How to give your audience better travel stories + my Coron trip
My dearest muses,
I’ve been meaning to send you a new free lesson but I have somehow underestimated my recent holiday. I have previously spent a week-long vacation away from the city and didn’t think it was going to be museletter-worthy until the many warm messages I have received as replies to my IG Stories clips.
These genuine and intimate responses from my readers have been the most important, if not the only metrics I care about these days. It is reassuring to know that we still find gifts in art and stories. I couldn't think of a better thing to give you anyway. And so I decided to share a bit more, including some storytelling tips for travelers. <3
Having not foreseen its gentle impact, I didn’t bother saving all of the clips to my camera roll, regretfully so. But I did manage to publish some of them on my Instagram feed. I’ll trickle this letter with links to those posts as I quickly recount my trip.
I arrived from Busuanga last Thursday. Busuanga prides itself in its stunning lagoons, limestone cliffs, and diving sites tucked safely, almost strategically, in its beautiful islands — Coron being its flagship haven. I, of course, went there to see this slice of paradise for myself, but not without having something else in mind. As to what that something else was, I did not have the clearest picture — I didn’t have to. Like any occasional traveler, I was simply hoping for a different experience. And I think I got what I wanted.
Before seeing Coron, I stayed for a few days in a lovely hobbit house (yes!) in the mountains of Busuanga which is an hour away from Coron Town. The place is called Sanctuaria. They are known for their treehouses and teepee lodgings. You’d think it’s luxurious but it’s mostly not. You’ll have to run into huge spiders and little reptile creepers on your way to the outdoor toilet at night which will literally and figuratively meld into the background, eventually forgotten because you will be repaid with the fiercest pink sunsets, consistently tasty farm/sea-fresh meals, and a clear sky of stars above your head at night — you know, the softer things. Things that give you a hug inside; things I am only recently learning to give myself.
I loved especially my alone walks on the empty roadside along the terra cotta soils of the mountain. The way a 5.30 PM sky mingled with the red earth gave me a taste of total isolation in what quickly looked like a dead world. For a few minutes, I was the only person on this planet. It was sad and scary but also strangely solacing. I was that weirdo who was pausing to marvel at it all.
There, I also met Buhay the dog who was my sole tour guide to Concepcion Falls. I tend to be blasé around dogs but this time it was to my advantage because Buhay can be cold and easily peeved by touchy humans. I’d like to think my persistent nonchalance merited me the happy licks I got at breakfast on my second day and some furry company while kayaking along the mangroves. <3
I left Sanctuaria feeling nourished. And 70% a dog person.
More photos and clips of Buhay in this slideshow.
Coron Town is where you lodge yourself and eat as you wait for your scheduled tours. There is little to do and see here, or perhaps I was just beat. I did however enjoy the hike up Mt. Tapyas which was part of the town tour package. For me, its real gems are its people. They are part of the reason I’d visit again and stay longer. Their genuine warmth had totally displaced me. I was not in the Philippines, I was somewhere else. It taught me a thing or two about business, too — mainly, how to turn first timers like me into true fans. Much of which had to do with a largely ignored human quality: receptivity.
The island hopping tour was the final and main show. I didn’t feel entirely removed from real life until we were ushered into the islands. We were still under the rainbands of Typhoon Maring on the day I saw them yet I didn’t feel discounted. They were still more enchanting than I had hoped for. It was the limestone hills, the twin lagoon, the waters in jade and aquamarine. It was the healthy corals and the rock formations that have outgrown sea levels inch by inch, chiseled and blotched by acid rains — and the totally different but just as entrancing world beneath their glory! It is not just one thing but all of it that makes this place matter, I thought. Once again, I was reminded it doesn’t take a lot to know what true beauty is. You know it by the way you can’t imagine it existing any other way. It is pure. It owns itself. It has gone through a lot, and yet it endures. Then it converts to pleasure and joy, and a good memory; in Coron’s case — even wealth. It is self-preserving.
This is an education for the creator in me. Beauty, as per nature, is plumbed in honesty — the way it acknowledges, not rid itself of its rough edges and ugly circumstances. This is how a work of art thrives. Dear artists, take note.
More photos and clips of the islands in this slideshow.
