One way to have a free holiday almost anywhere in France…
James Cave, an Irishman living in Scotland, decided that he’d like to live in France. The problem was, at that time he didn’t have the budget to give up work, to buy a house or even rent a house in France and as for getting a job – he knew it would be nigh on impossible to stay doing what he loves – writing.
But, James found a way to make the dream come true – live in France, carry on writing and not pay for accommodation – he became a house sitter.
He says that “For as long as I can remember France has always been a place I’ve always wanted to live. The lure of cheese, baguettes and wine eventually became too much and I convinced my girlfriend Jemma it was time to go travelling…”
We asked James to tell us more about how you can have your cake and eat it!
We wanted to continue working in our respective careers, but getting a job in France didn’t look like it was going to be very easy. I work with websites doing a variety of work from technical recommendations to copywriting and before moving to France I worked for a tech agency doing all of those things for companies like British Airways, Sky TV and a few less exciting clients like those that specialised in things like home insurance and pensions.
What made you decide to travel round France house sitting?
We stumbled across the idea of house sitting. We initially set up a website advertising ourselves as free house sitters and that brought in a few visitors, but not a lot for the amount of work we put in. We then came across a website with house sits available so we signed up.
Can you tell us pros and cons of travelling and living in France this way?
First of all the biggest pro has to be that it’s free accommodation. France isn’t a cheap place to live if you don’t have a job and so every house sit saves us a fortune in accommodation. We managed to line up nine months of house sits, back-to-back. Admittedly, one was for five months but we came across plenty of other house sits that were several months long.
With regards to cons, it can different for everyone. For me one of the cons is that a lot of the house sits are in very remote locations. This has its advantages in that it’s very peaceful and tranquil, but in terms of learning French and meeting people, it’s going to be more challenging than living in a city.
Pets can be seen as either a pro or a con. This job involves a lot of pet sitting and we loved it. Sometimes it was hard to give up the pets at the end, but that’s just what you’ve got to do. If you’re not a pet lover, this might not be right for you. There’s a lot of pet interaction (read: very friendly dogs who lick your face first thing in the morning).
How do you find working remotely?
Personally I think working remotely is the way forward. It reduces overheads for businesses, gives employees greater freedom and if the work is outsourced to freelancers like us, companies pay by work completed rather than just giving someone a salary to sit on their derrières for eight hours a day.
It has its challenges as a freelancer though; if you don’t work, you don’t get paid so no going on Facebook unless you want to eat bread and water for the rest of the month! Of course if you’re living in France at least the bread is a little better!
For Jemma and I, the majority of our work is writing-based. There are plenty of sites out there that allow you to sign up as a freelancer and find work e.g. people per hour and elance. It’s competitive of course, but without the living costs of rent and utilities, it’s much easier to make ends meet.
Would you recommend this as a great way to visit France on a budget but also to get a real feel for the culture and French living?
Absolutely, especially if you’re thinking of living in France at any point. We were able to get an experience not just of living in France, but of living in different parts of France (we had house sits in the Charente, Midi-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques.) We also looked after a variety of different houses all at different stages in their renovations, so it gave us a good indication of whether we would like to follow the British tradition of doing up ruins in France.
At one of the house sits we made really good friend with some of the locals and one of my favourite memories is attending the repas de chasse, which was an eight course meal that included tasty things like venison stew and cuts of wild boar. The food had been caught by the Chasse, a society of hunters in France, and prepared by local volunteers. There was plenty of wine, bread and cheese – it was absolutely fantastic! I ‘m fairly sure we are probably the only foreigners to have attended a chasse dinner like this – it’s a wonderful opportunity that we wouldn’t have got had we stayed in a hotel or other normal form of accommodation.
It was fun as well. At one point we ended up looking after a farm of 18 alpacas and that’s certainly a memory that won’t be forgotten.
Will you carry on doing this for years?!
We’re still on the lookout as to where we would like to live. I’d like to take on a few city house sits in France as it would be nice to get an idea of what living in a French city would be like. I’ve never been to Marseille or Montpellier so if a house sit comes up there, I’ll be applying straight away.
Where is the best place you’ve stayed and why?
Pyrénées-Atlantiques for me has to be the best spot in France, the landscape is so rugged and beautiful. You also have beaches nearby, Spain in as little as half an hour away (if you drive like a Frenchman you might get there quicker) and of course you’re not too far from Bordeaux, which is good for wine lovers like myself.
I really liked what I saw of Toulouse. Paris gets all the attention as France’s romantic city, but I think Toulouse has a lot more to offer and it’s certainly less crowded.
If I could give one tip it would be to take on a house sit or two locally first. Sure, a house sit in your own city isn’t as exciting as one in France but it’ll give you plenty of experience and a reference as well. People are more likely to take on a newbie initially if they can meet with them first.