Why did I spend 2 years in The Philippines?

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ August 12th, 2010. Updated on December 11th, 2010. Published in: Travel blog » How to live overseas » Philippines.

“Have you found home in the Philippines?”

A clump of giant bamboo

Looking at life from the bottom up - (clump of giant bamboo - click to enlarge)

I’ve received a lot of email from people asking this question, mainly pertaining to the fact that I have been here so long. Let me knock one thing on the head here.

“I lived & traveled in Africa for longer.”

I’ve just written more about it from here due to enhancements in technology, having better electricity, and having access to the internet. Moreover this is not your typical travel blog. This is my life. I am not country hopping trying to rack up a “been to 200+ countries and drank Llama milk in Peru” type of travel blog.

Trekking through snow in Nepal

Nepal was the first place I got the feeling of being home, it's not something I am going to stop trying to achieve

In fact, if you add up the time vs article ratio, Nepal comes up higher.

So why if you are looking for home, have you stayed in one country for so long?

That’s answering one’s own question.

How many people have gone on two week vacations only to come home saying they’d love to move or live there? Quite a few. The reality of doing this is very, very, different.

Method to my madness:

Circle back 15-20 years ago. There was a television series about moving overseas. You’ve seen the type – host follows people to new country and watches them try to start a new life.

Now move forward to about 10 years ago –  A book came out chronicling these people. Only one couple, was still overseas. Everyone else had failed, or decided it wasn’t for them.

Reality on the ground is very different to a television series.

A television series is designed to put a positive spin on things, and hook you in. We all like this, it’s escapism.

Turn on the Travel Channel and you’ll see this in leaps and bounds. Why? Because it sells a dream scenario a lot better than the reality of a news channel.

The Longest Way Home 101:

Learn from others mistakes, and from their successes.

Learn from your own mistakes, and from your own successes.

Get it when & while you can:

Where ever I go next, I might not get the chance to go so in-depth into things such as: Culture, social integration, understanding, bureaucracy, food, living, work, business, discovery e.t.c. All of which leads to a permanent place to live.

None of this is set up to show the world in it’s best light, it’s to show the world in its real light.

“Be it visiting the stunning Alhambra in Spain, or witnessing homelessness due to flash floods in The Philippines”

It’s all a part of the real world that we all live in. I am traveling and documenting it in this way.

So, the Philippines … why so long there …

I chose the Philippines after my overland travel journey linking the Portuguese Atlantic to China’s Pacific coast for several reasons.

Back up photographs, write everything down, write a book, develop this site, see if it could be home and work out where to go next if not.

Along the way, life unfolds and you go further into the depths of discovery.

Travel is one thing, living in a place is another. Trying to find a place called home is the wild card.

I think that I am doing pretty well.

The reason why the Philippines became the de facto Asian country for this part of my journey:

Here are a few reasons why living in the Philippines was a good choice:

  • Language – everyone here speaks English. This makes life a lot easier when trying to integrate, and get things done.
  • Food – it’s a fish & rice nation, but there’s a lot of meat here too. The latter had me sold.
  • Cost – it’s gone up in the last year. But by & large, it’s cheap to live here.
  • Communication – it’s also suffered in the last year. But the internet is/was quite accessible here.
  • Immigration – it’s a lot more expensive than the rest of SEA, but visas in The Philippines are easy to get. Again, for some reason in the last year visas here have become one if the most expensive in the world.
  • Social integration – I needed to do this, I needed to push the cultural boundaries of fitting in. Here I wrote about social integration overseas. You can’t live somewhere without this.
  • The people – Filipino’s are friendly. There’s rarely a cross word spoken, and people will talk to you. Baring some areas where they clam up in fear of talking to a stranger.
  • Lack of tourists – yes, there is lack of the backpacking, group tours here. Again, remember, this is no average travel journey. I am not able to go out every night for a sit down dinner, drinks, or clubs. Many people don’t get that. Tourists are looking to move on, I am not.

Lessons learned from the past

During my time in Africa I did things differently to here. And, I learned from it. The same can be true for how living in the Philippines has helped me in this journey.

“Tell me the guide book on doing this and I’ll get it. There is none.”

The Alhambra at night

Spain came close, and was the first lesson in the necessity of language

We learn by doing things. We learn from others. And, we learn by answering our own questions.

Once I move on to a new country, I know someone will say:

“You didn’t spend enough time here” or “You didn’t visit this place …

My answer is simple:

“Even after spending two years in all but the smallest of countries you will never see everything.”

