• Travel Stories
  • How to travel on a shoestring budget

    We travel for varied reasons. Some travel to explore, visit family and friends, experience new culture, unwind from stressful workload, get out of the ordinary and see something new. Some just simply to enjoy or have fun. Others may travel to fulfill their lifelong dream of seeing the world or for adventure. Some travel to get new ideas for business potentials. For all these reasons, I love to travel because I’m always curious. I want to learn from the places I am traveling. It exposes me to new possibilities, new ideas and opportunities which I haven’t experienced back home.

    As an expat living in Oman, I’m given vacation leave/holidays once or twice a year, around 19-26 days per vacation as part of the benefits working under Ministry of Health. It is of the various benefits I get, why I am enamored to travel to different places. I don’t have a lot of money to travel but I have learned ways how to make it more affordable. Here are some of the tips I have learned on how to do it on a shoestring:

    Research before you travel

    When I had my backpacking trip last year in SE Asia, I did an in depth research 2 months before my trip. I like doing the research part. It gives me an idea of what to expect of the places to visit. Get detailed information on the places to check, food to try, accommodation to stay closest to the tourist spots to visit, activities to do and transportation to use around the place. Use google as your best friend for research. By these you get an idea how much everything costs and how much your budget will be. You can inquire to travel agents and compare prices based on your own research. Travel agents can offer good deals sometimes.

    Travel on budget airlines

    Check websites to compare prices. Subscribe and see promos before you travel.  Buy tickets in advance to get cheaper rates. Try local airlines. When I had my backpacking trip to Thailand-Cambodia- Vietnam, I booked tickets with AirAsia. I don’t mind taking the budget airline if the travel time is short.

    Use public transportation

    I used a lot of public transportation on most of my travels. Buses and trains are very accessible and the most convenient way to go around. Act like a local.  Check online apps for transport schedules on the city you are visiting (if applicable) to see what time you can catch up the next bus/ train to save money, time and effort.

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    Eat local food

    Wherever you travel, eat local food all the time. It is more authentic. Get information on where locals eat and drink on various websites and apps. Find a place filled with locals. Have a culinary food tours. Attend cooking classes or market tours to the country you are visiting!

    Get affordable or free accommodation

    You read it right! You can actually get affordable or sometimes free accommodation when you travel. How? As traveler you can connect with the locals who are willing to let you stay and experience hospitality. Using the site Couchsurfing you don’t have to pay anything and I have used it once to stay with a local in one of my travels. Couchsurfing is a website for travelers around the globe. I have met great friends using the website. So far my experiences were great!

    If you are not comfortable to stay with a total stranger then stay in a hostel, lodge inn, dormitory which are cheaper than a hotel. Check out Agoda.com, Booking.com, Hostel.com, AirBnB or trip advisory for reviews and get the best deal out of it!

    Connect with your long distance relatives or friends to see if they can host you

    If you are thinking of a place to visit, think of relatives or friends who are staying to your travel destination. When I went to Japan years back, I stayed with my relatives in Tokyo. It is a pleasant experience to be hosted by your own relatives or friends. You get free accommodation and the best tips in town! Remember to be a good guest and never abuse the hospitality. It is good to be hosted and return the favor in the future.

    Get travel insurance

    When I went to Japan 3 years ago, I got into an accident. I slipped straight on the floor when I tried “Onsen” (Japanese bath) and had a huge hematoma at my back. It was a wakeup call for me to get travel insurance every time I will travel.  It will cover the cost of travel emergencies. Aside from that it will cover trip cancellation, loss of baggage and other benefits which will leave you worry free. Charge will depend to where you are travelling, how long and to which company you will get the insurance.

    Look for cheaper destinations

    Last year, I went home to the Philippines. I took the chance to travel neighboring SE Asian countries since it is cheaper to travel from there. Take local travel too.

    If you are in currently working outside of your country, take the opportunity to explore the neighboring countries around where you are working. If you are in the Middle East, plan a visit to other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries that are visa-free/ visa upon arrival. Plan a travel to Europe or Asia. I went to Turkey 2 years back, flight was 5-6 hours from Oman and the airfare was reasonably affordable.

    Find a travel buddy

    Based on my experience, it is always good to travel with someone. Booking a hotel good for one is almost the same if you will book for two or three. You split money on transportation, activities and food as well.

    Haggle

    Learn to play the game of haggling to countries where it is possible. There is no harm if you want to get discounts for activities, transportation, and items you wish to buy. Do research and know the current rate. There are numerous guidebooks available like Lonely Planet. Remember before you say yes, check the offer, negotiate then select.  The most important thing to get a good price is banter. 

    Walk

    Walk around instead of taking a cab or bus. Enjoy the surrounding and observe what the locals do. Pay attention to the details around you. You may learn something new by immersing with the locals. Also, walk is good for the body, environment and to your wallet.

