Ever thought about what would be your perfect lifestyle? I certainly have. In fact it started in my late teens when I wanted a summer job abroad. One of my high school friend’s worked a summer season in Switzerland and that seemed the ultimate dream to me. So I found a summer job in Zurich and returned for five summers while I studied in The Netherlands.
Working in Zurich created a hunger in me for exotic and foreign. Switzerland seemed to have better summer weather, the scenery was more appealing and it was foreign. A long story short, I had planted the seeds that caused me to change my lifestyle several times.
What is my perfect lifestyle
Without realising it before, I discovered that nature was important to me and so were sunny days. Growing up in The Netherlands, grey skies, drizzle and wind is part of life. I was no fan.
Jumping ahead several decades, I have moved abroad a handful of times. I have lived in Switzerland, UK, Australia and had some shorter stints in Greece and Norway. Nowadays I live in southwest France. The reasons for moving vary but work, opportunity, relationship and lifestyle choice have been some of them.
I grew up in the Netherlands and went for summer jobs to Switzerland. I joined a man in London and with him I created a new life in Australia. 25 years later we moved to France for lifestyle purposes. And believe me, I don’t think we are not done yet!
I feel we are still on the search for the perfect lifestyle – one that would suit us. I say ‘us’ as not everyone will have the same idea about ‘perfect’. Admittedly we are still searching but are finding more answers with every adventure we have.
Some of our recent adventures have been housesits in different countries. We have added working online, managing a holiday rental and a guardian role for a large French property . While doing such things we discovered what we like and don’t like. Above all we learned new things about ourselves.
We love France and have been here since 2017. Being Dutch, I can live in France while my British husband qualifies for residency because of being married to me. Understandably Brexit caused a little stir for the Brits that live abroad in Europe.
Although we love France we are still looking at other options. Unfortunately, if we stay in France we cannot receive a retirement pension from Australia. Yet, we can if we move to Spain or Portugal. For some reason France and Australia have decided to cut strings when it comes to pensions.
There are a few disgruntled Aussies in France who may not have been aware of that. We knew but as it was so many years ahead we still bought a house in France and settled there. After living here for 5 years we realised that the sun is not always shining in this part of France. The winters can be quite nasty and do really not differ that much from those in Northern Europe.
Climate change seems to be for real. Many places in the South of Spain have become unbearable during the summer months. Even in France where we are, the temperatures rise to high thirties for days on end.
What we have discovered….
While doing housesits and jobs in different locations we slowly find what our perfect lifestyle should and should not have. We have discovered the aspects that are important to us. Consequently we are now researching locations in Spain and Portugal on increasingly more factors. Examples are weather, unpleasant winds, sun aspects, proximity to medical services, public transport, work and costs.
There is obviously no perfect fit for everyone and people differ in needs, likes and dislikes. However after seeing ourselves and others make mistakes, we learned a few lessons. So start with considering the following.
Let’s have a look at role reversal. As some of you may know, we have made a recent move to the countryside. To be precise we have taken on the role of caretakers for an estate near the Pyrenees. It came our way and it shows how life can take an unexpected and sudden turn.
We usually do a few housesits throughout the year and 2021 was no different. In June we got a request to replace a caretaker’s couple so they could visit their family in the UK. The house was for sale and during that fortnight there was a house viewing. We helped to make it look presentable and met the couple that ended up buying the house.
To make a long story short, they asked us to become the new caretakers after they became the new owners. We accepted and hence the lifestyle changes since early December.
You can read about our recent lifestyle change here
The impact of our role reversal
The biggest change would be for my husband as he really was the one taking on the job. I have a job of over 30 hours per week and was not on the lookout for additional hours. I am aware I may have to chip in during the weekends especially when there are holiday guests. The house is already booked out during July and August. Considering it is not a cheap rental, we can expect demanding customers.
Our daily routine is as follows. We get up and I go to the ‘home office’. My husband puts on his work gear and ventures outside to tackle the property’s maintenance chores. The remarkable thing currently is the role reversal in this new life. I have not worked in an office ever in my life and all my jobs were hands on and quite physical. My husband on the other hand is an office man and never was that keen on manual labour.
The way it used to be
I was the one who took on landscaping, gardening, painting to name a few. Although I have always said NO to lawn mowing. Funnily now, we do what the other usually did and we seem to have taken to it without much effort. I must admit that although I do like my job, I find the ‘office hours’ element a bit of a struggle.
At the moment I am happy to do it, but I knew that I had to say NO to full time. In fact, I managed to negotiate a four-day gig, from Monday to Thursday. As a result I have been working like this since August 2021.
The role reversal has made me think about the things we like to do ‘innately’. I am sure that my calling was hands-on, active, outside and lots of people contact. My husband would be more of an office man happily sitting behind a computer and do his thing.
I have trying to install this sense of ‘doing what you are naturally good at and feel happy doing’ in my kids. Only time will tell if they manage to achieve this.
