Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Best of the Phillippines

I expected the Philippines to be my least favorite country and it turned out to actually be my absolute favorite.  I would go back in a heartbeat.  What made the Philippines so fun was the variety of incredible activities.  Hiking one day, beach the very next, canyoneering another.  There are just so many islands jam packed so close together that you can truly experience a million different activities all within just a few weeks and a couple of twenty dollar flights. 

We began our adventure in the little town of Batad.  Batad is a tiny village nestled in the most stunning rice terraces.  There are no direct roads into Batad and therefore very few tourists make it to this amazing little laid-back town.  It was the perfect place to really get to know the locals and see their everyday lives.  

To get to Batad we took a nine hour night bus from Manila to Banaue.  This bus ride was probably one of the worser experiences of our two months in Asia.  Luckily Batad turned out to be one of my very favorite places so the sleepless, bumpy night was completely worth it.  

After those long nine hours we bargained with a local to take us in his "tuk tuk" to the top of a summit.  Our hour long tuk tuk ride about made my whole life.  Little did I know tuk tuks are about the most common form of transportation in South East Asia so we had plenty more tuk tuk rides to come.      

From the summit it was about another hour of hiking through the jungle down into the village of Batad. 

Tired and exhausted after days of flying and hours more of journeying we immediately found a little "hotel" up on the mountainside and took much needed nap.  When we woke up, we were absolutely pleased to find the view from our balcony was breathtaking.  Right then and there I decided I wanted to be a rice farmer.  

We spent the next few days hiking through and exploring every inch of the terraces.  Andrew was such a trooper.  Breaking his femur, hip, and pelvis only months before our trip, he spent the week hiking up those gigantic terrace steps with his cane.  I was thoroughly impressed seeing as I could barely make it up the hill to our hotel at night with two perfectly good legs.   

We loved Batad.  I mean how could you not with views like this.  And it didn't hurt that the people and the food were equally just as amazing.  Philippino pizza is top notch if you were wondering.  

Next up was the island of Palawan where we explored the beaches and smaller islands of El Nido. We decided to book a 3-day 2-night boat camping tour to see some of the best sites El Nido had to offer. 

El Nido was incredible.  Sandy white beaches and the clearest bluest water I have ever seen.  We spent all three of our days doing Andrew's very favorite activity... snorkeling.  It was quite literally his paradise.  

Originally I was a little worried about our boat camping tour.  It was far from luxury and extremely affordable.  Almost too affordable.  I began imaging us on a slightly sinking ship, eating nothing but rice every night for dinner, and roasting away in the hot hot sun.  But luckily our crew of three 17 year old boys named Mark, Cheeto, and Jonathan proved me completely wrong.   

From finding the best uninhabited beaches to camp on, to cooking gourmet meals every night, it was easy to love almost every minute of our little camping trip.  Except for the mosquitos.  Jungle mosquitos are probably the nastiest thing ever.  Oh and the man-eating rats.  Those were fun too.  Heard them scurrying around all night long.  So paradise with a side of mosquitos and rats but still absolutely amazing. 

Sorry not sorry it was too hot for pants.  A real life Sarah-and-Beth-never-took-off-our-fanny-packs moment.

Now here is the one downside of the Philippines.  Every adventure in paradise was sandwiched with an awful horrible day of traveling.  Sleeping in the gutter at three in the morning waiting for the airport to open was one of those less instagram worthy moments.  But it was all worth it right?  

Luckily, even after this wonderful restful night of sidewalk sleeping, the Philippines again proved itself to be even more amazing.  Just when we thought the snorkeling couldn't get any better we went to Moalboal.  A little diving town where we did some of the most incredible canyoneering, swam with the whale sharks, drank 20 cent mango shakes daily, and snorkeled our hearts out.

These creatures were magnificent.  Completely gentle but extremely terrifying because with one swipe of a fin you are toast.  Let's just say I got a little too close for comfort.  And by too close I mean a near head on collision.  Yikes. 