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    Strolling along Venice Beach in California

    Pack light

    Travel with just the basic necessities you want to use. Plan your wardrobe and bring clothes right and appropriate to your travel adventure.

    For local or short travel distance I like carrying my 35Liter backpack bag. It is comfortable and I can easily walk around.

    Read Blogs and Talk to the Author if you can

    Blogs are good source of information. Authors give tips and share their experiences. Don’t be shy, just approach and ask!

    Talk to the locals

    Befriending a local means getting worthwhile information to your visiting place. A good chance to learn more about their culture and to learn their daily routine for more immersive experience. A good start is talking to your taxi driver as he knows every corner of the place.

    When I was in Thailand , I have met few locals. We tried local food, shared experiences, had good laughed and became friends. It was an incredible experience.

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    Check out free things to do

    There are times you don’t have to spend hefty chunk of money to enjoy your travel. Do research of tourist attractions and activities that are free of charge to visit.  Go for walk on famous parks and visit museums open to the public without admission fees.

    Sleep at the Airport

    If you arrived at the airport night time and you have a local flight early in the morning, booking a hotel for 3-4  hours stay seems like useless idea. Find a comfortable place where to lay down and wait for your next flight instead of going out of the airport. Just make sure to take care of your stuff.

    Negotiate with the Taxi Drivers

    Research how much is the local fare to your travel destination. Ask reliable local for the rate before getting into the taxi. If you just arrived at the airport, ask at the information booth or any local who has no interest to rip off money from you. Ask the staff in the hotel /hostel you are staying how taxi system works and the fare price.

    Check if the meter is working before getting into the cab. Some countries don’t have metered cabs. Negotiate before getting in.

    Get advice from the people/ friends that travel

    You will never go wrong with the firsthand information.

    Get mobile internet

    Roaming charges are be expensive. So whenever I travel I get local sim with mobile internet data on it. (The reason why I never purchase postpaid line, I like unlocked phone) I can save a lot of money by connecting to my family and friends through WhatsApp, FB messenger or Viber compared to a regular call.

    With my mobile data on the side, I am not afraid to get lost in the city knowing I can rely to Google Map.

    Avoid overspending and stick to your budget

    I know how hard it is to resist temptation but try to avoid some impromptu purchases. There is nothing wrong to try 5 star hotel or fancy restaurant if you can afford it. If you don’t have a budget then don’t do it on a regular basis.  Create a daily cash allowance for your food, transportation and activities.

    Don’t buy “pasalubong”

    It has been part of the Filipino culture to buy pasalubong (bringing gifts from the travel destination to people back home) but time to break the tradition. Be kuripot (stingy) at times!  If it can’t be avoided, allot a budget for the gifts.

    Any tips you want to add more? Share with us on the comments below.

  • Expat Life
  • Thinking of Working in the Middle East? READ THIS NOW

     

    Millions of Filipinos are now working overseas. Most of the Filipino workers choose to work in Asia with Middle East (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) as the top destination followed by Singapore and Hongkong. The number of OFWs in the Middle East increased from POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) statistics. The Middle East is a place that has given greater opportunity to live and work for our Kababayans (fellow Filipinos). Every year Filipinos leave the Philippines to seek for a greener pastures. 1,844,710 left in 2014 according to the Philippine president’s state of the nation address. Filipinos dream of providing a better life for their family. According to the POEA, there were 1,123, 676 deployed land based Overseas Filipino Workers in year 2010 and it reached to 1,430, 842 in year 2014. There in fact a growing number of Filipinos who choose to work in other part of the world like Middle East.

    If you are someone who wishes to work abroad, consider the “pros and cons”. I have been working in the Middle East as a registered nurse for almost 5 years now. Sultanate of Oman became my second home away from the Philippines. It was a grueling process and I have to weigh so many things before coming up with my decision. I know there are many aspiring Kababayans who wish to work abroad. If you are interested in working in the Middle East, here are some points to remember & consider:

    Weather Condition

    Summer temperature can reach 40 – 50 degrees Celsius! It is expected to last for about 6 months that starts from the month of May until October of the year. Literally it may feel like you are inside an oven. The humidity is another factor as well. I don’t even think someone can tolerate the heat during mid of the day. Be prepared to confine yourself indoor for months. Most people here go out at night when it is bit cooler. Small shops are usually closed from 2pm until 5pm and reopen 5pm until 10pm. Most of the buildings are air-conditioned. Air-conditioning is a necessity in the Middle East and not a luxury.  Shades/sunglasses are like your best friends to prevent redness and irritation of the eyes from the UV rays of the sun.

