Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of long road trips. My family and I used to regularly drive from Manila to Naga and back for summer and Christmas breaks, which is a trip that lasts from 8 to 12 hours long (one way) depending on our pace. Last year, I also went on several long land trips as a driver (car/motorcycle) and as a passenger (van/bus/car/train). I’d like to share with you a few helpful pointers to survive these road trips.
1) To avoid getting lost, refer to your mini-map.
Whenever my family and I traveled before, we would have one of those huge printed maps to refer to. Last Christmas, when Art and I made this drive ourselves, we stepped this up a notch by navigating the roads using his tablet, which has GPS. Though we accidentally missed the Santa Rosa exit (and ended up in Tanauan), we were able to successfully find our way back to the main highway using the tracking system. Even if we sometimes went off the map and not all landmarks and roads were plotted, the GPS was really accurate. What was cool is that it was like consulting a mini-map the whole time to see exactly what towns we were in or where the next junction was. This was really helpful at night (it happened to be raining pretty hard when we made our way back to Manila) and the signs and welcome arches were unreadable.
2) Select good background music.
Our car does not have a CD player, so we mostly rely on the radio. When you pass through different towns and provinces, radio signals will get cut off and you may be stuck listeneing to local newscasts and advertisements about agricultural feeds or afternoon dramas between all the static. Having a fully charged phone (loaded with good music) to play out loud can help a lot to counter boredom. When traveling as a passenger, having earphones to connect to your phone with music (or MP3 player, ipod, whatever) can also be a lifesaver if you can’t sleep or if you get stuck with overly chatty companions and you just want to be left alone. If you’re not driving, playing phone games like Angry Birds is always an option.
3) Keep spare change handy.
It’s a given that you will need money for gas and toll fees along the way. In specific places, like Bitukang Manok (a steep road that zigzags through the Quezon National Park) and mountain roads of towns like Liliw and Nagcarlan, children (and adults) also set up their own “toll gates” by blocking the roads with string/rope, and won’t let you pass until you give them money. Though I think this is literally highway robbery, if you have some coins to spare, then stop to hand it to the people as you drive by or toss it out the window (if you’re driving on a cliffside area and can’t stop). Spare change (usually 2-5 pesos) is also needed to use paid restrooms in gas stations stops. If you’re in a really remote place, you can also stop to buy some small item from a sari-sari store and then ask politely to use the store owner’s bathroom.
4) Stock up on food items.
Food items are very important for long road trips. These can be purchased at gas stations and stores along the way, but it helps if you have one whole bag with everything you need prior to the trip so that you can just snack on mindlessly as you go on your journey. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most useful food items to have (in my opinion) with what I perceive as their energy equivalent: (HP = Health Points)
- Mint candies: +1HP
- Boiled peanuts: +5HP
- Water: +5HP
- Fruits (bananas, oranges): +10HP
- Skyflakes: +10HP
- Juice: +10HP
- Junk food/chips: +10HP
- Granola bars: +15HP
- Canned coffee: +15HP
- Chocolate: +15 HP
- Red Bull: +20HP
Photo shows the remnants of my seatmate’s snack during a long bus ride.
5) Pre-book your inns.
If you’re planning to stay overnight somewhere during your road trip, it helps to pre-book a hotel or inn, lest you end up in some place that could be the setting for a horror movie, as we almost did. After inquiring at several inns/hotels along the highway in Gumaca and Atimonan, Quezon, which were either fully booked or too expensive, we stopped by to inquire at Acasian Hotel.
Cellphone photo of where we considered staying
From afar, the white and maroon structure didn’t look too bad. What was strange was that there didn’t seem to be anyone in sight. The large parking lot was empty and a lone dog guarded the premises. The entrance led to a large cafeteria which was completely dark except for the flickering of a light bulb somewhere in the back. Old papers were stacked on the dusty tables. Finally, after looking around for someone to talk to, a woman appeared from a back room. Our conversation went something like this:
Me: May available po kayo na rooms?
Innkeeper: Meron naman.
Me: Magkano po yung rooms dito?
Innkeeper: Ano, yung pang short-time?
Me: Umm….(slowly backs out the door)
After stopping by a few more hotels (which were all fully booked), thankfully, my dad called me up saying he had an invitation from his friend to stay in a resort in Tayabas, Quezon that we could use. It was getting dark and raining by this time, and we were really just ready to crash at any place that had a free room. But at my dad’s insistence, we pushed through to Lucena through the diversion road of Bitukang Manok. The road was supposed to be a longer but safer route. Unfortunately, the road was terrible with huge potholes every few meters. After a tense ride that seemed to last forever we finally arrived at the gas station in Lucena, where we touched base with my dad’s friend who guided us to the luxurious Graceland Estates and Country Club, checked us in as his guests to a spacious room, and treated us to a great dinner. The next morning, we took a walk around the 10-hectare resort with a gorgeous view of Mt. Banahaw, a boating lake, deer farm and several swimming pools. The place was off our mapped route and set us back a couple of hours on the way back, but it was definitely worth the drive. We ended up detouring through Lucban and Los Banos on the way back to Manila.
Where we ended up staying. Not bad!
On second thought, maybe it’s best not to make too many plans and just go with the flow. Where you end up might just surprise you. 🙂