We ended our stay in the Philippines by visiting the Cebu ward which was truly one of my favorite experiences.  It was my first time attending church out of the country and it made me so dang excited to serve a mission when we are older.  The people were darling, so welcoming, and all told us to say hi to their missionary from Utah that converted them 15 years ago and live somewhere in West Valley, Draper, or Sandy.  Little do they know how large Utah is.  So if you converted someone in the Philippines a few years back big shout out to you!  They are still going strong in Cebu.  

Up next... Malaysia.  And if you haven't checked it out yet don't forget to take a look at Andrew's video capturing some of favorite moments from this crazy journey.  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

How We Traveled 2 Months in Asia for $40

Andrew and I both graduated from the University of Utah in May.  Woot woot!  To celebrate, we decided to take two months off before we got real people jobs, and travel through South East Asia with our favorite traveling buddies, Sarah and Pat.  It was the trip of a lifetime and I will forever love the memories we made during those two months.  

Ever since we got home, people have asked two questions.  First, how was it?  Second, how the heck did you afford to travel for two months?  Now before you continue reading this you must know Asia was far from glamorous.  We chose Asia specifically because we could get by so cheap for two months. And by cheap, I mean somewhere around $30-40 a day per person. Asia is as cheap as it gets and we could have lived like kings -- but the more money you save, the more places you can go, so we are all about that budget life.  So for all of you that have asked, here are the top six ways we saved money while traveling around Asia as a couple.

  1.  Points for Flights:  This isn't a novel concept but was by far the biggest money saver.  Saved us over $2,000 dollars.  We used points to book our flight to Asia making our flight basically free.  HECK YA!  Now if you are into points you know that a flight to Asia requires a lot of points.  Fortunately Andrew spends a lot of money for his company and then gets it all back when a job is done.  Basically free points.  We also have started to churn credit cards (Pat is the expert on this), meaning we open multiple new cards, reach the minimum spend, and get all those extra free points.  Just takes a little bit of management to make sure we don’t ruin our credit score but so worth it. A good card to look into for this is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. 

  2.  Setting Budgets within the Budget:  We not only set our $5,000 trip budget per couple ($2,500 per person), but we set budgets within that budget.  We had daily budgets.  We had a nightly housing budget.  Dinner budgets, breakfast budgets, and unfortunately Andrew even set me a treat budget.  But the more budgets you have the less likely you are to splurge.

  3.  Keeping a Running Money Total:  Big shout out to Sarah for her running money total throughout our trip.  This allowed us to monitor how much we were spending on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  This also helped us to decide which activities to splurge on and when it was time to save.

The tigers were SO WORTH THE SPLURGE.

And so were the elephants.  I could write a whole blog post about how much I LOVED the elephants.

  4.  Traveling in a Group of Four:  This was probably one of our bigger money savers.  If possible I highly recommend it.  Four is ideal because you fit in a taxi meaning the taxi price gets spilt four ways.  Four is also perfect for family rooms, which are so much cheaper than a private room and a little bit nicer than staying in the dorms.

  5.  Family Style Meals:  Three dishes spilt between the four of us lessened the cost of meals.  It also was a fabulous way to try all kinds of new dishes without worrying about ordering an inedible dish.  With three choices we were bound to get something decent.

  6.  Filtering Water:  When Sarah and Pat suggested it I was a little skeptical, but we use it for camping so why not for Asia?  Quick plug for my water filter… I love it.  It is efficient and works like a charm.  We’ve had it for over a year and haven’t gotten sick yet and we have filtered some pretty yucky water.  Anywho we saved tons of money because it eliminated the need to continually purchase bottled water.  Sure, some of the water tasted a little muddy and of course I absolutely loathed filtering at the end of the two months, but it was worth it. As a couple, this probably saved us around $300 over the two months we were traveling.

      And if you are wondering what that $2,500 got us, here is an awesome little video Andrew made documenting some of our favorite moments throughout the past two month.  

      Stay tuned for more highlights of each of the four countries we traveled too.  And if you also want to purchase a camping tool that will change your life click here and check out the best water filter eva.