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Consummate Travelers Ginggay and Noel dela Merced, Exploring the Far Reaches of the World—Literally and Figuratively, On Their Own Terms

Planning a trip comes with stress. For travel-savvy couple Ginggay and Noel dela Merced, it is but the first step toward exploring another interesting city—off the beaten path—and pursuing their shared passion, or shall we say, life mission. 

Their commitment to travel found its start when Noel and Ginggay decided to get married over 12 years ago. “Noel and I are travel soulmates. We joke that ever since we agreed to get married, we haven’t agreed on anything else. Except for the way we travel. We both don’t know any other person who can handle and endure our exhaustive travel style,” Ginggay enthuses. Noel quickly adds, “When I married Ginggay, I told her that wherever she wants go, I’d take her and I’d be with her as long as I can afford it. I had no idea ofthe kind of places she actually wanted to visit and how far they are away from home… But what can I do? It’s what makes her happy, which makes me happy.” Among the places on their recent itineraries were Tallinn, Dubrovnik, Tromso, and Bhutan. A current favorite spot is Iceland—from the capital city of Reykjavik to Snœfellsnes Peninsula; the couple has been there twice in two years! 

Of the two, Ginggay is the meticulous master planner. She views travel as a form of continuing education and as a means to live enriched lives. “Travel is extremely enlivening, and inspiring. There’s escape, exploration, and the quenching of deep-seated curiosity. It awakens the senses and deepens respect for our world. But above all, it cultivates understanding and tolerance for other cultures and ways of life,” she points out. As she maps out their schedule, Noel quips, “I just go where I’m told. Like I’m the driver, and she’s the navigator. If I bring up a request for, say, a restaurant I want to try or a specific museum I want to visit, chances are she had already anticipated these wants and put it down in the itinerary. The only question I ask is how long, so I know how many shirts to pack.” The result is an annual travel calendar, which includes two extended trips as a couple, a family vacation with their kids, a Christmas getaway, with short escapes squeezed in between. 

Ginggay and Noel share their insights on putting together their amazing and action-packed trips. (“We don’t do vacations,” says Ginggay.)

On the planning process: 

GINGGAY: I plan our routes meticulously. I don’t like going back and forth. I always plan so the journey flows smoothly and logically, not to mention economically. I choose the countries and the sequence. Then I book the flights based on the most cost-efficient path. Then I book the hotels. I always shortlist to three based on location, design, and cost. I make a final choice after reading a few reviews and rankings. I then book transportation or rental if necessary. Afterwards, I revisit my history and travel books and thoroughly read about the destinations. I then make a super detailed itinerary with a checklist of everything we want to do and see with a precise timetable. Noel says my planning style is so obsessive, but hey, it works! 

On their travel style:

GINGGAY: Our trips are rigid and action-packed. We never waste time. We awake before sunrise and don’t settle back in until late at night. We incessantly move. We don’t relax until we’ve finished everything we want to see. We won’t take breaks, not even to eat. We won’t ride cabs, buses, or trains if we can walk it. If we need to drive, we’d rather rent a car and drive ourselves than hire a service. We never join tours unless we are required to because we want our own time. We are extremely energetic and enthusiastic travelers. People who dare go with us have the hardest time keeping up. Oftentimes, we tire them out too much, they just quit. 

NOEL: We love chatting with strangers along the way. It’s amazing the variety of compelling anecdotes we’ve heard on the road. Some are ridiculously funny, others mind-boggling and extremely intelligent, others heartwarming and painful. They make for great stories to tell our children. 

On what you discover about yourself:

GINGGAY: First, the smartest people I know and have read about are the ones who are smart enough to know that they don’t know everything. In my travels, I discovered more and more how monumentally ignorant (and oftentimes dumb and downright stupid) I am despite what I thought was erudition. 

Second, travel can be a good test of your limits. Physical or otherwise. I remember staring at a mountain once, snickering at Noel as if to say, “How the hell do you expect me to climb that?” And he looks back and says, “You can!” And I did! There have been countless times when I thought I had neither the energy nor the guts to conquer certain trials…but I did it.

On traveling with each other: 

Ginggay: I have realized where you go is not as important as who you travel with. It is refreshing to discover something new about your spouse and your relationship in each trip. I knew Noel was kind and loving when I married him. But in our trips, I learned more how infinitely selfless he can be. Similarly, I’ve learned to be more caring, more considerate, and more tolerant especially in circumstances when you’re experiencing cabin fever already, and you just want to tear each others’ heads off.  Because of our adventures, we’ve both learned to joke and laugh off typically harrowing situations like losing luggage or even life-threatening instances like driving blind in the midst of a snowstorm. Surviving situations like these, simply, just builds character.

NOEL: I discovered that I really couldn’t live without my wife. I bought this shirt that summed it best, “I don’t need Google. I have my wife.” 

As passionate travelers, Ginggay and Noel have found themselves in many exotic and exciting places around the world. Ginggay quietly offers this thought on their many journeys, “I always tell my husband who prefers the bigger cosmopolitan cities that I was energized by New York, infatuated with Paris, amused by Tokyo, inspired by London, comforted by Manila… but Iceland, I fell in love.”


 Article originally published in Metro Society's May 2015 issue / Photographs by JC Inocian and courtesy of Noel and Ginggay dela Merced / Minor edits have been made for Metro.Style