Taking the leap: living off the grid

As you all probably know, we are now living completely “off the grid”: we have electricity from solar panels, water from our own well and we catch radio waves for internet. We have a garden (work in progress) for fruit and vegetables, and many other plans: a solar dehydrator, wood-fired heating (we’ve got plenty of wood after pruning and from dead trees), a stone oven for pizza and bread, solar heating for shower water,…
Living this way, we feel working for ourselves is so much more rewarding than having a 9-to-5 job we don’t really have any connection to.

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Here are a few things we learned in the past few years, that might come in handy. Some are things we got told by others (thank you for that!), most things we found out for ourselves…

  1. Don’t believe everything the internet tells you
    The internet is full of hearth-warming stories – “This amazing house was built for only $200,-“, “This kind of dwelling is the most eco-friendly known to man”, one website (of a Spanish real estate company) even states that there are “plenty of jobs available in Spain” and “you don’t need to learn Spanish as there are doctors and notaries around who speak English”. Use your brains, read the small print, talk to real people.
  2. When in doubt, just go for it
    In the past few years, the only regret we had, was that we didn’t do certain things sooner. We could have moved to Spain sooner, we could have started living in our little maset sooner. It would certainly have saved us money! However, sometimes fear just gets the best of us. So from now on, we try to live by the motto “When in doubt, just go for it” – but make sure you’ve got a backup plan…
  3. Planning and communication are key
    Our impression is that the people who succeed the quickest, are those with a plan. Those who arrive here, have a clear idea of their goal, and have a plan that matches local reality. To get that clear plan, it’s important to communicate with your fellow adventurer(s) and set common goals – and to keep communicating, especially when things aren’t going according to plan. A friend advised us to sit down and have business meetings between just the two of us; we’ve just started to do that… Although our project stays the same, we have made several adjustments to the planning already – and keep making those, every time life gets in the way.
  4. Budget = more than some land and a house
    When you’re looking for some land or even a house to buy, real estate agents will ask you for your budget. In the “civilised world”, that’s simple; it’s the amount of money you are willing to spend on that piece of land and / or house. Here, it’s different; living off the grid involves quite a few investments you probably didn’t think of right away. We bought ourselves a car that was more suitable for this environment (instead of our Passat which was great to cruise with, but would just not have survived the bad roads here in winter), several kinds of tools (almond- and olive-picking materials, garden and building tools), a generator and a solar system for electricity, a borehole and pump for water, trees and seeds, materials for making fences and sheds,… Some of our friends bought even more – like a tractor or digger, more and bigger tools, better materials,…
    We’re not the only ones who decided to get ourselves a temporary home (in our case, our little maset; in the case of some of our friends, a yurt or tent camp). That goes out of the the budget as well!
  5. Plan for delays
    If you’re planning on making a living after your move, it might be a good idea to make sure you’ve got an income (or some money stuffed away somewhere) to survive for a few months or years, until you’ve got your business up and running. Paperwork can take a lot of time; we’ve met too many people who would tell us how much time a proces
  6. Party with moderation. But don’t forget to party! 
    I think most of my family think I’m on permanent vacation here in Spain. It might just be that my Facebook profile reflects just that – there’s barbecues and parties, nice views and almond blossom, trips to the beach and to Barcelona,… Underneath all that however, there’s a lot of hard work. I still work as a personal assistant, and in between that I’m caring for my veggies and trees (and cooking, and cleaning); Axel spends most of his time building stuff (and he does a lot of cooking and cleaning as well). However weird, it is true that our social life is much busier now we live in the campo than when we used to live in Amsterdam; but it’s not a vacation…
    On the other side, we have found the social aspect of living here is very important. When we get together with neighbours and friends, we get to talk about collaborations, exchange phone numbers from people who could help us out with stuff, meet other neighbours, often also exchange produce off the land.
  7. Rent or vacation before you buy / build
    This is advice I read on a forum – and it turns out it’s golden… if you’ve got the time and the money, rent something in the region you want to move to, or find yourself a nice place (maybe a rental house or a local bed & breakfast) you can go to whenever you like. Be sure to visit throughout the year, so you can get a feel of the seasons and so you’re sure you like the area.
