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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Julia

5 Ways to Transform and Travel: Philippines with Chantal

Guest Post by Chantal Cowie

I feel most alive when I travel. I see, smell, eat, drink, laugh, explore, and love with fervor as if I

am a child and everything is new. I crave this feeling when I don’t have it.

What is the purpose of this experience? We spend a great deal of time planning the concrete

aspects of our trip but do we ever pause to reflect on why travel brings us these feelings? What

are we doing during our travels to help us achieve this level of serendipity? Why do I come away

from my travels feeling accomplished and enlightened?

Transformation, that’s why. Travel creates endless opportunities for personal growth. Travel by

its very nature takes us out of our element and into a world of unfamiliarity. This challenges us

in unexpected ways and forces us to adapt to succeed. This is where the potential for the most

personal growth rests. This is why I travel.

My earliest memories involve traveling from Florida to visit my grandparents in Georgia. In the

20 plus years since I’ve traveled to 30 states and 26 countries and lived in America, Australia,

and South Africa. I was fortunate enough to be born into a family where travel is a highly valued

pastime. My parents explored the world when I was young and took me along with them. When I

became an adult I continued to fuel my passion for travel with my own trips.

I encourage you to take a moment before you go on your trip and think about the goals you have

for transformation during this time. Are you looking to become more independent? Would you

like to become more knowledgeable about other cultures? Are you trying to be more outgoing?

The Philippines is the perfect place for you to relax and take in the beauty of the world while on

this path of self-discovery. Decide what your goals are and consciously take action throughout

your trip to reach these goals.

My interest in the Philippines was sparked four years ago when I moved to Chicago, Illinois, and

fell in love with my partner. My partner is Filipino-American and introduced me to this

incredible country that had somehow missed my radar.

The beaches of the Philippines called to me during one of Chicago’s harsh winters and I decided to spend two months traveling this country coming up with new and exciting ways to challenge myself.

Thanks to my journey, I collected a list of five things you can do in the Philippines to encourage personal transformation during your journey.

5 Ways Transform and Travel in Philippines

Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

5 Ways to Transform and Travel in Philippines

1 Go on Tours through Hostels

Hostels in the Philippines have something for everyone and are a must for individuals looking to

create transformative and memorable experiences from their travels.

When someone says hostel, the first thoughts that may come to mind are bunk beds and

affordable pricing. However, during my adventure through the Philippines, I found that these

homes away from home provide far more than a place to lay your head.

Many hostels provide an amazing environment to meet new people by hosting sightseeing

activities unique to their locations. You can sign up for these activities even if you are not

staying at the hostel. I highly recommend doing this, especially for the island hopping tours.

You will notice that the cities in the Philippines with a vibrant tourism industry have many

options for the same types of tours. I found it difficult to weed through the clutter of business

after business propositioning me for what they claimed was the best version of the tour.

This is something I found the hostels are wonderful for. The tours running through hostels are always a fair price, have a great atmosphere, and most importantly, are run by and cater to a great group of


I did tours through hostels to island-hop, go on hikes, jump off waterfalls, explore caves, snorkel,

and surf. Before every tour, my stomach was tight with anticipation. Insecurity whispered, “Am I

going to make a friend today? Will these strangers like me?”

I am an extroverted person when I’m within a group of people I know. However, like most

people, I fear rejection. This makes it hard for me to approach strangers for friendship when I’m

on my own.

One of my goals for this trip was to become more outgoing despite that fear.

I joined HOP Hostel for an island hopping tour when I was in Coron. I did not stay at HOP

hostel, I stayed at a much smaller hostel, Coron Bakawan Hostel because I wanted a cheaper


Tour Experiences

I started the day alone and a bit nervous about making friends. The van from HOP hostel picked

me up first before doubling back to get the rest of the group. People piled into the van and I

began greeting them and thought, “Here goes nothing.”

