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Moving From Manila To La Union Was The Best Decision I Made For Myself

I took the biggest leap and it paid off—I *love* the probinsya life.
moved from manila to la union
PHOTO: (LEFT TO RIGHT) COURTESY OF DYAN ZARZUELA
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I dreamed of living by the sea one day, but I always thought it would be the far, faaar future. Little did I know that "one day" would be one year after the pandemic started. 

I lived in Manila all 32 years of my life and I never thought I'd pack up and leave at this age. I loved the chaotic energy of the city, I was exhausted but proud to be making it on my own, and most of my family and friends were there. 

Then 2020 happened

When the pandemic changed everything, I had a choice to stay in Manila or start fresh in La Union. It was my happy place and I dreamed of retiring there, but maybe I didn't have to wait that long. I made spreadsheets and pros and cons lists, which all boiled down to two things: cost of living and quality of life. 

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As a magazine editor-turned-freelancer, I could super relate to what Jane said during her freelancing days on The Bold Type: "I've never worked harder in my life and I feel like I'm barely getting by." It was a struggle, but it was fulfilling to be my own boss and fun to work on different projects—until I lost *all* my clients a few days into the lockdown.

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On top of that, I lived alone and renewed my lease right before the lockdown. I could pay the penalty (yikes) and move back with my family, but it wasn't logistically possible. Anyway, I thought it would just be two weeks or a month at most (WELP). 

So it was a *huge* relief when I eventually landed a long-term project that paid regularly. The pace was fast and I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. At the same time, the isolation was getting to me. I felt the loneliness and emptiness closing in. But I had my health, job, and many privileges, and there were way worse problems in the world, so I just buried myself in work. 

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If the pandemic ended tomorrow, would I want to go back to my old life? Did I really like the hustle or was I just used to it? How could I work to live and not live to work? Was it time to move out of Manila?

Months into the pandemic 

By the end of the year, there was still no end in sight. It was the holidays and I had some space to think. What would happen if I suddenly lost this project too? If the pandemic ended tomorrow, would I want to go back to my old life? Did I really like the hustle or was I just used to it? How could I work to live and not live to work? Was it time to move out of Manila?

At the start of 2020, my boyfriend, a chef, moved to La Union to explore a new career in baking. Long before we met, we each had a soft spot for the surf town and toyed with the idea of moving someday. The plan was for me to visit him every month or so until we figured things out. 

Looking back, I think I always knew in my gut that moving was the right call—I just needed my overthinking brain to catch up. Once I made the decision, it felt like everything aligned. Logistical problems would pop up, but solutions wouldn’t be far behind, from the most unlikely helping hands. 

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Living in La Union

Now that I've been living in Elyu for four months, I'm certain that it's the right place, right time for me. My life is so different now and every day I discover something new. Here are just some of the major changes to my day-to-day: 

  • From condo living to the beach and bukid life. We lucked out and found a newly built apartment in the middle of rice fields, just two minutes away from the highway and the beach. As I type this on our little balcony, I can see the fields and trees still a little wet from last night's downpour. I can smell the fresh air and our neighbors cooking tocino. I can hear the roosters and goats, and our neighbors' dog barking at the delivery guy. It's bursting with life, so different from my old place with its gray walls and high-rise views of steel and concrete. 

    Moving to La Union: bukid life
    The bukid life COURTESY OF DYAN ZARZUELA
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    When the weather's nice, I walk or take a trike to my favorite beachfront cafe in the afternoon. Things are relatively more controlled here, so I only need to wear a face mask in the neighborhood. (Face shields are required for busier areas like malls and public markets.) I order coffee and sit on the mat closest to the shore. When it gets cooler, I take a walk on the beach and find a spot to watch the sunset. I haven't been able to surf because of health issues (nothing major, just my 30s, lol). I'm taking my time till my body is ready, knowing that the beach will always be right here. 
    Moving to La Union: beach spot
    My favorite spot in the cafe COURTESY OF DYAN ZARZUELA
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  • From living in a tiny unit to a two-floor apartment. After I moved out of my family's home, I lived in studio or one-bedroom units, small spaces for a smol person. In Elyu, I could afford to think bigger. A balcony, a utility area, and outdoor space—this was our wish list that would've cost an arm and a leg in Manila. In Elyu, we found a two-bedroom apartment that ticked all the boxes for a fraction of my previous rent. We even have our own garage and a communal garden. 

