A Girl Abroad: A Year in Italy

Published by The Style Line

We’ve come full circle and landed back in Liverpool after a year in Italy. The experience was mixed, with bad days involving 11 hour drives (and the near death experiences that come hand-in-hand with driving in Italy), more mosquito bites than I could count, crying at the car hire desk thanks to unexpected surcharges, and heavy garden pruning in 40 degree heat that relented every day for two months. Good days began with the view of endless sunflowers from our bedroom window, ended sharing a bottle of wine by the light of the fireflies in the orchard, driving to Rome to watch the Italian Open on a whim, pushing the cast iron bed up against an open window and cuddling up to watch the most dazzling meteor shower I’ve ever seen, and jumping into the crystal clear Adriatic after devouring a massive pan of seafood spaghetti on the pebbled beach – to name a few.

the style line italy

The good days outweighed the bad days by a long stretch, and we hope to return to Casa Celeste for two months this summer for more of those gorgeously good days. House sitting allows you to live rent free, and after giving up our rented Liverpool flat and taking on two assignments in Italy, we saved more than £6000 in accommodation costs. We covered the cost of day-to-day living with freelance work, and we’ve been lucky enough to come back to the UK and buy our own flat thanks to these savings.

As well as being cost- effective, housesitting is a great option if you prefer a slow approach to travel. Slow travel has become the travel trend du jour for a generation obsessed with unique and authentic experiences, and housesitting is all about becoming a ‘local’. It also makes travel plans completely unpredictable. If you’re intrigued about housesitting, sign up to Trusted Housesitters or Mind My House, write something that resembles a dating profile for the most wholesome possible version of yourself and land a low-cost existence somewhere far flung. There are just a few things I’d keep in mind when applying for assignments…

Housesitting isn’t really a holiday. As idyllic as living in the Italian countryside sounds, the responsibility of looking after someone else’s house is stressful. Especially when things go wrong – wall-breaking earthquakes, for example. It’s important to consider the length of each stay. To make the travel costs worth it, I’d say the minimum is a week to 10 days, and the longest a month. Our six month house-sit was a bit much – the chores got arduous and we got tired of having to get in the car and drive for an hour to get anywhere.

Make sure you have a thorough understanding of what’s expected of you, and an idea of how long you’ll be spending on chores each day. Of course, it’s part of the deal, but if you’re affording to be there is based on working freelance or remotely full time, you might come unstuck balancing a busy work schedule with housesitting responsibilities. Leaving the house how you found it is a must, and we took photos of every room to remember what we’d moved.

From experience, I would say that the most important consideration is location. We knew we wanted to be rural, but hiring a car for the duration wasn’t cheap, and petrol costs added up. A city stay would have been cheaper, but for us, it was worth it for the tranquility we both needed to work on creative projects. We thought we could use the house as a base for exploring Italy, with Florence, Rome, and Bologna all a couple of hours away. We did do lots of traveling, but not as much as we’d first expected. It’s down to being realistic about what you want out of the house sit coupled with the practicalities of the location.

the style line italy

I would never have chosen to visit the Marche region, yet there we were for just under a year, getting to know its intricate details and its subtle shifts in landscape, language, food and culture from mountain to coast. We went to the odd dinner party of British expats, but they were pale in comparison to the vibrant village feasts, which usually marked the harvest of local produce.

We muddled through the fast Italian conversation hurled back and forth down the length of a communal table, shared big jugs of wine and devoured dish after dish as it was placed in front of us. There was no menu in sight, just five or six hardy, stomach stretching courses and copious bread sliced with olive oil the color of peach flesh. Italy is the home of the slow food movement, and it’s embodied in celebratory events like these.

Many families in Marche still live off their land, and it was a privilege to watch the surrounding fields change over the days and weeks and months before enjoying their bounty with the families that nurtured and harvested it. For me, this will forever represent Italian culture and values.