Ten minutes into the tour I met one woman from England, Abby, and one from Australia, Beth. They were friends that met the year before at a hostel in Vietnam. They introduced me to a group of friends they met at their hostel and we spent the next three days exploring Coron.

One evening we hiked to the top of the hill where the Coron sign stood watching over its

inhabitants below and watched the sunset over the island. The next night we eased our achy

muscles in the hot springs. But, best of all, every day we satisfied our appetites with chicken

adobo, pancit, and pritong talong amongst other famous Filipino dishes at restaurants around

Coron Town.

Coron Hiking in Philippines

Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

We all came from different countries and backgrounds, but the shared activity of exploring the

island together brought us close. I realized my fear of rejection was senseless. During my time in

the Philippines,

I found people are eager to form friendships and share experiences with you if

you are brave enough to make yourself vulnerable. Opening myself up to the friendships of

strangers brought about more laughter, conversation, and cherished memories than I could have


As you travel around the Philippines, you are going to be seeing a lot of beaches, islands, and

waterfalls. What will start to become special about these places you visit are the memories you

make with the people you experienced them with. Going with a hostel group on a tour ensures

you’ll be meeting with other people who are open to making friends.

Travel is as much about the people you meet as it is about the places you go to. Through my time

at hostels, I’ve been fortunate to make friends from dozens of countries and gain a deeper

understanding of other cultures, languages, foods, and customs. The experiences I had because of

hostels in the Philippines helped me to become a more global citizen and they can do the same

for you.

Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

2 Go Off the Beaten Path

What happens when you strip away the noise? When the internet and data can no longer reach

you? When all of the people are gone? Would you like to find that peace? I did. I wanted to find

stillness during my trip and a chance to practice mindfulness. I was interested in opportunities to

breathe and improve the mind-body connection in nature away from distractions.

As a result, I did a tour through Bellita Tours as a restorative activity in the middle of my trip. If

you plan on vacationing around Palawan, I suggest adding this Island hopping excursion between

El Nido and Coron to your itinerary. I chose Bellita tours because I found through my research

that the group was smaller (only six people) and cheaper than their competitors, but still just as


Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

During this excursion, I spent my days on a boat going from a remote island to island. These

islands were completely deserted except for their caretakers. I stopped at each island for an hour

or two to snorkel, read on the beach, take pictures, and eat.

In the evenings, I watched the sunset and camped on the beach. It was the perfect escape. There was no internet or power, just nature, and time to reflect.

If you are going to be in Siquijor during your trip, another great adventure into nature I’d suggest

is taking a moped to the Mountain View. I did this with two friends I met on a waterfall jumping

tour I’d done through the hostel Chef Mau in Moalboal.

We drove 30 minutes through winding roads up the mountain to get there. The roads were wide and smooth and the scenery was breathtaking. Palm trees and endless acres of green cloaked the mountains like a scene out of Jurassic Park.

Once we arrived at Mountain View, we parked our bikes and hiked ten minutes up to the peak.

Grazing goats and cows were scattered along the hillside seemingly unbothered by the steep

incline they balanced on.

The view was spectacular and we were completely alone as we looked out over the rolling landscape that led to the sea. After snapping some pictures, we sat atop the hill and meditated. We spent a couple of hours on that hill and finished our afternoon by stopping at a butterfly sanctuary.

Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

Activities like this significantly helped strengthen my ability to focus on the present moment.

Find ways to appreciate the beauty of the world you are experiencing as you travel. We often get

caught up in taking pictures for the future and forget to appreciate our present. Taking deliberate

moments during my trip to be present has helped me do so more than ever even after I came


3 Meet a Local

If you are lucky, you will have the opportunity to become friends with a Filipino tourist. Often,

tourists from two of the biggest cities in the Philippines, Manila and Cebu City, travel to the

surrounding islands for vacation.

The Filipino people are the most friendly people I’ve ever met. My first night in Malapascua I was invited to dinner by two German people I’d met on the boat over to the island. At dinner, I met a woman from Cebu City named Abby. She’d been in Malapascua for two months already. She said she’ d fallen in love with the island and couldn’t leave yet.

