As we adjust back to life in our home country of New Zealand after our year-long adventure, a couple of people have asked me how or if our expectations were met? I asked Chris this and we had a very interesting discussion about expectations and how each of us had quite different views on what we expected for our time away and how things were being met or not, and why?
I originally wrote about some of my/our expectations before we started this adventure and it’s interesting looking back to see how some of these are working out…or not.
Some of my bolder statements were:
- … We want to be connected to the people we are living amongst and find ways of participating in community life.
This has been interesting… all of our housesits were for ex-pats (Brits and Germans) who spoke good English and had contacts in the ex-pat communities for us in case of emergency. Many of our sit locations were remote, although some were in urban areas or smaller towns. Making connections with the neighbours was difficult due to our lack of skills in the Spanish language.
We did however attempt to attend church services in many of the places we stayed, but finding English-speaking meetings was not always easy. We sometimes defaulted to the local ex-pat Anglican churches, but also found a couple of lively fellowships that gave us opportunities to participate in the services. Interestingly, we discovered how hard it is to walk into a group like this and feel welcomed (or not) and reminded us of the importance of reaching out to strangers in your midst. Many times we arrived and left with no serious connection being made or conversations opened, which saddened us and makes us aware of how the church is often seen as a clique.
We did take some opportunities to meet up with fellow housesitters through the
Mapahub site. This has been a great way to talk with like-minded people having similar experiences and we plan to take more opportunities to do this wherever we may be in the world.
- … We still want to maintain connections with our Kiwi friends and family so the Internet, Skype, Facetime and messaging will be vital to continue to be part of our home community as well.
Hmmm – again, not as much as we hoped for. While our son and daughter kept in constant and real-time contact, we found ourselves losing connection with some of our friends while we were away. It was always a joy to get an unexpected and newsy email from friends and we appreciated being kept in touch with, but everyone is busy and time flies so keeping in touch on a regular basis becomes hard to do.
An unexpected and very pleasing outcome has been all the new friends we have made. Each housesit, we met new people and made connections with them. It is wonderful having a whole new circle of friends across Spain (and France) that we hope to maintain some contact with and maybe, one day, some of them may visit us in NZ! Also, on some of our trips that don’t involve housesitting we have struck up conversations with, and are continuing communication with, new friends from Canada, USA and South Africa to name a few.
- We will have time to relax and reconnect
ok…yes, we did have plenty of time to relax. Chris was often asked before we left “what
will you do all day? You’ll get bored!” but he says this was definitely not a problem. After the crazy few years of more than full-time work, running his own consultancy, he was very happy to not have deadlines and constant pressures on his time. He enjoyed pottering in the gardens of the places we stayed; he is a very meticulous weeder! He found things to fill his days that were “take it or leave it” jobs. He didn’t have to do it, he found it relaxing to weed and play with the dogs as he did so. Some of our housesits were more demanding in the care of the animals, but we made time to relax, and many of our locations had wonderful pools or beaches nearby we could enjoy in the heat of summer. We got out and explored; Chris had his road bike he used every day and, from time to time, I hired a bike too so we took rides together.
- We will get to experience the “real” Spain
Yes! One of the advantages of housesitting is that it takes you to where people are living outside of the main tourist areas. And then, these homeowners give us insights into local sights and places to visit that we would never have heard of otherwise. We enjoyed living in rural and small town locations and, between sits, travelling to the larger cities and tourist draws as well as smaller less well-known sites. We travelled all over Spain, a small tour of Portugal, and venturing to Gibraltar and Morocco as they were near to some of the places we were staying on housesits.
We tried to stay in smaller towns, or in the historic centres in smaller boutique hotels or B&B’s that gave us a flavour of “real” Spain.
- We will develop our Spanish skills
No! We failed miserably at this. Despite doing a short intro course before leaving NZ, and working on online Spanish courses (Duolingo) it meant nothing when trying to communicate with native Spanish speakers. As our homeowners were all ex-pats and communicated with us in English, we had no urgent need to develop our skills further.
We can read Spanish menus and order food and coffee in restaurants (although, somehow, we were always given menus in English… were we that obvious?) as well as read some road signs, but once someone started speaking to us, we got totally lost. Many conversations with hotel staff were conducted by sign language with me understanding some of the main words as they showed us around (baño – bathroom, desayuno – breakfast, comer – eat). Google translate was very useful to us many times.
- So what…?
Were our expectations met? Yes, in many ways our expectations were exceeded. We didn’t expect to fall in love with so many wonderful dogs. We didn’t expect to meet so many wonderful people and develop ongoing relationships with them. We hoped we would get more housesits, and we ended up with a great range of places and animals to care for in interesting places. We couldn’t guess how much of Spain we would see and what amazing experiences we would have while travelling around this wonderful country.
- And now what?
As a member of many different forums for housesitters, I realise that we all housesit for different reasons and have different expectations and needs to be met. For us, housesitting was always a part of our adventure. To be able to travel in Spain for a year, to meet up with new people and help them by looking after their pets while they have a holiday – so that we also get new experiences and enjoy the company of pets and the comforts of home. To have a home base, kitchen, laundry etc, as well as being able to explore the location, time allowing between pet duties.
Some housesit as a way of life, looking for and getting long-term home and pet sits where they can settle for a period and develop relationships in the community and with the animals in their charge. These true nomads sometimes base themselves in a particular country for a season and then move on to another set of sits in a new location. Others see housesitting as a way of saving money on living/accommodation costs – often they are studying or working in a city and looking for housesits that will allow them to live there.
Because of the experiences over the past year, we have decided to continue this lifestyle back home in New Zealand. This time, it’s not so much about the adventure; we are partly driven to experience new locations to see if there is a place we settle in the future. Our ongoing housesits are almost back to back and mostly for 4-5 weeks each so we hold different expectations going forward…watch this space!