The debate on travel planning usually centers on how to ensure you get a room for the night, stretch your budget through the length of the vacation, and avoid peak travel days. What is often forgotten is that travel planning is not just a tool to avoid problems—it’s a means by which you can add extra features to your trip.
About fifteen years ago while living in the Philippines I took a weekend trip with some friends from Manila. We rode a bus from Manila to a regional harbor in Batangas, hailed the captain of an outrigger for a ride, and motored 15 miles across the channel to the beaches at Puerto Galera on the island of Mindoro. The planning was all but non-existent; we simply wandered around until we found a hut to rent, a shop selling beer, and a small food stand.
I went back to the Philippines a dozen years later, but this time I researched the area sea life, contacted a local volunteer for the World Wildlife Federation, and, after a simple Internet search and series of e-mails, managed to get myself invited onto a fisherman’s boat to track a pod of extremely rare dolphins as part of a WWF pilot program.
We woke before the sunrise and drove to nearby marshlands to meet our local fisherman contact. He was financially supported by the WWF to convert his motorized outrigger to a tourist-carrying, dolphin-viewing vehicle, rather than one that would otherwise be catching fish. Four of us boarded, riding into the bay between regular fishing areas. Our guide, knowing both the waters and the dolphins’ habits, quickly guided the boat to a spot from which we watched a pod of dolphins rising to the surface and diving back into the water, in front of the reflection of the early morning sun.
For all I knew, such an experience was available on my earlier trip, as well—similar creatures could have been frolicking all around me as I lazed in a stupor on the beach. With just a bit of planning, I was able to explore a little beneath the surface, literally, of an exotic destination, and gain a greater appreciation of the uniqueness of a location.
This blog post was first published in December 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.