    It's such a luxury to have so much s p a c e. I never had outdoor space to hang clothes to dry, not even in my family's home, so having the utility area is such a novelty. Labada done and sundried in one afternoon? Still not over it.

    All that space also means having much more to clean. There's always something to do and we split the chores. That's something I'm still getting used to: having someone to help get things done. It feels really, really nice. 
  • From living alone to living with my boyfriend. Having lived independently for seven years, I wondered how I would adjust. We knew each other's quirks and house rules, but living together was a whole nother level.

    One thing I noticed is that we have different ways of being neat. I would make as little of a mess as possible, so I would need to clean less. He wouldn't think much of eating crackers on the bed, for example, because he's used to changing the sheets more often. (I didn't have a washing machine in Manila and it's expensive to get sheets washed, ok!) We don't argue often, but when we do, it's usually about chores—super exciting stuff. I'm used to calling the shots, but it's eye-opening to see things from his POV and come to a compromise. Eating crackers on the bed is now allowed (lol), but very carefully, with a bowl to catch crumbs. 
  • From cooking for one to cooking for two. Dating a chef is fun and all—until it's my turn to cook. I knew my way around the kitchen, but I wanted to up my game. It was even more challenging when he had to go on a low-salt diet for a while. But being in that unfamiliar territory together helped ease the pressure, and I now accept that there will always be hits and misses. P.S. We've been slowly reintroducing salt back into our food and wow, chips have never tasted better. 
    Moving to La Union: cooking together
    Our homemade anniversary lunch COURTESY OF DYAN ZARZUELA
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  • From buying pricey produce to having an abundance. I'm still blown away by how much fresher and cheaper produce is here (unless the typhoon season drives up prices). His coworkers also sell extras from their own gardens. One time, they sold us native corn for four pesos each—and threw in an extra piece. We can also get produce *for free* from our communal garden, where our landlord planted eggplant, banana, malunggay, and more.
    Moving to La Union: more produce
    Palengke haul! COURTESY OF DYAN ZARZUELA
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  • From burnout to a more balanced life. Along with my move, I decided to not renew my work contract and to take some time off. I'm painfully aware that it's a privilege to be able to give up a stable job. It wasn't so long ago that I was having panic attacks when I lost all my clients, so I wanted to make sure it was doable. After crunching the numbers, I found that I could take a break for a good chunk of time because of the lower cost of living in Elyu. It was a relief as my body was screaming for a breather, to recover from years of burnout and to process 2020. 

    It's been two months and it's so refreshing to just be. I've been rethinking habits and systems and letting go of what doesn't work. I've been a lot more active—cleaning, working out, and not being chained to my desk 12 to 14 hours a day. I miss my friends and family, but I actually have more time to talk to them now. 
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I'm just making the most of the moment, knowing that I'm capable of coping and adapting when the time comes.

I have no idea what's next, only that I'll need multiple streams of income to make freelancing more sustainable. I've been exploring curiosities and skill sets, which might come in handy later—or not. They could remain hobbies to do outside work and that would be perfectly fine. 

The famous Elyu sunset
The famous Elyu sunset COURTESY OF DYAN ZARZUELA
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I'd love to stay in Elyu for as long as possible, but 2020 is proof that things can drastically change in an instant. So I'm just making the most of the moment, knowing that I'm capable of coping and adapting when the time comes.

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Cosmopolitan Philippines is now on Quento! Click here to download the app and enjoy more articles and videos from Cosmo and your favorite websites!