Writer David Chapman on how to improve your thinking:
“Learn from fields very different from your own. They each have ways of thinking that can be useful at surprising times. Just learning to think like an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a philosopher will beneficially stretch your mind.”
After our recent change from small town to country side, I am taking assessment of the different lifestyles I have been able to explore. To be honest I was not aware that I experienced such a wonderful variety. I have lived in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere, surrounded by mountains and near the beach. Climates vary from subtropical to moderate and I experienced below sea level and living at a height of 1000 meters. I know about car free mountain villages and life in big cities.
By having all these experiences I have learned what I like and don’t like. I have found out what I appreciate and don’t want to do without. Some of these discoveries have surprised me.
The lead up
As a teenager I had this feeling that I did not want to stay in The Netherlands. If you would ask me ‘why’, I could not tell you. There was this longing for adventure, the unknown and the unpredictable that appealed to me. I found it hard to commit to anything in Holland whether it was a boyfriend or a job. And looking back I never did commit.
Apart from teenage jobs to earn some pocket money, my first jobs were abroad. In fact they were in Switzerland and I ended up working 6 summers in Zürich. After graduating and facing a recession in the Netherlands, I returned to Switzerland for longer term jobs. I stayed long enough to qualify for a residence permit.
In Switzerland I learned that I love mountains and you may know that Holland is flat as a pancake. I also found out that nice long summers were within reach, something that Holland does not provide in abundance either. Swiss job pay well and I splashed out on some travel to the land down under. Australia taught me that I love nature, hot weather and empty spaces.
So I ended up living Down Under for 25 years. Unfortunately due to job locations not in the surroundings that I would have preferred. My husband had a city based career and as a result we lived in Sydney and in Brisbane. Nevertheless interesting and very different cities at the time.
Time for another change
After 25 years in Oz we decided to move to a small town in France. The location of the town was a practical choice as we wanted a house that had good potential to be a medium term holiday rental. It was a good choice and we also ended up living in it for a few years. Limoux is a vibrant little town with a fabulous square and a crazy carnival lasting from from January to March. At least that is how it was before Covid happened.
Living in the centre of a small French town reminded me that I love nature, hate noise and what I saw from our windows was roof tops and the opposite house of the neighbours. Despite being a small town, it was surprising how noisy it could be. Then the next change came our way. During the summer of 2021, we did a housesit on a big estate in the Ariège and ended up returning to become its caretakers.
And now, I am surrounded by nature with lots of birds, deer hopping by and even the treat of meeting wild boars. We have no neighbours, the nearest supermarket is a drive away but it seems I have everything I want.
The funny thing is that I did not know I would like to live like this. This recent change came our way totally unexpectedly and I seem to have taken to it like a fish to the water. So never say no before you try, seems to be the lesson.
Have you ever had that feeling of doubt creeping in when you are in the middle of preparing a change? This is how I felt when my husband asked me if I realised it was just going to be the two of us for a while.
To get you up to date, we are in the process of moving to a big estate to become the new caretakers of a property. It was sold earlier this year when we were there doing a house sit. The property we will call our new home is in the Ariège with only a few small villages close by and a few bigger towns approximately 30 km away.
3-5 years of settling in
My husband’s question made me think! I have always loved starting over again, meeting new people and exploring all the new things around me. From experience and I have a fair bit, I know that it takes me 3-5 years to feel settled somewhere. It takes that long to make friends and feel comfortable. One of the things that always strikes me most is to figure out where you can find random things like a needle, pins or nails.
This new destination in Daumazin, Ariège offers nature, gardens and plenty of land but going to a café for a quick drink will be a thing of the past. To be fair, we don’t even know if the few cafes that we found in surrounding villages will be open. French villages can be fairly sleepy during the winter months.
Naturally I am a very social person. I like to be in touch with people, meet and talk to people. Social media is from that perspective a god sent. My experience is that it has helped me to connect with many likeminded people all over the world.
Social Media helped me to reconnect with old childhood friends, even a teenage boy friend and I made many new virtual friends. With some I click so well that I am sure we would be friends in person.
Moments of doubt
I suppose it is fairly normal to have these moments of doubt when change comes closer. It may help to put things in perspective. My usual approach to change is to be openminded, have no expectations and walk into it with energy and guts.
I can remember that this is how I started a new life in Sydney in 1991 and it paid off. I found a job within a week and made ‘friends’ there quite fast. Australians are in general easy going welcoming people and embrace strangers without hesitation. Many of them were once in the same situation after all – being a land of immigrants.
The biggest thrill for me will be the outdoors. Stepping outside and being surrounded by nature is like a medicine for me. To put it in perspective – where I used to live the only thing I see is the house in opposite and the street is not much more than a car width.
There will be opportunities to garden, possibly start a vegetable pad. I like to eat organic and make foods such as pestos, chutneys and jams. How wonderful would it be to go shopping in your own garden?
So, after this little ‘awareness’ moment and writing it down is as always helpful, I put on my gutsy hat and steam forward to this new life with energy and zest!
When doubt creeps in!
