Philippines Road Trip Through Luzon

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The arrivals area at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport was a bustle of people and luggage. We had just arrived in the Philippines, and we were ready for our family Philippines road trip through Luzon.

Travelers were being greeted by family members, friends, business partners, employees. Drivers stood patiently holding signs with their patron’s names, scanning the crowd for a hint of recognition in a passing traveler’s eyes.  My husband and I stood in the middle of all this, with two kids in tow and a handful of luggage to juggle. 

We scanned the crowd for our driver for the next two weeks. My husband’s uncle had arranged for us to have a driver for our Philippines road trip. A few weeks prior we had “met” him via Skype, and although I knew how he looked like, I was still unsure whether I would be able to spot him in a crowd.

After a few minutes of scanning, we see a man dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals approached us.  It’s our driver, and after brief introductions, he takes our bags and leads us to the car.


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Philippines road trip
Scenery near Subic Bay (July 2012)

Taking a Philippines road trip

I’m usually not a big fan of renting a car and driver when I’m traveling in another country. Something about it feels a little bourgeois for my tastes, and I prefer using public transport to get a feel for what it might be like living as a local (not to mention it’s a little easier on the wallet).  

However, for this Philippines road trip, we were traveling as a family (with a toddler in tow), and with all the places we wanted to visit in the little time we had, it made a lot more sense to rent a car. I decided to let convenience override my need to save money.

In the end, it was money well spent. In the span of a week, our Philippines road trip took us through a big chunk of the island of Luzon, driving from Manila to the Bulacan province, then on to Subic Bay and Olongapo City. Afterwards we headed to Baguio, then Tagaytay, and finally ended back in Manila. We visited so many of the sights from our Lonely Planet Philippines guide book!  

Jeepneys in the Philippines (July 2013)

Thoughts on renting a car and driver

During the week, our driver not only served as a driver, but as a guide. He answered questions about the culture of the Philippines and the country. And he helped us find places to eat and visit while we were there.  

Our driver told us about his family and he made friends with our little daughter. It was almost as if he were a part of our family for the brief time that we were in the Philippines.

Yet, at the same time, there was no denying that for that week, he was our employee. We were paying him for providing us the service of driving us around during our road trip through Luzon.  We were participating in the age old tradition of patronage.

A jeepney in the Philippines (July 2013)

Coming to terms with privilege

To someone who has grown up in an egalitarian society such as the U.S., the concept of having a servant (someone who provides a personal service to you) isn’t always such an easy thing to accept. We were certainly traveling with a certain level of privilege, and that’s always been a difficult concept for me to accept.

But maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s how the world works. Things don’t always have to be equal in order to be fair. This servant-boss relationship benefited our driver as much as it benefited us.

I wouldn’t have traded our Philippines road trip experience for one that would have involved public transportation. I am thankful for missing out on the stress of coordinating all that. In a sense, life is about making those choices: saving money versus comfort, uncertainty versus peace of mind.

Have you take a Philippines road trip? Where did you go and what did you see? Share them in the comments.

Philippines Road Trip Through Luzon | The Wandering Daughter

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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