11:19 am
      May. 9, '13

      One more quick question…that was $100/day for both of you, right?
      Carmel recently posted..FINDING MY VOICE

      • May 9, 2013 at 7:39 pm
        May. 9, '13

        Yes, our 2-day island hopping extravaganza only cost us $170 total (or $85/day)… per person, that’s only $42.50 per day! It’s definitely a splurge, but one of the best ones you could make. It’s one of the few times I think we were happy I got sick because as much as we love diving, we can dive in a lot of places, but this is really a once in a lifetime experience!

  2. May 8, 2013 at 11:09 am
    May. 8, '13

    Sounds wonderful! I haven’t been reading long enough to know if you’ve done Oceania, Polynesia, etc., but I think if you liked the Phillippines, you’ll also like those islands a lot.
    Carina recently posted..Another Marathon Registration

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:42 pm
      May. 9, '13

      Would love to do Oceania, etc., but I think those will have to wait for another trip (perhaps one where we bundle in Oz + NZ…. yes it will be a far more expensive trip!). For now we will be content with the Philippines, but even if they are only half as nice (and I’m betting they’re more than half), I’m sure we’ll love them!

  3. May 8, 2013 at 12:26 pm
    May. 8, '13

    This is so so cool. What a fantastic experience! And I would feel strange about having the staff wait on me to, but at the same time, you’re also providing them work and a generous tip. Though there are larger problems I’m skipping over here, I think you can feel good about that.

    Your island adventure sounds heavenly…
    jenn aka the picky girl recently posted..Review: Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:44 pm
      May. 9, '13

      I’m glad you can see how having a staff of 6 minorities tending to our every whim induced feelings of guilt, but you are right that they certainly were paid better than if we hadn’t taken the trip, and certainly there is nothing dishonorable with the kind of work that they do. We’re just definitely not used to that level of pampering and I do feel good that we made an effort to personally speak to and connect with everyone who arrived on the island that night.

  4. May 8, 2013 at 1:58 pm
    May. 8, '13

    Everything looks amazing! Gah, it’s so cold here in NZ right now and I would do almost anything to be on one of those beaches. We’re planning to keep to around $100 a day during our RTW trip too. Hopefully some countries will be cheaper than others.
    Bonnie recently posted..Thailand: My First (Travel) Love

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm
      May. 9, '13

      We started off with 2 budget blowers (Japan & Hong Kong… the latter was only bad because of how well we ate!) but ever since then, we’ve had no real issues staying under $100/day averages for the remaining countries we’ve visited. Of course we still have days where we spend more, but in general, we are well below that number. Even if certain places haven’t been as cheap as we have expected (e.g., China, West coast of Thailand), overall, there’s no denying that Asia is very cheap!

  5. May 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm
    May. 8, '13

    Super Post!!! I’ve been toying with making the Philippines my first stop on my next long term jaunt. This post may have done it. I’m so glad you finally found a place you could call paradise. Too bad you made China one of your first RTW country choices. China was our 9th and after coming up through Indonesia and Thailand. With over 5 months of travel under our belts, in several “Paradises”, we were probably better suited to handle China then you guys were. However, I don’t know if anybody (indi travelers) knows how to handle China. It’s a real SOB to travel independently!

    Too bad (or maybe a good thing) there aren’t ATM’s in El Nido. Was it the type of place you could exchange “Green Backs” for local currency? We always used our money belts stocked with US dollars as our emergency “Bank”, just for situations like El Nido so we wouldn’t ever have to get too excessively stocked up on local currency. The double exchange rate charges can really eat away at your original dollar when leaving the country for the next. Can’t wait to see where you’re going next as it appears you are drawing to a close in the Philippines.

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm
      May. 9, '13

      I agree that we likely would have done much better with China if we had visited it later in our trip rather than so early — after only 5 weeks in, it was a lot to handle, and I think our experience suffered because of how unprepared we are. I think we would still be open to returning one day, so maybe we’ll be better prepared then!

      El Nido is definitely a tourist town so there are certainly places where you can exchange U.S. dollars for pesos. I have to admit, we didn’t go in search of these as we already had a large number of pesos, but I know there are places for you to do this as we overheard some travelers talking about it who had run low on funds.

      Only a few more posts and then our next destination will be revealed! 😀

  6. May 9, 2013 at 12:22 am
    May. 9, '13

    Looks like you had the time of your lives… well deserved! The pictures are amazing. Made me miss the Philippines so bad I almost cried.
    Colleen recently posted..Goodbye Thailand, Hello Singapore

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:50 pm
      May. 9, '13

      We miss the Philippines SO MUCH every single day… Looking at these pictures kind of make us want to cry too! 🙂

  7. May 9, 2013 at 1:47 am
    May. 9, '13

    Ahhhh, so pretty! AMAZING photos!

    I’m so, so sad I missed out on visiting El Nido when I was in the Philippines. I was looking for one final beach destination to visit and after a quick Google decided on Coron.

    It was crap if you weren’t a diver, and I didn’t find out about El Nido until afterwards!

