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Safe Travel in the Philippines: Realities and Guides from a Local Filipina

safe travel in the philippines

Terrorism, scams, and urban crime. Is safe travel in the Philippines possible? Read up and find out!

Safety is an understandable concern of tourists given the constant news of political instability and crime. But traveling by nature is unsafe. How do you guarantee maximum enjoyment while having a safe travel in the Philippines?

As a Filipina, in a Third World country who’s not particularly sheltered, safety is a matter of survival on a daily basis. Every day, the majority of us are exposed to threats. We have learned how to adapt, trust our gut, and avoid dangerous situations.

I’m sharing this knowledge with you; not to scare you, but to motivate you to go past unfounded fears:

 

#1 Conflict Areas and Terrorism

Perhaps one of the primary concerns of most tourists in terrorism. After all, it’s a problem even in First World countries.

The primary thing to know is that, generally, you don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to terrorism in the Philippines. Filipinos in most regions are not living in constant fear of terrorism, spare for the very few that close to the rural jungles and conflict areas.

Some long-standing conflict areas, especially in Mindanao region, are extremely beautiful. However, the local government either has advised tourists against going, or has taken steps to protect tourists (such as Sulu) who insist on going. Common terrorist schemes are kidnapping and bombing of public spaces, but it’s not like it happens frequently. They mostly occur indiscriminately but often sporadically.

Majority of the Philippines is terrorism-free. But for precaution, be sure to watch the news and look out for your government’s advise.

 

#2 Petty Crimes in the City

Terrorism may not be a problem. But to have a safe travel in the Philippines, it’s the petty crimes in the city that you should watch out for.

Crimes in cities all over the world are just generally higher because of the high concentration of people. Most of these petty crimes occur on the streets or within a mode of transportation. Better to keep your guards up. Plus, you might want to learn some common petty crimes in Manila:

Jeeps. When riding crowded jeeps in the city, thieves can slash the side of your bags using a cutter without you noticing. Your phone and wallet can fit through the small hole. Better to note where your seatmates’ hands are, and keep your arms close to your bag. If you sense something suspicious, don’t hesitate get down and take another jeep instead.

Taxis. Before the apps Uber and Grab became popular, a taxi modus we all watch out for was when taxi drivers would put chloroform-sprayed hankies on the taxi’s air conditioning system. It makes the passengers drowsy or unconscious, in which they can get robbed, or worse, raped. Keep observing your driver and lower your windows slightly. Better yet, just download the Uber and Grab app for your own safety.

Footbridges. Make sure that the footbridge you’re crossing with is well-lit. A predator might put their arms around you and point a sharp object at your ribs so you won’t make a scene. Some footbridges in Metro Manila have their own security guards. But for your own safety, walk fast, ignore suspicious strangers, and cross in groups.

Motorcycles. Keep your phones and bags close when you’re on the sidewalk. A popular modus has earned its own name: “Riding in Tandem”. It’s where the tandem on a motorcycle snatches your phone or bag and make an easy escape. Outside of bank ATMs and residential areas are common target areas.

Bars. Anywhere you go, someone might try to contaminate your drink to make you unconscious. I can’t really advise you to drink with only people you know since Manila nightlife can be spontaneous that way. But make sure to keep an eye on your drink, and buy your own. Better yet, bring a buddy when drinking with strangers. Know your limits and avoid getting too drunk alone with strangers.

#3 Travel Scams

Tourists Here are just some tricks that you might fall prey into. Thieves are getting smarter in coming up with new tricks to extract money from tourists and locals alike. These scams are not just found in the Philippines, but the rest of the world:

Broken taxi meters. In general, even Filipinos have an aversion towards riding taxis because some drivers can be dishonest. This can take in the form of not turning on their meter, not giving your change because they don’t have smaller bills, or charging you extra for traffic and rush hour. Make sure to establish that you’re paying according to the meter and that it’s turned on once your trip starts. Know also that there’s a law that they should always have change. Better yet, download Uber and Grab apps for your convenience.

Special Rides. If you’re going on a “special ride”, meaning renting the entire service vehicle, make sure to establish first the price before hopping in. Some rides might overcharge you just because you didn’t settle the price immediately. That’s universal, be it horse-drawn carriage rides or tricycle rides.

