Parle-vous Français? Nope.
Updated: Nov 26, 2020
When I talk about our plans on a macro level, they sound amazing: We’re moving to France to start an organic, sustainable farm. Our goal is to produce about 70% of the food we eat, with some left over to donate to the community, while earning an income from a couple of rental cottages on the property. The most common response? The specific words vary, but the gist is Wow, following your dream—good for you.
But when I discuss the topic in depth with friends and co-workers, the logistical impediments bubble to the surface, and it becomes apparent why more people don’t do this. Sometimes, as I hear the words coming out of my mouth, I think What the hell are we doing?
“So when are you leaving work?”
In three weeks.
“And are you selling your house?”
Yes, but we haven’t contacted a realtor yet. Neither of us has ever sold a house before, but we’ve seen other people do it and houses seem to go fast in the neighborhood.
“So you’re leaving work in a few weeks then flying to France?”
No, we’re going on a seven-month road trip first, to visit a bunch of national parks.
“With two toddlers? Wow.”
Yes. In an 18-foot travel trailer. It was hard camping with them the first time, but it’s much easier now that I converted the top bunk of the trailer into a toddler cage, er, crib. Although the kids did immediately find an LED push-button light and click-click-click-click-click away at it during their first-ever trailer nap-time. (Much to their disappointment, it had been mysteriously disabled when bedtime rolled around.) What really worries me is our dogs: one small one and two big ones, all of whom are badly behaved.
“It’ll be amazing to see the national parks though. How many are you going to?”
About 30. I’m not sure what we’ll be able to do while there because we don’t want to leave the dogs for more than a few hours at a time. But I’m sure we’ll be able to go on some hikes here and there. That’s why I’m trying really hard to book within the parks.
“The dogs… It’d be so much easier without the dogs….”
“Where are you going to put the rest of the kids’ stuff, and your clothes? And.. are you going to cook? Where will you put your food?”
We have some storage—a few cupboards, under the bottom bunk, under a bench, some organizers hanging on the walls. We just have to figure out exactly what we need—and make sure it doesn’t weigh more than we should carry, the kids can’t reach any medicine or knives, and the dogs can’t reach anything they want to eat. And we need to plan ahead to make sure we have enough dog food and diapers before we go somewhere remote. And we need to plan meals—small meals?—accordingly when we’re heading somewhere that doesn’t have electricity. Or water—some of the places we’re staying have a “hand pump.” I don’t really know what that means but we’ll figure it out.
“What about laundry?”
Yeah… I don’t know. Some campgrounds have laundry rooms and when we’re near towns we can look for a laundromat. Right now Wendy does laundry every day to stay on top of it. But we’ll be wearing fewer items of clothing more times, so should be able to wait a while between loads. The tricky part will be the occasional diaper leak, which necessitates PJ and sheet washes. We’ll figure it out though.
“So you’re doing your road trip and then flying to France? Have you bought a place yet?”
Yeah, we’re gonna spend Christmas with my family on the East Coast, and try to sell the minivan and trailer because it’s too expensive to ship and convert them to EU standards. We’ll also take the dogs to the vet and get a stamp from a USDA office within 10 days of our flight. We’re going to rent a place near where we’re planning to buy, so we can see how different areas feel to us and view available properties.
“What about health insurance?”
After you’ve lived in France for three months, you’re eligible for national cover. And I’ve heard France has the highest-rated healthcare system in the world. So while I’m used to U.S. healthcare—it’s all I’ve ever known—I feel pretty comfortable switching to the French system. (It amazes me how many people I speak with have already heard that France’s healthcare system is great.)
“And you’re allowed to just move there and become a resident?”
Well, right now we are, because Wendy’s a British citizen, which makes her an EU citizen. So her moving to another EU country is like me moving to another U.S. state. But we made our plans before Brexit and now there’s a clock on it. We’re hoping to settle there before Britain leaves the EU (since that should take a couple of years) and then we’re hoping whatever agreement is negotiated allows Brits to remain in France. We don’t know what it may mean for benefits, but we’re willing to take that gamble.
“Well you’re leaving at a good time, with Trump in charge.”
We had these plans long before Trump was elected. And as luck would have it, France has its own version—Marine Le Pen—a populist, anti-immigrant Trump supporter who leads the National Front. Polls are currently indicating Le Pen is unlikely to win, but I’ve heard that before….
Clearly, we don’t have it all figured out. There are glaring vulnerabilities that could easily prevent us from pursuing this vision. We have financial security and good healthcare, we live in a nice neighborhood and an okay school district, and we’re on track for a comfortable retirement in 20 years. Wouldn’t it be smarter to stick with what we know? Probably. But in our case, what we know, no longer feels right. So while the risks of our new venture occasionally induce an effervescent anxiety that temporarily obscures our vision, the bubbles quickly settle, clarity returns, and we take the next step forward.