I get a lot of questions about traveling and living abroad, particularly from my friends in the United States, who seem equal parts fascinated and horrified by the fact that I’ve chosen to reside in countries other than where I was born. So today, I thought I’d share the WHY of my most recent decision to move to the Philippines.
When I left the U.S. in early November, it was rapidly approaching wintertime – a great season to spend in Southeast Asia. From June until November approximately it’s the monsoon or rainy season here in Asia, and it’s not quite as fun living here with downpours, soggy clothes, mosquitos, and floods. But come late November, the weather turns to sunshine and I probably won’t see a drop of rain until May. From February to May it’s the hottest time of the year in SE Asia, and each day literally feels 1C (sorry, I’m back on metric) hotter than the last. Through March and April it’s hotter than Hades and I’ll be dreaming of rain and the comfort of a cool summer/fall in the states!
Asia is frigging fascinating with its blend of unique religions, cultures and histories, packed with 70% of the world’s population within a 1,000-mile radius. Southeast Asia is also extremely safe compared to living in Central America, has great food, friendly people, never-ending places to visit, second-to-none natural beauty...and it’s cheap!
I’ve lived in Vietnam for a short spell and Cambodia the lion’s share of the last three years, which I really loved. But still, it’s not easy living there, and the culture is SO different that not a minute goes by that you don’t feel like a stranger in a strange land. I also visited the Philippines every year for a month or two, and finally decided to make this country my home base – and could afford the higher cost of living. What’s so different about the Philippines?
First the bad news: it’s pretty expensive compared to living in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – hotels and food are double the cost, I’d say. Speaking of food, it’s terrible. I know I’ll offend some of my Filipino friends, but everything here is deep-fried, greasy and rich, and fast food, pork and rice seem to be the main staples. There is some great seafood and fruit when you get to certain beach areas, but it’s literally hard to find fresh vegetables on a daily basis. The cities can also be super grimy and dirty and you really need to know where you’re going, and travel is never easy.
The good news: The Philippines is insanely cool and I think really one of the most unique places on earth. The country consists of more than 7,500 islands, only about half of which are inhabited. The white sand beaches, sand bars, emerald lagoons, rolling hills, Spanish ruins, waterfalls, volcanic peaks and coral reefs you can visit are seemingly endless. In fact, Conde Naste Traveler just named the Philippine’s islands of Boracay and Palawan as the #1 and #3 best in the whole world!
But just when I think I’m getting to know the Philippines, it surprises me, a country of intrigue, mystery and surrealism, both geographically and culturally.
In past years, I tried my level best to living right on the beach here in SE Asia. While that works out great for some, there’s a profound lack of consistent Wi-Fi on the smaller islands, remote areas and beaches. That turns my usually 50-hour workweek into a sweaty, frustrating 70-hour affair as I run around looking for a place with a good signal. So this year, I decided to make the city of Cebu in the Philippines my home base, instead.
Cebu is the country’s second largest city (NO WAY I was going to live in big, dirty and insanely-congested Manila) and sits in the central Visayan region. It’s still a city but three clicks more mellow than Manila. But Cebu City also sits on the island of Cebu, with plenty of amazing beaches, waterfalls, and other attractions a 2-3 hour bus ride away.
Cebu also has an international airport, so I can easily bounce out on long weekend trips to other islands and those aforementioned amazing beaches, some of which are only a comical 35-minute flight away! Oh, and I can get good Wi-Fi in Cebu, as well as all the modern amenities before taking frequent adventures around the country.
Upon landing in Cebu, I booked a nice hotel for a few days and started my apartment search. It’s a whole lot harder to get reliable and accurate information about areas of the city, neighborhoods, and apartment complexes here. For instance, one area in Cebu – Mactan Island was described to me as having perfect white sand beaches or being really dirty with water you wouldn’t even want to swim in, depending on whom I asked. But with the help of some Internet research, scouting some neighborhoods, and a lot of great feedback from helpful locals, I narrowed it down to IT Park.
It’s a really cool community consisting of only nine square blocks walled off from the surrounding streets. IT Park is foremost a business park, with 99% of the people here working in the big international call centers around me. Since most of them accommodate calls from the U.S., they operate 24-hours a day, so the streets here are far more busy at 3 AM when people are taking their “lunch breaks” than during the middle of the day.
IT Park is also remarkably safe and clean. It has an energized, bustling, super-miniature New York City feel, and it couldn’t be more convenient for me to live and work in. So chances are if you’re calling a customer service number from the states and you get a Filipino on the other end of the line, you’re calling my neighborhood.
I looked at several other apartment complexes and condos here, but they were either too stuffy, too overpriced, or too big and impersonal. But finally, the Premier Residences was recommended to me, and I knew instantly I’d take it.
In densely packed Philippines cities, space is at a premium, so for one person, my 28-square meter studio is considered luxurious. It’s a modern spot with a nice kitchen and bathroom, small living area, fold-down murphy bed to save space, and a simple desk right by the floor-to-ceiling windows that cover one wall, giving me a great vantage point of the busy street below. The apartment also has a nice infinity pool on the 11th floor roof deck with great views.
Like most apartments in foreign countries, it came furnished, and I signed a six-month lease. I even signed up for cable TV and Internet service, but I’m still waiting impatiently for them to come do the install. How much does all of this cost? $400 a month, which means my total budget is around $1,500 a month, or $2-$3K a month if I want to splurge and travel a lot.
So with all of that, there’s only one more question I may have missed:
Why travel and live abroad?
Why the hell not? Haven’t you been paying attention?
Thanks for reading this WHY edition, and hit me up if you have any questions about living or traveling abroad, and come visit me anytime!