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Travel for less in the Philippines | © Valerie Caulin
Travel for less in the Philippines | © Valerie Caulin
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How to Travel the Philippines on a Budget

Picture of Valerie Caulin
Updated: 29 November 2017
The Philippines is a budget-friendly destination by default, attracting backpackers and budget travelers all over the world. Still, it doesn’t stop international travelers from looking for more ways to stretch their travel funds even further. The key to travel in the Philippines on a budget is to travel like a local. International travel bloggers who fell in love with the Philippines made it possible to spend less there. Here’s how you can spend less on your next trip to the Philippines as well.

Seat Sales

Thanks to airline seat sales, even young professionals in the Philippines can afford to travel internationally. When flying to the Philippines, pick a budget airline carrier and stay tuned for seat sales. Filipinos will also tell you about piso fare, a budget airline’s seat sale with cheap air tickets that is highly anticipated by young budget travelers in the Philippines.

Avoid the Travel Rush

The general rule of traveling is to travel off-peak and during weekdays. Avoid traveling during April and May when school is out, as well as during Christmas break; in the Philippines, this break lasts from December 20th–January 3rd. If you are trying to save money, you should also avoid traveling there during Holy Week, the Chinese New Year and during a festival. Hotel rates increase by 100% and management requires you to stay for at least two nights per booking.

hacienda
A sugar baron’s heritage home in Negros Occidental | © Valerie Caulin

Pick Cheaper Places

Cebu, Boracay and Palawan are must-visits, but don’t stay too long if you are on a budget. Explore outside these key cities, and visit unseen destinations and smaller towns where it is cheaper to travel. Check out underrated destinations in the Philippines; they are also cheaper to travel around.

Use Public Transport

Skip Uber or taxis. Don’t bother renting a van either. Ride jeepneys, buses, tricycles—motorcycles with side cars—and motorcycles called habal-habal. Ro-ro, or “roll-on/roll-off”, ships have partner buses in major terminals for cheaper inter-island travel. Air-conditioned buses provide comfort from the Philippines’ humid climate, but if you want to save more, try the regular buses.

roroculturetrip
Ferries carrying vehicles from one island to another, known as ro-ro | © Valerie Caulin

Take Overnight Buses

If your destination takes at least 6 hours, save from your lodging budget by taking the last bus that is scheduled for that day. For example, travel time from Manila to Ilocos Norte takes at least 9 hours by bus. Take the last scheduled bus, such as one that leaves at 7pm, and sleep in the bus. When you wake up, you will already be in your destination. Freshen up upon check-in.

Stay in Pension Houses

Europe and other Asian countries have hostels for cheap accommodations, but you seldom see them in the Philippines, or they are just not labeled this way. Pension houses are like bed and breakfasts in the Philippines. They are cheap and range from $5–$10 per night. Some cheaper hotels also have dorm-style rooms for even lower rates.

pension houses
Pension houses also have relaxed common living areas | © Valerie Caulin

Eat like a Local

You don’t have to eat street food every single time. There are cheap fast-food chains all over the Philippines, including Chowking (Chinese food) and Jollibee; even Justin Trudeau likes Jollibee. When at a mall, find the food court or food hall for cheap alternatives. Check online for the best restaurants in a city, and you’ll find local favourites that are also budget-friendly. When you travel in smaller towns, look for diners known as karenderias.

Buy Supermarket and Convenience Store Food

Don’t be afraid to stock up on food essentials, especially breakfast food and drinks, rather than eating out or going to a cafe for a caffeine fix. Also, buy San Miguel Light from the grocery store, where alcohol is cheaper. 7-Eleven stores have been sprouting up in towns and provinces. From these stores, you can buy cheap sandwiches and rice meals.

Carry Smaller Bills and Coins

The Philippines is a cash country, and credit cards are mostly reserved for bigger cities and major destinations. If you want to travel cheap, then you have to bring cash. Local currencies can be tricky, but try having small denominations of Philippine pesos. This approach will come in handy when you try to haggle.

Look for Travel Buddies

Transportation costs and accommodation can eat up your travel budget, especially when you charter a motorboat or a tricycle. You can save money if you temporarily travel with a group rather than solo. Minimize your expenses by working with other tourists you meet along the way, and split up the total fare or accommodation expenses.

dumaguete
Boulevard in Dumaguete City | © Valerie Caulin

Enjoy Free Attractions and Rides

The Philippines has plenty of free attractions, adding to its reputation as a budget-friendly destination. There are plenty of open spaces in the country like parks and boulevards to hang out at or to mingle with locals, and where you can take advantage of photo opportunities. Museums and government owned attractions like national parks only require small entrance fees as well. Even in the capital city of Manila, there are free attractions to see that include free shuttle services.

Befriend the Locals

Filipinos are known to be hospitable and ready to help strangers. Don’t hesitate to ask for directions or instant travel recommendations. If they like and trust you, they might open their homes for you to stay, especially during the Christmas season and special events. While traveling to the Philippines during holidays can be pricier in some aspects, you may save money during this time by befriending locals. Some locals will be happy to give you a tour around their hometown, saving you from paying for a tour guide.