While most people go about their jobs diligently, perhaps save a portion of their keep to splurge on a grand vacation once or every other year, television host Drew Arellano hardly spends a peso for traipsing across the country and around the world, all the time. In fact, this lucky guy who has traveling for a duty even gets paid for exploring tourist destinations. His ticket to riding cars, planes, trains, as well as boats, is “Biyahe ni Drew” – one of the most popular travel shows on Philippine TV today.
For the past four years, Arellano’s dream job has taken him face to face with the breathtaking views of Batanes, Baler, Coron and Moalboal to name a few, and with the rate he is going, he is sure to visit every corner of the country and its Asian neighbors in the seasons to come.
However fun and lucrative his job may seem, Arellano confessed to The Sunday Times Magazine he was not jumping for joy when he first got the offer to do travel shows.
“It’s funny because when they first offered ‘Balikbayan’ [a celebrity-oriented travel show where the guests would be tour guides for each episode]12 to 13 years ago, initially, I didn’t see the beauty of the concept, or any kind of travel show for that matter. Why? Because I was doing a daily morning show from Monday to Friday at that time,” he related.
Considered as the original program that paved the way for Biyahe ni Drew, Arellano was informed that should he agree to do Balikbayan, he would have to work on Saturdays and Sundays as well.
“For me, weekends are automatically saved for family, so I was, ‘I don’t know if I wanted to take the job,’” he recalled.
Hesitant to give a flat out no all the same, Arellano sought the advice of friends from the industry.
He detailed, “Bianca Gonzales, who I consider a sister in the business, told me straight, ‘What are you talking about? It’s the dream of most to host a travel show’!”
Gonzales’ sentiments were echoed by every other person Arellano consulted thereafter, and long story short, he was persuaded to do Balikbayan.
As the concept grew on him, Balikbayan underwent a reformat on its fifth year on air with the title “Weekend Getaway.” Each episode further had a new goal: to treat “weekday warriors”—or hardworking employees—to a weekend of fun and adventure with Arellano. The show chose budget friendly destinations so as to provide viewers a guide for out of town trips at the same time.
By 2013, the team behind Arellano’s first two travel programs felt that it was the right time for him to shine as a solo host what with his rapidly growing fan base. It was then that Biyahe Ni Drew was born, uncovering beaches, mountains or dining spots that only locals knew about before.
Besides the amazing sites caught on camera, what further attracted viewers to the show is Arellano’s detailed guide on how to prepare for every trip. He lays out an itinerary and a corresponding budget, while showing viewers how to make the most of it.
Finding the formula to success, Arellano realized at that point how he almost wasted the chance to develop a travel show he can proudly call his own.
“I guess it started as a job. But then it was easy to do a 180-degree turn—like man, this is so cool!” the host exclaimed.
As Arellano became more ingrained in the show, he was also able to discover his adventurous side.
“You could say that I just started getting what we call [in Filipino]makati ang paa [referring to wanderlust], and I’d go wherever these two feet take me, but with caution to certain things. Eventually, I gave in to the show and found myself frequently saying, ‘Alright, I wanna try that’,” Arellano shared.
“My palate gave in too. Before, I wasn’t really adventurous when it came to food but because of the show, I won’t even think at all, I’d just dig in. Then, sa activities din, I’d ask before how high those falls or a cliff; now I would jump without asking,” the host further noted.
He may have not have known it before, but judging from his anecdotes, it seemed that Arellano has always been the adventurous type. He may not have been eager to taste curious-looking dishes in the past nor take on a dare in a heartbeat, but he had always been open to experiences outside his comfort zone.
Asked for one of his earliest and most remarkable travels outside the programs, he instantly recalled his first solo flight to the United States.
“I remember wanting to travel alone to Chicago to surprise my cousins in 1993. I was only 13 years old then. Of course, my mom at first didn’t allow it, but my dad was game. I believe, because I was fourth of five kids, I wasn’t so sheltered anymore so my dad was easy with giving his yeses,” Arellano chuckled.
Of course, his father made sure that everything was in order before he even set foot in the airport. The senior Arellano—also remembered as the late legal analyst and commentator, Antonio “Atty. Aga” Arellano—compiled a step-by-step guide, important documents, stubs and tickets in one Filofax for his son.
Arellano held on to that Filofax as if his life depended on it, and surmised the experience allowed him to be street smart from such a young age.