You will always miss this place, person or event. It’s a fact of life. Can a person claim to have visited a country after only spending a day there, sure.

But do they really know the place or does it just look good on paper. The latter.


What about after two years. Can you really know a country? or how to live there?

A little better than just backpacking around.

How to live in The Philippines, that’s the easy part. How to find home in The Philippines … now that’s a different story.

There may never be another opportunity like this for me. Will I be able to travel, learn, or discover Australia like this? No. Finances make that impossible. That’s the reality.

But what I’ve learned so far, can and will make a place like Australia a lot easier to figure out in a shorter time period. Get it?

As such, what I am learning now is vital to the rest of this journey.

Reality is …

Raw reality is not for the Travel Channel, and that’s okay.

If you want the both the good and bad reality of a life’s journey, or if you want to discover indepth knowledge of a place. You’re looking at the right place, right now.

This is both my, and your, passport to a world of new discovery.

The journey continues …

Coming Soon:

A Tibetan Temple … and realizing when you’ve pushed the boundaries of this journey too far

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48 Great responses to Why did I spend 2 years in The Philippines?

  1. ciki says:

    wow.. so many words dave ,coffee’s good huh! so, great post but what’s wrong with Llama milk :P

    ok ok, joking a side. I totally get what you are saying.. there is a big difference in skimming the surface and pointing a finger saying, i experienced this .. so therefore..

    as opposed to,
    I experienced this but I am here to stay, lets see if it can be fixed/changed/ or if i can reach a compromise that I can live with.
    it’s in the second phase that the real beauty of the place is allowed to shine through.. or not. Often tourists don’t stay long enough to be proved wrong (or right) and that’s a real shame. So many books are written on a single experience, gut feel. I guess you are in a special place where you are totally immersed in the nation/the culture to give a balanced, unbiased opinion. One day, i look forward to buying ur book;)

    • Llama milk is nice :) I think

      Yes, I agree about the tourist not having enough time to really get to now a place. But then, that’s not why they visit. They want to have a good time, and not see the bad sidwe of place. And, I don’t blame them. Saving all year, just to see power cuts, people begging, corruption. It’s not a great vacation.

      But then, I am not on vacation! Hence it all goes down here. And, in the illusive book!

  2. Rose says:

    I never thought of it like that. I guess when you buy a house or car its the same thing. You want to take it for a test drive first!
    I’ve been enjoying your recent posts though. Its like going behind the scenes of a country!

  3. yee says:

    I notice a new color scheme, looks really really nice, good job :)

    That first bamboo image, it looks amazing too…

    Back to your post, not only 2 years, even if you spend your entire life in a county, you will never really know everything about that place. Most of the time, people only circle around in their comfort zone. So for people who only spend short period of time in one place and claim to be an expert, I’m sorry to say that’s all rubbish talk.

    Every opportunity only comes once in your life, and then comes another different new opportunity, just make sure you grab it when it knocks on you again next time.

    Reality is … your journey will continue… in your own way based on your experience, not being dictated by others, be it good or bad, and one day when you find your home, you’ll look back and be proud of what you have been doing all along.
    Always remember no matter how bad your experience is, it will make you stronger… and with good experiences, those are things that will put a smile on your face during your sleepless night.

    All the best!

    • Thanks for the kind words. The bamboo photograph was an interesting one to take. Plenty of snakes like to like around bamboo!

      But yes, claiming you know a country after only a quick visit is not so good. Sure you can not like a place and leave, but if you do like a place well enough to live there. Then you enter into a new phase of understanding, liking and disliking.

      Reality is … the journey will continue … :)

  4. Luis H. Ruiz says:

    Great article!

    I like to read your blog because, I feel something inspire me in your word.

    Saludos desde la Patagonia!

  5. Ivy says:

    Hy, yes, always following … never tired of reading you ! I thought about it and my question is, if work is a problem in the Philippines, don’t you think that it will be in a lot of other places? All the best !!! :) (don’t know if someone else asked this question, sorry)

    • Hi! Always good to see you here Ivy :) And, what a great question too!

      I think I touched on it before, but not in a full article. There is one coming up though. And yes, it is VERY hard to get work in The Philippines. And, it is also the same in other countries. This is a huge part of this journey. And one that’s caused all sorts of problems and issues. There’s a little on my
      About page.

      And, I’ll certainly be writing something in depth about this in the future!

