How Not to Learn to Drive a Manual Car

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Jeremy and I just finished our third housesitting assignment, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. It was a very small, sleepy town, and it was pretty much the exact opposite of where we’ve been since yesterday afternoon: Paris. We were there for 11 days, and spent those days walking in the vineyards, reading outside, cooking healthy meals, and mentally preparing ourselves to get in the car to drive to the grocery store.

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When we first applied for this assignment, we had just joined TrustedHousesitters.com and it was one of the first listings we contacted. We didn’t realize how lucky we were to get it, seeing as how we had no references and no experience on the site yet. We were so eager to accept the offer, we didn’t ask any questions. All we heard was: small wine village, Carcassonne and Narbonne nearby, we’ll leave a car for you. We said yes to the offer without thinking twice. When our hosts picked us up at the train station in Narbonne and drove us to Azille, they told us about all the spectacular things in the region and all the places we needed to go drive to see. As soon as they left, we were excited to start exploring the area. It finally dawned on me that we never asked if the car was manual or automatic. They had parked the car in their friends’ driveway to avoid the craziness of the feria, and as we walked to the car, all I kept thinking was, “please let it be automatic, please let it be automatic.” Well, it wasn’t, so we went back to the house to start watching Youtube videos and reading wikiHow on how to drive stick. Everything said to practice in a big parking lot with no one around, but obviously that was not possible. When I finally got my courage up, we headed to the car and I attempted to maneuver it out of the tiny space it was parked in without hitting the cars/plants/garages it was wedged in between, and drive it to the grocery store in the next town over. After stalling a bunch of times and profusely sweating, I finally got the car going, and I thought the coast was clear.

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Feeling good for a minute.

Shortly after taking this picture, we entered another village, and I got stuck on a hill. It takes some skill (and practice) to start the car on an incline, and unfortunately I did not have those skills yet. I had to turn on the hazard lights and wave people around me (while trying to ignore their shaking fists), and just kept stalling over and over again. I was on the verge of tears and about to give up and leave the car there, but luckily Jeremy spotted two British guys we had met the night before that were friends of our hosts, and he ran them down and asked for help. They drove the car into a neighborhood, gave me a thirty-second whirlwind driving lesson, and we were on our own again. I was able to practice some around the neighborhood and finally got up the courage to turn back on the main road in the village and head to the grocery store. We made it unscathed and back to the house (the whole ordeal took about three hours, and the village was only about five miles away), but I was a little shaken up, and nervous to attempt it again. The roads are fairly narrow, and there are many spots where one must wait to let another car pass before going. I never quite mastered how to drive really slowly without stalling, unfortunately.

I finally mustered the courage to try again a few days later, and we had grand hopes of making it to Narbonne, about 40 minutes away. We ended up taking a wrong turn and found ourselves in a little cute town called Homps, and after stressfully maneuvering it through the very narrow streets and back on the main road, decided it was best to just go back to Azille and call it a day. Sadly, we never made it to anywhere else but the grocery store and Homps, but I feel like I now know how to (sort of) drive a stick shift, and I feel proud that I didn’t smash their car into anything.

Moral of the story: if you’re going to learn to drive a manual car, save yourself some panic and stress by listening to the internet and practicing in a big empty parking lot if you can, and preferably not in a foreign country.

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The House

Even though the house we were watching was huge (7 or 8 bedrooms – I lost count – and just as many bathrooms), the three-story space felt really cozy. There was a jukebox, an indoor pool, a nice terrace, two friendly dogs and two super talkative cats, and more. We had a really nice time enjoying the home, and even though we felt a bit isolated at times, it was a good chance to relax before taking on Paris and the next few weeks of traveling.

Here are some pictures from our time spent in Azille!

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Lily the mastiff watching the town below from our bedroom.

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Watching some live music at the wine bar next door.

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Some red wine made locally.

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Lily and I bonded.

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The feral cats we’d see on our walk through town every day. They were constantly being fed, so they would all gather together.

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These looked like Dr. Seuss plants to me.

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Whatta ham.

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Canal du Midi.

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Hanging in Homps.

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The center of Azille.

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Inside the house.

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This was also inside the house, an 18th century tower that the previous owners converted into a stage area for their children.

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What can I say… we had a lot of time on our hands.

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heyyyy

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23 comments

  1. Ack, what a traumatic way to learn to drive stick! I was taught by a good friend in a parking lot before venturing out around town and I was STILL nervous. I’m like 8 years out of practice though so I’d probably run into just as much trouble as you did if I had no other option in a little French town. That dog is so cute 🙂

    1. Traumatic is the right word! Luckily it got a little better each time I drove, but I still never managed to feel completely comfortable. I was briefly taught about ten years ago too, but unfortunately that lesson didn’t really come in too handy!

