My wife’s family is in the Philippines and it’s been years since she celebrated Christmas and New Year’s with them. The last time that we traveled to the Philippines was two years ago and this was because her father passed away. We were able to spend only 10 days there due to her school and my work. I was only allowed for the bereavement leave since I already used my vacation time during the early part of the year when we went on our anniversary travel. Usually, we would travel on non-holiday season to the Philippines because the airfare is so much cheaper. On this trip, I paid an airfare equivalent to the first class rate for the non-peak season travel but I will be sitting in the economy class seats. Ouucch!!
What I like about the Philippines is it is really very festive there. Majority of the houses have Christmas decorations outside their homes such as the star lantern, lights and other decors. There are also a lot of kids going from house to house singing Christmas carols. It’s kind of like a “trick or treat” here in the United States but instead of the homeowners giving candies, they would be giving money to the kids. We would normally attend the “Simbang Gabi (night masses)” which ironically are held at around 3 to 4 o’clock in the morning and not at night. This has been an ongoing tradition and elders have told us that if you complete all the masses for 9 consecutive days starting on Dec 16 all the way to Christmas, you can make a wish. After the mass, we usually treat ourselves with a freshly made popular Filipino pastries called “bibingka” Â and “puto bungbong” (both are called rice cakes but differs in flavor and style of baking).
I also like the New Year as the fireworks are allowed on the street and this is happening throughout the country and not just on selected areas. Almost everybody are lighting up different kinds of fireworks and this is how the New Year is celebrated with a big bang. Â I still remember the time when my wife called her family in the past New Year celebration and you can hear the firework sound over the phone and the New Year has not even arrived yet!
So for this trip, my wife took a semester leave from school so she can go home for six weeks and make it to her mom’s birthday. I will be following her this week as I leave on Friday night. In the meantime, I still have a few more errands to do and also some stuff at work that I was trying to finish.
Photo credit: PacoAlcantara
Below are the seven things I usually do before I travel:
1. Call credit card companies
I always try to limit the use of credit cards because of the transaction fees Â (around 1-5%), the high interest rate, and bad exchange rate conversion.Â However, when traveling abroad, I would bring a couple just for emergency purposes. Before I leave, I usually call the credit card companies and inform them that I would be using the card abroad so that it wonâ€™t be flagged as fraud when I try to use them.
2. Exchange foreign money in advance
Before I travel, I would exchange a few of my US dollars to the foreign currency in advance. I would usually go to the local foreign exchange centers since they have better rates than the banks and those located in the airports. We know a couple of places in the Philippines that offer competitive exchange rates as well so we would go there whenever we run out of foreign currency.
3. Go to post office to hold mail
It is important to go to the post office and fill out a form to hold our mail for the duration of our vacation. As much as possible, I make sure that our mail box is not full while we’re gone. Besides, the mailman would get upset whenever the mailbox is full and we have not collected our mail.
4. Notify Apartment Manager
We still live in apartment and we always make sure that we notify our apartment manager that we will be gone for so many weeks. It is also good for security reasons just in case somebody is trying to break in the apartment. The good thing about our apartment is that it is gated and our unit is right in front of the manager’s so she would be alerted in case someone is trying to break in the apartment.
5. Schedule payment of the bills
We use online payment for most of our bills and we usually schedule automatic payments. But for the ones that are not, we have sent the payment in advance. It is better to pay them early than to pay late especially when it comes to credit card payments. We also issue a rent check for the following month so our landlord does not lock the door because of non-payment or charged us a late fee.
6. Bring Old Cell phones
I always bring an old cell phone with me so I can use it abroad. In the Philippines, I can purchase a sim card for a nominal fee and buy pre-paid minutes there. Iâ€™ve heard stories of how cell phones can be snatched out of your hand even while you ‘re still talking with someone. They can take my old phone instead of my iPhone 4 and I wouldn’t care. Buying a sim card there can save me a lot of money instead of using my US sim card since my AT&T will charged me roaming fees and who knows how much it is going to cost me when I receive my bills Â back here in United States.
7. Create a decoy wallet
Why a decoy wallet? This is just in case I get mugged or held up: I want to be able to give something to the perpetrator but I donâ€™t want to give my true wallet with everything on it. It does not eliminate the risk of getting hurt but it is better to give them something rather than making them think that I don’t want to give up my wallet. Getting held up has never happened to me so far but it is better to be safe than sorry. It’s the Christmas time and this is the time when the crime rate would be higher.Â I would put a couple of old (expired cards) there, a few small dollar bills and foreign currency money.
Readers: What about you? Do you have additional travel tips that you would like to share?