I have seen so much in a week and yet I feel I still owe myself a more in-depth Coron experience. I mean this literally too. I’ve barely explored Palawan’s underwaters to fully concede to its much-raved marine life. I’ve also listened to tourists gush over one Black Island in farther Busuanga and the dinner with the bioluminescent planktons (!), so there’s that to look forward to experiencing on my next trip to Coron. For now, I can say I have been sufficiently transfixed.
Until my next “escape” (hopefully soon), I’ll be once again living vicariously through people’s stories. I am really happy I got to impart this one with you. If by any chance you are bound somewhere and are hoping to tell better, more unique stories, I wish to share with you some tips and practices that might help:
1. Start with some introspection and set your intention.
Before you make your bookings, it can be useful to ask yourself: What do I want to get out of this trip? Why do I need it? What do I want to feel? What kind of environment and experiences might help me feel what I want to feel? Of course, you can’t be certain how this will manifest but my experience has been that we almost always get what we set our minds and hearts to. One great thing about setting your intention is it makes planning your itinerary a great deal easier. For example, part of my objective for this trip was to feel an equal sense of tranquility and adventure. I thought I needed a quiet place where outdoor activities are accessible but can be done at my own pace. It also has to be conducive for working since I will be taking some backlog with me. I strongly considered being surrounded by nature — cool points if it involves animals. Having these in mind made it almost effortless to decide where to book my stay for the first 4 days. The moment I found Sanctuaria on Airbnb, I immediately thought it’s the one.
2. Expect magic... But do your research and plan your itinerary.
Just because fate has the upperhand doesn’t mean you can’t be its collaborator. If you are hoping to have an eventful experience (whatever that means for you), you have to do some work. For this trip, I took time comparing and contrasting lodging amenities and deciding on tour packages, maybe even longer than someone who knows me might expect. I read a ridiculous amount of reviews and blog posts until I could already tell by their pictures which package the author availed. Other than convenience, the gift of Googling and online booking is, while they don't guarantee your desired outcome, they allow you to create the conditions that might influence that outcome. This gives you more control over the experience you would want to have. I’d like to think of it as “anticipating the present.” Many in the performing arts are masters at this. We know of musicians, thespians, and conductors who succeed at giving their audience memorable shows. In reality, they are just devoted anticipators and planners.
3. Surrender to your senses.
“The world is sensual and textured,” Alan Moore said. A lot of different colors, patterns, flavors, temperatures, textures, and figures are perceived by our senses when we travel. Many of them elude us because we hardly bring our awareness to them. These sensations are often overtaken either by passivity or judgment or the need to have a conclusion right away. I am still outgrowing that last habit but what I’ve learned so far is this: synthesis can wait. It helps to firstly be present.
When you share your stories, your readers/audience would want to feel they are there with you on your trip. You cannot offer that experience if you don’t give them the details. Only your senses can pick up those details, so use them and relive your experiences through them.
What did you smell that lured you into that one dining place? What nuances in the people’s accent helped you distinguish the locals from the tourists? What colors saturated the streets? What do they remind you of? What was it about the water that, regardless of its frightening depth and vastness, compelled you to take a plunge?
Remember this: there is no such thing as a shortage of things to notice. You are only limited by what you allow yourself to perceive and process.
4. Reveal yourself in your stories.
This is what I find many of us storytellers try to avoid, not knowing this is what ultimately gives a story a pulse. Without your thick presence in your story, your story will hardly be felt. What others will see is only a narrative — an account of events. Storytelling is still an art. Of course, it is not necessary to get personal with your stories but art has nothing to do with what is necessary. It aims to reflect what is real. It wants you to show what you see.
This is especially useful for personal brands. When you tell a story about a certain place, don’t just tell us where you’ve been. Tell us how it moved you. Show us what connected you to this place. Why was it everything you needed to experience? And if it wasn't — still — why? What were you looking for? What was in your mind and heart? Lend us your lens and really make us see things through you. In this, you help us give the world a second look, and you help us see you.
I hope these will give you more confidence in living and telling your stories.
If this inspired you to write or share something about a present or previous trip, let me hear about it. If you are posting it on Instagram, do tag me - @sofia.cope. I’d love to read them and share it on my IG Stories!
As always, thank you for reading my museletters.
Yours in finding truth and beauty,