I Left The City To Live On An Island, Here’s What My Life Looks Like Now

Sea la vie

Moving to the place your heart resides is easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. Take inspiration from these lionhearted ladies who went off the beaten path and dared to go to their dream destination amidst the challenges brought by a pandemic.

How many of us have dreamt about leaving the city to live on an island? If we’re basing it on the popularity of the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, it looks like there are a lot of us. We love to indulge in this fantasy from time to time, but you’d be delighted to know that it’s possible to turn this daydream into your reality.

Burnt out from work and cooped up in her studio apartment, PR Manager, Podcast Host and Biblical Womanhood Advocate Danah Gutierrez has had enough. The prolonged quarantine in Metro Manila was taking a toll on her and so she decided to take the plunge and go on a two-week break with her twin sister in Boracay Island after both of them suffered from panic attacks.

 Danah Gutierrez lounging by the beach.

Danah lounging by the beach.

The serene scenery and sound of calming waves was the complete opposite of the chaotic urban jungle she left. Danah loved staying in Boracay so much, she didn’t want to leave anymore. This made her realise that it was time to move for good, and she did. “I did it mostly because I wanted to grow, I wanted to be independent and I wanted to challenge myself and try to assimilate myself in a different space, different area,” she said.

Uprooting your life to follow your heart is never an easy thing to do, but it was all worth it for Danah who shares that her happiness level is now “on a 10”. Ahead, she shares the story of how she left the big city to live the island life.

Prepping for the move

When the going gets tough, it's tempting to just pack your bags and leave at a drop of a hat. It’s thrilling and cathartic — just like what we see in movies. Unfortunately, the reality is much less riveting. In truth, life-changing decisions need thorough preparation.

Checklist for move during pandemic

(Photo from: Nick Morrison via Unsplash)

Danah needed several non-negotiable things before moving: her mum’s approval, her employer’s approval, a nice space that fits her budget, and opportunities while living on the island. “Those were some of the things that I prayed for before saying that I’m really doing this, I’m gonna dive in,” she said. These were the boxes she needed to check before leaving. Getting her mum’s approval was challenging at first. “Every time I mention my move, my mum, she would always disagree,” Danah shared. But a heart-to-heart session where she shared about her life plans, intentions and motivations for moving changed everything. After that, her mum became very supportive. Check.

Danah, who is a public relations manager for Filipino natural personal care brand Human Heart Nature, noted how events and physical launches she used to help to mount have been hampered by the pandemic. “Everything can be done remotely now. So I asked for their favour [about my move] and they said yes,” she said. Another box checked.

Danah then searched for a place and found one on the Boracay Long Term Rentals Facebook Group. “It was a decent space. It was a studio unit — I had my fridge, my table, my bed and my bathroom, and mini kitchen. It was really small but it worked,” she said about her first home in Boracay. With everything in place, Danah was ready to embark on her new adventure.

What it’s like to move during the pandemic

With all the stay-at-home guidelines and movement restrictions, it may seem like we’re tethered to where we are now for the foreseeable future. However, while yes, you shouldn’t travel for frivolous reasons, it’s still possible to leave your current situation in search of a better one.

There are some challenges when you’re moving during a pandemic but overall it isn’t as unpleasant as you may think it is. “It’s faster to travel now. There are a lot of protocols and safety measures to go through [in the airport] but in terms of just the duration of your waiting time [for the flight], it’s much shorter,” Danah shared. As a cherry on top, her flight costs are actually cheaper now than during pre-pandemic times.

However, preparation for travel is a little more complicated than what we’re used to, where you just book a ticket, check in and ride the plane. Now there are extra steps. “You take your swab test 72 hours before your flight then you send all your documents (proof that you have a hotel and plane ticket, and health declaration form) to Tourism Boracay via email. Afterwards, they’re gonna send your final Aklanon QR code and you’re good to go. After six months, I get to apply for a resident card here in Boracay but I have to be here for six months straight,” she said.

