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.
“Do you know where we’re supposed to meet Alex?” I ask my husband.
Alex was a driver that my husband’s uncle had arranged for us for our Philippines road trip. A few weeks prior we had “met” Alex 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.
“He said he would wait for us out here,” my husband replied, scanning the crowd as well.
Moments later, a man dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and sandals approached us. My husband’s face turned from serious to jovial.
“Alex!” he said, shaking the man’s hand.
Taking a Philippines road trip
After a few minutes of chit chat, we followed Alex across the parking lot and to the van that we had rented for the week. Our Philippines road trip had officially started!
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 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.
Thoughts on renting a car and driver
On one of our last days in Manila, Alex took us to a restaurant near the harbor for lunch. It overlooked the water, and from our table we could feel the ocean breeze. Lunch was a feast of Filipino seafood dishes, ending with a generous helping of halo-halo.
As I sat there enjoying our meal, I thought about our road trip experience with Alex. During the week, Alex not only served as a driver, but as a guide, answering questions about the culture and the country, and helping us find places to eat and visit while we were there. He 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.
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 Alex 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.
When Alex dropped us back off at the airport, I shook his hand and thanked him profusely for such a wonderful week. He smiled and thanked me too, then helped us organize our bags onto the carts, walking with us to the airport entrance. After we said our good-byes, he turned and walked back into the crowd of people, disappearing among the travelers and other drivers.