Escaping to the country - How we quit our city jobs to follow dreams of rural living
When I met Chris, I'd been living in London for several years and was starting to get fed up of it. Having grown up in a small village in Kent with no major cities around me, I never imagined myself ending up in the capital. I used to love visiting London for a day or even a weekend, but the thought of living there never appealed to me. The main reason I ended up there, was because most of my friends lived there. Don't get me wrong, I loved London life initially and still think it's an amazing city, but the long, crowded commutes and the sheer number of people everywhere, every day, started making me cranky.
Chris and I used to talk about our futures and what we wanted. Chris would speak of self-sufficiency, peace and quiet, and living in the complete wilderness with no-one else around. I would speak of owning a cute cottage in the countryside, being surrounded by cats and chickens, and going on epic holidays all over the World. We realised that our dreams had lots of similarities and neither included London.
So why were we hanging around in a city we didn't want to be in?
I guess it was mostly fear. Chris had spent most of his life living in cities and wasn't sure if he could get a job in the middle of nowhere. I was worried that if things went wrong I would have given up a job I loved and lost friends I had been close to. Being pragmatic, we talked through our fears and came to the conclusion that anxiety will get in the way of everything if you let it. The only way to manage our fears was to take a risk and go for it. We're both highly employable and have had pretty awesome jobs, which look great on our CVs; true friends will remain friends wherever we move to; and if things go wrong, we can always go back to London or try something new.
How did we start planning our escape?
It took almost a year of discussion before anything changed. Uprooting your life is a huge decision and should not be taken lightly. Any move costs money and once you've quit your job, it's not exactly easy to get it back. Therefore we spent ages considering where we would move to, what exactly we wanted from our lives in the countryside, hobbies we wanted to take up, amenities we wanted to be near etc. Both of us wanted to live in a beautiful location near a National Park so we could go hiking on weekends. We also agreed that we'd love to have a bouldering gym nearby or mountain bike trails. Chris's favourite locations were Snowdonia, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, or anywhere in Scotland. My favourite locations were Cornwall, Snowdonia or the Lake District, so we settled on the latter two so neither of us would feel that we had been forced to compromise.
We had agreed where we would relocate to and started looking at house prices, but it still felt nothing more than a dream. Chris had been reading lots of expedition books and blogs, and started fixating on the Appalachian Trail. Moving straight to the countryside and settling down didn't satisfy him enough; he wanted an adventure first. In the end, it was the perfect way to push us to actually leave London. Hiking the Appalachian Trail meant that Chris would have to quit his job, and I could either quit or take a sabbatical. We would have to leave our flat as London rent is way too high to be able to afford a flat you're not living in, so this would be the perfect time to leave the city. Appalachian Trail thru-hikes tend to start Northbound in March or April, but our contract with our flat was going to end in January. Weighing up our options, we decided to finish working at Christmas, enjoy an extra long break and then start our thru-hike attempt late March.
Our families were incredibly supportive and let us stay while we were waiting to head to America. We hired a van and I drove all our belongings to my parent's house in Kent, where we stored most of our stuff while we were away. I won't go into details about our thru-hike attempt, as we have written separate blog posts about those, which you can find here if you'd like to read more about that. What I will say though, is that we had a lot of time on the trail to think about our lives, and we spent hours chatting about business ideas, future expeditions, our dream home and what we want to call our pets. The more we hiked, the more excited we were to get home and start our lives in the countryside. There was no doubt in our minds that we had made the right decision when we said goodbye to the city.
Finding new jobs
As soon as we were back in the UK, our job hunting began. Chris was offered a freelance job almost instantly and began working full-time from home the following week. My job searching was a little slower as I wanted to find an Occupational Therapy job and we were limiting our search to North Wales and Cumbria. However, it only took three weeks until I was invited to an interview, and I was lucky enough to be offered an amazing job in our dream location. From experience, I know that it usually takes around one to two months from being offered a job, to actually starting it because there are often a lot of checks to be done before a start date can be agreed. This allows about a month to find somewhere to live. We didn't want to move anywhere until I had been offered employment, as I would need to drive to work, so we wanted to wait and check out the travel distance. Finding somewhere to rent is easier than finding a fantastic job, so waiting until work is confirmed is definitely a wise decision.
To rent or buy? That is the question...
In order to save money and find our dream house, we wanted to rent initially, but we agreed not to rent in a town or the centre of a village, as the whole point of the move was to be in a rural setting. There's no point half-assing it. Renting somewhere initially means that we can get to know the local areas, suss out where exactly we would like to settle down, and I can start working sooner because we can move in quickly. The sooner we are both receiving full-time salaries, the sooner we can start saving for our next travel adventures.
What are the cost implications of relocating to the countryside?
There are always costs involved in relocating; the main expenses will come from estate agency fees, hiring a van or removal company and any loss of earnings if you're between jobs. Hiring a van and moving your belongings yourself, is a much cheaper way to move than using a removal company, but if you have large items of furniture, you may consider this expense worthwhile. Our London flat was small and furnished, so we didn't own much. Most houses to rent in the countryside are unfurnished and don't have white goods in the kitchen. We currently have a blow-up mattress to sleep on and our only seating is a sofa-bed. Our home may lack luxury initially, but the exceptionally cheap rent will allow us to make our home our own fairly quickly. A beautiful three-bed cottage in North Wales will cost us half the amount in rent than we were paying for one room in a houseshare in London.
In the long run, living in the countryside will be much cheaper than living in London. Although salaries are generally lower outside of the capital, the cost of living is also lower. A huge element of city life involves going out for dinner and drinks, spending time in bars and pubs, or paying for events. We easily spent £50-100 a week just on drinks in London, which seems absurd when you think about what else that money could be spent on. We'd be much happier having spent that money on expeditions, travels and adventures.
Won't it get boring in the countryside?
This is a commonly asked question, in which we reply, "no." Our last couple of years in London were boring. We worked long hours, had to commute at least 45 minutes to get home, and would be so exhausted that our evenings were spent eating and watching television before going to bed. At weekends, we ended up going on hikes and camping trips away from London, or we'd just wander around the same places as an excuse to get out of the flat. Living in rural Wales will mean we are closer to amazing hiking and mountain biking trails, I won't have to commute as far to work so will be able to run and climb in the evenings, we'll have a garden so can start growing our own veg and we'll have around a thousand fewer faces to look at every day, which, according to scientists, is exhausting. Having spent several months on the Appalachian Trail with nothing to do but walk, I'm pretty confident that we won't get bored with our new lives in the country.
Have you considered an escape to the country? Have you made the escape already? We'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!