How to plan and fund a grown-up gap year in France
It’s never too late for a grown-up gap year, even if you have children in tow. As Amy Jones embarks on a new life in Deux-Sèvres with her husband Richard and two their young sons, she shares her advice on planning and funding a year abroad in France
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!
REDUCE SPENDING, 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 in 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. 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’. 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 would 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.
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WORKING 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, as Richard had already worked with them when he was at university studying French and Spanish. 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 for around €800 per month. It’s a standard job application but it has an additional section where you select the location that you would prefer. After spending hours staring at their list of available regions we narrowed it down to our top seven or so, and 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. Richard’s application was successful and he was placed in Thouars and nearby St-Varent in Deux-Sèvres, Nouvelle-Aquitaine.
We needed car insurance that covered us full-time 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.
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 but 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. I’m keen to home school 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. We’re so looking forward to exploring France and seeing what it has to offer our family.
You can follow Amy’s adventures in her monthly column in Living France magazine. She also blogs about her family’s travels and homeschooling journey at familyedventures.com
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