    Winter/cold season starts from the month of November until April of the year. The temperature ranges from 25 degree Celsius to around 35 degree Celsius. It is cooler at night, ranging temperature from 15 degrees to 20 degrees Celsius. There will be times it will reach to 10-12 degrees Celsius early in the morning.  It is the best time in Oman to walk around and enjoy outdoor activities like trekking , camping, sand dune bashing, swimming, snorkeling or boating.

    Tropical storm is quite common in the Philippines. Oman is occasionally affected by tropical storm. It may hit the country 1-2 times a year. If it rains more than an hour, it will result to severe flash flooding.

    In the Middle East, it is common to experience sandstorm. It is a storm caused by strong wind, sand or dust. It is dangerous to be out due to reduce visibility so staying at home is the best option.

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    Evening time,when shops are open…

    Other Nationalities Wear their Traditional Clothes

    We Filipinos are used to seeing each other wearing normal clothes like pants and T-shirts. In Oman and the rest of the Gulf countries, local men wear “Disdasha” / Thobes and women wear “Abaya”.  “Disdasha” is usually white in color worn with an embroidered cap or turban. “Abaya” is an outer robe like dress that covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet of a Muslim woman. Some other nationalities like Indians & Pakistanis wear their traditional clothes too.

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    Locals wearing Disdasha

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    Trying to wear “Abaya”, 2014

    Modesty when it comes to Clothing

    Oman is an open country. Non- Muslim women and men are allowed to wear any clothes provided it is modest. Women can go out without wearing Abaya. It applies to country like UAE (Dubai) , Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. In Saudi Arabia, Muslim or non-Muslim are required to wear Abaya. On some malls, it is normal to see some sign / or posting –“wear appropriately”. Any clothes that are too revealing, transparent, low cut or short should not be worn on public places for women. There will be times the security will approach and reprimand you for not dressing up properly.

    As for men, no tank tops, fitted shirts or shorts that are higher than the knee should be worn on public places. If you will be in a hotel, private beach or pool, wearing swimsuit attire or shorts for men are allowed without restrictions.

    My daily attire here include long sleeve shirts, t-shirts and long pants. I wear a long dress when I am out in the public. I have lot of shawls too!

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    Usual Outfit includes T-shirt, loose pants and a scarf, 2015
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    Roaming around Nizwa Souq (Market),Oman 2013
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    Oman Diving Center, Oman
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    You can wear anything while staying on a hotel! Shangrila Hotel in Muscat, Oman 2015

    Exposure to Different Nationalities

    In the Philippines, we are used to working with mostly Filipinos only. It is seldom we are exposed to foreign nationals. Right now, I work with at least 5 other nationalities (Indians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and locals). Accents, languages and cultural differences are some of the things that you will encounter. It is normal to hear other languages such as Arabic or sometimes Hindi in daily conversation in and out of work.

    Not all of the locals speak the English language. It is necessary to learn basic Arabic in Oman. It will go a long way. After years of working here, I Iearned a few words. Think of learning a new language as exciting.

    Living in a new country means trying new food too! I like Arabic food. I have learned to eat local food such as Shuwa (Omani delicacy usually beef/ lamb roasted in a pit dug on the ground for 24- 48 hours), Kebab and Omani bread with Chai/Karak tea. Laban (yogurt drink) is just common. Most of the Omani cuisine are loaded with herbs and spices and I love it.

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    Shuwa/Meat with Mandi Rice
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    It is all about spices, herbs and nuts!
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    Mixed Grilled Meat and Flatbread with Hummus/Chickpeas Dip
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    Omani Bread with Karak Tea for breakfast!

    Alcohol and Pork Consumption is Limited

    Drinking of alcohol in public areas is strictly prohibited. Muslims are forbidden to drink . It is considered a sin to drink alcohol in the Holy Quran. However, it is a misconception that alcohol is completely banned in the Middle East. In countries like Oman, non-Muslims are allowed to enjoy alcohol in premises with special licenses such as hotels, bars or clubs. Alcohol is expensive compared in the Philippines and other Asian countries.  If you wish to buy alcohol at licensed retail shops, you must have a valid liquor permit approved by the ROP (Royal Oman Police). In order to get a permit, you have to comply with all the requirements including No Objection Letter from the company you are working. The value of the permit is determined by the salary and is usually 10 % of the basic salary. The only allowed alcohol allowed to enter a Middle Eastern country (except Saudi Arabia) is from a Duty Free shop and is limited to a maximum of 2 bottles and is strictly for non- Muslims.

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    Oman Diving Center, Muscat, Oman. See the background?! 2015

    In Oman they have licensed shops that sell pork products for non- Muslims. Prices are 2 to 3 times than the prices back home. Better than nothing!

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    Liver Spread 1 OMR/ 2.6 USD / 120 PHP ?!

    All bars or clubs are closed during the time of Ramadan (Holy month for the Muslims). No alcohol consumption is allowed for the entire month.