The second we met, Abby adopted me into her circle as if we’d known each other for years. She

invited me everywhere with her. Abby knew the secrets of all of the best spots on the island and

shared them willfully. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners, beaches, and live music, you name it, she

knew the best spot for it.

I wasn’t the only one with this experience, she did this with everyone she met. By the end of my

four days with her, we had a community of twenty plus friends cramming table after table

together to sit together at dinner. People came and went as their trips dropped them on the shores

of Malapascua or took them to their next destination. However, Abby’s warm smile and friendly

wave as she invited a new member into the family were constant. We called her the great


I met Ian on my first night in Port Barton. He was traveling from Manila. I was sitting in the

common area at my hostel, CoCo Rico, and he walked up to me and introduced himself. I found

out he was a Chef in Manila visiting his friends in Port Barton. We hit it off and he invited me to

meet his friends. I ended up spending the next two days exploring Port Barton with them.

Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

Since his friends were from Port Barton, I was able to have experiences I never would have been

able to have on my own. His friends had a boat which they took us all out on to reach a secluded

island and camp. They connected me with an amazing island hopping tour run through a

company they were close with (which I, unfortunately, cannot recall the name of).

Most importantly, we spent our time in Port Barton having conversations, where I was able to gain an

insider’s perspective of and opinion about the Philippines. Abby and Ian introduced me to fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before, told me of customs around relationships and religion, and educated me on their country& history and current political and social climate.

Ultimately, they helped me reach my goal of expanding my understanding

and exploration of this country beyond its surface-level beauty during my travels.

4 Do Something that Scares You

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to

look fear in the face.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

On this trip, if you really want to transform, look fear in the face over and over again.

I did this as often as I could. If something scared me, I did it because I knew I would grow from


Here is a list of 10 things I tried that you can consider doing to challenge yourself while in the


1.) Get a scuba certification

2.) Strike up a conversation with a stranger

3.) Cliff jump

4.) Eat dinner alone

5.) Go canyoneering

6.) Ask a new friend to lunch

7.) Sing Karaoke

8.) Hike a volcano

9.) Use words in the local language you’ve learned

10.) Take a windsurfing course

Think of anything that causes a pit of nerves to form in your stomach. What are activities you

can do to face that fear? When the time comes, do them.

The scariest thing for me that I did on this list was getting my scuba diving certification. I got my

open water scuba diving certification with Neptune Dive in Coron.

My instructor, June, was amazing. He was a seasoned diver with over 20,000 dives under his belt. He had a daughter of his own and was patient and kind. He made me feel like I was learning to dive with my own dad. I appreciated the sense of security he gave me.

Getting certified in Scuba Diving in Philippines!

Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

Diving Reflections

When I was seven, my friend’s dad died from a scuba diving accident. The sport has always

intrigued me, but the risk involved paralyzed me with fear at a young age and stopped me from

trying until this trip.

During my training, June taught me that there have been significant improvements to diving technology since my friend’s dad’s accident that have made the sport safer. I also learned that with proper technique and safe diving skills most injuries are 100% preventable.

Armed with this new knowledge, I was still scared of every single dive. I wanted to give up and

yet, I persisted. I forced myself to face that fear each time I suited up and jumped into the water.

Every dive chipped away at the gargantuan ball of anxiety in my chest. I went from pure terror

on my first dive to slight discomfort on my seventh. I had my certification after my fifth and still

didn’t feel comfortable underwater.

On my eighth dive at Napantau off the coast of Padre Burgos with Peter’s Dive Resort something

wonderful happened. The fear did not wake up with me that morning. I suited up, jumped into the water, and had the best dive of my life.

I relaxed 15 meters underwater as the current pulled me along a wall of coral that stretched as far as I could see. I saw a sea turtle, reef sharks, and countless fish the colors of the rainbow. I finally understood why people took the risk to do this sport.

