We love that travel introduces you to new people who glide gracefully into your life and provides the chance to reconnect you to old friends. Old friends who travel from your past and settle firmly in your present. This year we had a chance to meet up with old work colleagues from nearly 30 years ago. What a lovely rendezvous it was too. We swapped stories and their tale of life-change and adventure inspired us so much that we asked them to share it as part of our Guest Post series. So we are delighted to introduce Tracy and Martin who take you on their journey from the deserts of the Middle East to rural France and how they created their very own ‘Good Life’. Over to you, guys….
Oh my, life really is an adventure. Neither of us planned to have careers in the insurance industry… it’s just not something you choose when you talk to your careers teacher, unless you want to be an actuary of course! But we both did, and it opened lots of doors for us. The door to travelling the world, to living overseas and more importantly, to financial independence.
Martin is Irish, but lived in Royal Leamington Spa for most of his life and I’m from the Isle of Man. We both worked in insurance for over 20 years in life and general insurance & takaful (insurance products built on islamic principles). We lived in the Middle East for a combined total of 26 years in a variety of countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE (Dubai) & Bahrain. We had a great life and loved every minute of it… even during the Arab Spring which saw the Saudi Army on the streets of Bahrain for 6 months. Tanks at traffic lights is just not something the Highway Code prepares you for!
Living and working in a tax-free environment helped us save more than would ever have been possible in the UK and this enabled us to plan and prepare for a different future. Bahrain is a fabulous place, but isn’t where we saw ourselves living long term. We were there for the experience of living & working in a different culture and to achieve something else… a future that enabled us to live how we wanted; working outdoors, having adventures and more importantly, being our own bosses.
For us it’s adventure all the way.
It all started in 2012 when we bought a house in France. We knew we wanted to come back to Europe, but didn’t want to return to where we’d grown up. We’d been on this amazing adventure in the Middle East and didn’t want the adventure part to end. We didn’t know much about France and pretty much picked it by putting a pin in a map, but when we visited, we loved it. The next thing we knew we’d bought a house and were visiting at every opportunity.
After every trip it got harder and harder to leave our French idyll and in 2014 we seriously started planning for what life might be like A.B, (After Bahrain!) Whilst living overseas, one of the things we struggled with was finding someone to look after and care for our French home the way we would look after it. We wanted to turn up on holiday and not have to wrangle the garden back into shape! Martin was always happy to give the ride-on mower a spin, but wrestling with chainsaws and taking 5ft of growth of hedges was not our idea of a holiday!
On a visit in the summer of 2014 we saw a little cottage for sale in the next village and decided to buy it as a gîte. And from this point we knew we would be leaving Bahrain and moving to France sooner rather than later. After all, preparing a gîte for guests from 3,000 miles away, is a bit tricky!
During this time we also had to sort out ‘stuff’. At one point, we had 4 houses; one in the Isle of Man, two in France and the one we rented in Bahrain! That’s a heck of a lot of ‘stuff’ to sort out! We sold the house in the Isle of Man and rehomed or gave away belongings that we no longer needed and then did a similar thing in Bahrain. However, having done all of this we still managed to have a 20ft container when we left Bahrain!
The last few months of 2014 were all about planning what we would do when we got to France and how to maximise our incomes, once we stopped being employed. People have said to us that we must have been mad to walk away from permanent sunshine, tax-free income and a life where pretty much everything is done for you. However, although we were sad to leave our friends, in April 2015 we galloped towards our French adventure without a second thought.
The first few weeks were idyllic. There was a warm, early spring in 2015 and it was wonderful. We brought our 3 dogs and our cat with us from Bahrain and it was amazing to explore the area with animals who had essentially lived in the desert all their lives. One of the things we missed most when living in Bahrain were the seasons; it was either hot, or less hot. Here in France we get such a variety of weather and we love it all. Even on the coldest, crisp French day there is something wonderful about being outside and then sitting in front of a roaring fire.
Eventually our container arrived and for me this marked the day that the ‘holiday’ ended and ‘living’ in France really began. As there was no turning area at our house the poor driver had to reverse the lorry all the way up a 1km lane to reach our house and then the unpacking started. During that time we asked ourselves many times why we had brought so much, and where are we going to put it all. Well over the last 4 years we have rationalised and organised and now, eventually, we fit nicely in our French home!
