Leaping from the London rat race to rural France
Becky, Tom and Hete currently live in the Dordogne, France. Their home is a stunning 16th century mill that needs renovation, plus they plan to adapt certain areas of the grounds for their new eco-friendly business.
You might be thinking that this is all very ‘Escape to the Chateau’ but their journey from London to France (via Spain) was extremely testing and pushed them to the limit. In her own words, Becky tells us about the process of making this huge life change. What’s the saying, no pain no gain - right?
Tell us about your UK life and what an average day was like for the both of you?
Tom was up at 6am and out by 6.30 as he had his own business in London refurbishing properties, and he normally wouldn't be back home till 8pm. Me, I was up at 6am getting our daughter, Hete, ready for nursery and a 7.30 drop off. I would then catch the train into London where I worked for 12 years at Channel 4.
Do you remember the moment when you both decided that something had to change?
We were at home exhausted, fed up of hardly seeing our daughter, money was tight and Tom was stressed out (to the brink of a breakdown) running his own company. We had watched something on TV about leaving everything behind and this got us thinking. That night we discussed where.
I wanted to go further afield to Canada, a little ambitious maybe. We both agreed on France and straight away looked at properties online. We very quickly figured that if we sold the house in Orpington we could buy out a house in France - no mortgage! F**k it lets do it! - they were our actual words.
What did you hope to gain from the change in lifestyle?
Healthy living, growing our own vegetables, no mortgage, time to spend with our daughter and for her to learn a new language. Tom speaks to her in Hungarian and I speak to her in English but she is now learning French at school. We wanted a better life for her. We both had an adventurous upbringing, playing outside for hours and we felt that Hete wouldn't get that in London. It was important for us that she experienced this.
Also being in the country was something we loved. We would often spend weekends outside of London on country walks, and of course we had a huge interest in treehouses and living off grid. But we are not hippies we are normal working class people... hmm maybe a bit hipster rather than hippy ;)
So once the decision was made, what steps did you take to devise a plan?
We put our house up for sale, Tom liquidated his company and I handed in my notice as soon as we had an offer on the house. We bought an Airstream caravan as an asset as we didn't want to just buy a standard caravan, we wanted to use something slightly different that would give us other opportunities perhaps. We also needed this caravan to travel around France to discover where we wanted to live.
When did you start telling people what you decided to do and how did they react?
More or less straight away as soon as we made the decision. Some were very excited and envious others (family) were worried and nervous for us. Then the rest thought we were MAD!
Did you ever consider changing the plan?
Not really. We always stayed on the same path, although there were times when we couldn't find the place that we felt was right, we'd discuss other countries and opportunities.
Did you have any fear about the decision? If you did, how did you handle it?
Of course. Big fears all the time. How did we handle it? Well Tom was much better than myself because he's done a big move before so he had adapted before. I was and still am in fear but you can't make a huge decision like this and expect it to be easy... it comes with the decision.
There were many what if's such as finding the right place, are we going to be too isolated, learning the language, how to set up a business, permissions, Hete adjusting, so on and so on. You have no choice but to deal with the fear and I have to really work hard on this, otherwise you just lose the excitement of making such a huge change. You have to enjoy it too, this is very important.
Were there any occasions when you were ready to pack it in?
Ha yep, many times I have thought what the hell are we doing here with such an old building and so much to do. We were in the Airstream for the first 6 months living here whilst Tom and some volunteers put a new roof on the house. I remember the rain, non stop rain for 10 days, water levels so high it flooded the downstairs rooms. Thankfully the living space was on the first floor. The neighbours were so concerned they offered us a bed but we stayed and stuck it out in the caravan. I'll never forget hearing the water gush down the river thinking what the hell have we done!
What benefits have you experienced since living your new life?
We’re definitely healthier. All of us are eating fresher food, walking more, swimming in the river. Another benefit is the culture. Learning how the French live and learning a new language. Summer was glorious here with loads of outdoor activities. Hete is learning a new language and settling into a new school. And of course we have new friends both French and English.
You’ve experienced a few challenging situations to get you to where you are today. When you look back, what have you learnt about yourselves throughout this?
If anything we have become tougher and less materialistic. We are so appreciative of family and are stronger together as husband and wife, even though at times it was very testing. You have different challenges than what you would normally have in London, some harder, some better. There will always be a part of London in my heart forever and I’m grateful for this. If things don't work out we can always go back.
If someone is reading this and wondering how to take the first step towards changing their life, what would your advice be?
Its not as easy as you think. You need to be a certain type of character to be able to cope with it. It will test you in ways that you never would expect but it gives you bountiful rewards and joys that you would ever expect. But whats the point in wondering... just f**k it and do it!!
Personally, I think that it is quite easy but you have to be very decisive. Look at your current commitments/situation and what you could gain in life. You make up your mind and go for it no hesitating, no what ifs… just take the leap, if you start questioning things or analysing situations you won’t do it!
Has it been worth it?
Ask me in 5 years (joke). Yes it was worth it. I don't want go through life asking ‘what if I did that’ or ‘should I have done this’. You only live once you have to give everything your best shot. That's what life’s about right?!
Becky, Tom & Hete x
You can follow Becky on Instagram: Becky Allin