    Financial Benefits

    Salary wise, it is better .  When I was working back in the Philippines, I was earning a basic salary of 8,000 pesos per month. It is one of the reasons pushing some Filipinos to work abroad. Working in the Middle East is tax free. You get your entire salary, plus free health insurance, allowance for housings, paid holidays and free airfare once a year or twice a year depending on your company.

    In the Philippines, we are used to getting our salary twice a month. Working in the Middle East , you get your salary at the end of the month.

    Homesickness

    Being away from family is one of the battles one will continuously face living abroad. One should be prepared for homesickness. This is an important consideration if you are not used to being far from your family and cannot imagine life to away them. Working abroad means celebrating Christmas away from home. It means missing all the important events of your family and traditional Holidays that we celebrate.

    The good thing there is growing number of expats or fellow Filipinos everywhere. It doesn’t feel like you are really away from home. Technology is amazing to stay in touch with the family and friends no matter where we are in the world.

     Culture and Religion

    Mostly of the people you will encounter are locals or expats living in the Middle East. Oman is fairly liberal country. Omanis are very open to different views and opinion of other nationalities. However, as an expat, one should be aware of the rules, laws, customs and cultural practices of the country. Religion plays a major part in the Middle East, tolerance and respect are big factors to survive.

    Muslims pray 5 times a day. When you are working with them, it is to be inculcated praying is an integral part of their life. Muslims stop from their work to pray and should be respected.

    During Ramadan, All Omanis are obliged to fast for a month.   During this month, all restaurants are closed. It only open by the time they will break their fast around evening time.  Nobody is allowed to eat nor drink on public areas.

    Public display of affection is not illegal but should be avoided. Unlike in Saudi Arabia, men and women in Oman can walk or mix up.

    Doing Everything Yourself

    If you are used to having a comfortable life in the Philippines with your family on your side or a helper who helps you to do everyday chores you will be in for a shock! You will do everything by yourself. You will be totally independent. After work, preparing food, doing the laundry and cleaning your place will be part of your normal daily routine. Be ready!

    Slow Pace of Life

    The pace of life in Oman is slow. People are relaxed. If you are used to getting everything done in one sitting expect here to take it days or even weeks. If you are used to an urban kind of life where everything seems so fast, here it is totally the other way around. Nobody rushes here. I considered it as an advantage since I am used to living in a province back home in the Philippines. During Ramadan, working hours are shorter too.

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    Calm atmosphere in the city of Muscat, Oman 
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    Shops are closed between 2pm to 5pm. Ruwi Muscat, Oman

    Cost of Living

    The overall cost of living in Oman varies if you are living in the city or interior. In general, expect food to cost more compared in the Philippines. Most of the food are imported from other countries but some vegetables and fruits are locally grown. It is best to know where to buy to get good price. There are Filipino stores almost everywhere but prices are double.

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    Haggling at the souq (traditional marketplace)

    Fuel and cars are quite cheap in Oman. Most of the people own cars. Some expats prefer to buy a car for convenience. Oman has minimal public transportation. For someone like me who doesn’t know how and is afraid to drive, I go through the difficulty of getting a cab. Taxis don’t have meters in Oman, you should be aware of the right charge and have an Omani driver to contact every time you need to go out for easy and hassle free transport.

     

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    Color coded white and orange taxi’s of Oman

    Electricity is also cheap in the Middle East. A whole day of air conditioning at home will not cost a lot. If you forget to pay your bill for months, the company will not easily cut off the electricity. Even though, it is better to pay the bill on time.

    Safety

    Oman is a safe place to live with a low crime rate. You leave your valuable items on public places and nobody will dare to take it. Though crime is very rare, it is advisable to take usual precautions wherever you are. Avoid going out at night in unfamiliar places if you are alone. Be aware of the police number for emergency purposes.

    Purchasing Power When You are Out of the Country

    It is quite pricey in Oman if you want to stay in a hotel, eat out or go on a bar. When you travel out of the country and have vacation in your home country like Philippines and to its neighboring countries everything may seem so cheap.

    Living and working in the Middle East is a challenge. I considered it as a big leap and a major step out of my comfort zone. I have had my happy and sad moments.There were adjustments and sacrifices made.  I experienced culture shock. Limitations were tested. It opened my eyes  to new discoveries about myself and to the unfamiliar other side of the world. No doubt, staying in the Middle East gave me lessons in life that i will never forget and forever i will keep in my heart and mind wherever i will be.Are you going to be positive or negative? Will you take the risk and adjust yourself to something new? What do you think of working and living in the Middle East? Well, the decision is all up to you…

     

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    Have you ever worked & lived in the Middle East? Do you have any dream or plan of working abroad? Share your experiences, plans and dreams with us on the comments below.