Friday, September 30, 2011

Off the Beaten Path - September Top Picks

September has come and gone. And boy, that was fast! Normally I am not that excited about anything this time of the year. But something big is happening this October. Something really big. That's because just a few weeks prior, I finally decided to bite the bullet and backpack Asia for six months (possibly longer). That's right. I've held on to this dream for quite a while now. I thought it's about time I realize it.

Part of my inspiration for jumping into this big endeavor is the travel blogging community. There are a lot of inspiring people out there. So as a way to give back to them, I will be doing a round-up every end of the month of all the blog posts I found to be worth sharing. This month, the theme I chose is Off the Beaten Path.

What does Off the Beaten Path Really Mean? (via Legal Nomads)

First up, I thought we define what off the beaten path really means. The writer, Jodi, helps us with that. She believes that off the beaten path does not have to be some place exotic, secret and unexplored. Rather, it's all in the experience. For Jodi, it's about truly listening, communicating and interacting with the people around you. Thus, off the beaten path may very well be your neighborhood metro stop. Think about it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Great Travelers Garage Sale

As if inspiring people with their adventures, photos and dance craze wasn’t enough, Filipina backpackers Lois and Chichi of We Are Sole Sisters have organized a GREAT TRAVELERS GARAGE SALE for those soon to follow in their footsteps. To them, it's not enough to inspire and encourage others to travel. They want to enable more Filipinos to go out there and see the world. It will be the best education you can ever give yourself. This is their small way of helping travelers kickstart their adventures.

Quite a noble cause, I say. Lucky for me and my travel partner Angelica, we were invited to join in. Impeccable timing, really. We are leaving for our big Asian backpacking adventure in a couple of weeks. Two weeks! So please, spare us some of your loose change. Every peso you spend will help us fulfill our dreams and fuel our passions. It might just ignite yours, too.

The Great Travelers Garage Sale will take place this coming Saturday, October 1st, at 88 Payna Street, Veterans Village Project 7, Quezon City from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Travelers Garage Sale

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Bantayan Island Church

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the Spanish legacy in the Philippines in the form of the Bantayan Island Church.

Bantayan Island, Cebu

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Step by Step Guide to Chinese Visa Application for Filipinos

IMPORTANT NOTE: Guide to Chinese Visa application has been updated on 31 March 2013. See newer version of this guide here: How to Apply for a Tourist Visa to China.

So you have booked your flights to Beijing totally excited about seeing the Forbidden City and the Great Wall for the first time. You realize, however, China may very well be the first country you will be traveling to where you will be needing a tourist visa. That is because for most of Southeast Asia, Filipinos are not required a visa to enter. We can all zip in and zip out. China, however, does require most nationalities (Filipinos included) a visa prior to arrival. The good news is that China has a pretty organized visa application process. Having been through it, let me share what I learned about the whole thing.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Vietnamese Coffee

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the strong and sweet Vietnamese Coffee.

Ca Phe Sua Da (Iced Milk Coffee)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Using Fear to Fuel Me Forward

We are T minus 26 days before the big backpacking trip begins and I’m feeling more nervous than ever. But that’s natural. Going into something as big as this would make anyone feel nervous. Okay, scratch that. I’m more than nervous. I’m terrified. I’m spending a huge part of my life savings (one might say all of it) to do this trip of a lifetime. And have I mentioned I’ve quit my job? Yes, yes I did. And I like my job.

I know I am going to have the time of my life. I know the experiences I will be jumping into will probably stay with me forever. Still, the future-looking, stability-yearning, responsible me pops up every so often hounding me on what I will be doing after the trip. And the truth is, I don’t have an answer to the question (yet). I have plans, sure. One of them is to continue traveling. How will I achieve that, I’m still figuring out. So, really, the second half of my 2012 is currently looking quite blank. And that’s frightening.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Massive To-Do List before the Backpacking Trip

I looked at the calendar today and it's the 15th of September. This same day next month, I will be taking my flight out of the Philippines for a six-month backpacking trip around south and southeast Asia. I have declared my reasons, made the travel resolutions and planned the itinerary. It is definitely invigorating and satisfying knowing that I got this far. There is just one thing I have to do. Well, more like 50. Before the all this travel begins, preparations have to be done. I have exactly thirty days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Mount Pinatubo

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph of a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the powerful Mount Pinatubo. Yes, that's right. What you see below is a photo taken when we went trekking to the Mount Pinatubo crater in the Philippines.)

