The Southville International School and Colleges (SISC) BS Tourism college students had a rare opportunity of getting inspired by a cyberspace personality when one of the most followed Philippine travel blog writers appeared in the flesh. Last October 9, 2012, Ms. Gael Hilotin, the budget travel blogger who has drawn hundreds of thousands of visitors to her blog site “The Pinay Solo Backpacker”, graced the SISC Tourism Forum as a resource speaker. Gael did not disappoint because being a graduate of BS Anthropology, cum laude, she gave a very different perspective of traveling. She explained that among the compelling reasons for traveling is really discovering the different Filipino cultures, food, and innate beauty of the natural landscape, among others.

She started her mission of re-discovering the Philippines and its wonders when she couldn’t anymore resist the travel itch and decided to quit her job in a bank in Alabang. Back in college, Gael had the opportunity to travel to some remote parts of the Philippines, and she recalls how intrigued she was with the innate beauty of the places that she saw incidentally along the way. So, she went on trips around the Philippines with her little savings. Knowing that she couldn’t live off it for a long haul, she decided on creating a blog of her travel experiences and hoped to hit pay dirt from it. Soon, people started visiting her blog site in droves, not only because she describes a place so vividly that the reader is convinced that it is a must-go, but she also offers options to optimize the budget. One of her stories was about the wonder of Camiguin island which resembles Hawaii, and it has generated more than 12,000 unique visitors in less than a year.

Now she is considered as an established travel blogger. She enjoys the luxury of doing what she loves and actually earns from it. She shared with the audience, composed of wide-eyed SISC Tourism and Business students, and faculty, the different domestic destinations as well as ASEAN countries she has visited. She showed the places that were not marketed as tourist destinations but which are unspoiled and more beautiful than the known tourist destinations. The students were in awe to see the beauty of Sorsogon, Calaguas Island in Bicol, spots in CamSur, Ilocos region, Mountain Province, Cagayan Valley, Batanes, Camiguin, Surigao, Davao, Cotabato, Bukidnon, Misamis and Biliran in Leyte, and other exotic spots in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. She talked on the different cultural practices especially on food, clothing, religion, and arts of these places.

After her talk, the students had the chance to ask some questions in the open forum. One the questions asked was about her advices/suggestions on how to plan for ensuring a safe travel. Another was about where to find some indigenous musical instruments and costumes. She did not focus on her backpacking experiences but emphasized the nationalistic side of appreciating the wonders of the Philippines. She shared the discomforts that she encountered as a backpacker but these were light as compared to the wonders she had experienced during her trips. She also gave valuable tips on the importance of coordinating with local authorities as well as treating local people with respect to gain the same.

She ended her talk by sharing her pride in the beauty of the country that motivates her to continue this exciting journey of re-discovering the Philippines. She said it is an opportunity to establish a connection with the locals and know their culture and re-discover more the wonderful places in the Philippines.  She emphasized “Responsible Tourism” highlighting the tourist’s duty to preserve and conserve the environment.

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