SAGADA TRIP NOV. 2015 – First Adventure: Spelunking at Sumaguing Caves. This was the third part of the spelunking where only 4 of us continued. The water was really cold.[/caption]

Many of my students and clients are enrolled at the American Institute for English Proficiency not because they don’t speak English well, but because they either lack confidence or have weak communication skills.  Other than taking English classes at our school, we recommend to our students to get out and meet people.  Part of the English learning experience at The American Institute is learning outside of the classroom and traveling with them to different parts of the Philippines.


SAGADA - Discoveries when traveling with strangers

SAGADA TRIP NOV. 2015 – First Adventure: Spelunking at Sumaguing Caves

I have always loved traveling and the outdoors.  As a child, I hiked mountains, ran across rice fields, swam across rivers, and soaked in the seas.  I was born in Ilocos Norte, grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii, finished college in Seattle, Washington, and later worked in Las Vegas, Nevada.  I am now back in the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila, and despite all my adventures halfway around the world, I still have wanderlust beating in my heart.   More than ever, I have this insatiable desire to go places and meet people.

One kind of travel I had never done before, though, is travel with complete strangers.  Most of us are used to traveling with family, friends, or colleagues, and traveling with strangers may seem too adventurous for our taste.  We have questions that lead to fear.  What if we won’t get along?  What if I get bored?  Isn’t this dangerous?  I don’t think I’m comfortable spending that much time with strangers.  I’m just too shy.  The fear paralyzes us, which leads us to the usual travel we take with our loved ones.


Just recently, however, I was able to persuade myself to just do it.  It’s not that I wasn’t confident in terms of traveling with strangers; it was just not something I thought was worthwhile enough.  I always thought that traveling with loved ones was the way to go.  So yes, I would try something new this time.  I joined an independently organized tour that I had seen posted on Facebook, and I chose Sagada as my first travel with strangers.  No one knew I had gone out of town.  Not my friends.  Not my colleagues.  Not even my family.  I wouldn’t recommend not telling anyone, but part of me wanted to just do this on my own without anyone giving me their opinion.  For three days and two nights, I did not go on Facebook, and I made no contact with familiar faces.  I was completely with strangers, all 11 of us.

Our van left for Sagada at about midnight in Quezon City (the driver was late), and after a long, bumpy, and semi-dangerous (the driver was sleepy as he had just come from another driving gig), we finally arrived at about 4 p.m., just in time to eat and go to our very first Sagada adventure, spelunking at Sumaguing Cave.  That night, I had some bonding with new found friends over a large bottle of Emperador.  The next day, we had a picturesque hike down a mountain to Bumod-ok Falls, followed by another trek to the famous hanging coffins.  Later that night, we chanced upon a free cultural performance at the park.  The next morning, we woke up at 4 a.m. so that we could go to Kiltepan Peak to watch the sunrise behind the the mountains and above the clouds.  Shortly thereafter, we headed to Baguio and back to Metro Manila.

So what can one discover when traveling with strangers?  I’d like to start with general discoveries one can experience when traveling independently since I am trainer of communication skills, confidence building, and career development.  So here are the unexpected benefits of traveling with a group you just met:


SAGADA - Discoveries when traveling with strangers

SAGADA TRIP NOV. 2015 – We were supposed to see the sunrise at Kiltepan Peak. Too foggy.

The “comfort zone” seems to be the most comfortable place to be.  Things are familiar, we can breathe easily, and no one bothers us.  It is a place where we have always been.  This zone, however, can sometimes be dangerous as it makes us believe that outside of this zone is an unsafe and uncomfortable place.  As a result, when we meet new people, speak in public, and voice our opinion, we cannot cope.  When faced with something new or different, especially when other people are involved, our knees shake, our hearts begin to palpitate, we sweat profusely, and we would rather avoid the whole situation all together.

Many of my students do not feel comfortable speaking in front of others, and you can see this especially on their first day of class.  As part of the assessment process, they are required to go to the front of the class, they are given a topic, and they must speak impromptu in front of glaring eyes.  This can be a death-defying act for our students, and fortunately, they survive to tell the story to their new classmates who must also go through the same process.