    If you already bought some land, it pays off to get to know it before building stuff on it; see how sun and irrigation work, where you’ve got the nicest view and the least cold wind (in winter) but a nice cool breeze in summer.
  8. Rent smart
    Most people we know around here, came here before (or while) they started building a house to live in. Most of them would start by renting a house in the village. Almost all of the people we know who were planning to rent until their house was finished, ended up staying in that rental house months (or even years) longer than they were planning to. Counting not only rent, but water and electricity as well, this is a big dent in the budget… Take this into account. It might save you a lot of money to put a caravan or yurt on your land, or restore an existing building like we did.
    The place you’ll be renting a house in, is important as well; we had a little house in the village of Lledo from October to July. Unfortunately, Lledo only has 1 shop, which is open daily for about 3 hours; if we wanted bread in the morning, go to the butchers, have a drink at the bar,… that would mean taking the car to another village.
    Distance to your finca is important to; friends of ours had a very nice apartment in a town nearby – but it would take them about 40 minutes to drive to the finca (and 40 minutes back as well). Moving to a village house only 10 minutes from their finca surely made their lives easier. And moving to your own finca makes everybody’s lives happier.
  9. Cheap, good and quick
    A carpenter once told me that if I wanted to have things done cheap, good and quick, I should pick 2 or just compromise; it’s not possible to have all 3 to perfection. I think he was right.
    When an internet article shows you how a guy built a house “for free”, they forget to mention how he spent years and years collecting the building materials. When a construction company promises you to build your house in no time, the finishing might not be to your standards. When things seem too good to be true, they probably are.
  10. Making money while living off the grid
    I’m lucky enough to have an online job – I work as a personal assistant, do some translation work from time to time and hope to be able to do more writing in the years that come. Not everybody is that lucky, and we often meet people who wonder what they’re going to do here.
    If you have some kind of income (a pension?) or some money stacked away, you might not need to find a way to make money. Living off the grid can be very cheap – you can grow your own food, barter more food for stuff you make or services you provide, and think of how much money you save by not paying for electricity, water, parties and events.
    If you do need to make an income, don’t think opening up a hotel / B&B is the only way you could do that; it seems like every newcomer around here wants to open a “casa rural”, while there are many other services much sought after that don’t require such an investment.
  11. Choose your location… and your neighbours.
    When giving you information about where to buy, most people or articles will talk about the properties of the land (size, use, soil, distance to road and villages,..), the climate, the laws of the region you’re buying in,… Not many will stress the importance of good neighbours.
    When living in a regular setting – in a city, village or suburb in the Western world -, you will probably get into contact with lots of people. There’s friends and family, colleagues at work, maybe other parents at school if you’ve got children,… You more or less get to choose with whom you spend most of your free time. When living off the grid, you’re much more dependent on your neighbours; some weeks, they will be the only ones you see. When you need some help moving a rock or need to borrow some tools, it’s good to be in a place where people are friendly and welcoming! Our neighbour Enrique taught me how to grow vegetables the traditional way, Dan helped Axel build the bathroom and the cellar – and last year when I was looking for a tool to pick my figs with, Caspe offered me his ladder. Not quite what I had in mind, but still very sweet of him! We really feel like we’re not alone in this here.
Our "maset" - the converted stable we lived in before the big house was finished.

Our “maset” – the converted stable we lived in before the big house was finished. Such fond memories… 

Wherever you are, whoever your neighbours are, whatever you are doing there, the quickest way to feel at home is probably to get yourself (a little) integrated into the community. When in Rome and such; learn the language (if you moved abroad), go to events, say hello to everyone you meet (it might just be a neighbour you haven’t met yet). It helps to have young children in school or to volunteer in a local organisation. You’ll probably always be the stranger around here, but others will appreciate you making the effort.

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One thought on “Taking the leap: living off the grid

  1. Pingback: Taking the leap: living off the grid – Mas del Encanto blog – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

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