Just a few short decades ago, those who moved to France tended to be older people taking retirement. They could afford to buy a house and not have to find a job. Those days are gone and more and more young people and families with children are moving to France, seeking a different life and work balance. Holly and Alaistair Howard, in their twenties, are moving from London to the south of France and Holly tells us what has prompted such a life changing shift…
The scents and sights I have of France in my mind and on the tip of my tongue have been built up over years of spending time there. Wandering around villages in the Loire, walking in the Pyrenees, studying at a university in Marseille. I don’t think anyone was too surprised that in our first year of marriage, my husband Alastair and I decided to leap from London to the south of France.
With great jobs in London, a bundle of the best kind of friends and family not too far away we were happy with our London life. We made the choice to move, because we couldn’t not do it any longer.
When I met Alastair, our mutual love of France was something that entwined us and so our daydreaming comments and unspoken understanding of a life there felt like it was set in stone for the future. And then, as many London folk will agree, the city twinkled and chased us and kept us year after year until nearly five whole ones had been and gone. In a way, we had always planned to do what many city couples our age aim to do after a similar amount of time; move out, buy a house, settle down – the difference being we chose to settle down in France.
Our home is in Béziers, a small city in the Hérault south of France and there were three key questions we discussed before we made a concrete decision.
1. Is France really the place for us?
Making sure that this was really the right move for us was important. There can never be one hundred percent certainty. Alastair and I are very aware that after everything we’ve put into the move we might actually turn out to hate it – but taking the time to really discuss it was important. Being honest with one another, really honest. Before we got married, we were on a second visit of an area of the U.K. that we might have considered moving to. Out of the blue, really, Alastair turned to me and said ‘I can’t do this’. That was all I needed. We are young, and so our focus at this time in our lives can be each other and whether we both are happy with every bit of the plan.
2. What will we do for work?
Two years ago, Alastair started re-training as a web developer, knowing that this is something that can be done remotely. He built up his client base and contacts to a point where he felt happy to be working from somewhere other than the UK. I work in online editorial and managed to secure a freelance contract with my current company. Our hope, in time, is to work for French businesses and French clients, but it’s all about being realistic at the start. We were never under any illusion that we could just turn up in France and get work at the drop of a hat.
3. Where in France do we want to move to?
We thought a lot about where we wanted to live and what kind of connections different places had. We want to integrate ourselves, learn the language (better) and become a part of the local area but we don’t want to cut ourselves off from the UK. Living in a city was important but we wanted to downsize from a capital city size. This start to the move, researching areas and links and then visiting them, takes time but is so important for your journey there. I created a big spreadsheet with transport links, costs, distances and it really helped us to understand different locations realistically. People can be quite hard on themselves and expect to be able to adjust quickly to lots of different changes at once. We are used to a city, so that’s where we’ll start, even if a rural living is an aim for the future. It’s all about one step at a time.
I read somewhere a phrase from an article about relocating: ‘France isn’t the answer’ and I think this is so key. It’s realising that along with your dreams, there will be hardship, and being prepared for it, knowing that if France is really where you want to be, it’ll all work its way out in the end.
Holly Howard is a freelance writer who has leapt from London with her husband for a life in the Languedoc. She writes about their Béziers adventure – from buying their first home in France to living the local life – and feels she’s exactly where she’s meant to be, somewhere slower in the beautiful south: vivreboheme.com