Ativan Scam. A common scam is having a member of a family approach you (typically a solo traveler), get to know you and lower your guard, and offer to tour you around Manila. At the end of the day, this friendly-looking family will offer you drinks like you think stereotypical hospitable Filipinos do, drug you unconscious, take your possessions, or worse, rape you. Know that Filipinos are generally shy and do not buy other people drinks.

Sob Stories. A vulnerable-looking person or a beggar will approach you and tell you stories usually related to poverty such as not having enough money to go home, buy medicine, or buy food. Then, they will ask for your money. While most of these stories may be true, sometimes it’s best not to talk to strangers to avoid further implication.

Free Charms. It usually occurs near places of worship where a stranger will offer you a bracelet or charm “free of charge”, put it on your wrist or hang around your neck, and then demand money. Better to avoid them or say no immediately.

Spit on your shoulder. You might be sitting next to two scammers who will say you have some a spit on your shoulder. They’ll offer to help you clean up, while the accomplice will get your phone and wallet inside your bag. Say no and get down immediately.

 

Is it safe to travel the Philippines… alone?

A short answer is yes. The only concern is that it’s generally more economical and safe to travel in groups.

Solo traveling in the most basic sense is common among locals, but seeing foreigners do the same may be surprising to some of us. Don’t be surprised that a lot of Filipinos will warn you of the dangers and ask you why you’re vacationing alone, especially if you’re a woman. It’s not because we’re a highly patriarchal society that thinks women can’t travel solo (in fact, most Overseas Filipino Workers are women). It’s also not because we we live in constant fear and worry.

I guess it’s that we have seen much more crime here than you have locally and may be more suspicious of each other than you are. Add the fact that We also love doing things together with our family and friends, especially if it’s something as exciting and potentially expensive for a Third World country as travel.
So please don’t be like some tourists who get annoyed by the warnings and caution.

 

Is it safe to travel the Philippines… with President Duterte in power?

One of the greater concerns of foreign nationals when visiting the country is our new president. There are well-published documentation on extra-judicial killings on drug-related crimes. Not to mention, some alarming statements against international organizations and even countries. The recent death of a Korean national, too, may have worsened our touristic and safety reputation worldwide.

Again, without delving into the political debates, I would generally say that you will have a safe travel in the Philippines even with President Rodrigo Duterte as our president. There are more undocumented cases of tourists enjoying their trip harm-free and without a sense of fear. Unless it’s drug- or sovereignty-related, the President leaves traveling foreigners alone.

 

How to have a safe travel in the Philippines

Now that you have been forewarned of the local terrorism and criminal situation, you’re ready to move to the next step. To ensure you’ll have a safe travel in the Philippines, keep this common sense tips in mind:

Arm yourself. Keep your batteries charged and always bring cash (preferably, smaller bills). Should you get lost, GPS and offline maps can come in handy.

Communicate. As a general rule, make sure someone is aware of your whereabouts and how to contact you. Give them bread crumbs to trace you with, such as the name of the hostel you’re staying in, your itinerary for the day, the WiFi/phone signal status of the place, and your expected time of arrival. Someone should know when and how to notify the authorities during emergencies.

Talk to (the right) locals. You might want to connect with local Couchsurfers or travel bloggers who can provide you helpful information about safe travel in the Philippines. While Filipinos are known for being hospitable and excellent in the English language, talking to complete strangers on the streets might have some risk.

Watch the news. Know our current affairs before flying in. While you’re here, keep your ears peeled for relevant news about the places you’re visiting. Watch the news, read the papers, and observe. It’s better to be forewarned.

Maintain vigilance. Traveling in the Philippines will take your breath away. But that doesn’t mean you should throw caution in the air. Follow your guts, find a Plan B, and leave some space for skepticism whenever you’re out and about. When in doubt, research and ask questions to the right people.

 

Overall…

No doubt, you will hear various advice on traveling the Philippines. You’ll hear horror stories about terrorism, street crimes, and tourist scams. But you’ll also here ones that say, “Not at all threatened here!”

The thing about travel is to get to discover a place on your own pace and way. I hope you don’t let other people’s stories become your own. I’m not downplaying the acts terrorism, the risk of crime, or the losses of life and possession in the Philippines. The risks and threats are there.

