Taking it slow, diving into the deep, and going hyperlocal: Musings on last year’s travels

While the usual travel itineraries are still welcome and effective, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more meaningful experiences that enrich not only my soul, but also the communities that I visit.

While I have thousands of miles to go before I could call myself a seasoned traveler, I think I’ve gone around enough last year to draw some insights from my sojourns and compare them to various travel forecasts for the year. Working alongside several tourism stakeholders also helped in shaping industry-wide and personal plans for traveling this 2024. 

After reflecting on my trips in the past year and browsing several tourism trend lists, here are some ideas that I’m keeping in mind for my 2024 travels:

Longer itineraries with no plans in between

Fast-paced as it is, Taipei straddles the delicate line between tradition and modernity—a perfect combination to experience at a leisurely pace.

My partner and I celebrated our third anniversary in January last year with a 10-day stay in Taipei. As first-timers in Taiwan, we knew we couldn’t miss out on popular destinations like Taipei 101 and its sky deck; Jiufen Old Street and the tea house that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away; Shifen Old Street and the railroad town where you can write and send off your wishes on small hot air balloons; and the stomach of Taipei and the site of the world-famous, Michelin-starred oyster omelets, Ningxia Night Market. 

However, we also had specific days wherein we had absolutely nothing planned; instead, we wanted to take in Taipei at a leisurely pace and live as if we were locals. We stayed in the neighborhood and shopping district of Ximending, which is also home to The Red House, an important cultural marker and LGBTQIA+-friendly space in Taipei. We had our brunches and merienda in the quaint coffee shops that we’d find while traversing the streets and alleys of the district and have our fill of Taipei and Tainan (central Taiwan) cuisine at big restaurants and hole-in-the-wall noodle shops. We usually ended our nights with a few rounds of drinks—our preferred spot was Café Dalida, one of the premier queer locations in the city that also hosted viewing parties and drag shows. 

Quaint spaces like Somebody Café fill the alleys of Taipei, ready to serve classic brews and special dishes that are distinctively Taiwanese.
Nestled within Taipei’s gay district is Café Dalida, which hosts viewing parties of Drag Race and offers live drag shows on occasion.

To be fair, an “empty” itinerary isn’t the most novel concept, but it’s slowly becoming a “plan” of choice for many travelers. Tourism insiders foresee that, with more travelers wanting more meaningful experiences within popular and off-kilter locales, there will be more trips that prioritize longer and immersive stays in specific locations rather than itineraries that jam multiple countries and/or cross-border travels. Such traveler behaviors should then incentivize local communities to improve their amenities and attractions, but without making their products too gimmicky. 

Diving deeper into the blue

Boats like these take you to the heart of Panglao’s seas.

Aside from the figurative “depth” that travelers seek, there’s also a case to be made for plunging into the oceans and discovering our lush marine ecosystems. Dive tourism—especially efforts that prioritize sustainability and local community development—is a steadily rising sector that the Philippines is quite well-equipped to accommodate. 

Last year, the Philippines garnered accolades such as its fifth consecutive “Asia’s Leading Dive Destination” title from the World Travel Awards (WTA) Asia & Oceania Gala Ceremony held in Vietnam; and a second “World’s Leading Dive Destination” plum, awarded at the WTA 2023 held in Dubai. The Department of Tourism also held the country’s first Philippine Tourism Dive Dialogue, a nationwide convergence of stakeholders to discuss best practices for the local dive industry. 

For a reasonable fee, the guides at Panglao’s diving spots can snap memorable photos of your underwater excursions.

While we Filipinos are quite accustomed to audiovisual presentations and advertising materials that showcase our waters and shores, it’s still exhilarating to dive into the deep and see our diverse marine ecosystems for ourselves. Around June last year, Solea Coast Resort Panglao invited the media to experience what the property has to offer—this included enjoying our own beachfront and boat access to Virgin Island, where we got to plunge into the clear blue waters surrounding the isle.

A quick chat with some of the guides revealed that, outside of fishing, several local communities depend on these diving excursions—from equipment rentals to GoPro photoshoots underwater—to sustain their livelihood. Various resort owners in the mainland have also been working hand-in-hand with the guides to provide a steady stream of tourists while educating them about keeping the dive sites clean and free from damage.

Discovering new things within familiar locations

While a staycation within one’s neighborhood seems like an odd idea, there’s a case to be made for living in your area through the eyes of a tourist. It’s another way of deepening one’s travel experiences by going hyperlocal, which is also an emerging trend in tourism. 

In my case, I went through this experience when we had an overnight stay at The Suites at Torre Lorenzo in Malate, which is just two blocks away from where I live—for reference, I stay at Green Residences, which can actually be seen from the higher floors of Torre Lorenzo Malate (TLM). 

TLM houses two properties under The Ascott Limited Philippines: The Suites, which offers one and two-bedroom serviced apartments and accommodations; and lyf Malate, which is a younger and more colorful co-living space that caters to students and young professionals. While the mixed-use concept has been done in other countries, it’s quite a novel concept especially for Malate, which hasn’t seen new hospitality developments in the past decade until just recently, according to The Suites’ Resident Manager and lyf Champion, Joyce Agsaway.

A one-bedroom unit at The Suites.

The lobbies and common areas of lyf are more vibrant, appealing to younger guests such as students looking for long-term stays and working professionals that need co-living accommodations.

“Launching a new hospitality concept in Malate has been an advantage for us because of the existing demand for our kind of accommodations,” says Agsaway, noting that Malate and the surrounding areas fulfills several functions: as a transit area where travelers to other parts of the city and country stay; a cultural heritage stop, wherein places like Escolta, the National Museum, Manila’s own Koreatown, and several other landmarks are located; and a student-filled locale where university and college residents look for long-term stays. 

Staying in a hotel within Malate allowed us to experience the area through a different point of view. By leisurely walking around TLM’s neighborhood, we discovered more coffee shops and photo-worthy spots that we would have otherwise missed if we were mere commuters or passerby. A quick drive toward Roxas Boulevard brought us to dinner at the classic Aristocrat, and a leisurely morning brunch at the quaint Library Café at the Ramon Magsaysay Building. And a bird’s-eye view of Malate from TLM’s higher floors reminds you how beautiful the city is amid its rapid developments and changes in every corner. And since the units at Torre Lorenzo are stylized to feel like cozy apartments and co-living spaces, we felt right at home when we settled in for the night, complete with complimentary tea and a pampering session. 

The bedrooms at The Suites offer great views of the city and welcome ample natural light in.

We’ll be enjoying another staycation at TLM, since I won an overnight stay from the raffle draw at The Ascott Limited Philippine’s thanksgiving party last November. For sure, we’ll get to explore Malate even further and find another hidden gem, all while a comfy apartment awaits us at The Suites. 

These are just some of the ways that I’ve made my travels in 2023 more fulfilling and exciting. While the usual travel itineraries are still welcome and effective, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more meaningful experiences that enrich not only my soul, but also the communities that I’ll get to visit. 

Features Associate

The new lifestyle.