How to Get Out of the City and Live on the Beach
Who hasn’t thought of moving to the beach at one point? Being stuck in mind-numbing traffic or an unfulfilling job, it’s easy to day dream. But it’s much harder (and riskier) to actually pull the trigger. Or is it? Instead of speculating, we thought we'd better ask three guys who actually packed up and moved their lives and loved ones to their dream beach.
Kiddo, a former social media entrepreneur from Manila, now runs an excellent coffee shop in La Union. Nowie and his wife had existing business ties in Boracay and gradually decided to spend more and more time on the island. Fabio, a former surf instructor and globetrotter from Italy, met the love of his life in Siargao. With all these beautiful islands and beaches so close by, maybe it doesn’t have to stay a dream for any of us.
What made you move?
Kiddo: A traffic jam in 2011 pushed me over the edge. I decided then that I didn't want to live in Manila anymore. Amy and I were newly married with our first child, and I was missing so many precious hours of time with them, thanks to an unforgiving daily commute.
Meanwhile, Amy and I had already been visiting La Union often for several years, as surfers--a pastime driven by our love for the outdoors, and a shared belief in pursuing a progressively simpler life. We gave ourselves one last year in Manila-in 2012, we would move. And soon after the birth of our second baby, we packed up and moved.
Fabio: It's basically been a love decision. I went to Siargao on vacation in 2015 because a Filipino friend was telling me how nice it was and that it could be a great place to start a business. While I was in Siargao I met Jof, my future wife, who was on the island for a project.
Then I went back to Europe, because I had work there and Jof went back to Manila but we kept our relationship going through Skype. After a few months I decided to quit my job and without thinking too much we decided to move together to the island. Best decision of my life!
Nowie: Since we began with our first FIC shop in D’Mall 12 years ago, I think it was a gradual process so it wasn’t very hard. Our original plan was just to have a place to stay at and a business that would support that. Fortunately, it worked out to be more than just that. We also did our fair share of doing business in Manila and we found that doing business in Boracay is more enjoyable.
How did you do it?
Kiddo: We gave ourselves a deadline and stuck to it. Nothing great is ever easy. At first, we split our time and work between LU and Manila. This is not easy with children in tow. But we were committed. There was a lot to be grateful for–I had a decent job in a small social media strategy company that I ran with my brother, according to our terms. It was fun work, but the urban congestion wore me down. Being devoid of nature wore me down. We miss our families sometimes, but they visit every so often. After all, it's less than a 4-hour drive if you time your travel right.
Nowie: Since we did it over a long period, I think the transition has been easier. In the beginning, when we only had one ice cream shop, we would only come to Boracay a few days or a week every month. Now it’s the reverse of that. We spend more time in Boracay now. That being said, we still go to Manila and travel elsewhere regularly. That keeps us refreshed and it makes staying in Boracay more manageable.
The dream was to have a good business with a more relaxed lifestyle and in many ways we are able to do just that. However, we do take our business and our work seriously. The dream of living at the beach doing nothing and having a business to support doing nothing, is just that: a dream. We do still work hard to make sure the business does well. This allows us to be more relaxed in other aspects of our lives–no nine-to-five schedules, no traffic, etc.
Fabio: Luckily Jof's family is from Surigao, so at least she knew the place and plenty of people! It's been easy because we both wanted to be together and in Siargao. I’ve been kind of a globetrotter for the last seven, eight years. I travelled the world teaching surfing, more or less staying three to nine months in Portugal, Morocco, Spain, Australia and South Africa.
Before moving to the Philippines, I had a surf camp in the Canary Islands for almost two years. But before all of this I had a normal life in Bologna, Italy, working as a video editor and camera man. I used to go on surf trips around the world any time I could get time off from work. Then one day I decided to quit my job. I took lifeguard and surf instructor courses and went on the road, following the dream of doing what I love.
I can't teach surfing anymore, because it’s restricted to locals and I think that's fair enough. I'm not here to steal a job that can be done by a local. Now, I’m doing work online and forex trading.
How has your adopted home changed since your move?
Nowie: I think the island is approaching a point where we need to evolve and cater to a more discerning market so that it continues to be a viable tourist destination. Coming up with unique restaurants and shops that have that good sense of place and are only available in Boracay helps in doing just that.
What I wish for now is a stark improvement in infrastructure and a more comprehensive development plan. I feel that services from transportation to utilities have not been able to catch up with the tourist arrivals (and in turn, the local population) so we need a big jump in these and not the incremental changes we’ve been seeing.
Kiddo: There's always the cautionary tale of the demise of "Beach Town X" at the hands of commercialism–a tale of paradise lost. People have long said that they don't want that for LU, myself included. But the question is, "What am I doing about it?" I think that as La Union develops as a tourist destination, its community of stakeholders have an immense opportunity and responsibility to create the kind of place we want to live in or visit.
Do we want it environment conscious, and community centric? Are there aesthetic attributes we want? Are there experiences we want to preserve, and things we want to change? Then we need to support endeavors that prioritize those things we want. We need to build or support conscientious enterprises that reduce waste, pay equitable wages, promote transparent sourcing, support local produce, and so on. I am not a perfect individual, but the important thing is to inch forward, and make no excuses.
Fabio: After this many years, I can't imagine myself living in a city anymore. But I think to answer this question accurately would take ages, because it's a really complex situation. The island is developing very quickly, it's already so different from the Siargao that I fell in love with a little bit over two years ago. If you go on a trip and are away for more than two weeks, when you're back you'll find at least a couple of new businesses, and construction that wasn't there when you left. It’s amazing and scary at the same time. I think Siargao wasn't prepared for it, in terms of infrastructure.
There isn’t a proper ER, and not having a legitimate assistance can be scary, considering that most of the tourists come to Siargao to surf and the waves can be pretty heavy. Even waste management isn’t present on the island, but thank God there's an association called Sea Movement which is trying to educate people on the island and working with the local government to make sure the island develops the right way.
I really hope for the best and I'm positive as well, because I see that everyone seems very aware of the potential problems and ready to work together for the best for Siargao.