“I think traveling alone educates you—it’s incomparable, the education or the wisdom that you would learn when you are out there alone, trying to figure out your next step, is different,” the 37-year-old noted.
After that “epic trip,” Arellano became more open to traveling, not necessarily on an airplane to a faraway destination, but in riding public modes of transportation on his own around the metro.
Bringing all his experiences with him to the show—from commuting to the way his dad made him a guide for Chicago—Biyahe ni Drew became all the more original as a travel show.
“My philosophy in hosting is this: One has to be entertained to be entertaining. One has to be interested to be interesting on cam. With Biyahe ni Drew, we don’t have scripts to follow, everything’s authentic, so if our experience is OK, our audience would feel from our show that it’s really worth going to,” Arellano shared with pride.
In jest, he added, “And I don’t know how to act so rest assured I’m not acting pleased in the show when in real life I am not.”
Case in point was the Badian Falls in Cebu, which saw an influx of tourists after their episode aired in 2014.
“It’s funny that after years of doing a travel show, you’d expect that you’ve pretty much featured everything but when we did Badian, we thought it was such a gem,” the host enthused.
Unraveling its beauty for more than three days, Arellano swore by the beauty of Badian Falls and the adrenaline of “canyoneering”—a fairly new term at that time that involved rappelling, jumping, traversing and swimming the clear waters of the falls. He went as far as declaring Badian the “ultimate must-visit” in Cebu.
“Right then and there, we knew it was going to be wild—that there would be an influx of tourists, kagulo ito, which apparently what really happened,” the host happily recalled.
While Arellano is undoubtedly a trendsetterwhen it comes to traveling, Arellano maintains he is a non-conformist to this day.
He explained why: Unlike most travel sites that encourage travelers to save up for comfortable trips, Arellano recommends booking that flight once funding is available.
“Like anything in life, there should be a balance in splurging on travels. But if you believe you can do so already then go for it! Don’t wait for next month, year or until you get rich. You’ll never know, you might get sick while waiting so just do it now, while you can,” the host advised.
“For me the options and experiences become endless when you go out of your comfort zone. The most important thing is that you get back to reality at the end of it,” he reminded.
Another non-conformist traveler trait of Arellano is his lack of desire to plan for his next big adventure. And by this, by no means is he irresponsible not to check on his finances among other responsibilities before heading out the door, but simply planning where to go to next.
In fact, he doesn’t have a list of must-visit places before he kicks the bucket like most travelers do nowadays. He just goes by gut feel.
Third, Arellano is not the kind of traveler who will always bring home tangible mementos from his adventures. He never goes out of his way to buy a souvenir.
“I get the sense of fulfillment just by being there. I’m not nostalgic so I won’t buy let’s say a ref magnet pa to remind me of my destinations. I respect those who do that, but I guess it’s just not my type of personality.”
Instead, Arellano makes sure his memories are the intangible kind.
“It’s all here,” Arellano answered, pointing to his temple. “Memories are the most valuable souvenirs.”
At the end of the day, while traveling for work is always a grand adventure for Arellano, he knows now more than ever what his priority should be: That is to spend more time with his lovely wife Iya Villania and their son Primo.
With the arrival of Primo especially, Arellano admitted he has been wishing for out of town assignments to be cut short.
“I still enjoy traveling but I just want to cut it shorter because time spent away from my kid is, for me, too precious,” the very hands on father admitted, adding he wants to be beside his son for his every milestone.
At the same time, Arellano can hardly wait for his little one to grow a little bit older and develop his own sense of adventure.
“For now, he’s been to three countries already. Sinasanay na rin namin siya—little biyahero—to prepare him for the time when he can make sense na of his travels.”
Often asked for travel tips with kids and babies nowadays, Arellano counted “a lot of planning ahead of time and no light packing at this stage.”
He was quick to add, “And also no red-eye flight for the meantime. When we brought him to Australia we thought red-eye flight would be the most suitable but we were wrong: the airplane was noisy, the lights were on and off and kawawa especially si Iya because she was breast-feeding throughout the flight,” Arellano shared.
When the time comes, Arellano said he hopes to pass on to Primo what he learned from being the adventurous young kid who wanted to fly to Chicago alone, to being a hesitant travel show host and, ultimately, to becoming somewhat an authority on travel.
“When he reaches two years old, maybe, I’ll bring him along more frequently on my trips because I believe that once he understands different cultures more, he will have a better understanding of life. He won’t be ignorant to the ways of the world.”