Live the dream
After a long house hunt across the south-west region of France, we finally took possession of our dream house – and our dream life in France.
We’ve already had quite a bit of interest from families inspired by our experience and wanting to do the same. With our help, you can live your dream too.
If you are looking to buy your own pied-à-terre, we may be able to recommend real estate agents to assist you.
In the meantime, here are a few simple tips to help you make your trip a reality, based on our experience.
Decide to do it
This may seem a silly statement, but commitment is difficult. Most people (us included) miss the opportunity because they think they have to wait for the perfect moment. There is no perfect moment. The key was that we realised we could do it and we were determined to make it happen. Once we made that commitment it was amazing how everything fell into place.
Make the investment
Being able to afford it, is a common sticking point, for obvious reasons. It’s a lot of money, whatever way you look at it. In our case we decided the benefits outweighed the costs, so we were determined to do it whatever the short-term cost. In practical terms we put it on the mortgage. This meant we thought about it as a long-term investment – much like buying a house.
Free up the time
Finding the time for an extended break can be difficult, particularly when you are working. Make plans in plenty of time. In our case we had statutory parental leave entitlements, but would have been prepared to take unpaid leave in addition to annual leave. This took time to plan.
Book flights early
Book your flights and insurance early. Now it’s real! If you are organised, the cost of flights doesn’t have to be huge. We decided to go a year in advance and were therefore able to snap up pre-early bird fares as soon as they were released, saving us several thousand dollars as a family.
This is easier said than done. We started by agreeing a region of preference. We then narrowed our criteria for village of choice. We spread maps of the region across the floor, marking up all the towns of a certain size, then researched our long list online through maps, tourism and council websites, gradually refining our search.
Find a house
House hunting takes a surprising amount of time to complete, but it’s a lot of fun. Once we had a shortlist of two or three towns, we started searching for potential accommodation, pacing ourselves to avoid real estate burnout. Monthly deals for longer term rentals, especially off-peak, are generally much better than advertised rates. Be prepared to compromise on your criteria at this point.
Look at the schools
Finding a school that you are happy with is easier said than done. Most schools don’t have their own websites, making it very hard to get a good feel for the place. Ask your prospective landlords and their tenants for their experience. Consider making contact with the school ahead of time.
Consider transport links
Explore public transport options when deciding where you want to base yourself. If you’re in a bigger city you may be able to do without a car, renting for occasional side trips. For long periods of time in smaller places though, a lease car option can be practical and cost effective.
Learn the language
It pays to put in some time before you go, up-skilling yourself and the children in French. Self-learning through internet courses and podcasts, is generally free and easy to follow on the way to and from work. Alliance Francaise classes are a great investment and the extra tuition pays off when the children arrive in the classroom. Make the most of any French language films you can find: Etre et Avoir is a delightful documentary about a small French village school useful for an introduction to the class environment, but also to the language and teaching style.
Let your house
We were delighted to find a French family to mind our house for almost the exact period we were away. This was practical for us – not only did we have security for the house, and some rental income to help finance the trip, but we also had someone to mind our cat, saving us on cattery fees.
Once you’re there, the trick is to make this seem more than just a long holiday. Get involved in the community as much as possible, and seek out absolutely every opportunity to speak French. Being involved with the school is a great start, then seek out groups to join, where you will meet others and have an excuse to talk.
Pack your bags
If you’ve got this far, most of the hard work is done. It remains to complete all those last jobs around the house, and pack your bags. These days we travel with as little as we can possibly get away with. I aim for no more than two suitcases and a piece of hand luggage each. A good trick is to develop a general packing list for each member of the family that can be used and re-used, and adapted as needed.