  6. jessiev says:

    i, too, love the bamboo photo – but not thinking of snakes!

    i always wonder about living somewhere, for more than a year (which is my extent at a time, overseas). politics and the economy matter a lot, despite the fact that we may or may not think so. how is that affecting you, there?

    and yes, i can’t wait to get to the philippines. i’m always glad to follow your journey – you’re the thinking interculturalist, who TRIES to get into the essence of a culture. thank you!

    • Very kind words Jessie, thank you. Is thinking interculturalist a new word for the dictionary? :)

      Politics matters in the longterm if you are going to live in a place. Bureaucracy matters in the medium term as it can hinder a lot. And, of course the economy is important everywhere. But it all together and it gets difficult to say the least. But, not impossible. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself!

  7. I applaud you for having the courage to do what you do. I know I’ll never go to a place with at least some sort of security (i.e job, money etc etc). I’ll still like to make a more familiar place as home. I’m a coward in that sense I guess.

    • Hey, nice to see you here! Thanks for the kind words. I think it’s all relevant. I am searching for a place to live. Others might be searching for a place with a good job, or where they find a partner. I don’t see you being a coward at all. In fact, your artwork is pushing the boundaries in your own field! So well done for that alone!

  8. Akila says:

    Great post. I don’t think you can ever “know” a country. I’ve lived in the US my entire life and I am still discovering new things. Heck, I’m still discovering new things about my home state of Alabama.

    But, I think you can begin to discover a country on a short trip there and even more so in a long trip, like what you’ve done in the Phillipines. You can become familiar with a place and fall into its rhythms. That’s all you can ask for in any trip, whether you are living abroad or at home.

    • Totally agree. A short trip is the start of something new on the voyage of discovery. If we like enough, we come back again. Maybe only for the purpose of holiday, or work. Each to their own in travel and discovery.

      As we grow older, we keep discovering new things, either at home or abroad. And, I think this is key to our personal development. If we stop discovering, we’ve turned off the lights. Glad to see you are still discovering your country and state!

  9. Jack says:

    I enjoyed your introspective post. I totally agree, while ‘vacationing’ can be fun, and like you said, a nice ‘escape,’ it’s not the same as a cultural immersion. We just relocated to Chiang Mai, and we are learning the good and the bad, just like living anywhere else. The most important thing for us is not just meeting new people, but MAKING new friends, whether they be expats, backpackers coming through CM, or Thai or Burmese locals. We want to immerse ourselves in Asia, and am excited about making the dive. Thanks for reinforcing this idea of experiencing life with more depth, kudos!

    • Hi Jack, great to see you here. I follow your family’s journey as I am really interesting in how a family moving overseas, differs from my own experience!

      Especially over time. Yes, making new friends is really very important. And, I will be the first to say that this is a huge issue in The Philippines from my own perspective. I’ve found friendship as a foreigner here can go only to a skin deep level. Short term it’s great, long term and you start to notice how you can only get so far.

      I look forward to your updates on this from a living in Thailand perspective!! And, once I get there, hopefully we can meet up!

  10. Keith says:

    I enjoyed learning a little bit more about you and your journey. You make a lot of sense and I agree with your philosophy. Cheers!

  11. Bessie says:

    I love your mission of finding a home somewhere in the world and that you try so many on for size. So few dare to buck the status quo and live outside of what people expect from them. You’ve taken it to a whole new level, perhaps even for yourself, as you share so much of what you’re experiencing and learning online and in other ways. It’s inspiring, and I say more power to you as you keep breaking trends – including your own.

    The more I connect with other travelers living unconventional lives, the more I feel free to live my own as well.

    • You’ve said some very insightful and nice things, thank you! “perhaps even for yourself” really just rang through to me. Everydays seems to bring things to a whole new level. Though, I am not sure new levels are always going to be that good.

      But, putting it out there for myself, and others hopefully helps everyone.

      I think anyone living outside a conventional lifestyle is breaking trends, yourself included. Thanks again for your thoughtful comment!

  12. flip says:

    i got curious about the llama milk hehe… anyway enjoy your stay here in the Philippines :-)

  13. niknik says:

    Good article, the author the good fellow

  14. Earl says:

    I’ve always felt that one of the major differences between vacation travel (even extended vacation travel) and a more educational experience, is understanding that you will never fully know a place. As soon as we assume that we know everything there is to know about a country, even if we’ve spent 5 or 10 years there, then we lose the true value of cultural interaction.

