Moving abroad is a dream for hundreds of people, but it can quickly turn into a nightmare if you buy a house in the wrong location. Although there are plenty of people who move abroad and never look back, the internet is full of horror stories about people who regret their move and wish that they'd stayed in the UK.
If you're considering a move abroad, you might be unsure about which camp you're going to fall into. You shouldn't let the horror stories put you off, but at the same time it might not be the best decision to sell off all your assets only to find out that expat life isn't for you. Thankfully there's a way to try before you buy: house sitting.
I'm speaking from experience, of course. My partner Jemma and I had always dreamed about buying and renovating a big ruin in the middle of the French countryside: a romantic idea that tempts lots of people. We discovered the idea of house sitting one day, and thought it would be a good way to find out if life in France was really for us.
House sitting is different from staying in a hotel or B&B because you're slotting into someone's life. There are dogs that need walked, errands to run, and neighbours to chat to. After browsing through a number of house sits, we finally found one that suited us perfectly on TrustedHousesitters.com: Six months in a partially renovated farmhouse, in a small village in the Midi Pyrenees. We're glad we applied, because the house sit was a wonderful experience. We learned some tips from the English expats who lived nearby, we got to attend a hunter's dinner (usually reserved for people who live there), and we had the chance to really immerse ourselves in local culture.
At the same time, we learned that living in a big country house in France really wasn't our style. Although at first it was lovely and quaint, it soon became tiresome having to drive for 20 minutes just to reach the supermarket. Because the house was so large, hoovering became a two day event. We were finally able to put together a picture of our dream house; something smaller, in a more urban setting.
If you're thinking of moving abroad and already have an area in mind, it's a good idea to look for long term house sits. Even if you just use the home as a base for a two week holiday, it's definitely a better way to get the measure of an area and the people who live there. If you house sit frequently you can even build up acquaintances in the expat community; so you'll have your own friend network when you finally do decide to take the plunge, and they can help you to settle in.
Living abroad can be fabulous; you owe it to yourself to make sure it is.