Grown-up gap year

It’s never too late, even if you have lit­tle ones in tow. As Amy Jones and her hus­band Richard leave Wales for a new life in Deux-Sèvres with their young sons, she shares her ad­vice on plan­ning and fund­ing a year abroad in France

Living France - - Contents - Amy Jones blogs about her fam­ily’s trav­els and home­school­ing jour­ney at fam­i­lyed­ven­tures.com or fol­low along on Face­book @welove­fam­i­lyed­ven­tures

Who says you have to be a stu­dent? One cou­ple proves it’s never too late, even with a young fam­ily in tow

Some­time last sum­mer I was chat­ting with my hus­band Richard as our ba­bies lay sleep­ing. Yet again, we started dream­ing about where else we could be in the world, wish­ing we’d trav­elled more be­fore we had chil­dren and won­der­ing if we’d ever find the per­fect time to do some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent.

It’s not that we hated our home in west Wales or that we were par­tic­u­larly un­happy with the way things were; we sim­ply had a long­ing and a sense that there was more to life than just wait­ing for the week­end. “Let’s just go,” Richard said at 2am. “Okay,” I replied, and that was that! So there was a lit­tle more to it than that, but de­cid­ing that hav­ing young chil­dren shouldn’t stop us from do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent was a big step in the right di­rec­tion. It didn’t take long for us to agree that we wanted to spend our year abroad in France. Richard has fam­ily con­nec­tions there and has spo­ken French to our boys Léo, aged three, and one-year-old Sébastien since birth (al­though they are yet to use it much at all!). If this was ever go­ing to be more than just ‘some­thing we al­most did’ we needed a plan, and quickly, be­fore we got too bogged down in nap­pies, work and wash­ing up. This is how we made it hap­pen.

TELLING YOUR EM­PLOYER

Once you have com­mit­ted to tak­ing a gap year the next ob­vi­ous step is in­form­ing work. As a teacher, Richard had to hand in his no­tice a full term be­fore fin­ish­ing work. If the thought of leav­ing wor­ries you then it’s worth ask­ing your em­ployer if you can ap­ply for a sab­bat­i­cal. That way you have a job to come back to – if you want your French ad­ven­ture to end, of course!

RE­DUCE SPEND­ING AND IN­CREASE SAV­ING

You don’t need to be rich to plan a year abroad. We plan to make as much money as we can from our house in Wales, earn a lit­tle while in France and only dip into sav­ings if we really have to.

We had al­ready con­sid­er­ably re­duced our spend­ing when I chose to stay at home to look af­ter our boys rather than re­turn to work. We were pretty adept at sav­ing and mak­ing money wher­ever we could. We bought sec­ond-hand, sold the things we didn’t use any­more and bought a cheap an­nual ticket to a lo­cal farm park to save on days out.

It helped to record what we spent and then re­view it at the end of the month, as it really high­lighted where we could be mak­ing sav­ings. It’s the ‘lit­tle but of­ten’ pur­chases to look out for. To give you an idea, spend­ing £40 on a weekly take­away for a fam­ily of four equates to over £2,000 in a year. That’s your cross­ing to France, mo­tor­way tolls, in­sur­ances and first few months’ rent paid for!

EARN­ING MONEY FROM YOUR HOUSE

Re­duc­ing our out­go­ings helped a lot but we also needed to make more money if we were go­ing to fund our year (or more) abroad. One of the most fi­nan­cially ben­e­fi­cial things that we did was to sign up to the hol­i­day let­ting site Airbnb. We first ad­ver­tised our house to hol­i­day­mak­ers a few years ago as we’d seen a lot of peo­ple make ex­tra in­come do­ing it and we knew it could work for us too. Our house is only a small three-bed­room end of ter­race but it is nicely dec­o­rated, well kit­ted out for chil­dren and is just a short drive from the Cardi­gan Bay coast­line. Hav­ing de­cided that we wanted a gap year we com­mit­ted to spend­ing last Easter and sum­mer away from our house so that we could add even more to our sav­ings pot.

Clean­ing the house for our pay­ing guests was a lot of work. We’d only fin­ished build­ing it five years ear­lier but we’d al­ready col­lected far too much ‘stuff’. I can’t really find a bet­ter word to de­scribe it. It was lit­er­ally stuff; those lit­tle things that you ac­quire but never really use and yet for some rea­son can’t bear to part with. Any­way, we did it. We emp­tied the at­tic, filled it again, cleared cup­boards and sold as much as we could on Face­book be­fore fi­nally ad­mit­ting de­feat and tak­ing a few car loads to the char­ity shop.

When the school hol­i­days came and our house was filled with pay­ing guests we stayed

with fam­ily, went camp­ing and even went on hol­i­day our­selves. We found a lo­cal cleaner to get the house ready be­tween guests when we were away. This was a great trial run for be­ing away longer term while rent­ing out our house. So far we’ve had no real is­sues and we’d really rec­om­mend it to any­one who wants to make a few ex­tra thou­sand pounds. Just make sure that your mort­gage com­pany al­lows it and that you’re prop­erly in­sured.

