There are only two bloggers in this world whose post I’d certainly read regardless of the topic. One of them is Arni Nauleau of Travel Gourmande. I started reading her 2 years ago (if I remember it right) and have remained her fan ever since. She writes simply but with passion and her stories are quite engaging I wished many times that I was in her shoes. She traveled in destinations I could only dream of and had a job I would have wanted to do if only I were good in math and drawing. You can say that she is one of my role models and I am hoping that someday I’d get to meet her in person. Now Arni is living a simple, but exciting life on an island with her family. Get to know her and her nomadic lifestyle in this Travel Bug Series feature.
Please tell us some things about you. Who are you and what do you do?
Today, I am a full time-mom, wife to a French man, and a nomad.
Flashback to several years ago, I was a passionate career-oriented workaholic. I couldn’t finish a movie at the cinema because my mobile rang every 5 minutes. I continuously worked even on weekends. There was a time I didn’t see my husband for 2 weeks even if we lived in the same apartment because I was working in the office during the day and was at the site from midnight till sunrise. That, or I was away on business trips.
My obsession with work was driven by my desire to be able to help my family in the Philippines. Oh, and who am I kidding, work also used to define who I was.
I am the eldest of 5 children and I grew up in Manila. When I lost my Dad to cancer, it went downhill after that. We faced a big financial blow. My uncle helped me graduate until I became a licensed architect. I thank God for blessing me with the opportunity to pay his kindness forward.
In an unexpected twist of fate, I left the country when I was 24 to work in Dubai so that I could send my brother and sisters to finish school.
I lived in Dubai as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) for 12 years and worked as an Interior Designer and Project Manager.
Fast forward, it warms my heart to see all of my siblings happy and fulfilled in their own professions today. Here I am with my nomadic family living with a suitcase each, setting up a nest and business in a small community in the Philippines.
How did your passion for traveling start?
As an unhappy child of a broken home, I remember looking out of the window every night promising myself that I will leave my country as soon as I am able and never return. I think that’s how it started. At a tender age of 4, I just wanted to escape and be far far away.
The Childcraft book called Places to Know was my refuge. I marked all of the pages of places I dreamed of visiting and whenever I felt sad, I consoled myself by imagining and playing make-believe that I was in whatever place I fancied.
How do you compare traveling in first-world countries with third-world countries like the Philippines?
Traveling in the U.S. or in any European country can be more expensive. For an Asian like me, discovering the art, history, culture, architecture and the landscape the west offers is fascinating and truly worth experiencing despite spending a bit more. The environment is more organized, comfortable and clean.
Cross country driving in Europe or in the U.S. for example, there are rest stops with clean toilets and landscaped picnic grounds at every point. In France, you can spot an old chateau almost anywhere. I enjoy rest stops in castle grounds where I can dreamily eat my sandwich.
Moving around in a third world country remote areas, it would be the contrary. I am lucky if I do find a stinky toilet. Otherwise, I will find relief in the bushes. And while I do my business in nature, often, I’d find a scenic view.
Traveling in third world countries is cheaper which would allow a backpacker to engage in longer travel. The colorful culture, sensory delights and warmth are inspiring. The generosity of a local offering something to a stranger without expecting anything in return, or even a simple invite to join them for a meal are experiences I will never ever find in a first world country.
You have a blog called, Travel Gourmande, can you tell us more about it?
The french term Gourmande (feminine) was a nickname my in-laws gave me. Someone who eats for the pleasure of eating. In short, “matakaw” :). Travel Gourmande is a name I made up of someone greedy with traveling and food.
The blog is about our repatriation adventures as a nomadic family. It illustrates our silly adjustments living on an island and our visits to different places. We constantly moved around looking for a home, our future home.
Stories are told in the eyes of someone who once ran away and is now getting to know how beautiful her home country is.
The blog also shares the perks and challenges of re-integrating ourselves, overcoming repatriation depression, embracing the rural life and how my baby daughter fits into the equation.
What are your must-haves when traveling?
Back in the day, we always had a Lonely Planet guide because we often traveled without internet and relied on real maps instead of GPS.
Phone + Charger, International Adapter, Comfy Clothes and Footwear.
Lately because of my kid, I always have a First Aid Kit and Baby stuff.
How do you deal with the challenges of traveling with a child?
My husband and I work as a team. We share baby duties from bathing, diaper changing to feeding. We’re both completely hands on.
We always need to plan ahead with the logistics so that our trip ends up being economical and toddler-friendly.
We recently climbed Aguinid Falls together, but there are times we have to skip adventurous activities that would be unsafe for a child. We take turns looking after her so that we can enjoy some me-time.
She’s in her terrible twos now. Imagine a screaming moody child at the back seat during a 3 hour road trip or tantrums thrown when she doesn’t want to get out of the water.
Yet, I’m fascinated watching her grow daily, wonderfully thriving in different settings.