Pinatubo Caldera

Sunday, September 11, 2011

5 Reasons Why It's Important to Meet the Local Travel Community

I began travel blogging a couple of years ago. However, only recently did I start taking it seriously what with my six-month backpacking trip happening in less than five weeks (yes! and see the destinations in my itinerary here). Eventually, I ended up discovering the great travel community online: travel bloggers, photographers, videographers or simple travelers who share the same passion as me.

Two travel bloggers I stumbled upon via my travel partner, Angelica of Angge Turns 26, are the dynamic duo of Lois and Chichi of We Are Sole Sisters. These two Filipinas (yes, they’re Pinays) quit their jobs and traveled throughout India and Southeast Asia for six months having only 100,000 pesos in each of their pockets. That’s around 2,350 US dollars. I don’t know about you but that is one amazing feat!

The Sole Sisters

Their journey started early this year and this August, they’ve come home to share their stories in an event they’ve called From Glampacker to Poorpacker, a travel photography exhibit and travel talk series aiming to empower Filipinos by encouraging them to travel and choosing their own adventures. Of course, I attended. It was I think the first travel blogging event I went to. So yes, these girls popped my travel blogging cherry!

Through the event, I got to connect, network, meet the travel community who are right now in my city. And I realized that that is very important. Here are five very valid reasons why:

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Big Six-Month Backpacking Itinerary

Note: I have gone through this backpacking trip and back. Hopefully, it has ushered me into the Filipino backpackers club (which I invented just now). But see, Filipino backpackers exist! We, Pinoys, can do long-term travel. To read some of the highlights of my ever-evolving backpacking trip (which at some point already transitioned more into a travel-filled, nomadic lifestyle), do head over to the Where I Have Been page. Thank you!

I have a confession to make. I am one of those type A planners when it comes to travel. For every trip that I do, everything has to be planned, down to the last detail. What transportation we are going to take, how much it will cost and how long will the ride last, yep, I got all all those covered. You can just imagine the stress I am feeling right now planning and arranging for a six-month trip around Asia with only five weeks til D-Day.

But there is hope for me! That may be hard to believe considering the amount of detail I've set on the map above, but yes, there is hope. I have resolved to stop sweating about the small details and just have a general idea of what places I want to visit. Thus, what you see above is a very rough itinerary. And it covers just the first three months. I may go to this or that place, I may not. With that said, let me talk about the destinations I am very much looking forward to setting foot on.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Angkor

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph of a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the ancient city of Angkor.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Photography Gear I Never Travel Without

My interest in travel photography developed only recently. I first discovered it when a few friends and I went to Puerto Galera in Mindoro, Philippines, back in 2007. Not the most scenic place, I know, but it did give me my first scenic sunset. The following year, when the same group of friends went to beautiful Bohol island, I knew I was hooked. I hijacked my friends' point-and-shoot cameras (again) and started shooting. I fell in love with the whole process: beholding an amazing scenery, appreciating it, and as my travel partner Angelica says, you eventually start clicking away producing good photos.

Puerto Galera
The moment I fell in love with travel and photography

Ever since then, I made it a point to bring my own camera when I travel. I've since changed cameras and various other camera gears. However, after my trip to China early this year, I think I have found myself the right set of gears—my best set of troops with whom I am entrusting the task of documenting my travels. Disclaimer: From here on out in this post, I will be geeking out on photography. But I think those who are thinking of getting a camera and photography gears or those with a growing interest in photography may find value in this post. So there.

By Bill Bertram | CC BY-SA
1. Nikon D90 Camera

I knew when I bought this late last year that this may be the last camera I will be using for a long time. And that's something coming from me. I;ve bought and sold two cameras in the last four years before I got myself this mid-level Nikon camera. Buying this, I knew I have found my match. It's not entry-level and it's not professional-level. Just right, I think. It has the right amount of bells and whistles. This means, it does not exactly treat you as a beginner but it still assists you as you make your way deeper into photography. And if you google reviews for it, you will find out that many agree that this may be Nikon's best DSLR ever.