  2. Gorgeous pictures, again, and what a cute dog!

    Your story about learning to drive a stick shift is my nightmare. I still don’t know how to drive one even though efforts were made to teach me when I was in my teens and 20s. Now I’ve just given up. It drives my husband crazy because I can’t drive his car.

    1. There’s so much to think about and it’s so nerve-wracking! Needless to say I won’t be buying a manual car anytime soon…

  3. Your photo compositions are superb! Now, as for your driving a stick shift: I offered to give you and Jeremy lessons but we just never (except that one time…) got together for those lessons. But, you’re right. I remember driving to the dock to take a boat to Ibiza, in Spain. They really didn’t have a ferry, so I had to drive the (rented) car off the pier onto this guy’s boat/raft. It was about 15 feet wide, if that. And, I wasn’t particularly good at manual shifting, as this was the first car I’d ever driven with a stick (except for the 1948 Wolesley I bought in London that would only start in 2nd gear and had to be parked on a downhill slope in order to “pop the clutch” so the engine would turn over). Anyway, it was hair-raising as I landed on the deck of this guy’s boat, stepped on the clutch, the brake, and various parts of my body to stop the car before it headed out to sea, sans boat. San Francisco is always thrilling in a manual-transmission-loaded vehicle. Anyway, you guys seem to be having way too much fun. See you in Paris!
    Love,
    Dad

    1. Those lessons definitely would have come in handy! Luckily the cars we can use on our next two housesitting assignments are automatic. Man, driving the car in Azille now sounds like nothing compared to trying to drive it onto a boat. And I don’t think I ever want to try to drive a stick shift in San Francisco. However, I think I may feel comfortable enough now to drive your car in Montecito! I love to hear about your adventures; they are what inspired our whole trip! See you so soon, love you!

  4. Using a housesitting service is a great idea! I’d never thought of that before. I love how you’re visiting small towns too and not just the big touristy areas.

    1. That’s one of the best parts! We would never have visited Azille and the Languedoc-Roussillon region otherwise. And the free rent is not bad either…

  5. Omg learning to drive stick like that?? No way I would have done it haha… Way too chicken, so way to go for getting out there and trying! Joe started trying to teach me before he left for the academy, and I was nervous in a parking lot. I can’t imagine trying on a road! That house sounds amazing, though, as does the rest of your time there 🙂 And kudos to you…wasn’t easy but you got it in the end! Skill for life 🙂

  6. My husband can drive a stick shift but I definitely cannot. When we first got married, he had a manual vehicle. He would drive my automatic to work on my off days because it got better gas mileage. After multiple attempts to teach me how to drive the manual car, we ended up getting rid of it, because I got sick of being stranded on his work days. I don’t think I will ever be able to drive a stick!

    1. Seriously, I think it would take practicing every day for six weeks to feel truly comfortable driving a stick. I just want to be able to accelerate and slow down, without worrying about stalling or destroying the clutch!

  7. I have yet to learn how to drive manually, and will have to keep this in mind! Especially since the next car my husband plans on buying will be stick shift!

    1. I know they are less expensive and get better gas mileage, and eventually driving stick just becomes second nature and you don’t have to stress about each little thing, but I can’t see myself ever buying one in the future. My nerves can’t handle it!

  8. I am so impressed that you even tried! We had the same problem in Nice, France and Jason had to drive. Thankfully he had some knowledge but he did almost let the car roll backwards into the Mediterranean Sea. We also may have not initially known how to put the car in reverse so I had to get out and push it a few times! Quite the adventure!

    The house and your pictures (and you) are so beautiful! Is it bad that I kind of want you to dognap Lily? Haha! Just kidding…kind of! 🙂

    xo Love you!!

    1. Haha, I love hearing people’s stories about driving stick! At one point, Jeremy and I were so stressed out that we kept yelling, ‘manual cars should be illegal!’ It made a lot of sense to us at the time. Lily the dog was such a sweetie, you would have LOVED her! Get over here and visit! xoxo

  9. Hey Lily!

    Great travel blog! It sounds like you are doing the same thing as my girlfriend and I. We dropped everything last November and booked it to Fiji, New Zealand, and Australia. It’s been fantastic! Have you tried HelpX or Housesitting while abroad? We’ve been housesitting everywhere we go and you just can’t beat the savings.

    1. Thanks so much! We would love to make it to that part of the world one day, I bet it is incredible! There are so many listings on TrustedHousesitters in Australia… it’s so tempting. We haven’t tried HelpX yet, but are keeping it on the list of options. We have had three housesitting assignments, and have two more lined up, it’s the greatest! Thanks for reaching out!

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