    Of course, not everyone is seeking that deeper understanding but I certainly admire your efforts and your aim to offer us a glimpse into the reality of where you visit, the positive, the negative and everything in between.

    Reading your posts is always a learning experience for me and I thank you for that!

    • Thank Earl, some very nice words from you. Yes, not everybody want to go in depth like this. Heck, sometimes I don’t even want to. But, like all good learning experineces, if you come out with something that outweighs the world beneficially then I think it’s worth it.

      There come a time though, when as you say, even after so long you have to say … okay, this is as far as it goes!

      Glad to have you reading along!

  15. jody says:

    I have no idea as to your nationality but I believe I would concentrate on countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, China ect for opportunity and adventure. I know if I was a young Irishman once again I would probable hit up Irish nationals in Asia who could help me. I know Anna Whitehouse from Ireland used to run Total in the Philippines but I believe she is now based in Singapore. However there are many more particularly in Manila. Every nationality has people who could sort out their own in Asia. Australia would be a very boring country after spending time in the Philippines and of course West Africa. (no offence to the Aussies LOL) This old man wishes you well. Perhaps you should look to your own kind for help in Asia. I have lived in many places including long stretches in the Philippines (I worked in the construction business) and if not for health problems I would be living in frenetic Manila instead of NYC. Please do not be offended by my suggestion. I am a pragmatic civil engineer by profession.



    • Jody, good to hear from you again. And, yes, pragmatic civil engineers are always welcome to say what they want here. :)

      You bring up some darn good point that only a seasoned overseas worker can (no offence meant etc). I say this because some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with people who’ve work in overseas for extended periods for one reason or another. It’s a different ball game to just travel, and perhaps one that’s closer to my travel than travel itself.

      I think you are right about Australia (again no offence to them either) Hence I hesitate a lot in going there. I have a feeling it will be isolated hostel rooms, tours (because they are cheaper) and a desperate search for anyone with a hint of life in them.

      And, again I think you are on to something with me moving to bigger cities. It’s on the cards. As for expat communities … hmmm. Well I am of two minds here. I must be bumping into the wrong ones all the time, as the ones I keep running into are the beer drinking types up for parties and nothing much more. Overseas workers too. Though I will say I have met a few, very good people. But again, few and far between. Being a non degree holder also makes things quite difficult these days. But such are the cards I am dealing with, and so the game goes on.

  16. tinay says:

    home is where your heart is. this is something i have not get into full realization with. i like reading your posts not just because i see our country in a different eye but because it gives me this window to a vaster world.

    random question: have you learned some conversational Filipino language already? :D

    “The Longest Way Home” sounds melancholic to me in some ways. maybe, it’s all about falling in-love with a place and making a place fall in-love with you. there grows the feeling of home. keep chronicling!

    • Hi there, Gamai Visaya, Whalla Tagalog! :P Okay I can say some things, but obviously can’t write nor spell them yet :)

      “Home is where the heart is …” This is a question I get often. And, quite often I feel like shouting from the highest box and say no, it is not. But, it really depends on one’s definition of “Heart” A loved one, a place you love, a culture etc. I might have to write about this soon to see what people define as “Heart”

      Thank you for kind words and comment! It’s appreciated.

      • tinay says:

        that would absolutely be a great topic and am looking forward to that post already. :) gamay lang gyud? haha.

        I’m from the Visayas. Specifically Panay Island so yeah :D

  17. ayngelina says:

    It’s been ten years since I lived there but I still dream about it often. The people there are really wonderful.

  18. Aaron | HappytimeBlog says:

    A really powerful and thought provoking article, also a great insight into an un pretencios and dare I say it -wise long term traveler. Like you said a smart move is to learn from others mistakes and sucesses and for my own personal comparisons I always look to people/bloggers like you.



  19. If you haven’t left yet: You may want to try traveling to Lubang Islands where the calesa is still in use. When you want to travel anywhere in the islands, just walk along and a passing car, jeepney or truck will ask if you would want to come along.

    Otherwise, there are passenger jeepneys that come by leisurely. Roads are good. Bancas and boatmen for traveling to other islands are excellent.

    There is an old lighthouse, a new one; a Briton’s house along the shore; an old fort yet to be excavated by archaelogists. It is one of Jack Costeau’s favorite spots when he was young, in the 1970s. There are gentle whalesharks or butanding. They have garlic, native varieties, woven into bags or long braids. and you can get to eat sharkmeat cooked in a variety of ways.