2. Nikon 18-200mm Superzoom Lens

Blue Moon New Year 2010
Once in a blue moon

First things first, the "18-200mm" part refers to the focal length of a camera, the "zoom" of a camera. The wide side is the 18mm, the telephoto side the 200mm. It's called a superzoom because it covers a huge focal length: wide to telephoto. With my Nikon D90, I carry a Nikon 18-200mm superzoom lens attached. I opted not to get the kit lens that the Nikon D90 normally has on it, the Nikon 18-105mm, because of this lens's dismal reviews online. I couldn't have made a better decision! The Nikon 18-200mm was worth the extra bucks. I've had another superzoom before—the Sigma 18-200mm, but it wasn't as great as I wanted. I liked it, sure, but its sharpness wasn't doing it for me. I cannot make the same complaint, or any complaint for that matter, about the Nikon lens. Even if it has a bit of weight on it, I'd gladly carry it around on my travels.

3. Small Prime Lens

Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Everyone loves a good bokeh.

A prime lens is a lens with a single focal length (ex. 35mm, 50mm, 85mm) as opposed to a zoom lens which covers a range of focal lengths (ex. 18-55mm, 50-200mm). I like carrying one of this around because it is so useful. When I was still using a Canon, I had the 50mm F1.8. When I got my D90, I got the 35mm F1.8. They are extremely versatile, especially in low-light conditions, like say, when going out at night in your travels. It proved very useful to help me capture Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap’s night life. They’re great with portraits, too! I mean, you could not make a mistake with this kind of prime lens. The best part is, they are cheap, well, relatively cheap. But worth every penny.

4. Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter

Port, Honda Bay
The GND filter kept the sky correctly exposed on this one.

A GND Filter helps you control the differing light levels in your shot. This is especially useful for landscape photographers because in a landscape, the sky is almost always brighter than the ground. Without a filter, you either get an overexposed sky or an underexposed ground in your shots. So, in order to compensate for these differing light levels, you place a GND Filter in front of your lens. The upper part of the filter (the part where the sky is) is darker than the lower part (the part where the ground is). Thus, it gives you well-lit composition.

I once read in a photography magazine that this type of accessory is crucial to any self-respecting travel photographer. As I like to pretend that I am one, I got myself a GND Filter. Honestly though, I don't use it that often. However, if I need it and when I use it, it can prove very useful. I used it the most when I was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The sky was too cloudy to give enough light on the ground. Yet, if I take my shot, the sky still appears overexposed. The GND Filter proved my life-saver here.

5. Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) Filter

Great Wall, Mutianyu
Bluest of the bluest sky. People tell me that's quite rare in China.

I will not pretend to know how to explain how a CPL Filter works. It's too scientific, to say the least. But if you would indulge, please read this very technical Wikipedia page. The gist of it all: it can reduce light reflected on your subject, like say, the amount of sunlight reflected on the surface of the sea, and it can saturate the color of the sky. Thus, it gives you a photo with really deep, brilliant colors. This is why I love my CPL Filter. I love really strong contrasts and intense colors in my photos. Which is why my CPL Filter is almost always attached to my lens.

There you have it. These are the photography gears I cannot travel without and they will most likely be the same things I will be bringing in my RTW starting next month. As a final note though, I would like to say that you do not need all these gears to take great photos. The most basic DSLR would definitely be enough for any travel photography enthusiast. However, as I like playing with stuff, experimenting here and there, I got myself these gears. To each his own definitely applies here. Another great thing about photography, I think. Not only can you decide how to take your photos, you can also decide on what to take your photos with.

What photography gear do you take with you on your travels?

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

8 Backpacker Resolutions I Am Making Here and Now

So last week, I finally made the announcement that I am going on a six-month backpacking trip around Asia staring next month. I have informed my family and the people at work. I have also started to make the necessary preparations: finances, gear, documents, visas, work, etc. But before all that starts rolling into one big stressful mess, let me take one step back and ask myself: Is backpacking really for me? Is this the kind of travel lifestyle I want?

I know. Really bad time to even be questioning myself about this. But it has to be asked. I think, the question is not that easy to answer. Contrary to what many are inclined to believe, backpacking is not like going on vacation. Unless you have a trust fund from your millionaire parents, backpacking will be an exercise in frugality. You don't really think about that when you're on a trip lasting a few days to a week. The trip won't last that long so you tend to be generous with your spending. With backpacking, you're on the road longer. Thus, you find ways to spend less so you can travel more. Needless to say, there are a few sacrifices to be made to stretch out your budget and generally make this backpacking thing work.

So to usher in this lifestyle I will be adopting even if only for a few months, let me make a few resolutions—backpacker resolutions—here and now.