On a personal level, the move also offered a fresh perspective for Danah. “One thing that I had to embrace was to be minimalist. I had to let go of a lot,” she said. Still, even when she trimmed down her possessions, Danah still went way over her luggage allowance and had to pay “around PHP6000 to 7000” as an add-on. So if you’re thinking of following in Danah’s footsteps, you have to be ready to say goodbye to many of your goods and chattels.

Finding a new home and a new self

It’s the first time for Danah to live alone and be away from family and, of course, she had to adapt to some changes. “In my first week, it’s takeout food all the way. But I have to be smart and allocate a budget, so I started going to the grocery and market,” she said.

This time around, Danah has to think of everything — from cooking for herself to doing the laundry. To her, the additional chores were not so much of an annoyance as they were a sign of self-reliance. “Boracay is very different but I love the newness of it. There are things I never experienced in Manila,” she said. One can’t help but compare her experience to Friends’ Rachel Green, who gave up the easy life in favour of independence and growth.

Danah Gutierrez cooking in Boracay

Dishes Danah learned to cook in Boracay using local ingredients.

And like Rachel, she also encountered some living arrangement challenges. “My landlord spoke to me and said that they’re gonna increase my rent because they had to update their rates. The jump was quite high, and I have to stick to my budget, and so I searched [for a new place] again,” Danah said. Her search led her to a nice apartment located in the Manok Manok area in Boracay Island, which turns out to be a property of an acquaintance. “She toured me around the unit, brought me to the roof deck, showed me where the pathway is to the beach, and I loved it. It’s very quiet, it’s not so close to the happenings in the front beach. It’s very well-designed, so cosy and we have a solar energy option that can sustain us when there are electricity issues in the island. It was a no-brainer for me and the price she gave me was really attractive and now I’m here,” she said.

Long term rent apartment in Boracay

Danah’s humble abode in Boracay. The place is fully furnished and Danah bought finishing touches from the nearby D-Mall and through Shopee.

Inhaling island life, the good and the bad

When asked if she has any regrets in moving to Boracay Island, Danah, without hesitation, said she doesn’t have any. “The fact that I can take a walk to the beach, that’s something I value so much now. Watching the sunset, inhaling the sea breeze — these are the things I’m so grateful for now that I’ve planted myself here. In Manila, we don’t get these luxuries; I consider these as luxuries now. Sometimes, I can’t believe I live here in this beautiful paradise,” she said.

However, she clarifies that it doesn’t mean it’s all coconuts and seashells. One challenge that she still continues to struggle with to this day is dealing with the local culture. She recounts instances where niceness is misconstrued as romantic interest. “I guess we just have different point of views and I can't expect people here to respond like the ones from my previous environment. It’s something so new to me,” Danah shared. “We [city and rural dwellers] still have different relational cultures. So I think it’s where the challenge comes from; it’s really from building relationships and setting your boundaries.”

Beach scene in Boracay island sunset

Danah captures the serene island life.

Danah was drawn to island life largely because of the stay-at-home measures put in place in Metro Manila. But what if everything goes back to normal and the city wakes up again from slumber? Would she go back then? Not definitely. “I’m thinking about it, and Manila city life before the pandemic is also not ideal. There’s so much traffic and I used to waste a total of four hours each day commuting and there’s the burnout and I don’t experience that here,” she said. “But who knows, maybe the post-pandemic world will be a better one that will have work-from-home options for all of us.”

Danah also entertains the possibility of exploring another country, specifically Australia in Sydney and Melbourne but at this point she shares that she has no plans of going back to the city life anytime soon. “I really believe that nature heals. Just being beside a body of water, I’m so much happier,” Danah said.

Boracay shores

Danah found a heart-shaped pebble in Boracay shores.

Inaction is comfortable, and change is hard work. Sometimes we’d rather suffer a little bit every day than bite the bullet and do the things that may not feel good at first but are ultimately better for us in the end. Breaking away from the familiar is not the easiest thing to do, but a new scenery may just be what we need. If where you are doesn’t feel like home, and if you have opportunities to explore a new life, maybe now is the time to do so.

Next, travel the world with your tastebuds. Learn to cook signature dishes from these underrated foodie destinations.

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