How I Spent Over £3000 in 1 Week in the Philippines

A story about why you should always have a fund for the unexpected

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Photo by Ramon Kagie on Unsplash

When I left the UK at the end of February, I had saved up just over £4k for 4 months of travel. All my flights were already bought and I also had enough currency to get me through maybe the first 3–4 weeks of my trip, without dipping into the main reserve.

My plan was 1 week in Bangkok, followed by 5–6 weeks in the Philippines (where I was meeting a friend to travel with for 4 weeks) and finally 2 months in Australia (where I had planned to do some work).

I felt pretty confident that that money would last. And at first, it did.

In actual fact, during my week in Bangkok, I was mostly spending Thai baht that I had leftover from the previous year. When I then left for the Philippines I had about 1000 baht remaining and I figured I could exchange it into Filipino Peso, should the need arise.

On arrival to the Philippines, I was paying about £4–5 for a decent meal with a drink… and this was on the expensive side. So I still felt my budget wouldn’t be stretched too much in the coming weeks.

I didn’t think about the unexpected.

I guess I’ve been pretty lucky throughout my previous travels. I haven’t had to deal with unexpected events.

Before this, the most unexpected thing for me was a change in travel plans due to my own desire to spend more time with people. Admittedly, I have spent between 10s to 100s of pounds extra for the privilege of extra time with some friends, but it was worth it.

This time, the unexpected happened and I was extremely unlucky.

On March 10th I decided to go out for the special Thresher Shark dive on Malapascua Island. This was an early morning dive but it wasn’t very pricy — just 1700 pesos (about £26). I didn’t know it at the time but this dive would cause me a lot more than a headache… no less a numb arm, plenty of worries and a large amount in hospital fees.

Basically, on that dive (which I might add was perfectly safe) I managed to contract mild decompression sickness.

There was no option for me to go home and receive treatment, I needed treatment there and then and I had to pay for it.

It was a sobering experience that every time I went to the hospital I had to ensure I had my money and cards with me. I never knew how much the fees were going to be and at one hospital (of the two I frequented) I had to pay before I received the treatment.

Emergency room fees are not actually too bad but I mainly needed hyperbaric treatment and that is expensive. I needed 3 sessions of hyperbaric treatment and each session cost a total of 28,000 pesos (about £430–£460 at the time). Just to reiterate I paid that for EACH session.

You’re probably wondering if I was an irresponsible traveller who decided to go away without travel insurance… well, that’s not the case.

I actually had the correct travel insurance, which covered me for “scuba diving to 30m with the relevant qualifications”, but for reasons unbeknownst to us the underwriters rejected my application saying that I had the incorrect policy. We (my family and I) have since challenged this and we’re working on resubmitting an application for reimbursement of medical expenses.

It was actually quite lucky that I was at the beginning of my trip with plenty of money. I don’t know what a backpacker would do if they didn’t have enough money to receive the treatment that they needed. But it also made me wonder about countries where healthcare isn’t cheap or free… needing to make a decision between health and money is one that no-one should have to make.

Right, so my treatment fees came to a grand total of just over £1600… so how did I spend the remainder of my £3000, you might ask?

Even more unusual events

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple months, you’re probably aware of Covid-19 and the effects it’s having on the world.

A “pandemic” was declared on the very same day that I did that dive (albeit hours later). So as you can imagine my full energy for the following days was focused on finding and receiving treatment.

However, after my 2nd treatment it became clear that I would need to leave the Philippines very soon if I didn’t want to be stuck there for an indefinite period. The only problem… I could only fly 48–72 hours after my final treatment and I wasn’t sure if I would need a third session in the chamber.

I did end up having a third session on Monday 16th March and immediately afterwards I booked the earliest flight that I could with the most reliable airline I could think to book.

My ‘choice’ was a Thursday evening flight with Singapore Airlines. The damage? £1500. Yeah, that’s steep.

The total of all my flights booked around Asia/Australia for my 4-month trip was less than £1000 for four one-way trips.

My parents said that no matter the cost, I should get home. Clearly, I heeded their advice.

By the way, it was an economy flight. And I watched zero films. I needed time to digest what had happened in that 10 day period.

But I am glad to be home and safe (in self-isolation).

So that is how I spent £3000 in 1 week in the Philippines.

With any luck, my travel insurance provider will pay out £1100 that I am owed in medical fees (according to my policy). So maybe I’ll end up being only £2000 out-of-pocket…

On the flight front, it maybe wasn’t the only way to get home but with high demand, few flights and my insecurity surrounding my health, it seemed like the best option.

All in all, it wasn’t the worst £3000 that I have ever spent but obviously it’s not ideal. However, I have learnt that it is of paramount importance to try to build up a fund in case of unexpected scenarios.

This is important no matter if you’re travelling or building a life and career in your home country. Don’t spend every cent you have. Save some for a rainy day or that unusual pandemic event, if you can.

You never know what might happen…

I write about my curiosities and experiences. My background is in Biology (Oxford Uni) and scuba diving. Subscribe: creativelyadventurous.substack.com

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