Super-commuters: a London salary, with lower living costs … and a beach | Money

Nice, France, to London every week

“I pinch myself every time I drive the kids to school on a Friday, when I see the glorious view of the Mediterranean sea from the school gate, before heading off on a hike in the mountains with the dog,” says Kate Simon. She lives in Nice, southern France, with her husband, Antoine, and their two primary school-aged children, and this was exactly the lifestyle they had in mind when they migrated from Buckinghamshire, eight years ago.

To make their dream a reality, Kate had to commit to working Monday to Thursday in London, continuing with her senior marketing role.

“I didn’t decide to be a long-distance commuter,” she says, “it was a byproduct of a move that was designed to provide a different lifestyle for us as a family. My husband and I had good jobs and a lovely life but we found ourselves asking: ‘Is this it?’ – commuting into London, with the stress of rushing home at the end of the day to see the kids, aged four and two, before bedtime.”

Kate Simon



Kate Simon lived with her family in Nice. Photograph: Kate Simon

In France, Kate’s husband runs his holiday rentals and seasonal property management business mostly from home, so that he can look after the children when they are not at school. His mother also relocated to Nice, and helps with childcare.

Knowing that her children are being raised by family rather than a nanny, are bilingual and have access to a wonderful life – skiing in winter, beach in summer – helps, but Kate still finds it hard being separated from them when she’s in London. “If the kids are ill or there’s a family emergency, the distance feels very real,” she says.

However, she earns significantly more than she would if she worked locally, and it still makes financial sense to work this way, even with the additional overheads of their flat in London.

“The cost of living is higher in France,” Kate says. “But the commuting costs are actually cheaper now. I spend less per week doing a round trip from Nice to Gatwick than it used to cost to take the train from Leighton Buzzard to Euston every day, with car parking.” She says, however, that the family has been hit by the post-Brexit exchange rate, which is costing her several hundred pounds a month, as she is paid in pounds, while home expenditure is in euros.

What she finds most infuriating about her work-life arrangement, though, is judgment from others. “There have been a range of comments from outright sexism to veiled horror that a woman could be doing something as outrageous as being away from her children during the week,” she says.

But she is pleased she is doing her bit for feminism. “I know we’re in the minority in terms of role reversal, but for us this is a benefit. I like to think that we’re showing our son and daughter that mums can be career-oriented and professionally successful, and dads can be caregivers and homemakers. Life choices should not be defined by gender.”

Research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) estimates that 3.7 million UK workers, about one in seven, spend at least two hours commuting to work, and two-fifths of those commuters are women. In fact, since 2011, 35% more women have been spending two hours-plus on a commute.

The TUC believe the increase is down to people being priced out by unaffordable housing, and an inefficient transport system. But it seems the promise of a more wholesome, outdoors lifestyle – alongside a London income – is also a draw for some.

Belfast to London

Katie Scott and her husband, Jonny, left London for Northern Ireland, with their baby, in search of fresh air, green space and to be closer to Jonny’s parents. They rented out their two-bed flat in Brixton and now live in a lovely cottage surrounded by woodland, a river and fields.

Initially Katie was working for Cancer Research UK in Belfast, commuting for an hour and a half each way, five days a week – with trips to London twice a month. But on returning after having their second baby, she was promoted to a role that involved travelling two-three days a week to the head office in Angel, north London.

“I do the five-hour each way commute because it keeps me working for a large national charity,” she says. “The job market in Northern Ireland is completely different and charity jobs aren’t well paid, so I get the benefit of a London salary and much lower living costs.”

Katie tries to condense her working days in London to avoid commuting back and forth in a day, and travel expenses are covered by her employer, so she is no worse off financially.

Katie Scott



Katie Scott, her husband, Jonny, and their children. Photograph: Katie Scott

She stays with a friend or family member for two nights a week, which also enables her to catch up with her own family, who are mostly based in London. Once she is back in Northern Ireland, working from home, she is around for her children, making it to parent-teacher meetings or sports day, and doing the school drop-off and collection.

“Seeing the kids running out in the garden or on the beach – 30 minutes away – makes all the travel worthwhile,” she says.

Glasgow to London

May Rosenthal began a long-distance commute for different reasons. She lives in Glasgow, where she studied at university and has lived ever since, and gets the four-and-a-half-hour train to London early on Monday morning, returning home to her partner and four-year-old son late on a Thursday evening.

Rather than craving a more idyllic lifestyle, it was a dream job offer, as a researcher for the Victoria and Albert Museum, that lured May back to London, where she grew up, to live and work part of the week.

May Rosenthal



May Rosenthal lives in Glasgow and commutes to London Photograph: May Rosenthal

She worries about the impact of her choices on the rest of the family. “I’ve been doing the commute for a year and a half, and it now feels like we have a really good rhythm and balance but early on it was tough on our son who got quite upset about it. And for my partner, it has definitely added pressure – in terms of having to deal with both the practical and emotional aspects of raising our son.

“We FaceTime twice a day, which really helps, but even that requires extra organisation from my partner, making sure there’s time to do it before and after nursery.”

Financially it’s difficult but that’s more to do with working in a low-paid sector, says May. The weekly return train costs about £100, depending on times and how far in advance she books it. This eats into her salary, but lower living costs in Glasgow means they can make it work.

“I couldn’t afford to do this job while living in London and paying for childcare,” she says.

The family live in a large flat, with easy access to parks, museums and galleries, and when in London, May stays with her dad and his partner, paying a contribution to the household but “not on a proper London rent level”.

An advantage to working this way is being able to concentrate fully on work while in London and on the train journey back to Glasgow – and then, aside from Fridays when she’s working from home, “it’s very much family time”, she says.

“I’m proud that we are setting an example for our son of women doing fulfilling work, and of men having really strong caring roles. I think our set-up is building his resilience and adaptability and has been amazing for the relationship between my partner and our son.”

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