Do You Really Need to Buy Pasalubong When Going Home?

by | Last updated Nov 24, 2023 | Financial Management | 1 comment

When Filipino seafarers and OFWs go home from months of working abroad, it’s common for them to buy pasalubong as part of a long-standing tradition. And since we are in an extended family culture, a bag of chocolate isn’t always enough for the whole family.

Your pasalubong should at least fill another luggage, at least, that’s what I thought at first. But is it necessary?

What is a pasalubong?

A pasalubong is a Filipino word that refers to the souvenirs or gifts that travelers bring back home for their family, relatives, and friends. It doesn’t necessarily mean gifts from abroad but includes local goods as well.

In our culture, pasalubong has become a tradition and a way to show appreciation and thoughtfulness. These gifts are usually given to people close to you while you were away.

When I was a kid, I usually receive pasalubong in a form of toys, clothes, and chocolates. Yes, they are not only limited to sweets, but anything that you bring from faraway places. But today, chocolates is very much synonymous to pasalubong especially for kids.

To buy, or not to buy pasalubong?

The best part of every seafarer’s work is when he finishes his contract and is due for repatriation within the next few days. Whether you are a first time seaman or have been sailing for quite some time already, you will always be excited once the captain informs you that you will be going home.

Now, one of the things that many of us often think about when going home is the pasalubong. Should you buy them for your families, relatives, and friends? If you thoroughly think of it or have experienced it before, your money may not be enough if you buy for all of them.

Walking to the cashier counter after with a trolly and the pasalubong items that you're buying.

But if you don’t give them a piece of your success in the form of gifts, such as chocolates or other souvenirs, there’s a good chance that your image to them will be distorted or even destroyed. 

This leads to the question: is it really necessary to buy pasalubong for everyone after a long and hard contract on board?

I did buy, but it wasn’t enough

During my early years at sea, I had the impression that buying pasalubong was a requirement when coming home from abroad. I thought that if I don’t have something to give to them, they will close the border to my province and would not let me in.

This idea drove more than half of my luggage to be filled with chocolates. However, it was always not enough.

But since many were asking and this was a tradition, I felt obliged to give. I let my mother divide the chocolates that I bought because she knows how to handle it. Meanwhile, this really drove me into thinking. 

Considering that $300 worth of pasalubong is not enough for everyone and that was about half of my monthly salary, I knew I had to do something.

What if you BUY pasalubong?

There are pros and cons on whether to buy or not to buy pasalubong. Let’s start weighing them here. First is, what if you buy gifts for them?

1. It makes them feel special.

Some people may jokingly or half seriously ask for a pasalubong and move along with their life, forgetting their remark. Others just expect to receive something from you. Meanwhile, a few only wish for your safe travels and return.

Either way, if you give them gifts from abroad, they will truly be happy and feel appreciated or valued.

2. You are seen as a good (and wealthy) person.

Since you are giving gifts on a normal day even if it’s not Christmas, it gives an impression that you are a good human being. Furthermore, you are seen as rich, having an easy life abroad.

3. They will bid you more with “happy travels” and “safe trips”.

To show their gratitude, they will pray for your next travels to be safer and happier. They will also be willing to lend you a hand if you need help.

Refrigerator magnets inside a glass display of a shop.
Image: Minku Kang | Unsplash.

4. It can be time-consuming.

On your part, since you need to give many people pasalubong, you need extra time to find the right one for the right person, especially if they request something specific.

5. Extra baggage.

Those gifts, no matter how small, take up space. And if there are many of them, you may need another luggage for that, just like what I experienced. Furthermore, you may want to leave behind some things that you want to bring home due to excess baggage.

6. It can be costly.

I had to admit that this one hit me big time. More than half of my monthly salary was used for buying pasalubong when I just started sailing as a deck cadet. Today, prices of pasalubong are higher than before.

7. Creates culture of expectation.

After two or three finished contracts with pasalubong for everyone when you come home, some people expect the same tradition. On a few cases, they may even demand specific items that will leave you scratching your head.

What if you DON’T BUY pasalubong?

Not buying pasalubong can also have its pros and cons. Let’s take a look at some of them:

1. Saves you money.

Success is relative, and the more successful you become, the more relatives (and friends) you’ll have. Buying pasalubong for everyone can be very expensive. Not buying pasalubong can save you a considerable amount of money.

2. Avoids the hassle.

Looking for the right gifts to bring home can be stressful and time-consuming. Even if you buy them at the airport, you may need another luggage for those items, or even pay excess baggage just to bring them with you.

By not buying pasalubong, you remove that step and instead enjoy doing other things.

3. Encourages genuine connections.

I have people in my life who didn’t ask for anything, but still desire to treat me to a restaurant after I arrive from abroad. They are not rich, but they value our friendship so much. They are the kind of people to whom I often give pasalubong and even treat to a nice meal.

Four true friends standing atop a mountain watching the beautiful sunset.
Image: Helena Lopes | Unsplash.

4. Disappoints expectations.

Some people may be expecting pasalubong from you, especially if you have been working abroad for a long time. Not buying gifts can disappoint their expectations and possibly strain your relationships.

5. Damages your reputation.

After building that culture of expectation, not bringing pasalubong anymore may change them how they look at you. Instead of being the good person that you were, they’ll think you changed to become selfish or uncaring.

6. You’re an ingrate.

You probably had many people helping you to reach where you are now. Many of them helped you financially because becoming a seafarer is just very expensive. Not buying pasalubong to them may imply that you are ungrateful for their help.

7. Causes guilt.

Not buying pasalubong can cause feelings of guilt, especially if you feel that it is your obligation to bring gifts to them. This guilt can impact your vacation, and your time spent with your family and friends.

8. They’ll get used to it.

After a few years of really not giving them gifts from abroad, they’ll eventually get used to it. And if they see your projects and priorities in life get into shape, they may understand your actions.

Duty Free shop in Thessaloniki Airport, Greece.
Image: Vradwiki, via Wikimedia Commons.

Should you buy pasalubong when coming home?

Here are the shortest answers:

If you have an insanely huge amounts of money that you can spare for pasalubong, that’s a hug yes. But if you think you have so many bills and trainings waiting for you back home, you may have to strategize. Here’s what I experienced.

As someone who had been sailing for more than a decade, I learned many things as a seafarer, including the pasalubong tradition. I saw many of my crewmates go all out in buying and giving pasalubong only to end up broke after 2 months. I also saw some of them buy only a modest amount.

We know that life on board is hard and once or savings start to deplete during vacation, we often reminisce the $700 pasalubong that we bought 2 months ago. But we all know that’s another lesson for us.

I’ve been on both sides of the fence and tried different techniques about this pasalubong craze. I told you I was serious about it, and I really thought of a way to meet everything in the middle.

Yes, I buy, but…

In the end, I still buy pasalubong, but only to a very select few people. Those are for my families and a few people whom I am truly grateful with. 

Of course, chocolates are still on the menu, BUT I mostly give them to kids. I make a budget for this one during my whole contract that is just enough. I even buy local chocolates in Manila and put them on a hand carry bag since I only have one luggage. They are still equally happy when they receive it.

Whenever my friends or other people ask me for chocolates, I send them this meme:

A meme of a guy displaying his hands with chocolates as well as his lips.
Oooops! No more chocolates.

Then I tell them that I already gave the chocolates to the kids and nothing is left.

May the winds be in your favor.


1 Comment

  1. Cristina

    nice! would love to buy these as pasalubong for the fam. 🙂


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