WORK­ING IN FRANCE WITH THE BRI­TISH COUN­CIL

So, we had sav­ings and an un­pre­dictable ‘in­come’ from Airbnb. It was a good start, but with chil­dren to look af­ter we needed some­thing a lit­tle more de­pend­able to fund our time in France. We de­cided to ap­proach the Bri­tish Coun­cil for a lan­guage as­sis­tant place­ment. Richard had al­ready worked with the Bri­tish Coun­cil when he was at univer­sity study­ing French and Span­ish, and had spent seven sunny months work­ing in a school in Huelva on the south­ern coast of Spain.

English as­sis­tant place­ments ar­ranged by the Bri­tish Coun­cil are limited but the ap­pli­ca­tion process it­self is pretty straight­for­ward. Suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants work 12 hours a week and are paid around €800 per month. It in­volves a stan­dard job ap­pli­ca­tion but it has an ad­di­tional sec­tion where you se­lect the lo­ca­tion that you would pre­fer.

That was the hard­est part! We spent hours star­ing at their list of avail­able re­gions. ‘Choose one from Group A, one from Group B, and one from any of the three groups’. It all sounded so sim­ple but choos­ing be­tween the likes of Lyon, Reims and Ver­sailles wasn’t an easy task.

Hav­ing nar­rowed it down to our top seven or so we then looked at the weather av­er­ages for the year. Yes, in true Bri­tish fash­ion, it came down to the weather.

In the end we opted for Poitou-Char­entes as our first choice as it is known for its mild win­ters and it looked like it would suit our fam­ily with plenty to do out­doors.

The ap­pli­ca­tion went in as soon as they opened in the au­tumn. Al­though we were hope­ful we knew that univer­sity stu­dents would have pri­or­ity as part of their de­gree cour­ses. We waited... and waited. We had to wait a long time to find any­thing out.

We went ahead and booked our Euro­tun­nel tick­ets any­way. What­ever the out­come of the ap­pli­ca­tion, we were de­ter­mined that we would spend a year in France some­how. And then fi­nally, in May, Richard re­ceived an email con­firm­ing that his ap­pli­ca­tion had been ac­cepted. We still had no idea where we were go­ing but that was just a mi­nor tech­ni­cal­ity.

A few months later we were ex­cited to hear that his place­ment would be in the town of Thouars and nearby St-Var­ent in the Deux-Sèvres depart­ment. We went on­line im­me­di­ately and ‘walked the streets’ on Google Earth and checked out the parks on my favourite Play­ground Buddy app, but we can’t wait to get there in per­son and take a proper look around.

THE DE­TAILS!

Get­ting our heads around what we needed to do be­fore leav­ing our home took a bit of re­search. We read so much con­flict­ing ad­vice that over­com­pli­cated it and al­most put us off, but thank­fully in the end it was quite sim­ple.

We needed car in­sur­ance that cov­ered us full­time in France rather than the more com­mon 90-day cover pe­riod. There are a few in­sur­ers that of­fer this but be sure to check the small print. You’ll prob­a­bly want Euro­pean break­down cover too and this can ei­ther be ar­ranged in the UK or with a French com­pany af­ter you ar­rive.

France is known for its love of pa­per­work so make sure you pack mar­riage cer­tifi­cates, birth cer­tifi­cates and payslips cov­er­ing the last three months, as you’ll need them when you come to set up a French bank ac­count or rent a house.

You shouldn’t need to worry about in­come tax as the dou­ble tax­a­tion agree­ment be­tween the UK and France means that lan­guage as­sis­tants are only li­able to pay in­come tax in the UK (for up to two years). That’s one less thing to worry about.

CON­SID­ER­ING OUR CHIL­DREN

Our sons’ well­be­ing was our top pri­or­ity when it came to plan­ning our year in France. I’d be ly­ing if I didn’t ad­mit to be­ing slightly anx­ious about tak­ing them away from their home, their climb­ing frame, their bed­room, their grand­par­ents, aun­ties, un­cles and cousins. We have no idea yet how they will take to trav­el­ling, or how they will cope with leav­ing their home. We’ll do ev­ery­thing we can to make it a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for our lit­tle ad­ven­tur­ers and if it all goes well, we’re plan­ning to keep trav­el­ling long term for a while.

Our son Léo was due to start school this Septem­ber in Wales. Hav­ing worked in ed­u­ca­tion for 10 years be­fore hav­ing chil­dren I have to ad­mit to feel­ing dis­heart­ened by the ‘sys­tem’. I’m keen to home­school the boys for a while at least. I pre­fer to use the term ‘world school’ as we’ll be learn­ing from ex­pe­ri­ences that arise nat­u­rally.

Trav­el­ling is part of the world school­ing ethos but you don’t need to be a no­madic fam­ily to sub­scribe to it. It’s an ethos and an aware­ness that there are so many rich teach­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties out­side the class­room walls. It’s about the im­por­tance you place on be­ing open­minded and learn­ing from oth­ers. We want our boys to de­velop a sense of self with us as their guides first.

We’re so look­ing for­ward to ex­plor­ing France and see­ing what it has to of­fer our fam­ily. I’m de­ter­mined to be­come flu­ent in French and hope­fully be­come part of a com­mu­nity. We’d love you to join us on our ad­ven­tures through our monthly col­umn.

The cou­ple listed their house in Wales on Airbnb

Amy found savvy ways to save money

Amy’s lit­tle helpers Léo and Sébastien

Say­ing good­bye to life in Wales

Part of the Marais Poitevin, France’s ‘Green Venice’, is lo­cated in Deux-Sèvres

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