    Next time!
    Lauren recently posted..Climbing, Collapsing and Crying in Mount Maunganui

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:53 pm
      May. 9, '13

      Thanks, Lauren! I remember reading about your Coron beach fail when we were idly considering the Philippines early in our planning stages and I think it put me off of the area at the time… though ironically, we are divers so part of why we had taken out so much money was because we had planned to try to get to Coron to do some diving… I still think the beaches in El Nido are some of the nicest we have ever seen, but the only downside is that the main beach is only so-so. To get to the really good ones, you do need a boat, but obviously that’s not as expensive a proposition as in Coron. I hope you do get a chance to go back and right your previous mistake one day!

  8. May 9, 2013 at 3:26 pm
    May. 9, '13

    My husband and I were in El Nido about a year ago. Too bad we didn’t know about this kind of overnight trip. We would have signed up for it. We did the Tour A, B, C packages. We were happy with it though. Most of the islands we went to didn’t have much crowds or no one at all.. The most crowded area we went to were the Big and Small Lagoons. But your trip sounds so romantic. I would have loved to stay overnight in one of the islands. You’re right, the beaches in El Nido are one of the best ones in the Philippines. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
    Marisol recently posted..Kbal Spean: The River of Thousand Lingas

    • May 9, 2013 at 7:55 pm
      May. 9, '13

      It was just a total fluke that we discovered this trip as it was very poorly publicized (just one little pamphlet on a table inside The Alternative) but I am so glad we did it. I am sure the standard tours would have been completely fine (I think Small Lagoon will always be swamped), but this tour was definitely a very special experience. If you ever make it back, you should definitely splurge and do it this way!

  9. May 9, 2013 at 11:18 pm
    May. 9, '13

    Shame you couldn’t go diving, but wow, those islands look absolutely stunning. I can’t believe how nice that camp is. I think that’s what you call glamping these days. Amazing-really want to go now!
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..“Appy ‘Oli”

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:47 pm
      May. 11, '13

      Glamping?!? That is a new one! Definitely not roughing it by any stretch of the imagination… which is just the way I like it! 😉

  10. May 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm
    May. 10, '13

    My god, that place is beautiful! We’ve been talking for a while about going to Thailand for a beach trip, I’m pretty sure the Phillipines should be bumped higher on the list. Glad you took advantage of that opportunity!
    Cassie recently posted..Deeper Connections Through Language (And How I Failed to Make One)

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm
      May. 11, '13

      From what we’ve seen so far, the beaches in Thailand are definitely nice, but I think that, at least compared to the Andaman coast, the Philippines are better value. The only downside in my mind is that the food generally leaves something to be desired, but the Philippines certainly feels less developed than Thailand (& gets just a fraction of the visitors!).

  11. May 10, 2013 at 9:18 pm
    May. 10, '13

    WOW – I can’t believe you guys got all that for that price. The Philippines look so amazing. I need to go and do this tour!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..How Being an Expat Has Changed Me (or, I Never Knew I Could Drink This Much)

    • May 11, 2013 at 6:50 pm
      May. 11, '13

      The Philippines IS amazing! I still can’t quite believe that we just stumbled into this tour, but I guess that just goes to show that you can only plan so much and sometimes the best things just have to be discovered!

  12. May 12, 2013 at 3:27 am
    May. 12, '13

    That looks amazing, we’ll have to put that on our list of things to do in the not-too-distant future. The food looked delicious too. We’re trying while in Indonesia to keep our budget down to £30 per day, so far today we have spent £7. Can’t complain about that! We need to slow our spending after the expense of New Zealand and Australia.
    As we’re in Jakarta now we feel quite a distance from anywhere that looks like paradise. We can’t wait to get out and see some of the real country.
    As for having so many people waiting on you – so long as they are being paid well for their work and not being exploited then I cannot see a problem. It’s surely a win-win situation.

    • May 12, 2013 at 12:22 pm
      May. 12, '13

      Andrew: As an experienced long-term traveler to many countries, I’ve got a feel-good principle about staying on budget. You know that each country has a different budgeting cost. Your whole trip budget is a sum of each countries’ cost. If you keep comparing your daily spending to the overall average budget, you’ll be beating yourself up unnecessarily! To make yourself feel good, always compare what your spending to only the budget you have set up for each country. And, to further making yourself pleased at your travel skills, try not to look at each days’ spending. You’ll drive yourself crazy. Use the average per day of a weeks worth of travel, within each country.

      If you think your budget is getting blown-out, overall, then it may be time to start thinking about staying longer in the cheaper countries and shorter in the more expensive countries. Travel is for having fun, not for constantly being a cheapskate just to stay under your overall trip budget. Also, remember that there are different parts to your budget. Transportation, food, lodging, entertainment and the rest of the miscellaneous ways to spend are all different ways to analyze your budget. Saving a hundred bucks on one flight is way different than spending two bucks less on fifty meals or five bucks on twenty overnight stays.

