Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Seeing the world on $200 a week

NZ family settled into rural France as they volunteer on farms after leaving busy jobs at home for a life on the road.

Dave and Rachel Monk with 5-year-old Dylan, left, and 4-year-old Lewis before they set off on their Adventure in New Zealand.
Dave and Rachel Monk with 5-year-old Dylan, left, and 4-year-old Lewis before they set off on their Adventure in New Zealand.

A Kiwi family packed in their jobs 16 months ago to see the world - and never in their wildest dreams did they think they would wind up settled on a farm in central France, planting vegetables, learning French and even wearing budgie smugglers to fit in with the locals.

Dave and Rachel Monk from Blenheim were the envy of many Kiwis when they told the Herald in December 2012 of their plan to quit their jobs as emergency nurses, sell their house and take their two young boys, Dylan, now 7, and Lewis, 5, out of school and preschool to live on the smell of an oily rag.

But 16 months later they are still living the dream - albeit slightly differently from the extensive itinerary they had planned.

After speaking to the Herald, the Monks continued their North Island trip for a further four months, touring the Coromandel and working as acting campground managers at DoC's Port Jackson site for a month before heading to Europe last May.

The Monks leaving the white cliff's of Dover behind them on their way to France.
The Monks leaving the white cliff's of Dover behind them on their way to France.

They stayed with Mrs Monk's family in Wales for six weeks and, with funds left over from selling their motor home in New Zealand, purchased a 4WD and caravan in Wales to get them to Europe.

Mr Monk said the on-road set-up was much cheaper than it would be in New Zealand and cost only about $4500, though third-party motor vehicle insurance set them back $2000. The trip so far has also cost them roughly $40,000 including flights and gear.

They have managed to successfully live on just $200 a week, almost halving their planned budget of $300 a week, by engaging in a Willing Workers On Organic Farms (or WWOOF) programme where travellers are offered a place to park their campers in return for a few hours a day of voluntary farm labour. No money is exchanged but workers eat food from the farm and avoid using campsites.

The family landed a couple of jobs in France relatively easily, the first at a vegetable farm in La Chabanne, in rural central France. They then headed to Lazare, a region by the Mediterranean Sea where they spent six weeks picking chestnuts.

A cold winter's day in La Chabanne. Dave and Rachel Monk with their children Dylan and Lewis.
A cold winter's day in La Chabanne. Dave and Rachel Monk with their children Dylan and Lewis.

But after almost a year of working on several farms, their plans of following the sun to Spain have been shelved and they have found themselves back on the farm where they started. They plan to stay for another six months.

"We had all these big ambitions to travel around Europe. But because we are having such a good time in France, we are going to stay here and use it as an exchange and we are going to make the most of cementing the language," Mr Monk said.

"When you WWOOF - when you work on an organic farm - you really get a chance to get a feel of what the location is like, what the people in the area are like."

They've had their share of embarrassing moments too: Mr Monk learned the hard way that board shorts were not allowed to be worn in public swimming pools when a lifeguard blew a whistle at him and kicked him out of the water.

After a lot of pointing, Mr Monk realised only Speedos were to be worn and was lent a pair. However, the embarrassment didn't stop there as he burned a hole in the bottom of the borrowed pair while going down a hydroslide and was unable to explain what happened in French so could only frantically apologise.

"We are a family of Speedos now. The funny thing is, go back to New Zealand and we would be like 'nah, wouldn't be seen dead in a pair of Speedos'."

Picking vegetables for the market on a french organic farm.
Picking vegetables for the market on a french organic farm.

The parents have gone from speaking only a few words in French to being conversational, while the young boys are showing their parents up and are better at speaking and understanding the language - even teaching their mum and dad some new words.

"For us it's a great time to be travelling with the kids because we see how much they get out of this with the language and the culture."

And while they missed close friends and family - and Tip Top icecream - the trip had helped them realise what was important.

"You miss an income, that's always something in the back of your mind that you need to find ways to make a bit of coin," he said. "We don't miss shift work, finishing at 7am and coming in tired - that kind of stuff. I don't think there's anything that we really feel we've missed out on. With all the experiences and opportunities and chances we've had to interact with new cultures, I think there's been too much going on for us to dwell on the past."

A typical day

School work - 90 minutes.
Work on the farm (planting/picking/weeding/digging) - two hours.
Progressive lunch.
School work - 90 minutes.
Work on the farm, kids included, or one parent works and the other watches the boys - one hour.
Play/free time.
Evenings involve social time with the host family - normally accompanied with cheese and wine.

The Monks' tips

Have a plan but be prepared for it to change.
Have your own accommodation. Some hosts provide a room in their home, but it's nice to have your own space.
Only commit to a week. If it's good then extend.
Be curious - that's how we got to plough with donkeys, learn a new language and sell at the markets.
Stay at WWOOFing hosts with families.
Pack a hearty dose of adventure and energy.

- NZ Herald

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