You have been to many beautiful places like Europe and now you are living on an island, it’s such a big leap from your old life, how did you make such a life-changing decision?
We contemplated going back to the Philippines for good while we were still working in Dubai. I struggled with this idea in the beginning, but we knew we couldn’t stay there forever, because one’s residence visa has an expiration date. We will never become citizens there.
Our original target year of moving out was supposedly this year but a dark life-changing experience made our move a lot sooner.
“Why live in the Philippines?”
We stayed in the French countryside for 4 months last year for a long vacation to be with family. I loved it, of course, but it was also then that I realized that starting over in the west meant we would be stuck in a job we hate. That is, if we’re lucky enough to find a good job after a career hiatus.
We have to start from the bottom and climb our way up again. The living expenses are so high that we’d live such a stressful life ensuring we keep our jobs or we freeze in the cold during winter.
I swear, I never thought watching the weather news twice everyday and having a thermometer is soooo important! It eventually became annoying to live in a place where our activities are dictated by the temperature outside.
We met people though, who managed to live part-time in Europe during the beautiful spring and summer months and part-time in the Philippines during the rest of the year. They sublet their home and/or properties abroad and they comfortably live in the Philippines with the rental money. Others have freelance jobs that allow them to move anywhere in the world. I think they’re pretty smart doing these.
In the Philippines, we have more chances to live a simple yet comfortable lifestyle doing what we love, rain or shine.
How did you come to pick Cebu?
Serendipity, I guess. We were so set on Palawan. We planned everything around it. Things eventually didn’t work out in our favor. It just wasn’t meant to be.
Then out of the blue, we received an invite to attend an event in Cebu. I felt a certain connection to the place, even though it was my first time to visit.
One thing then led to another.
What are the challenges and the best things of living in the province?
The pros outweigh the cons.
Cons and challenges:
- Lowering our expectations – My husband and I tend to be perfectionists when it comes to order and cleanliness. This gets us into trouble because it’s a bit rough out there. There’s no way we can get the comforts we were used to when we’re moving around. Unless, the day comes when we start building our own home.
- Language – I don’t speak Visayan or Bisaya. I really really wish I am fluent.
- Limited amenities, lack of resources and necessities that are unavailable. Missing things and places we were used to, like a supermarket with air-con, unavailable food ingredients or spices, fast food etc.
- Electricity is more expensive. (Solution: Solar Panels, candle light dinner, using alternative non-electric home appliances like those old fashion charcoal flat iron.)
- The neighbors’ loud karaoke during ungodly hours, several nights in a row. Can’t wait for the barangay circular to reach there banning karaoke after 12 midnight.
- Emergency medical treatment and specialists are difficult to find in remote rural areas.
- Island fever, a psychological illness of feeling claustrophobic for being surrounded by open water. It is also a feeling of being isolated and disconnected from the outside world. No worries, it can be cured by occasional trips to the city for a dose of urban therapy.
- Saying no to a fresh cold beer, which would lead to a growing beer belly if we give in. It’s just so tempting to drink a cold bottle during a hot sweaty afternoon or drinking during rainy nights at the pub chatting with fellow islanders.
Pros and perks:
- The simplicity of it all. It is humbling, it keeps us grounded.
- No traffic. The cause of traffic are either, askals (stray dogs), goats, or cows, chickens, crossing the road. Sometimes, sudden road works that pop just before election.
- It’s also very easy to navigate our way in town and get to destinations by learning to ride a motorbike, or riding a bicycle, pedicab or tricycle. Most of the time we end up walking.
- Nature is our neighbor. The scenic views in our vacations become a big part of our daily reality.
- Lower rents. In a rural non-touristic province, a 2-bedroom apartment is worth PHP 5,000 to 6,000 (USD 107.43 to 128.91) a month. In touristic areas, a 1-bedroom unit in town or 2-bedroom house several barangays away ends up PHP 10,000 to 12,000 (USD 214.85 to 257.82) a month.
- The beautiful open beach is just a few blocks away.
- The sense of community. The warmth of islanders. Neighbours look after each other.
- Living a healthy lifestyle and losing weight are effortless.
- There are lots of entertainment where you don’t need to spend money. Like crashing a fiesta or a neighbors’ party and singing karaoke. lol
- Shopping means ukay-ukay. It is refreshing to strut around without anyone second guessing the attached designer label. Numerous times I had to cut the sewn brand tags because they were causing discomfort.
- We learn to be flexible and resilient. Complaints become obsolete. We learn to accept that it’s our responsibility to accept the situation and adapt.
- All natural. No make-up. They will just melt under tropical heat. I survived without perfume for months smelling of DEET and mosquito repellent and when I ran out of deodorant, no one noticed and cared that I used my husband’s body spray.
- Possibilities of growing our own food.
- Time is much slower.
- Food is generally more affordable. Locally grown produce is more cost-effective vs. buying items imported from the city. The vegetables and fruits are often export quality.
