1. Make sure that your vehicle is in tip top shape. Having a breakdown in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night can be dangerous and a bit of a hassle. Same goes with a flat tire. So keep an eye on vulcanising shops along the way so that you can recall the nearest one in case you end up with a flat tire. We were so lucky we never had one the entire trip. Air-conditioning is also important especially nowadays when the heat can be so much. Driving in a car without air-conditioning in the middle of the day can cause you to heat up (emotionally) as well. So make sure that your a/c is in good shape.
2. Make sure that you have enough gas. Bring a fuel container with enough fuel for the leg of the trip where gas stations are few and far between. It happened to us when we drove from Paranas to Dolores in the middle of the night. We almost ran out of fuel. Good thing my husband had enough sense to bring 20 litres of fuel in a container.
3. Plan your route and your stops and stick to your itinerary. Make prior bookings in hotels and lodging facilities ahead of time. Nothing can be worse than driving for 8 hours, and when you get to a town there is no available room for you. It is peak season and most hotels are fully booked. Remember that in some remote towns hotels are also used by government agencies for conferences and events. Room will not always be available. In Yolanda stricken areas hotels are used by NGOs and volunteer groups. If you are travelling with a dog, as in our case, make sure that you ask the hotel if they allow pets in the room.
4. Discuss your plan, itinerary and activities with your travel companions, including your family if they are doing the trip with you. They should be part of the planning process and know exactly what they will be doing in each site that you visit. It increases the level of excitement and everyone gets on board. Use a map when you discuss your route and your plan. It teaches young people geography and they appreciate the trip a lot better.
5. For long distances, such as our drive to Samar, my husband and I took shifts driving. Travel at night if you are coming from Manila. There is less traffic. It takes 12 hours from Manila until the southern tip of Luzon. It is 644 kms. away. We left Manila 10 PM and got to Matnog a little past 10 AM the day after. We had very few stops along the way. Kids just slept almost all the way. A navigator with a map can come in handy. In our case, our son Miguel was assigned to check the map and routes. It provided him an opportunity to learn to read a map. While the driver drives, the other driver sleeps and recharges for the next shift. If you are driving, don't push your limit. When you feel sleepy ask for a change in shift. Be always on the safe side. Philippine roads are dark and sometimes even the white lines in the centre of the road are difficult to see. Don't worry about your arrival in Matnog. Boats cross the channel 24/7. In our case, we decided to stay 2 days in Matnog before crossing over to Samar. It was a wise decision.
6. Be ready for some surprises. Tasting local food, no matter how weird they may seem, is one of the best ways to remember a trip. Everyone should be adventurous enough to try something new. The more "first experiences" you have on a family trip, the more memories you will have.
Go ahead, it is not too late to have a fabulous adventure this summer. Whether it's going north or south, east or west, it will always be great if you plan your trip well and stick to your plan. Last tip: Simply have fun and take lots of photos!
/Chen Reyes-Mencias firstname.lastname@example.org