But chances are if you believe that sensational crimes happen daily and worldwide, you probably will be too scared to even leave your house. So take this guide on safe travel in the Philippines. Know it by heart and enjoy your trip!

 

 

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    Kareen Liez Datoy
    March 31, 2017 at 9:15 AM

    I agree with you that it is safe to travel alone in the Philippines. But of course, we also need to be careful especially that there are “petty crimes” even on the jeepney. Great tips you have here.

  • Reply
    Who is Ferna?
    March 31, 2017 at 7:28 AM

    This is the most common question I received from my foreign friends, some of them pursue to travel here some don’t not because of its safety but because of schedule conflict. This is a good article to send to friends whenever they asked the same question again. And I agree with all of the things you listed here. Personally, my thoughts would always be “there is no place like safe place” that’s why I travel wherever I want to regardless of where it is.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 31, 2017 at 7:34 AM

      I agree. Be it First World or Third World, it’s basically not a safe world. You just have to know the common schemes I guess per culture. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always be 100% prepared.

  • Reply
    Indrani
    March 30, 2017 at 8:31 PM

    Crimes are common here too. I read some new forms of robbing here like taxi air conditioning being filled with chloroform. Day light robbery isn’t too common but when it happens the modus of operandi is same. Better to be cautious.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 31, 2017 at 8:31 AM

      Didn’t know the modus are more or less the same. We really need to exchange notes!

  • Reply
    Thelittlelai: Beyond limits
    March 29, 2017 at 11:13 PM

    It’s truly heartbreaking whenever I hear people say that the Philippines is not a safe destination to visit, particularly if you’re planning to travel alone. Yes, there are crimes and other negative things around the country, but this doesn’t signify that the Philippines is no longer a safe country to explore. Every country has negative and positive things just like our country as well. I hope people will come to understand this.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 31, 2017 at 7:36 AM

      Thanks Lai. Awesome points. I hope that more people will recognize that nowhere is safe. Travel itself is the threat to the safety both of your body and your biases.

  • Reply
    Meera
    March 29, 2017 at 10:47 PM

    So much happening in the world and traveling places becomes a bit risky with all these factors you have pointed out here. Your post has given an overall guide to the tourists who travels to different countries to look for and to have a safe and happy trip. However, I would love to visit Philippines someday. 🙂

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 31, 2017 at 7:43 AM

      Glad you want to see my country Meera. I hope you can get here. There are lots to see 🙂

  • Reply
    Momma Mitch
    March 29, 2017 at 10:18 PM

    You’ve outlined some really great tips for the tourists who will be paying Philippines a visit. Especially that summer’s about to arrive and more and more tourists will be coming to our country for sure. I agree na kahit naman saang bansa pa, may mga places na hindi safe. But I think, wherever place we may be, presence of mind and alertness will be the very key for us to stay safe.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 31, 2017 at 7:37 AM

      I agree. I think us Filipinos have been trained very early on to be vigilant. That doesn’t stop us from being victimized, but we are extra aware because we know what’s going on.

  • Reply
    Amanda @ Curly Sue Review
    March 29, 2017 at 9:51 PM

    Wow! I’ve always wanted to visit the Philippines but this is a bit scary. I guess it’s better to be informed though so we know what to look out for! I guess it’s the same everywhere. I’ve seen the same tactics used for theft in places like Egypt. Thanks for the tips!

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 31, 2017 at 8:32 AM

      Thanks for sharing Amanda. I’d like to assume that we are all in a degree of non-safety wherever we travel (or even just commute). Knowing these tactics will pay off in the future.

  • Reply
    aicabatoon
    March 26, 2017 at 11:33 PM

    It’s sad that most people think that traveling around the Philippines is dangerous, because of the many crimes that happen.. But I may say that even though I have not experienced anything dangerous in my past travels, the bad are everywhere. So this guide of yours is very helpful especially to the future tourists of our country! Great job. 🙂

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 27, 2017 at 3:13 PM

      You’re right Aica! Crime and terrorism are realities in every corner of the world. I hope they get past “haka-haka” and actually come and see us!