If you are going through a change and see these moments of doubt creeping in. If you feel you need a little retune, why not reach out, tap into my experience and let’s evaluate it together.
A ‘new adventure looming’ was my caption today on an Instagram post. Since we have moved to Europe, we have welcomed many new adventures that crossed our path. Sometimes it can lead to a surprisingly different lifestyle as it has done for us now.
If you would have told me a year ago that we would be in this position, I would have never believed it. It has never crossed my mind we would commit to something like this.
How a housesit became a new adventure
We love doing the odd house sit, probably 2-3 per year. It is a lifestyle we can embrace because I work online and only need a stable internet. My virtual job has allowed me to work in 5 countries so far. To clarify, my job is based in the UK but I live in France.
During 2021 we have done three house sits – one in Spain and two in France. The housesit in Denia, Spain turned out to be much longer than we anticipated. The reason was that the homeowners could not return from the UK due to covid restrictions. In fact, they needed to find replacement sitters to let us go. It ended up being a 9-week house sit instead of 5 weeks.
After returning we decided we should concentrate on France as it would be more accessible as we live in France. The Spanish housesit cost us close to 600 euro due to covid tests for us and our daughter who came to visit for Christmas.
During the summer of 2021 we did two house sits and both were in a different part of France. New territory for us and it gave us the opportunity to explore new areas. On the first house sit we replaced the couple that worked as caretakers of a rather big estate. The house was for sale and the people who came to view it bought it.
From house sitters to becoming caretakers
To cut the chase, they asked us if we would like to become the new caretakers of this estate. After a weekend debating with the help of visiting friends, we decided to prepare a proposal. We based the proposal on what we reckoned it would take to maintain this 16 HA property.
We proposed what we thought was fair but if it did not happen, it would be fine. Guess what, the new owners approved the proposal without a single objection. In fact, they even congratulated my husband on the quality of his proposal. I suppose as a seasoned IT project manager, writing big budget proposals is not new to him.
So, to finalise the story, the house will exchange in the beginning of December. We are moving there the same day to become officially the caretakers of this gorgeous property La Bourdette. I will keep my current job and assist in the gardening while my husband will be riding a tractor lawn mower, maintain a huge pool and tackle what else comes his way.
We will be living in an annexe of the main house and have our own outdoor area and views. I can potter in the gardens, grow vegetables and have an outdoor area – an exciting prospect to say the least.
My interest in moving abroad may have been part of my genes. After all what other child would decide to learn German with eight years of age??
I grew up in the Netherlands with more German tv stations than Dutch. Germany synchronises all content on tv and this means that you get to see everything in German. To give you an idea, I grew up thinking John Wayne was a native German speaker as I always saw him speaking German.
In The Netherlands on the other hand, we had subtitles and everything we see on TV is in the original language. As a result many Dutch people pick up some English. Some generations learned to speak English purely because of the subtitles. Often, they have an American accent as we had more programs from the USA.
So as a result of hearing a lot of German on tv and living only 20 km from the German border I developed this interest in learning German when I was eight. On top of that my father took me on shopping trips to Germany to stock up on photography supplies. They were substantially cheaper in Germany.
My father was a keen amateur photographer and he had a dark room in our attic. He taught me to print my own black and white pictures so I could create little albums. How nice would it be to still have these albums!
An early interest in anything abroad
To sum it up, I learned to speak German as a kid and I had summer jobs in Switzerland for 5 years while I was studying. One of my best friends lived in Milan so guess where I hang out regularly? My first real job after graduation was for an American company in Switzerland.
It seems that from a young age I was standing with one foot abroad. So, it is not surprising to see that I ended up living in five different countries.
Another interesting thing is that I never showed much interest in Dutch boyfriends. I had a teenage fling for about 3 years but after that I tended to have boy friends abroad. The result was that I never really had ‘real’ relationships as I hardly ever saw these guys. But it stopped me creating any ties to the Netherlands.
My sister once said to me that I seemed only interested in finding a reason for going abroad. Looking back at my life, I realise she had a point. When I met my future husband in Australia, I certainly did not hold back then. In fact I thought he was an Australian, and secretly I hoped for an easy entry in the land down under.
Moving abroad multiple times
Since my twenties I have lived in Switzerland, UK, Australia, and France with short stints in Greece and Norway.
My first move was when I was single and the second and third while I was in a relationship. I moved with a four-year-old child, then with a seven-year-old plus a baby and in 2017 as an empty nester. I have experienced moving within the whole range of age categories and have surely accrued some wisdom over the decades
My last move abroad was after the kids left home and this move was my favourite. It was purely a lifestyle choice, and it feels like I am now perfecting the circumstances of the last chapter of my life.
Let me ask you something!
If a move abroad or relocation has been on your mind, but you think it is only a silly dream. Or if you reckon you would love to have such an adventure but you have no idea where to start…….
In that case, I like to invite you to tap in to my experience. I would love to help you unlock your dream and explore if a move abroad could be within your reach.