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Filipina Explorer is a travel blog that believes in the power of stories to connect us to the world, shape ideas, and move us to action. Read these stories from the archives.
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About Filipina Explorer
Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between.
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Of sacred sanctuaries

Lia made a fort out of cardboard boxes and blankets under a desk in our living room. She snuggles down in that corner 12 hours a day – during online classes, while doing homework, eating, and playing; and everything in between. This is how our house looks every day now – sometimes worse. If it has a palette, it's called disarray.

People are sometimes surprised to know that were was a time when our house was clean and organized. As a young adult, I treated my room like a temple befitting of orderliness and identity. Naturally, I struggled with accepting that this is the kind of space I will be living in for the rest of my life after giving birth. So I tried to keep the house neat. If you ever kept two full-time jobs, maintained a house, and raised a kid and pets all at the same time, you will know there is no way you can ever survive years of Marie Kondo-ing without transforming into an overstressed and, sometimes, resentful hag. One would have to go - and it doesn't have to be your sanity.

Embracing chaos isn't always about neglect. It's also about attention and learning to let go of ideals, so you can be here in this moment. When young minds are being shaped and beautiful forts are being built. When you give yourself to allowing life to transpire as it should, without worrying about people who are simply passing by.

Parenthood is a beautiful lesson on the nature of impermanence, including that of relationships: with your child, with yourself. There's much to trade and peel away in exchange for some wiggle room, peace of mind, a few minutes of nap or stillness. We abandon the idea of immaculate spaces in exchange for time. But more importantly, because a house will not always look like this. There will come a time a child will no longer be interested in making forts, in imagining wild worlds, in living as carefree and as curious as they are now. There will come a time when that fledgling will be in full flight, and all you will be left with is an empty nest and plenty of time to keep it spic and span.

The truth is that a house is merely a house. What makes it sacred isn't a pristine state. It's the random, fleeting memories unfolding inside.

Good job

At 25, against great expectations and wishes, I decided to get married. The impact of losing the sole person who would've been the family's breadwinner was immense, yes, but most immense for my stepdad who was already well into his senior years.

He did not speak to me for three years. Until one day, a few days after Lia turned one, my mother phoned me to say he wanted us to spend a couple of days in a beach in Bataan with them - just like we used to. No ill words were spat, not one mention of the past. We happily shared meals, jests, sunsets. And Lia. This small bubble of light, like a trawl thrown into his sea, scooping away all litter and old life, leaving his seabed without a speck.

It was the last time we saw him alive.

After he passed away, I asked his driver, whom he worked closely with for more than a decade, if what I did depressed him. I don't know why I made such a futile inquiry. Perhaps, we all want a home for questions we couldn't bare to ask when the time called for them to be asked.

"Deeply. He was not the same after that," he replied.

I imagine him sitting motionless and somber by the window, sweeping the curtain with his fingers for light. There are times that image tempts me into feeling guilty. But each time I do, I try to remember the day he accompanied us home from the beach. I was afraid our disheveled 45-square meter pocket of low-cost housing - a far cry from his spacious, upmarket home in San Juan - would disappoint him.

He examined it from roof to ground, smiled, and said, "Your house is beautiful. It is." Then, he took one long, final look at Lia and gave her a gentle pat. “She is beautiful. You did a good job.”

Traveling via Vans Now Possible with Online Booking

With protocols and restrictions limiting public transportation, government-registered tourist vans are now offering regular trips to common provincial destinations. Extending an online booking service through http://booktouristvan.com, pre-booking to ride the trip is a requirement.

The online platform is powered by Biyaheroes and it aids van operators with a comprehensive system for contact tracing and inventory oversight. Passengers can experience paperless transactions, various payment options, and sure seats. Face masks are also given as freebies.

