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


Never in my wildest dream had I imagine writing this entry. The journey to these amazing provinces of Mindanao was too amazing; I found it too difficult to share with others. I want to keep those memories with me. However, upon 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 “Promised Land” possible. It is the least thing I could do for their generosity and kindness.


Click here to know what video am I referring to!

Here’s the story: 2016 was a whirlwind romance for me. I’d like to call it “Quarter Life Crisis”. I quit my job of four years and tried my luck abroad. Working in a new environment and dealing with people of diverse cultural background ignited the wild heart in me. However, after several months of 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 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 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. But as every single cell of my body got too excited, my mind bluntly reminded me that I haven’t ask permission from my parents about this trip. I know my parents, my Nanay specifically, would object to this crazy trip. But my conscience was killing me slowly, 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 my safety. But again, my conscience started attacking me a day before my flight. And so while on the plane to Zamboanga, through text, I confessed that I was going solo – at least they can’t object anymore. HAHA.

Welcome to Philippine’s 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, having 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 trick that I have mastered for quite some time. #Brokeproblems

How did I manage to spend 4K?

This is where the Ninja moves come in. 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 to the idea of totally crashing out the island from the list when a group of divers asked what I was doing on the area and why was I alone. Upon finding out my situation, they offered to bring me to the island since they were headed there. For free. That immediately triggered my hidden antenna. I joined the group even if I don’t know them well. At the back of my mind, I could always jump from the boat and swim my way back to the main land should untoward events happen.

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


But much to my surprise, upon arriving to the island, the group even toured me around the resort that they were staying and offered some food to eat. Such gestures crept into my system. I felt ashamed of drawing negative images of them.

“Even the nights are better. Now that we’re here together…”
Badjao Burial Site
Badjao Burial Site

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

Bongao Peak
Balangay making industry


Island vibe

After climbing the highest peak and hitching rides with some 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 of what else would be waiting for me in that renowned island. As much as I would like to stop by Sulu, my flight schedule would no longer accommodate such 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 the road – 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 have 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 :) :) :)

I’m not sure if this post will earn a spot into Airasia’s contest, however, I’d like to thank the company for organizing this kind of event. Had it not been for this, I would never the courage to express my gratitude to all those who welcomed me on this trip.