Monday, March 12, 2012

glampacking solo 101 for the adventurous Filipina

Chivalry is still alive declares surfer dudette Anne Marie Cunanan at the flight of stairs in a Paris subway station when a stranger offered to carry her two heavy luggage. This is her second solo backpacking trip. The first being the Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia trip during the 13th Rainforest World Music Festival last year.

Anne intensely disliked Math but in a twist of fate, she earned a degree in Mathematics from Ateneo de Davao University. What's the back story? Read on to find out.

The question begs: Is backpacking solo indeed a boon for women? You will soon find out as Anne shares more to's playpool her first-hand experience during her first backpacking trip across Europe. 

Why did she wear three kilos worth of clothing in Milan at the height of summer? Let's find out.

Though Anne and I have been online friends since a couple of years back, I actually first met her in Tacloban last year when she was still based there. To say that she is fun would be an understatement of the century. She is a ball of energy! Anne is from Davao but now makes Fort Bonifacio her second home. Currently, she is the Business Development Manager of Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines.  

status: single 
music: alternative
book: The Power of Now by Eckart Tolle
movie: Ironman, Twilight
bucket list: to learn ballet dancing
interest: nature adventure

10 questions for Happy Mondays PLAYPOOL.  Let's get started.

1. Surfing or whitewater rafting?

2. Algebra or calculus?

3. Davao or Manila?
    Davao. It’s laid back. My family and most of my friends live there. But I heart Manila as well.

4. You finished a degree in Mathematics, so how did your love for numbers start?
It never started (laughs out). I took up the course to avail myself of a scholarship. Math is not my first love but I do have so much respect for the subject. I totally dig the discipline it entails, too.

5. Tell me about your recent trip to Europe and the Schengen countries you visited.
One of my life’s goals is to travel Europe before I turn 28.  The perfect opportunity came when Airasia had a seat sale from Kuala Lumpur to London.  Coincidentally, at work, my incentive turned out really well and I was about to be assigned in Manila at that time. So, before I moved to Manila and assumed my new post, I already fulfilled my 18-day vacation in Europe!

Anne in West End, London | Paris, France | Rome, Italy and Madrid, Spain

I first explored London with my college friends. We visited all the touristy spots and watched Wicked on West End (ed: She cried twice while watching the musical). My personal favorite was our picnic at the Queen’s Green Park. It was summer and everyone was out sunbathing or playing futsal. Then I was on my own to cross the Schengen States.

My first Schengen stop was Paris. Imagine the fear I had to endure travelling on my own in a sophisticated country. One funny thing that happened was an incident in the tram station. I didn’t know where and how to get the tickets. There was no one to ask, too. Two trains passed and I was still clueless. Good thing one passenger approached me and said that it’s free! In a day, I learned how to read the subway map and how to use the bus stops. It was scary at first but I soon got used to the system. I explored Paris’ main sites on foot. I never realized that I walked 7 km. from Louvre to Eiffel alone, not counting the museum walks and all others.

Next was Rome. I immediately fell in love with the city. Rome is very vibrant and full of life. I started to loosen up in Rome. I went around seeing Trevi fountain, the Vatican, Colosseo and the two Plazas: Navona and Spagna. Rome is a feast for the senses. It’s filled with ancient Roman structures like aqueducts and temples. And of course, I got to taste the best risotto, gelato and espresso! Thanks to a local guide.

Visiting the famous balcony of Juliet in Verona | Photo op with a Jack Sparrow dead ringer in Italy 

Then I went to Bergamo, Italy to visit my Aunt.  Inspired by the movie “Letters to Juliet,” we went to Verona which was an hour an a half from her place. We then knocked on Romeo’s door, stayed under Juliet’s balcony and touched (long enough) the statue of Juliet which is believed to bring good luck to a person’s love life (giggles). I was also treated to a genuine “nightlife” experience in Europe. Indeed, it was hilarious and shocking! 

My last Schengen stop was Madrid. I only spent a day there. I went to see the parks and the famous Palacio Real de Madrid. Now, I’d like to believe that Imelda Marcos patterned her themed rooms in her Leyte Mansion from the Palacio. Of course, the visit to Spain is never complete without the paella. I ate paella in mini-stops.

Then, I headed back to London to visit my cousins and their families. I enjoyed (once again) the comforts of having a family around me. We went to Stonehenge, Wales, Cardiff and Bath.  It was a nice way to cap my European trip.

