Sleeping With Strangers: what not to pack

My 26 pounds of luggage for indefinite travel in places where it's not snowing...

I travel with about 12 or 13 kilos (roughly 24-26 pounds) on my back. If you are setting out on a travel adventure, there is NO REASON to fill up a backpack that is meant for a week-long hiking trip. This type of bag is intended to support survival completely independent of civilization for a week straight. If you are the type of person who is even a little bit tempted to fill one of these big bags, I guarantee you at no point will you choose to be without “civilization” for longer than a two-day tour (where your basic needs are taken care of anyway!).

Now, I know there are people out there who are just “stuff” people. And the comfort provided by hauling around six pairs of shoes, jeans they haven’t worn in six months, and a first-aid kit suitable for a war-zone is worth the physical pain of having to carry it endless city blocks while searching for a place to stay or walking to a transport center. But most travelers just wish they had a lighter bag and are terrified to start cutting the fat. My advice: do it! It’s totally worth it.

What it looked like when I arrived. (minus the daylight). The tarmac was a free-for-all... a stark contrast to the uber-security in Manila.

Case in point – arriving in Puerto Princesa the epicenter of the sliver-shaped, western-most Philippine island. Having sneaked by without checking either of my relatively small bags, I was free to step off the plane and head straight into town. The airport is a little over a mile from the city center, so I walked rather than forking over cash for a tricycle ride to…..??? I hadn’t even chosen a starting place in my search for accommodation. I was thanking my lucky stars for light bags when the clerk at my first stop said, “We’re full” and “How long have you been walking around looking for a room, ma’am?” Translation: rooms are scarce in the city this time of night/this day of the week/this time of year. Uh oh.

The gorgeous cathedral in Puerto Princesa, which I saw lit up at night.

A few more stops along the road, and I was finding all the budget accommodation full-up. Ugh. I was also seeing familiar faces from the plane – all of us budget travelers being turned away and trudging the streets together. I landed at my third rejection with a frenchman and a guy so paranoid that he wouldn’t even talk to his fellow westerners, let alone the locals offering help for a small price. Frenchie and I (Etienne, he is called) jumped on a tricycle together. New to the Philippines, E had the same reaction to the tricycle that I did. He thought we should each take our own. However, here, it is common for four passengers to ride in one (two in the tiny side car and two behind the driver of the motor bike), so I assured him we could share.

The driver’s destination proved to be full as well, so we joined forces checking in at two more places. We reached the point of exhaustion and Remari Pension at the same time. We looked first at the very cheap, very basic bunk-beds-in-a-closet and then at an air-conditioned twin room. (Originally they showed us a ‘matrimonial’ bed, and I had to clarify that we were strangers just looking to stick to our budgets.) Drenched in sweat, I encouraged the air-con decision, and E gladly agreed.

Tons of carts on wheels are selling this in Puerto Princesa...

We hit the streets, grabbed dinner and drinks, and saw lots of “lechon” stands (a whole pit rotisserie pig set behind a glass window of a food cart and carved into for whomever passes by with a hungry tummy). We also watched some teens practice their dance and aerial routines in an outdoor amphitheater, walked the length of the town, saw the Spanish-era cathedral, and walked through the Christmas bazaar in the park.

And I didn’t get assaulted in the middle of the night by my random stranger. See what a good judge of character I am, Mom and Dad? ♣

(Wish I had a photo album to go with the story. I  broke my camera and haven’t bothered with the new one quite yet.)