Now that I have discovered the Philippines and the beautiful Filipinas, at least on the internet, it was time to make all preparations to go and see them in real life. Sounds easy enough, but if you have never traveled internationally before, you will soon find out that it takes a lot of patience and a little bit of travel (depending on the proximity of a U.S. government office to you). What to do first. Again back to the internet for more research. I had nobody I could ask, as nobody I knew had ever traveled outside of the country. I was at the total mercy of my new best friends “The Message Boards”. Looking at Government web sites will give you a bad headache quick. Best just to ask those who have “been there, done that”. The best money I ever invested, less than $100 USD got me (and to this day still gets me) all the information I could ask for, and a few new friends along the way.
Step 1, getting the proper documents to exit/enter the country. In my research I found that I would not be needing a VISA as I wouldn’t be able to spend an extended period of time abroad, thus it was all a matter of applying for a Passport, good for 21 days, which was plenty of time for me. The bonus of having a passport is that it is valid for several years, a plus if your planning to travel frequently and an all around good piece of identification to have. Once again, thanks to keywords and search engines for providing me with the necessary websites to answer my questions about where I can apply for a passport. The first option was to go to a government office in the downtown area of my city. I live in the suburbs and that is about a 15 to 20 mile commute for me, plus outrageous parking fees (if you can find parking), plus the constant needling of runny nosed, itching, twitching crack heads begging for a quarter on every street corner. No thank you, I don’t have the patience for that, even as visions of LBFM’s danced in my head, I could not steel myself to make that commute.
More searching, and more searching provided a golden opportunity. Certain U.S. Post Offices can provide the service. As luck would have it, there was one about 3.5 miles from my house. Ureka!. I called the Post Office and inquired as to the documentation I would need to get a U.S. Passport. Drivers License, Social Security Card and “original” Birth Certificate (which will be returned to you at a later date) along with the birthday of both your parents. I think, I am not sure about this, you will also need something that has been addressed to you, something like an official document or utility bill, something that proves you live where you say you live. You will also need a photo of yourself, standing in front of a white background, if you don’t have one they can take your photo there (for a small fee), but it must be in front of a white background, they were very specific about that.
Grabbing all the needed documents, I ran (well, I walked fast) to my car and within 10 minutes I was there. As many times as I have been to the neighborhood post office, I can never remember there ever being a line of more than 2 or 3 people, as I entered this particular branch, I was taken aback by the line of about 16 to 18 people, all waiting to apply for passports….go figure. Within 30 minutes I was at the head of the line, not a bad wait in my opinion. The whole process took about 10 minutes (including 5 minutes just waiting for the picture to develop), paid my fee of about $100 USD (a little more or a little less, I don’t remember clearly) and was on my way back home with a quick stop at the local Wendy’s to treat myself for my accomplishments that day. Within 2 weeks my passport arrived, now I realize that’s very fast as I have heard some people wait 2 or 3 times that for theirs, and I was so exstatic I could hardly contain my exuberance. I told all my co-workers, all my friends and even all my family. I realize it’s just a passport and no big deal, but to me it was the key to the mysteries of the far east (south east actually).
Step 2, booking the hotel. Where will I go? Where will I stay? How long will I stay? All questions that gave me more computer experience as the choices were almost endless. Once again onto the Message Boards and all the golden nuggets of information to be found. With the use of the boards I was able to narrow my choices of destination cities in the Philippines down to 4 or 5, and in the end there was only one choice to be made (for me that is) Angeles City. Without doubt, for the purposes of my trip, this city has the most exposure on the internet. A veritable candy store for the single male traveler. The hotels in this city, high end and low end, were also numerous. With the help of the Boards (again), I made my choice, a hotel right in the middle of the “action”, it was close to everything. “I would like to reserve a poolside room for 2 weeks in August please”, a day later came the confirmation, “Dear sir, your poolside room in the Dandelion Wing (or some such name) has been reserved for you on the dates you have requested. Thank you and we await your arrival”. A quick trip to the bathroom for a little “sal sal” punctuated my uncontrollable delight.
Where I come from we have 4 seasons, winter, spring, summer and fall. In the Philippines they have 2 seasons, rainy and dry, which are also called slow and busy. The rainy/slow season starts in May and continues until September. My first thoughts were “You idiot, you should have checked the weather before booking”. Now I was having nightmares of being in Angeles City for 2 weeks stuck in my hotel room avoiding typhoons and torrential rains. A slight depression set into my brain, until I was back on the boards, were all my fears were put to rest. Yes it rains, but not a lot and not everyday and typhoons usually hit land a bit further north than where I was going to be. So I decided a little rain in a hot and humid climate could be a good thing as it may cool things down a bit. Also I found that visiting in the slow season was more economical as prices for various businesses are usually reduced.
Step 3, booking the flight. Now here is where geography, personal preference and a thrifty nature differ from folks to folks. As I said before, I live on the East Coast of the United States. Looking for cheap flights that connect in 9 different airports around the globe with multiple layovers was not entering into my thoughts. I booked a flight from east coast to west coast then onto the Philippines, flight time was not a consideration as I was just eager to get there in the shortest amount of time possible. In later years, price, flight time and layovers would enter my planning, but not for my very first trip. $1500 USD (plus tax and fees) at this point in my life was a small enough price to pay for what I was about to experience, at least I had hoped it was going to be. Another quick email to the hotel with my flight information and a request for transportation to and from the airport was met yet again with a quick reply. I was all set….yahoooo