Gerard Dela Pena is a correspondent for TV5 specializing in business and economic issues. He appears on TV5 and AksyonTV’s newscasts namely Aksyon, Andar ng mga Balita, Pilipinas News, Balitang 60, Good Morning Club and the hourly newsbreaks. Aside from his TV work, he is also a co-host of “Oplan Asenso” which airs live every Saturday, 1-3pm (Manila Time) over 92.3 NewsFM and Interaksyon.com.
I’m interviewing Gerard because he loves to travel and his trips have taken him to lovely EUROPA despite the fact that his salary is just enough (heck, call center managers earn more than he does!).
So how does he do it?? Read on!
1. You’ve been to Europe but I don’t want to ask how it was (because I know that it was a great). I want you to tell us how you got there. So let’s start with the first time you went to Europe using your own money. How many months or weeks did it take you to prepare your cash? In other words, how did you save for one of the most – or probably the most expensive continent?
I’ve been to Europe four times already. Two of these trips were work-related but I have to make it clear that while the plane fares and part of the accommodations were paid for, I still had to shell out cash for the extended stay. The first time I went to Europe using (purely) my own money was when I embarked on a trip to Rome, Barcelona, Granada, Cordoba, Madrid and Marrakech in Morocco. I was just intending to go to Morocco but I found out that Spain would be a good gateway to the North African destination. Rome came into picture when cheaper plane fares all pointed out that I should enter Europe through The Eternal City. The whole trip sounds so grand and expensive but I should say that it wasn’t THAT expensive. Looking at the five spreadsheets I made in planning this trip (yes, you have to be THAT meticulous when planning and budgeting your trip), the amount reached P150,000 including airfare and accommodations.
For my rich friends, the amount seems too good to be true. But for journalists who don’t really earn much, this is already a big amount. It took me a year to prepare and complete my budget. The trip was scheduled for the third week of May, and the challenge was: if I don’t get to raise the amount by March, no one’s leaving the country. The tall order entailed a tremendous amount of self-discipline for my finances. I had to cut down on night-outs with friends, minimize expensive dinners, avoid taking cabs and drinking overpriced coffee. Raising money for anything can be really difficult but it’s not impossible. If you have a financial goal (in this case, travel), raising funds shouldn’t be impossible.
2. Let’s talk about documents and visa. Of all the requirements, name the three most important documents that a Filipino should submit in order to secure a Schengen Visa.
Getting a Schengen Visa could be difficult for most Filipinos as embassies are upping their guard against illegal immigration. I can’t really say that one requirement is much more important than the other as embassies will not process your papers if the requirements are incomplete. But take note that the following documents can make or break your application: bank certificates and statements, and certificate of employment or any proof of source of income (business, etc.). Bank certificates and statements of the last three months (embassies normally require six months worth of statements but I’m always forgiven for this as banks normally produce only the last three months of transactions) are required to show the embassy that you can finance your trip. The proof of employment and source of income should serve as guarantee that you are coming back. If you have problems with your name or anything related to your birth certificate, better have it fixed way ahead of your trip schedule as processing at the National Statistics Office could take months. But again, make sure that your papers are complete as embassies will not process your visa application if any of those they stated in the application process is missing.
In addition, which European country is the most difficult or easiest to enter in terms of visa application, embassy interviews, etc.
So far I’ve tried applying through the German, Spanish and French embassies. The requirements are the same, only that the French embassy processes applications within five working days, compared to 15 working days at the German and Spanish embassies. However, the French embassy sometimes requires the visa applicant to show up as soon as s/he gets back to the Philippines. Failure to do so could ruin your chances of being granted a visa the next time you apply. I’ve read that the Norwegian embassy even requires an applicant to show a purchased ticket once the visa has been granted. The Italian embassy, I was told, can be a bit strict and indefinite in terms of the schedule of releasing visas. So to answer the question, I should say the easiest is the French embassy. But if you are getting your visa from the French embassy, you have to prove to them that your longest stay or your main destination in Europe is France.
4. As a Filipino, how important is having a huge bank account in order to get a Schengen Visa?
European embassies do not specify any minimum amount that should appear on your bank certificate when applying for visas. I think it doesn’t have to be huge just for the sake of being huge. If you show them that you have one million pesos in your account that you have raised in a matter of months, and yet you’re not earning that much, then be ready to give a lot of explanation. Remember, the idea of showing your bank account to the embassy is to let them know that you have enough money to finance your trip. If someone else is financing your trip, then be ready to explain that to the consul, and prove that you will indeed come back home. I showed the Spanish embassy that I have P100,000 in my bank account. But even before the consul took a look at my documents, I’ve already laid the foundation that I am backpacking – and I’ve proved that by showing hostel and budget airline reservations. So is P100,000 big or small for embassies? Again, as long as you can prove to the embassy that your cash will be more than enough for your trip, then you’re good.
4. Your website, The Adventurer on a Shoestring, describes who you are as a traveler. But you’re taking European trips. How do you make trips to
Europe a “shoestring adventure”?
Europe can be relatively expensive. To illustrate the point, a bus ride in Singapore is about S$1.50, while a train ride in Paris is about 1.20 Euros – and we know the difference between the exchange rates of Singapore Dollars and the Euro. The idea of shoestring traveling is tied to the act of budgeting itself. Always have a budget and do set a limit for anything. Whenever I travel, I only splurge on food once so I limit my meals to 10 Euros each. I’m not much of a museum person and I only enter museums when they are free (journalists get a lot of free museum passes in Europe!). I only buy clothes when I have extra funds at the tail end of my trip. My point is, your expenses really depend on your priorities. Write down your expenses and plan very well. And always do your research. Would it be cheaper to take the train or the plane? Will it be much cheaper to go to Paris or Brussels from Dusseldorf, or just stay within Germany? Which hostel is cheaper? Also, take note that there are a lot of free tours and destinations in every European country. Look things up on Google. As one writer and TV show host said: we can’t be stupid and uninformed nowadays. It takes a lot of hard work but I guarantee that doing research for a trip is half the fun!
5. Lastly, if you could give one unique travel advice to our readers, what would it be?
Always have a goal, stick to it and do something about it. A lot of people are jealous of travelers because they don’t have the time or money to do so. But the thing is, do they really want to travel? If the answer is yes, then stick to that goal and do something to make that dream getaway a reality! The problem with most people is that they always come up with excuses. So if you really want something, just do it and work on it. That goes not only for traveling but also for anything you want in your life.
For more on Gerard, please visit his travel blog:
*Photos used with permission