Portrait of a Mindanaoan solo world traveler

BUTUAN CITY (MindaNews / 12 Aug) – By any standard, Helen Langanlangan of Butuan City fits the mold of a veteran solo world traveler.

Over the years, out of the several travels she’d done in the country and abroad, she’d travelled alone, all by her adventurous self. Not everyone does that because they’re either afraid or lonely. Not Helen, single and in her early 40s, who’d savor the opportunity to discover the place or country she’s into.

Helen (center) and friends at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.
Helen (center) and friends at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

Lately, Helen ventured alone to Tawi-Tawi and preferring to be unescorted as she explored the island villages. Tawi-Tawi is her gem of a lifetime trip, along with India, Cambodia and Switzerland. (From Butuan, she took the bus to Davao City, proceeded to Zamboanga and flew to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi.) She made sure she visits the ancient and oldest Muslim mosque in the country, one reason she went there.

“Tawi-Tawi’s a paradise. It is incomparable. The beaches are endless and terrific,” she raves.

Batanes up north of Luzon holds a candle to her too, connecting to the native Ivatans as she interacted with them in their homes.

To her, travel is more than just postcard-pretty destinations but to bask in the people’s culture and history wherever they are. “It deepens and gives meaning to every travel I do,” she affirms.

And why does she travel solo? “I don’t mind being with friends, but if they back out the last minute, I go.” That started it all and she has since then planned her solo trips, studying destinations months or a year ahead. The more she learned, the more determined she became.

Helen travels light, staying not more than four days in domestic destinations and two weeks abroad.

But as one who has traveled to Asia, Europe, the United States, Helen has an unshakeable fondness of her home place.

“I am proud of Butuan, it’s urbanized now. Everyone comes, stays and invests. And the region is replete with natural resources that’s at par with the best,” she said.

Agusan Marsh in Agusan del Sur and Siargao Island in neighboring Surigao del Norte are on top of her list. “A tranquil banca ride early morning in one of its lakes is a total getaway,” she shares.

Abroad, a warm Italian family adopted her, and France and Spain touched her that made her want to go back. “Interactions with people of different cultures makes you more understanding, tolerant and accepting,” she believes.

Helen at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
Helen at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.

Back home in Butuan, Helen manages a school and attends to a business her family owns. “My family loves to travel too, that is why they support my solo trips.” They join her occasionally, like their latest trip to the countryside of Japan.

Aspiring travelers can get a cue from her. “Make sure you know how to read the map, know what street, district and all, be practical where to stay, be safe and don’t be afraid to get lost. It’s also fun.”

Does she gets free drinks from gentlemen? She says yes, but “try not to get over-friendly.” She smiles.

She has an interesting observation: most of the time women travel solo, men travel by pairs or with a buddy. Being gifted with a natural charm she gets to make new friends who also travel solo.

Next stop, Morocco in Africa but Lake Sebu in South Cotabato will come first. “Cant wait to ride the zip lines passing seven waterfalls.” She would be glad if friends join her. “That would be fun too as group travel helps you save a lot.”

For one who’s climbed mountains (Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia), scuba-dived and island-hopped, Helen’s feet remain constantly on the ground, and that makes her a truly world-class act all her own.