When I went to Sagada, traveling with strangers, I wasn’t uncomfortable, but I know that I had gone a little further away from my comfort zone.  The only thing I worried about was speaking English since I could not speak Filipino very well.  I was a bit uncomfortable that I may not be able to connect with the others when they find out that I didn’t speak their language fluently.  You see, I am okay speaking English with my students and family since they know that I teach English for a living, but when it comes to those who do not know what I do for a living, I begin to think that I may not be able to have a strong connection with them.  They might judge me.  They might think I’m maarte  or pretentious.  Thankfully, my newfound group didn’t mind that I spoke English.

As you can see, when faced with new situations, and you have no other choice but to face it, you begin to escape your comfort zone.  What was once uncomfortable becomes more and more comfortable.  In fact, you may no longer need to escape comfort zones.  You simply begin expanding them.  Wherever you go and whatever you face, it would just be comfortable.


Simply put, a worldview is the way you see the world, a perspective.  Having a  limited worldview can make someone  perceive you as naive, immature, uncultured, unsophisticated, and worse, ignorant.  Your perspectives may seem provincial, and in fact, some people deride those from the province with the word promdi, from the words  “from the province.When you are always with the people familiar to you, you may already know what and how they think.  For example, you already know how your best friend reacts when it comes to specific food.  You already know how your brother or sister thinks about certain local or international issues.  As a result, you do not really expand the way you think.  But when you are with new people, you discover that each one of them has a unique perspective which they may be willing to share.

For example, traveling with strangers on my trip to Sagada, there was a guy who studied in the UK who is doing research on seafarers here in the Philippines, and there was a nurse who is now a pharmaceutical representative.  I shared stories with two people who worked with an international trade and shipping company who happened to just found out they both work for the same company.  The tour organizer, a fellow Ilocano from Cagayan, loves photography and is excellent with social media marketing, two things I’m very interested in.  Each of these guys have their own world view on economics, politics, community, religion, lifestyle.  You learn so many things when you interact with them.So what is the result?  You become more global in the way you think.  You become more mature, more sophisticated, and more cultured.  You have better understanding of how the world works, and you seem more wise.


SAGADA TRIP NOV. 2015 – The first rice terraces we saw in Banaue

Nothing’s wrong being with family and friends all the time, but when you are always around the same people, you sometimes rely on them.  You lose yourself in a crowd, in familiarity, and in comfort.  Most people who still live at home don’t know what they are made of because mom and dad, or even big brother or sister, will do a lot for them.  When you live independently, you discover that there are many things that are difficult, but at the same time, you discover that you are stronger than you thought you were.

The same goes when you are traveling with strangers.  When confronted with new people and new situations, and you are surrounded by new people, all you can do is react.  There is no one familiar to understand you.  Therefore, you get to see how you handle things.  When your travel mates want to eat at a particular place that you’d rather not, when they want to stay up late but you’d rather not, when they they want to go somewhere but you’d rather not—what do you do?  No matter what you do, you discover who you are.  And almost always, you bring out the best in you to react to these new situations, and that is what you’re made of.  You find out that you are stronger than you think you are, more patient than you think you are, and more intuitive than you think you are.

I remember when we were going up the foggy snake-like, twisted mountain roads towards Sagada; our driver was sleepy, but no one really had the guts to tell him that he wasn’t driving well.  Or maybe those sitting in the front couldn’t tell what was really going on.  I noticed that he drove either painfully slow or fr

SAGADA - Discoveries when traveling with strangers

SAGADA TRIP NOV. 2015 – Hanging Coffins

ighteningly fast.  In fact, he almost fell asleep, and fortunately, he was headed towards the left side to the mountain instead of the right side to a cliff.  I got a little angry that our life was at stake, so I spoke up from way from the back of the van to tell our tour organizer that our driver should be pulling over to take a nap.  When we were driving back, the driver got really wild again as if he were a racer, to the point that one of the passengers asked to pull over so that he could throw up.  Again, I told the driver from where I was sitting way in the back to go slowly as the ride in the back was much bumpier than the front.  I know that even when I will not be liked, I will speak up to be respected and to set what is right.


There are so many other unexpected benefits when traveling with strangers, such as meeting new friends.  You won’t become friends with everyone, but you will certainly click with a few who have the same personality or interest as you.  For my students who are looking to become more confident,  I would highly recommend this kind of travel.  It truly enriches your personal life by changing the way you think and interact with the world, which ultimately affects you personal and professional development.  As for me, I am bitten by the travel bug.  I am in wanderlust.