The beauty of the world under the sea was worth it.

By forcing myself to face my fears, I took away their power. I never regretted doing the things I

was most afraid of, even when I failed.

I realized the only true failure would have been to never have tried at all.

5 Learn a New Skill

Nothing makes me feel quite as accomplished as acquiring a new skill while traveling. Travel

presents the opportunity to test out activities that may not exist or be popular in your home

country. What is something you’ve always wanted to learn how to do?

Interested in how to cook delicious Filipino cuisine? Itching to feel the wind in your hair as you

drive a moped? Want to finally be able to stand up on a surfboard and catch some gnarly waves?

You have time, trip savings, and a country full of willing teachers.

There is no time like this trip for you to pick up a skill you can carry with you into future adventures.

Decide what you want to do and then do some research on the best parts of the Philippines to do those activities.

Manila is known for its cuisine and is the place to take a cooking class. Siquijor is the best island

in the Philippines to learn to ride a Moped. Siargao is one of the surfing capitals of the world.

Each city and island has something different to offer. By learning these skills, you’ll be growing

as an individual while helping bring money into the local economy.

A goal of mine going into this trip was to learn how to ride a moped. It isn’t common for people

in Chicago where I am from to ride them. However, in Southeast Asia mopeds are king and it

makes it a whole lot easier to get around if you know how to drive one.

I started the process of learning to ride by riding on the back of my friend’s moped in El Nido. We rented a moped in El Nido Town for 500 pesos for the day and split the cost. My friend told me how to grab onto the back of the bike for support and balance my weight. I had never been on a motorbike of any kind before, so learning to balance during turns was a good first step.

Riding on the back of someone else’s bike allowed me to learn important information about riding like how to signal, brake, and turn before trying it on my own.

Learning to Ride a Moped in Philippines

Photo Credit: Chantal Cowie

Several weeks later on the island of Siquijor, I officially rented my own moped from the Love

Shack Hostel for 300 pesos a day. I rode the bike up and down the road in front of the hostel for

practice and I was off! I was tense at first, following behind my more experienced friend and

laser-focused on the road ahead. I had trouble getting myself up to an acceptable speed limit.

Thankfully, Siquijor’s roads are nicely paved, wide, and often empty. This is what makes it the

best island to learn how to moped on.

As the days went on, I got more and more comfortable. By my last day in Siquijor, I was able to

drive on dirt roads with passengers on the back of my bike. I continued on to Bohol after Siquijor

and spent five hours one day driving to and from the Chocolate Hills. I felt so accomplished. I

had gone from not knowing how to open the gas tank to spending hours driving on windy

mountain roads and in city traffic. This is a skill that will be forever useful as I continue my


Transform and Travel

I could have spent years traveling the islands in the Philippines and still never have covered it all.

This is a beautiful country with endless possibilities for transformative experiences while you


Don’t try to do too much too quickly. Give yourself a day to travel between each location

you go to. Stay flexible in your plans. Travel off the beaten path for self-reflection. Be open to

new friendships. Face your fears head-on.

Leave knowing more than when you arrived. Know that every day may not be perfect and that is par for the course. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your adventure-seeking friends and tag me @chantalcowie and @katrinajuliafit @fitlifecreation

About Chantal Cowie in Her Words:

My life's journey has taken me from the East Coast to the West Coast to the Midwest and many places around the world. My strength as a communicator has helped me to thrive in creating and maintaining, interpersonal relationships across dozens of moves.

I cherish change, spontaneity, and creativity, and consequently, chose to major in Journalism with a focus in Strategic Communication and Communication Arts with a focus in Radio, TV, and Film.

I have had the opportunity to nurture my affinity for communication and expand my skill set through a diverse set of industries including Affiliate marketing, human resource management, education, tourism, and disability rights.

My goal is to use my skills, passion, and knowledge to be an outstanding creative contributor to the professional world.

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