6. In what ways has traveling solo as a woman limited you? In what ways has it opened opportunities?
It is actually more advantageous if you are a woman travelling solo because it is easier for you to be offered a helping hand from other people.

I was in a subway in Paris dragging my two heavy luggage down a flight of stairs when a Frenchman saw me and quickly offered to carry my bags. Wow! There are still plenty of gentlemen out there.  Either total strangers offer you a seat or give you the privilege to get into the line first.

My only limitation is that I am always challenged how to travel light. Like any other girl, I bring all the stuff I “think” I need. That includes the right pairs of footwear and accessories to match my outfits. There are toiletries to bring, too. The list goes on. Talk about excess baggage and delayed muscle onset. 

7. What are the top five places that you have visited in the Philippines?
Quatros Islas in Leyte . Among all the islands or beaches that I have visited, this tops my list. The island is off-the-beaten. My friends and I had an awesome night there. The moon was our only source of light! We were kids again playing and jumping on the shifting sandbar!

Others are:
Vigan for the beautiful heritage houses, delicious bagnet and of course longganisang Vigan
Camiguin for the sandbar, waterfalls, soda pool and hot springs
Bohol for the white sand beaches, old churches and Bohol Bee Farm’s malunggay ice cream!
Boronggan and Calicoan, Samar for surfing!

8. What was the silliest thing that you did while on the road?
Wearing 3 kilos of clothes to avoid paying excess baggage penalty of an airline (this was on my way to Madrid from Milan).

Walking in my stilettos, I wore (hold your breath) two pairs of short pants, a long dress, two t-shirts and a jacket! I came out of the comfort room feeling like a first class “taong grasa!” People were staring at me! Good thing I had my shades on. So, I really couldn’t care less  Once I reached the pre-departure area, I changed right away (laughs).

9.  Who inspired you to travel?
Adventurous people like you  (editor’s note: ayayay! One kilo lechon will be on me! haha)  I am really fond of reading travel blogs and the one that stands out in my list is a blog of this girl from Cebu. She is now based in The Netherlands. She visited almost all countries in Europe.  She has been to exotic places like Morrocco, Turkey and Jordan, too. She skied in the Swiss Alps and went to the party island of Ibiza. Her stories and the places she has visited excites me. You may check her blog: “Dutched Pinay Travels”.

10. Are there any places that you would recommend for solo female travelers and why?
Any place will do as long as you make the necessary planning and research. You must be aware though of the dangers each place presents. Sites such as wikitravel can give you the best tips on what to do and what to avoid.

To those starting out, you may head off to a place where you know someone – like a friend or a family.  If you are staying there for 3 days, you can meet them for a day and then spend the next couple of days exploring on your own like what I did. This way, you have a security blanket and at the same time you make baby steps toward traveling on your own.

How does she create a happy marriage between the demands of her corporate job and travel? All work and no play makes me a dull girl I should say. I always allot time for my passion, for the things that will inspire me. I go surfing, shooting or watch performances at least once a month and I travel overseas once a year. Fulfilling my passion injects a positive vibe in me as a person and towards my work. In turn, my work funds for all these things. Its a healthy happy balance in the end, says Anne without batting an eyelash.

Thank you so much Anne for gracing Playpool. 

Now, backpacking (or glampacking) solo (especially for newbies) across Europe is not as intimidating as it seem to be. Thank you for sharing your inspirational story. To your next adventure, cheers!  

 *You've just read 10 questions: Happy Mondays playpool, a series of features on discerning and inspiring (and of course uniquely silly) Filipino travelers. If you know of somebody who fits the profile to a T, please shoot a message at

*all photos courtesy: Anne Marie Cunanan


  1. i was laughing at your number 8. love it!
    let's catch some wave sometime, anne! haha

    1. Anne catches waves regularly up north :)

    2. haha! you have to think of "creative solutions" if you're managing limited resources.. anyways, you've got great adventures too James. Just read ur blog. =) - Ann

  2. I agree with her on balancing work and travel, my work too funds my travel, I could not yet sacrifice it, but if you've got the passion - it does not matter if you travel longterm or on long weekends. Cheers to fellow travelers.

    You should share that 1 kilo of lechon RV hehe.

    Nice line @ James "lets catch some waves sometime" - i might use it only if I finally learn to surf hehe.

    1. hahaha, i'm still between seaports Marky, so paksiw na lang makakarating sa yo :)


  3. Nice interview..something different to read...


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