How to Survive a Solo Trip to Zamboanga, Tawi-tawi, and Basilan with a 4K BUDGET

Never in my wildest dream had I imagined writing this entry. The journey to these amazing provinces of Mindanao was too amazing. Too amazing that I want to keep them for myself. I want to keep those memories for my consumption alone.

But, after watching AirAsia Philippine’s tearjerking video – #ThankYou – I’ve realized that I have to give back to those people who made my wildest adventure in the “Land of Promise” possible. It is the least thing that I could do for their generosity and kindness.

Here’s the story: 2016 was a whirlwind romance for me. I’d like to call it a “Quarter Life Crisis”. I quit my job for four years and tried my luck abroad. Working in a new environment and dealing with people of diverse cultural backgrounds ignited the wild heart in me.

But, after several months of a such new conquest, I’ve realized that no spacious apartment can replace the comfort of a real home, no world-class tourist spot can substitute the company of real friends, and no amount of money can compensate the aching of my wild heart from being restrained on a secluded place. I booked a ticket back to the Philippines and handed in my resignation letter on the same day of the flight.

While on the plane, I felt the crazy beating of my heart. Finally, freedom.


Months after such an impulsive series of decisions, my savings started to vanish into thin air. The year was ending and I found it necessary to go somewhere to at least give justice to my blood-earned salary. And with only P4, 000.00 in hand, (Yes, You’ve read it right!) I booked a roundtrip Cebu to Tawi-tawi ticket which was worth P1, 400.00.

As every single cell of my body got too excited, my mind bluntly reminded me that I haven’t asked permission from my parents about this trip. (Hello, overprotective Asian parents out there!)

I know my parents, my Nanay specifically, would object to this crazy trip. But my conscience was slowly killing me, so when I finally found the courage to tell them, I dropped names of my travel buddies who were familiar to them just to assure them of my safety.

It was only on the day I was already on the plane that I messaged them that I was going solo – at least they can’t object anymore. HAHA. Warning: Mga bata, huwag pangatularan.

Welcome to Philippines’ Latin City!

Upon arriving in Zamboanga City, I knew I had to make the most of every peso I had in hand. I sorted my list of priorities and focused on exploring densely populated tourist spots, getting a taste of the place’s delicacy, and interacting with locals. As for accommodation, I had it listed last. At the back of my mind, I was already planning to let the night pass at the airport – a travel hack that kept me sheltered for years of traveling. Again, huwag pangatularan.

How did I manage to spend 4K?

This is where the ninja moves come to play. Instead of availing the tour packages in the city, I decided to take the local mode of transportation – jeepney and tricycle – in going to places like Paseo del Mar, Fort Pilar, Pasonanca Aviary, Abong-abong Park, and Old Badjao Burial Grounds.

Pasonanca Park
Merloquet Falls
Pasonanca Aviary
Fort Pilar

After a short tour around the city, I decided to visit a nearby island known for its pink sands and amazing diving sites – Great Santa Cruz Island. However, upon inquiry, I found out that I have to pay P1, 000.00 for the island transfer.

I was already sold out on the idea of totally crashing out Santa Cruz on the itinerary. With such a meager budget, it’d be an impulsive move to push for the trip to the island.

But then, the universe decided to bless my poor soul. I was on navigating through such a dilemma when a group of professional divers approached me and asked what I was doing in the area on my own. For some reason, I felt comfortable sharing my concern with them. Upon finding out the situation that I am in, they offered to tag me along with them in going to the island.

The catch? I had to wait for them to finish scuba diving and spearfishing before we get to the island. As if such is a big deal. Free trip to Santa Cruz? Why not, coconut. I immediately agreed to join their group. Like you, I had second thoughts, as well. These are strangers taking me to unfamiliar territory. I’m not a good judge of character, and I believe I don’t have the right to do so, but they looked harmless and simply concerned. At the back of my mind, I could always jump out of the boat and swim my way back to the mainland should untoward events happen. As if.

I know right? Their boat rock.
Ola, Great Santa Sta. Cruz Island!
Hi Cap! :D :D :D
I know. My phone didn’t give justice to these pink sands. 

As if the free ride was not enough, the group even volunteered to tour me around and offered some of the fresh catch they had. Such gestures for the tainted picture I painted of them. Huhu.

Badjao Burial Site
Badjao Burial Site

The same thing happened to my trip to Tawi-tawi. The owner of the traveler’s inn where I was staying was very much amused by my solo adventure that she asked me to join their family for dinner! Not only that, but they also sent food for breakfast to my room the morning after! How cool was that?! Why are you so good to me, people?

Bongao Peak
Balangay making industry
Island vibe

After climbing the highest peak and hitching rides with a fellow I encountered along the way, I embarked on another journey to Basilan. My wild heart was beating like crazy again, not because of the strong waves that came crashing the boat we were riding, but because of too much excitement about what else would be waiting for me on that renowned island.

As much as I would like to stop by Sulu, my flight schedule would no longer accommodate such a dauntless add-on. Moreover, I have to strictly manage the remaining peso I had in hand.

Mandatory pictorials HAHA
Being one with the locals
Trading systems
Bon appetit!
Banana there, banana here. Banana everywhere!
Island life, babe.
Rubber tree plantation

A new year may have started and more adventures may come along the way, however, the memories I had with the people who made this dauntless dream a success will always stay in my heart.

“To everyone I met along this impulsive adventure – children, adults, and even the “young once”, tricycle driver, construction workers, local merchants, divers, bangkeros, and everyone I talked with my crooked Filipino and Bisaya – THANK YOU. I understand your doubts and curiosity as to why I went to your place. I had the same inquiries as well. But despite the cultural differences, you never hesitated to reach out your kindness and generosity to this lone wanderlust who came out of nowhere one sunny weekend. My Mindanao trip was more than amazing because of the warmth that you extended. You made me realize that this will never be called a solo backpacking trip because I was never alone. Wherever I go, good Samaritans are always present. This blog post would never be enough to show how I greatly appreciated your hospitality and for changing my views about your magnificent place. Surely, there’s more to life than what mainstream media shows. Your safety and economic stability will always be part of my prayers. And the experience I had with you will always have a soft spot in my heart. Thank you once again, and should our paths cross once again, I hope to reciprocate the good that you have bestowed upon me.”

Selfie with new acquaintances :) :) :)