Written by Sarah Hendrickx


Living the dream

Like many UK citizens, Sarah Hendrickx fantasised about living somewhere warmer with a more relaxed lifestyle. So she did it. She shares how it happened and some tips on overseas living on a budget.

preserved lemonsMany of us dream of living differently, but it seems so difficult, expensive and out of reach. Think again: it may be easier than you realise.

I live part-time in Portugal and I haven’t won even a tenner on the lottery. On a typical day this winter, I will eat breakfast in my garden (including lemon curd made from the fruit of my own tree), check to see how my vines are doing and cycle down to the beach for a fantastic coffee that costs 45p.

You hate me already. I know you do. Smugness may not be attractive, but it is deeply satisfying. Read on through your bitterness; this could all be yours.

I blame Dalton’s Weekly. In the dark days before the internet, this inky, imageless newspaper was the only place for me to play out those wild fantasies of owning a Brittany longhouse or a bar in Magaluf. I’ve always dreamed of living overseas. Somewhere warmer, relaxed and with more parking.

Since the advent of online overseas property porn, I spent more of my life than I care to admit poring over websites selling houses in pretty places. I was not a complete fantasist, though: I was a budget fantasist, someone happy to live in a shack with a bucket to wee in, rather than a 10-bed luxury villa with more bathrooms than bums.

This made me all the more dangerous, because I could have – with a bit of creative accounting, extensive debt and a diet consisting entirely of carrots – actually almost have done this. Oh, the places I could live, the life I could lead from my ruin in Bulgaria or my garage in Nice.

In reality, the thing that had stopped me had been my inability to work out how to scratch out a living for myself in these distant lands; and the fact that I had two kids who strangely enough were less than enthusiastic about Mum’s plans to live on a boat on the Canal du Midi.

“In typically cliched fashion, mortality came and smacked us both in the face and we realised that actually all we ever had was ‘now’. So, we took it: sold up and shipped out, resource-light and risk-heavy.”

However, in recent years things have changed on both those fronts. The kids have left home and cheap flights and technology have arrived. People are no longer tied to offices or even countries. With the right work and/or an enlightened employer, living and working differently is a new path being increasingly trodden. Tim Ferriss and his Four Hour Work Week blog is the super guru of this new global lifestyle, advocating things like outsourcing and talking nicely to your boss about how much more productive you will be working from home.

Realistically, many countries with a low cost of living have high unemployment and so unless you are fluent in the language or highly skilled, your chances of earning much there are low. I am a self-employed trainer and conference speaker in the UK. I fly back for blocks of time to earn some cash and do the rest of my work via Skype and email from my tiny cottage in the Algarve hills. My partner grows broad beans and befriends geckos. He thinks he’s the luckiest man alive.

surveying the landscapeMy partner and I had long had our eye on a simple quiet life in the sun, but the spreadsheet said that we would have to wait a few more years to pay for the bite cream and the Imodium, despite taking into account all the money we would save on socks. More resources were needed; more risk needed to be eliminated. In truth, the Goalposts of Fear kept moving and we’re shit at football.

Then in one week in 2014, my beloved was offered redundancy and I was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, a genetic condition that has a potentially low life expectancy – and even lower quality of life expectancy. In typically cliched fashion, mortality came and smacked us both in the face and we realised that actually all we ever had was ‘now’. So, we took it: sold up and shipped out, resource-light and risk-heavy.

We chose to live in a country that offers a great life at a small price. Property prices are low with rented apartments costing as little as €350pcm. For free accommodation, then housesitting (Trusted Housesitters ) is a viable option.

living the dream7We eat amazing food at stupid prices and can fly to the UK for less than the train from London to Manchester. It is cheaper for us to live now – even keeping a UK base and with my partner not working – than it was before. My stress levels, which are a factor in the development of my kidney disease, are non-existent. We are together far more than ever before and we are truly and blissfully happy.

There are downsides for sure: the terrible Europop on the radio, the complete lack of a decent biscuit and being warm all the time, but you know what? We’re coping. Pass me the vinho verde, darling? I have an olive to peel.

Top Tips

Learn the language. This will change your experience more than anything. Really. Budget for lessons in your spreadsheet of costs. You can find teachers on Skype for almost any language in the world.

Choose your country carefully. Consider access to/from the UK and costs. It may be cheap to fly in the winter but in school holidays flights can rocket.

sunny doorwayThink about income generation options. Can you outsource, work remotely or draw up a plan to convince your boss?

Go and visit some potential destinations. If they are holiday resorts, they may be dead in the winter and overrun by charred people in the summer.

Think about what you enjoy in your leisure time. If you enjoy culture, entertainment and nightlife, some locations may not have much, and it may not be in a language you understand.

Remember, that this is not a holiday. You have to work, live and wash your pants.


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Written by Sarah Hendrickx

Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.