  • Reply
    Zwitsytwfde
    March 26, 2017 at 3:21 PM

    This is really handy particularly for those who are first time travelers. It’s just so saddening why other countries see our country really that dangerous? I know it’s just not our country is being hailed as dangerous. But I hope people could somehow find the brighter side of visiting our place. I am sure, they will see the Philippines in different way this time then!

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 27, 2017 at 3:14 PM

      One of the things about travel is that you get to find the news out on your own. It may not be that you’ll go to a country blindly, but you have a healthy sense of skepticism towards the media. 🙂

  • Reply
    Zwitsytwfde
    March 26, 2017 at 3:04 PM

    Good guide you got here. This doesn’t just apply to Philippines I guess. For sure, wherever we are in the world, danger is always there. It’s just a matter of how we keep prioritize ourselves to keeping them trtrc

  • Reply
    jayresa03heresa
    March 26, 2017 at 2:44 PM

    With all the danger that is happening around us, I must say that being alert in your surrounding is a big factor. Stay alert and arm yourself with the knowledge of the place. Plus your tips on how to travel the country with caution is necessary in every situation. A guide that every traveler must remember.

  • Reply
    KT Nielsen
    March 25, 2017 at 8:59 PM

    I will share this to my husband’s family in Denmark. Thank you for this in-depth advice cum guide about traveling safely here in the country. I’ve never been victimized by any crooks since I moved here in Manila so I can say that generally it is really safe to travel here in Manila. I actually read other modus targeting tourists especially in Central Europe. I’m planning a trip there so I think I could use/apply some of your tips.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 27, 2017 at 3:16 PM

      Kessa, good to know you haven’t been victimized. Hope it stays that way. It really pays to know moduses wherever you are in the world. Sometimes a part of those moduses are interesting actually on a cultural perspective 🙂

  • Reply
    Joanna
    March 24, 2017 at 10:24 PM

    To be honest, I never thought that traveling in the Philippines can be dangerous. I know that petty crimes happen all over the world (you should see the big capitals of Europe, you are more chances of getting robbed there than in a third world country). As regards to terrorism, again, I think that it’s more dangerous to be in Europe or America right now… unfortunately we are being targeted for stupid reasons which us, normal people, have nothing to do with.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 27, 2017 at 3:20 PM

      Thanks for that balanced view on worldwide crime. Sometimes, it’s difficult to be known thru the media alone. It’s great to hear that you also know that even First World countries have crime problems. It’s something we have to live with, or travel with, wherever we are in the world.

  • Reply
    momi berlin
    March 24, 2017 at 8:44 PM

    I just love this post. So thoughful of you to come up with these safe travel tips. Surely, most foreign tourists and even local ones would benefit from these. I super agree on the foot bridges. They should be well lit and if possible, there must be a security guard or tanod roaming. I’ve heard of so many accidents and pick pocket incidents on most foot bridges.

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 27, 2017 at 3:21 PM

      Yeah. At least from where I live, footbridges now have security guards. That’s a good upgrade. Plus the CCTVs have also become a crime deterrent.

  • Reply
    Kylie
    March 24, 2017 at 8:18 PM

    I’ve been contemplating travelling to the Phillipines for such a long time now. Sometimes I say yes, and then a family member will tell me some horrible story and I become scared. Thank you *so* much for your in-depth post and your insight. As a woman I especially loved your post about travelling alone! Bookmarked, let the planning begin! Keep up the amazing work! 🙂

  • Reply
    mariaisquixotic
    March 24, 2017 at 8:14 PM

    I can’t help but nod almost every tip you stated. There are bad people out there in the world but everyone must be really alert when it comes to traveling around in the country. There are places wherein people are nice but in truth, there are some mean people as well. If someone’s good enough in reading others, then they may not have a hard time talking to people who would be the good ones.

  • Reply
    Amila Wickramarachchi
    March 24, 2017 at 6:56 PM

    This is a really helpful guide to travel to the Philippines.Things like sob stories and free charms are common in most countries.It is always better to prepare before travelling.But,overall I love to visit Philippines one day!It is in our bucket list… 🙂

    • Reply
      Sam Coronado
      March 27, 2017 at 3:26 PM

      Good to know! I hope you’ll get here soon! Cheers! 🙂

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