With some help from a local business set up to help English speakers in France, we got our businesses organised. We decided to set up 2; one for gîtes and property letting; and another one to provide property management and security services to owners who didn’t live in France but who wanted their properties looked after. We called it Mayenne Cottages as we’re based in Department 53, La Mayenne. We knew what we would have wanted from a business like ours, so this became our offering. Owning a French house for many people is an asset, but is also a place to breathe, a chance to explore different cultures and their home – we’ve found it really enjoyable to work with our customers over the last 4 years.
You reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff.
We’re often asked if we miss life in the Middle East and the honest answer to that is… sometimes. We miss the friends we made and I miss having a cleaner and someone to do the ironing! However, the world is a really small place and with today’s technology it’s easy to keep in touch with our friends around the world. And with regards to the cleaning and ironing, I can honestly say I’ve become a different person! I used to be really uptight about everything being spotless, tidy and in its right place. My family used to move things for a laugh just to see if I’d notice! Yes our own home isn’t the tidiest all the time, but we don’t worry about it and I save my uptight nature for when we’re preparing the gîte for our guests!
Life is short. Since we moved back to Europe we’ve lost 2 close family members and we’re determined to enjoy and make the most of our lives. We have no regrets for giving up our life in the Middle East and moving to a different way of living. Oh boy, we’ve had to learn fast! We were essentially a couple of townies now living in rural France. With the help of the YouTube Angel and God of Google we acquired a huge number of new skills. Martin has become the master of the chainsaws, mowers and whatever other equipment he has stashed in his workshop! And I’ve had to learn how to create a vegetable garden, set up a greenhouse and then store, preserve and make the most of the masses of fruit and vegetables that nature provides.
Some of our friends and family think we’re ‘retired’, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re just as busy now, but not desk jockeys working 15 hr days and travelling all the time. We used to be in airports on average twice a week and now perhaps only once a year. In fact our time in France is the most amount of time we’ve actually spent together since we got married! That in itself was a challenge; we both had good, responsible careers and both have our own ways of doing things so we do butt heads occasionally. It has all taken a bit of adapting to, but we’ve now found a more balanced way of living and have learned that having new things all the time or the latest gadgets really isn’t that important. We still have goals, they are just different now and generally involve making things, learning new skills, growing things and in the next couple of years getting some chickens! Yes you’re right…we’ve turned into Tom and Barbara Good and if you’re too young to remember them, the YouTube Angel will help you out!
How did we do it?
So if you’re wondering what our process was to get to this point, here’s what we did.
- Prepare as much as you can in advance. We love a good spreadsheet and prior to moving we went into spreadsheet overdrive! We thought about what would we do with our time because neither of us were ready to stop working completely; how would we deal with the language issue; and what budget would we set using 3 options; (the doomsday scenario – no income; a medium level of income; and a high level of income). The key point being to answer the question – If the doomsday scenario kicked in, could we still live?
- However, you have to accept that even with the best preparation there will be many unknowns. You have to have the confidence in yourselves and each other to know that, whatever crops up, you can deal with it together.
- And ultimately, you reach a point where you have to pull your big pants up, take a deep breath and step off the cliff. If you only prepare and never take the next step, there is a danger that you’ll spend your life saying ‘We would have; We could have; We should have’.
I guess reading this everything sounds simple and easy – I just want to say that moving countries is never easy. You’re adapting to a new culture, a new way of life and, in some cases, a new language. Our French was rubbish before we moved here and we’ve had to learn on the ground and fast. Our language skills still aren’t brilliant, but we improve a little bit every day. We’ve had our ups and downs; like the day Martin couldn’t work out how to get cash out of the ATM machine because he couldn’t understand it; or the time we tried to exchange our Isle of Man and Bahrain driving licenses for EU ones and came up against the legendary French bureaucracy! However, it’s all about your mental approach to it. Do you see it as an insurmountable obstacle, or do you see it as an adventure? For us it’s adventure all the way.
So whilst we don’t know what’s round the corner, especially with the changes happening within the EU, we know one thing, that whatever comes along we have faith in our ability to manage and adapt and it’ll just be the next stage in our adventure.
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