      Steph: Didn’t mean to butt in on your blog but I’ve noticed that too many travelers don’t use this principle of budgeting. I just want to give people another way to feel good that they are doing a good job while they’re on the road. Budgeting for Vietnam and Singapore are wildly different and should never be compared equally. You can still feel good about spending $85 bucks a day (just as a for instance) in Singapore because that’s what it costs and should be what’s in the budget.

      Put this in the “Tricks for feeling good” tag.

      • May 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm
        May. 12, '13

        @ Andrew: I am glad that when we fly to Indonesia we will be flying into Bali rather than Jakarta… after hearing horror stories from just about everyone who has ever been to Indo, we felt pretty certain we did not want to start our time in the country in its capital!

        Also, it’s tricky to say whether or not the people waiting on us were being paid well, because in general, salaries in the Philippines are unfathomably low for foreigners. Many people get by on $5 or $6US per day (or even less in plenty of cases), which certainly doesn’t make us feel better!

        @ Steve: No worries—the comments are a place for discussion and you have some good insights. We keep track of our daily expenses, but generally don’t upload them into our master spreadsheet every night (we’re too tired by that point). I completely agree that focusing on being below your overall trip budget every single day is pointless, and also is not how averages work anyway. Once we’ve been in a country for a couple of days and have a sense of what average costs are, we pick a number that seems reasonable and try to hover around that. It would be silly to expect your spending patterns to be the same for Singapore & the Philippines as the cost of living is dramatically different between the two. It sounds like this Andrew & Amy are adopting this strategy, as I’m fairly confident they did not have £30/day budget in NZ & Oz!

        • May 18, 2013 at 7:57 am
          May. 18, '13

          This is true, our NZ & Oz budgets were well above that, we managed to stay under the Australia one but went well above the NZ one so it evened out a bit. We are certainly not going into the trip with the notion of being able to keep under budget every single day. We track our expenses to keep an eye on things but we don’t stop spending if we’ve hit our budget for the day, we just remember that we need to cut costs later to compensate.
          Andrew recently posted..Australian Animal Pictures

  13. May 16, 2013 at 7:15 am
    May. 16, '13

    Among countries in South East Asia, Philippine is one that I have not been to. I guess mostly because it’s a bit out of the way in its own islands on the side. I didn’t know that Philippine is one of the cheapest place – will definitely try to visit when I go back around the region!
    mee recently posted..Border Love: Crossing the Heart of Pyrénées from Barcelona to Lourdes

    • May 17, 2013 at 1:11 am
      May. 17, '13

      From what I have heard in passing from other travelers who have been to both places, they say that the Philippines and Indonesia are quite similar to one another, though Indonesia is the cheaper of the two. I can’t wait until we make it to Indonesia, though before we head out there, I will have to email to get your insider tips! 😉 I hope you make it to the Philippines one day—it’s been one of our favorite places so far!

      • May 17, 2013 at 3:29 am
        May. 17, '13

        Oh I didn’t know that you decided to go to Indonesia after all (I recall you mentioned about not going)! That’s great! Feel free to email me anytime. In fact I should probably write a post about Indonesia! 🙂
        mee recently posted..Stylized Jesus at La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

  14. May 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm
    May. 26, '13

    Wowsers!!! All that for $85!??? That’s incredible.
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..40 Tips to Help You Travel Smarter, Cheaper, Safer, Lighter and, errr… Awesomer!

    • May 29, 2013 at 10:26 am
      May. 29, '13

      Yup, the Philippines generally is pretty awesome in terms of getting bang for your buck!

  15. March 13, 2014 at 6:59 am
    Mar. 13, '14

    Hi Steph,
    I may be wrong, but I do not see anyone asking for the details of captain Apo ???
    We are heading to Philippines next Cristmas, and definitely would go for this kind of tour (I am currently investigating, and all I find are tours with a group of 20 people for 500$ 4 nights/5 days per person !)

    Thanks for your precious info !

    Danielle

    • March 14, 2014 at 3:28 am
      Mar. 14, '14

      Hi Danielle—I don’t have Apo’s direct contact information, but we booked this tour through the Alternative in El Nido. I’m not sure what kind of tours you are looking at, but if you are just interested in island hopping and plan to be in El Nido anyway, then there is certainly no reason for you to pay that kind of money; I’d recommend getting in touch and asking the Alternative about their private island hopping packages. Here is their website: http://thealternativeinn.com/

  16. Jennifer
    June 12, 2014 at 4:04 am
    Jun. 12, '14

    Thank you so much for this info! I just found your blog a few days ago and love it- I am going to Palawan next week for the first time and appreciate the tips. I live in Taipei and wish I would have found your blog earlier to help show you guys around. So glad you enjoyed Taiwan..enjoy the rest of your trip!

    • June 13, 2014 at 1:10 pm
      Jun. 13, '14

      So glad to hear you found this post useful, Jennifer, and I hope you will have a wonderful time in the Philippines! (I’m sure you will… it’s fab!) Would have been lovely to meet you when we were in Taiwan, but given how much we loved that country on our first visit, I am sure we’ll be back again some day so maybe our paths will cross then! 😀

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