Fresh seafood delivered daily by the fishermen. Crabs at PHP 60-100 (USD 1.29-2.15) per kilo. Scallops at PHP 30-40 (USD 0.64-0.86) per kilo.
Some provinces do respect provincial rates for grocery items. However, I found an exception, a small grocery selling a can of white beans 5 times the price of what it’s actually worth. The perfect solution is hoarding. Travel to the city every three months to shop and stock up.
For PHP 50-95 (USD 1.07-2.04)you can enjoy a complete meal of 2 main dishes with rice + dessert and drinks.
Oh I could go on and on..
How is your regular day like?
On the island, the sun is up early and the time is really slow.
6:30 am I’ll be up preparing breakfast. Once I am done, I enjoy the quiet time while my husband and daughter are still sleeping. I’ll boil water in a saucepan because we don’t own a kettle. I will sit outside and enjoy drinking my instant black coffee pretending it’s a brewed barako as I perspire profusely, boob sweat and all.
7 am Boiled plantains or saba for breakfast or yummy spanish bread worth PHP 5 (USD 0.11) each from the nearby bakery. I indulge in a second cup of coffee.
8 am My daughter starts playing outside with my husband looking after her, either by the beach or at the apartment’s yard, while I walk several blocks to the public market before the meat disappears by 9am.
10 am I’d start my chores. I’ll be sweating while cooking at the outdoor kitchen. Laundries are dropped off when needed for Php 50 a kilo. Tidy up and sweep every inch of the place because the smallest remnant of food will send an entire village of ants crawling over them when ignored.
12 noon We enjoy lunch together.
1 pm Finally, baby nap time! This is the time we read, blog, catch up on social media, or do business start-up correspondences.
3 pm When she wakes up, merienda time! We eat maruya or banana fritters that I prepared myself. If there is no saba, we eat Ampaw (rice crispies) or banana-cue (fried caramelized banana on stick) from the street vendor.
4 pm We go for a long afternoon walk together with our toddler in a stroller around town or to the beach. There are days we swim. Sometimes, we go for a motorbike ride habal-habal style, exploring other parts of the island before sunset. We visit Pinoy friends based on the island and enjoy a chit-chat.
5 pm The local bakery releases their hot freshly baked Spanish bread, choco bread or pan de coco. We buy some for breakfast the next day and share a piece while walking.
6:30 We’ll have dinner at a restaurant we frequently go to. There, we catch up with the expat community whose company we enjoy and socialise over a few drinks while looking after our active toddler.
8pm Then we walk home and prepare for bed at 8 pm.
9 pm If we’re not watching a movie on the laptop, we’re already in Morpheus’ arms.
Otherwise, when it’s raining at night, my husband and I hang out in a small bahay-kubo in the yard watching the rain and lightning over fresh cold beer dreaming of our future home while our baby is sleeping.
Do you still see yourself living somewhere else?
Yes. I am open to possibilities. My family shares the same vision of not being bound to one place. But for now, I feel, I have unfinished business in the Philippines.
If anyone asks you “where should I go?” Which place would you recommend and why?
This is tough to answer, there are so many places..
For a long stay vacation or if there is another country I would consider migrating to, that would be New Zealand. It is heaven on earth. You get the best of everything. The friendliest people in the planet with the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. It offers lots of adventurous activities with easy and organized mode of transport ideal for first time backpackers.
If you’re crazy about wine (haha, don’t worry I’m not an alcoholic), drive across France visiting vineyards. Take a wine tour in Napa Valley California. Fall in love with Tuscany for Chianti wine tasting and gulping home made limoncello.
If you want an idyllic paradise that will give you plenty of private romantic moments ooh la la in nature unlike any other I have been to, head off to Seychelles.
If you are a historical nut and are crazy about Games of Thrones, there is an awesome historical theme park in France called, “Puy du Fou.” It is located in Les Epesses, in the Vendée region, Western France, 4 hours by train from Paris. The park has no rides by the way.
There you get to watch live gladiators in a gigantic Colosseum, attend a wedding feast in a Renaissance castle, watch a live joust , listen to french country music in an 18th century village, sip coffee in a 1920s French bistro, Knights of the Round Table rise and appear from underwater and nocturnal shows with hundreds of dancers gliding on water.
Best travel advice:
“Less is more.”
Best life advice:
“Chill. Walang basagan ng trip.” To each his own. Life is special this way because we are all so different. Life is a collaboration not a competition.
“In every problem there is a solution. If there is no solution then it’s not a problem.”
“Follow your favor.” Sometimes life will pull the carpet under our feet and close all of its doors in a blink of an eye. No matter how impossible the situations may seem and how powerful the forces we’re up against., if we allow God to hold our hand and courageously walk with Him through the long dark tunnel with a faith-full heart, the odds are always in our favor.”
Follow Arni’s nomadic adventures on her blog, Travel Gourmande