After that epic 15-hour drive over the weekend from the Ilocos region (and at least five more major road trips that I did earlier this year), I list down my top 10 road trip essentials.
1. A great music playlist
Imagine driving on the beautiful winding roads of Ilocos and the expressways without music. Absolute torture! On the Ilocos trip, I had about 280 songs, enough for a very long trip. There were songs that were Buddha Bar-esque, funky, hotel lobby-esque, and ballroom-y. But what I kept playing on repeat were the songs with strong bass and fast beats to keep me awake; not necessarily rock songs though. I even had quite a few instrumentals; Vitamin String Quartet, 2 Cellos, and The Piano Guys were staples.
2. Lots and lots of munchies
A few friends have learned to fear my wrath when there's no food in the car; more specifically, when there are no potato chips or chocolates. I tend to binge on chocolate when stressed out on the road. I'd be very happy if these are Maltesers or Choc-Nut, but any chocolate that melts in the mouth, not on the hand will do.
3. Venti soy caramel machiatto
Since I've been introduced to the caramel machiatto, it has become my go-to drink for trips. It's not too bitter (for me) like espresso but it still delivers the last-mile kick I need at crunch time.
And thanks to my lactose issues, I always get the soy option. Because I'm normally ready to go to la-la-land once I arrive home, the beverage rarely causes me to lose sleep. I just readily fall onto bed despite 20 oz of caffeine running through my veins! Moreso when I just got back from Ilocos... I had 40 oz of soy caramel machiatto in 12 hours. Yes, in 12 hours! I'm not even a regular coffee drinker! Of course, my default drink is still choco shake with soy milk, whipped cream, and peppermint syrup.
4. Great sense of humor
There's nothing more draining for people in the car (particularly the driver) than passengers who don't have an easy laugh; or passengers who seem to weigh the rest of the group down with their negative vibes. At one point, a friend, who I've requested to share what's going on in her life with me and another friend on a long trip, decided to tell us a rather energy-zapping story. I was forced to change the topic because I didn't want to hear her drone about the sad story for the next 90 kms of the trip. Sorry, really, but I couldn't stand it.
5. Maps, maps, maps
No, I'm not afraid of being lost. I do, however, do not enjoy losing time and wasting fuel because of unnecessary turns. Plus, my dad trained me early on that maps always help on road trips, specially if the drive is long. The Ilocos trip actually was a trip down memory lane to my first navigation lesson (I was eight years old): as long as the sea was on the left, I'm driving towards Vigan, and Laoag after that.
This time, however, I was no longer limited to paper-based maps. My phone has a built-in map and I also use Google Maps (which here shows an unrealistic travel time on Philippine highways). Sometimes, if I need realistic estimates for arrival times, I just use Waze.
6. Small bills and lots of coins... Or tollway RFID tags
To Manila and back again, done frequently enough convinced me that I absolutely need an RFID tag for SLEX. Since I got one already, why not get the other one? So I also bought an EC tag for the NLEX tollway even though I had no idea how often I'd be up north. We'll, I have been on the NLEX four times now so it's worth the purchase.
The cash is kept at the ready for STAR, SCTEX, and TPLEX. I wish that the E-Pass for the SLEX can also be used on STAR Tollway and the SCTEX and TPLEX are Easytrip ready so I wouldn't have to deal with coins anymore (and use the coins for groceries instead).
7. Never-ending stories
When I was younger, it was my job to keep my dad entertained (and awake) during the wee hours of long road trips. There was a time the family had this crazy idea of eating dinner in Baguio City after a Manaoag pilgrimage and then go back home the same evening... This was before the days of Skyway, SCTEX, and TPLEX, so a Baguio trip could easily take 12 hours from Calamba. Now that I do drive, I expect passengers (and I warn them so) to take over the story-telling role. But no; I still end up with the epic-long stories because my passengers tend to be more tired than me on long drives. How that happens still stumps me.
It's difficult, to be honest, to take photos while on the road using my SLR. Therefore, I finally accept that if I see something interesting, there is a big chance that I will have to take a photo using my mobile phone's camera app. The SLR is still with me on road trips but I use it during pit stops... Not while stuck in traffic along the highway.
Road rage is never cool. Patience is a virtue, they say. And it is very important to have it while driving long distances, in heavy traffic, or when passengers are irritating.
It's even more challenging when the driver is sleep-deprived and has driven hundreds of kilometres in one day.
10. Drinking water
During the six-hour drive to Bataan, I failed to drink water because I didn't know if there were good toilet stops along the way. By the time I arrived at the hotel, I started shivering from dehydration and exhaustion. Since then, there's always at least a bottle of water or juice in the car. I don't leave home anymore without my trusty 500-mL Starbucks travel mug, which I bought on a day that I lacked sleep and I passed by a branch.