I have just returned to my base of operations in China from what I thought would be a sun-soaked, blissful break in Manila and Boracay; two tourist stalwarts in the Philippines. I was hopeful this trip would afford ample opportunities to do some ‘field research’ for my next Single Dude travel guide, which was to be a re-evaluation of the Single Dude Team’s harsh assessment of the Philippines in 2011.
I can dutifully say my optimism was quickly rendered deader than Janis Joplin. Perhaps it was due to the low expectations I had going in, or maybe it was due to the incessant rain and flooding that made the island of Boracay indistinguishable to its adjoining ocean or even the downright ridiculous amounts of urban blight in Manila. Whatever was the case was, the Philippines lowered my expectations, strangled them, and deposited the corpse into a shallow grave dug out of the pristine white sand on the beach of Boracay. All I can authoritatively say now is that the Philippines are certainly my favorite destination of all the nations ending with the ‘-pines’ suffix.
This is mild hyperbole and more of a dig at the weather, which I couldn’t change, and is always an issue in tropical locations. On an island, ruinous rain or glorious sun is a 50/50 proposition at best, like Shaquille O’ Neal draining a free throw. At least the rain kept all the ladyboys and touts inside.
But, once again, I digress.
I am here to explain a phenomenon I noticed, an issue that contributed to the ambivalent feelings I have towards the Philippines just as much as the poor weather did. This issue, ladies, gentlemen and Single Dudes, is traveling solo.
I agree that traveling solo can be great if you are hiking up a mountain (just don’t fall as you won’t have a buddy to get help) or looking for serendipity. But if you are a single dude in a location such as the Philippines, where fun is predicated upon (and derived from) riding in sketchy Mad-Max esque taxis, diving into questionable go-go bars, or approaching groups of women and relying on your social skills to make headway, it really is better to have a like-minded Single Dude that shares your principles at your side. Notice I said one buddy, not a group. The dangers of traveling with too many dudes are well documented on this site.
In fact, for any destination that requires navigating a tumultuous developing country (70% of South East Asia and a good chunk of the rest of the world), it is good to have a friend on your team. One reason being, you frequently have to do all kinds of things that are of questionable prudence to fully enjoy the destination in such a pell-mell setting. Doing things that border on the edge of rationality is far easier to do when there is a bit of group think taking place to enable these actions to occur. There are many other reasons why as well.
Walk into that sketchy bar on the main drag in Manila? Alone or with a team, that’s not too big a deal. But what if you find a gaggle of non-ladyboy, non-working women inside, perhaps female travelers from a different country looking to sample the local nightlife? You can try to (and should) engage them in conversation, but undoubtedly a five-on-one conversation will not include some all of the group (even if you are The Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World Guy). These gals will get tired of being excluded and leave, causing the whole group to make their exodus soon after. If you had another buddy with some social skills at your side, he could deftly engage the others.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact situations where having a buddy who understands the single dude ethos and has the same goals as you pays off, unless you are in a situation like I was, traversing a place alone where you need someone pushing you to get out there and test the limits. But rest assured, the pros outweigh the cons. To draw a schoolyard analogy, no one likes to eat alone. But even if you find someone to ‘eat with’ on an exotic island, the chances of them being a hooker, DAFF, boorish tattoo bro from SoCal or a lady boy are high. Socializing with any of these types is unpleasant. Best to take out the guesswork and bring your right hand man, or a close female friend who is super cool, from the get-go.
The fact that a cohesive duo becomes more than the sum of its parts is the reason all the classic Single Dude articles that are the foundation of this site are the product of adventures undertaken by two like-minded men traveling together. It is the reason Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan won six NBA titles together and it’s the reason Oreos taste so much better with milk.
So single dudes, if you are going to an insane destination, the best thing to pack is a (note the non-plurality of this) kindred spirit who will make you enable you to fully enjoy your surroundings. If you are proceeding to some obscure temple in Bhutan to reach self-actualization and nirvana, by all means go alone.
If you must know, the boys were right in 2011. The country is too damn expensive for what it is and 99.9% of the natives have a singing voice that put Cee-Lo Green to shame.