    There are wild birds like Labuyo, mat-weavers and gatherers of pandan leaves for the mats – all working from their homes and all simple folks, not the industrial type.

    If you are serious about it. I can give you an address – home of a bonafide regular farmer, and other regular guys like the friends on my Facebook. Feel free to browse the Lubang pictures.

    • Certainly sounds like an interesting place, thank you for sharing. Especially the old fort, and local produce. It certainly sounds like one of those hidden, interesting places that I would enjoy highlighting. Not sure I can fit it now though!

      It’s making the list alongside Vigan, which I would also like to see. Both are places I’d like to see if I come back to the Philippines!

  20. hana says:

    Reading about you moving on to another place gave me vicarious excitement. Talk about a new year. Potential for something good just shoots up the moment we leave our comfort zone. (Well, I don’t know if the Philippines became one to you, but you probably get the drift.) Often, it is not the destination itself that makes the journey or search wonderful, it is the people we meet along the way and how we choose to view our experiences that take it to a whole new level. Somehow I find it sad (correct me if I’m wrong) that you’ve only found only superficial connections. You must be really bumping into the wrong kinds of people.

    Wherever I choose to go or whatever I do, Mark Twain’s words surely made good company: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

    Long-time travelers just amaze me. I wish you well on your next journey!

    • Thank you Hana. Yes, I would say most have been superficial connections. There are layers to fitting into a new culture and society. I peeled back as many as I could. But then there’s only so far you can go before you realize there’s only so far you can go.

      Twains quote is true. Thanks again for the well wishes.

    • Inca says:

      @Hana, Good quote to keep in mind.

      @Dave, I read you every now and then, and think you’re a good inspiration for many, or at least for me, to take feared risks and discover more of the world we live in.

      While in the Philippines, have you tried visiting indigenous populations living in the forest, detached from the main population? If you did, I’d be happy to read your comments.
      I am a visual anthropologist (by name only, given by my university, foolishly :) ). and I wonder how much you looked into anthropological texts when thinking about subjects you discuss here, like social integration, finding more than superficial connections, etc.

      • I’ve spent time with the Manobo’s in Mindanao, how ever it was a separate project that’s not on here. They are one of the last real ethnic tribes here. I’ve written a little bit about the ethnic tribe in Mindanao on the following link.

        Traveling in Bukidnon

        In regards to anthropological research. Yes, I have researched these aspects within many of my articles that touch on these areas. Am I making a clinical case studies? No. I am putting forth my own experiences in regards to the various scenarios I am faced with here.

        • Inca says:

          Thanks for the link to Bukidnon.
          I share your concerns about commercialism bringing change. It is a big topic that we discussed during my anthropology and conservation studies.
          When they see the option to have the ease of modern life, many times the tribes change quite fast, at the cost of losing their traditions.
          When you think about it, yes, it is their life and their choice and they naturally will want to make their life easier. However, it does not mean tradition cannot be preserved during this change. It is just important that they see how valuable their customs can be (both cultural and monetary value).

          I plan to come to Southeast Asia in March, to visit different tribes in different countries and look at how they practice community-based conservation of their land and its influences on tradition. I am sure I’ll find many other useful information from your site. Thanks.
          I’ll be looking forward to know your next destination. We might end up in the same place.

  21. Kendo says:

    Is it only me who feels you are missing something, Dave? You never make any mention as to what would, or would not, make you contented. How many things are essential to wellbeing….?

    Suitable shelter, a reasonably clean environment, comfortable clothes, sufficient nutricious food, clean water, companionship and meaningful (to oneself) work, and a degree of health.

    This search for ‘a home’ is hollow. Come back to Philippines with a clearer mind, Dave, and you can make of it anything you wish. You have the knowledge and skills to survive here. I fear that the more you travel now, the more lost you shall become.


    • Again Kendo if you taking an interest in my journey as a whole, I encourage you to read more of the site than just the Philippine journals you have been commenting on lately. Much of these things are mentioned there. And, of the course of many years such needs change. They are, as such, recorded like this throughout my journals.

      I will take exception to your statement that “This search for ‘a home’ is hollow.” It’s not about survival to me, I did that already earlier in life. Again, I encourage you to read my About section, and my latest posts in September. If such a search was hollow, then I doubt you would not have left 17 comments today. Nor would have I accomplished so much at this stage of my journey.