Here’s a list of all available tourist van trips so far together with their corresponding fares:

  • SM Mall of Asia to Cabanatuan and vice versa (P550/person/way all-in)
  • SM Mall of Asia to SM Rosales and vice versa (P770/person/way all-in)
  • SM Mall of Asia to Clark or Dau and vice versa (P450/person/way all-in)
  • Baguio to Dau and vice versa (P660/person/way all-in)
  • Baguio to Clark (P660/person/way all-in)

Note: If you’ll be coming from Clark going to Baguio, you can go to Dau Terminal to board. Dau terminal is just a few minutes away from Clark International Airport.

Visit http://booktouristvan.com for all the available time schedules. 

Current travel requirements

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Terminals require face masks and face shields for entry.

Temperatures above 37.3°C will not be allowed to board. Social distancing is observed even inside the tourist vans.

Travel authority from PNP, as well as certificate of employment and/or company ID, must be presented.

Additional Baguio travel requirements

Heading to Baguio as a tourist? Guests must register at the Baguio's VISITA (Visitor Information and Travel Assistance) online portal  prior to arrival with reservations to an accredited hotel and travel agency. 

Returning as a resident and/or visiting a relative? Register at eGov: Baguio is required.

Please note that there may be multiple travel requirements for each destination on national and provincial levels that may change from time to time. Kindly check the requirement of your respective LGUs before finalizing your trip.

Payment options

Follow Book Tourist Van on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram for more information or contact them at support@booktouristvan.com and +63 998 958 9357.

5 Tips for Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal

Emotional support animals are wonderful companions for people suffering from severe anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Though ESAs are not service animals, they do have some legal rights. For example, as long as you have a legitimate ESA letter, your animal can fly with you due to the Aircraft Carrier Access Act.

With this legislation, traveling with an ESA has become an easier process. However, your ESA is still a living, breathing animal with needs and feelings. Though an ESA is meant to provide comfort and security, it is also important to ensure their comfort as they fly.

So, if you’re getting ready to travel with your ESA, here are five tips to make the journey easier for both of you.

1 - Give the Airline Advanced Notice

You and your animal may be covered by the ACAA (with a valid letter), but you still need to give the airline a heads up well in advance. The crew needs to prep your seating area to give space for your animal, although most often they will have to stay in your lap if they’re small enough.

Most airlines have their own requirements as well and discussing these in advance will help you be more prepared.

2 – Bring a Comfortable Leash/Harness

Your ESA will need to be on a leash during your flight, so getting them a comfortable leash and collar - or better yet, a harness - should be a priority. Harnesses put less strain on their necks, but lighter collars and leashes are good, too. The strain shouldn’t be much of a problem if your ESA is well-trained.

Even if you aren’t traveling by plane, having a secure but comfortable harness will be the best for long rides. It’s easier to leave on the harness, even if you’re in your own car. Then you can clip on the leash and be ready to go any time.

3 - Eat, Play, Potty

No matter what method of travel you choose, you should make sure your pet has had the following beforehand:

  • A meal

  • Water

  • Playtime

  • Bathroom visits a couple of hours before you depart

It’s easier when traveling in your own car to stop for breaks, but for flights or train rides, your ESA will be stuck in one place for much longer. It’s almost impossible to give your animal food or water on a plane or train.

Most airports and likely train stations will have relief areas for ESAs and service animals, but it’s still best to try to take care of it before.

4 - Pack the Essentials

You absolutely need your ESA letter above all else, but what about for your animal? You have your leash and harness, but you should also bring a bed or blanket for their comfort. A travel carrier is also not a bad idea, especially for smaller pets. You should also bring clean up supplies, just in case.

5 - Arrive Early

This mainly applies to plane and train travel, but having your ESA usually means you have pre-boarding access. Arrive early so you can take advantage of that. You won’t have to fight through as many people to get to your seat with your animal, which is better for the both of you.


Traveling with your ESA is not too different from traveling with a pet. Your animal will have a few more “freedoms,” like the ability to remain with you in your seat, but it’s still a living creature in your care. Take care of their comfort so you can rest easy during your trip!

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