Author’s note: I wrote this post in early August, but have decided to publish it now as we’re officially on the other side of our big decision (you’ll have to read about it below!).
We’ve officially been living in Prague for two months and are settling in well to our new expat life. In some ways, I know we had it pretty easy. Getting our Czech Youth Mobility visas wasn’t too complicated, we managed to find an apartment online way back in April, and with me working remotely, I didn’t have to look for a job here. We even managed to get our banking, cell phones, internet and transit passes sorted out within a few days of arriving. And during that first week we also managed to do a huge shop at Tesco Extra (kind of like Superstore), visit a few of Prague’s most famous sites and land Colin a job.
Basically, we’re killing it at expat life.
But are we really? In some ways, our life here in Prague looks a lot like it did back in Vancouver. Colin heads out to work for about 9.5 hours of the day, I work from home, we walk Ellie a couple of times, we heat up some leftovers or order takeout for dinner, and we spend the rest of the night alternating our gaze between Netflix and our phones.
One of our goals in moving to Prague was to actually see the city. We took living in Vancouver for granted, never making time to head out to the mountains, visit the art gallery or spend a day at the beach. We didn’t want to do that in Prague.
And, to some extent, we’ve done well at this. We’ve been out to a few sights like the Charles Bridge, John Lennon Wall and National Museum. We’ve done a sunset picnic at the park, visited a couple of beer gardens and have dined at new restaurants. And we even did a day trip out to Kutna Hora to see the Sedlec Ossuary.
Another one of our goals was to travel and see more of Europe. We’re so lucky with Prague being central in Europe that we have access to so many great places. And we have taken advantage of that too: We visited Paris and Munich on our way to Prague and we’ve done weekend trips to Dresden and Vienna.
But it didn’t feel like enough.
While we have made time to go out and do a few things here in Prague and abroad, to me, it didn’t feel like we were doing enough. I know that sounds kind of crazy. It’s been two months and we’ve already been to five other cities (three while living in Prague) and checked off four things from our Prague bucket list.
If this were Vancouver, and we had managed to do all of that in two months, I would be seriously impressed. But it’s different here in Prague. Here, we’re on the clock.
Our youth mobility visas are only good for one year. Come June 2020, we’re heading back to Vancouver and our year in Prague is up. That means, we have less than 10 months of our Prague adventure to go. Already, I can see the things we’ve missed out on, such as a craft market that happened in Prague this last weekend and lavender season in France that’s now over. And I can see things coming up, like Oktoberfest in Munich, a comedy show in Glasgow or Christmas markets, that if we skip this year, we won’t get to do.
Of course, I’m being a bit hyperbolic. Just because we don’t go to Oktoberfest this year doesn’t mean we will never ever in our lives go to Oktoberfest. Europe is huge and we’re in love with it. We will obviously be back many times following our expat year in Prague.
But it’s never going to be as easy and accessible as it is this year. Munich is never again going to be a six hour train ride away. London is never again going to be a $40 flight away (and that’s roundtrip!). Beautiful old buildings, historic castles, museums and more won’t be on my doorstep forever.
We only get this year.
With our year in Prague, Colin and I promised ourselves that we would make the most of it. We would say yes to opportunities and push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. We didn’t want to mimic our Vancouver life of 40 hour work weeks, takeout and Netflix. We wanted Prague to be different.
That’s not to say we wanted to travel for the entire year. If that had been the plan, we wouldn’t have bothered getting visas and renting an apartment. Having a homebase in Prague is important to us. We like having a place to call home, a local grocery store, a familiar park to walk Ellie (with the most beautiful view over Prague!), favourite restaurants and cafes, and a few new friends.
At about the six week mark, we had to ask ourselves if we were living up to the goals we had set out for our expat year. Were we making the most of life in Prague? Sadly, the answer was no.
While we had travelled a bit and done some local exploring, we weren’t doing as much as we (but mostly I) wanted. I was frustrated. I didn’t like that we were falling into old routines. I hated that I couldn’t book a flight deal or plan a trip more than two weeks in advance. And I really wasn’t a fan of having to plan all of this sightseeing and travel with Colin only having two days off a week.
To be blunt: I didn’t like that Colin had to work.
It seemed like his job was the reason why our expat year was feeling stunted. We couldn’t plan trips ahead of time because he didn’t have his shift schedule yet. And we couldn’t go away for more than two days because he had to work full time. Even with local sightseeing, it was hard to plan much when Colin arrived home after 9.5 hours, exhausted, with barely enough energy to make dinner, let alone head out and sightsee.
Plus, as an added bonus, his job also required us to spend a lot of time and money buying him a new hotel-appropriate wardrobe (his x-ray scrubs didn’t cut it), pay for a doctor to give him a clean bill of health (apparently health checks are required for reception workers), and arrange and pay for a criminal record check. It seemed like each day Colin was coming home with a new request – they needed his health forms faxed over from Canada, he needed to get fingerprints taken, the hotel changed their dress code policy – that was going to take more of our time and money.
Can you tell I was fed up?
But Colin wasn’t. Sure, he didn’t love the annoying asks, but he did like the work. He liked his colleagues, he enjoyed interacting with guests, he got to work on fun projects and he really loved taking part in the hotel’s menu tasting (he still raves about the risotto). In short, he liked his job. So I was the villain who was trying to get him to quit.
I’m still wrestling with this, if I’m being honest. Of course, I want Colin to be happy. I want him to feel fulfilled and satisfied at the end of every day. I don’t want to pressure him into something he doesn’t want to do and I really don’t want him to resent me for doing it.
And yet at the same time, I wasn’t happy. In fact, neither of us were.
We both admitted that Colin working fulltime made it practically impossible to do and see everything we wanted to do and see in Prague, let alone the rest of Europe. While his vacation policy is quite generous, we’d be using up all of his annual days on our trip with our moms in September. Meaning that aside from that trip, Colin would have no extra vacation days from June to December.
We thought we could make it work. We hoped that Colin might be able to swap shifts with his colleagues to be able to get at least three days off in a row. And we planned to take weekend trips. But after our trip to Vienna, we realized that weekend trips are exhausting. Spending eight hours on the train for less than 48 in the city just didn’t seem worth it. Plus there’s only so far you can go on the weekend. And when you add in having to bring Ellie and plan our days around her walks, it really felt like Vienna had been a bit of a bust.
So, I began doing what I always do: research and planning. I love writing out my problems and trying to find ways to solve them. I took pen to paper and started to crunch the numbers. How much did we need to live in Prague? How much was I making? And was it even feasible for Colin to *gasp* quit his job?
I’ll spare you the math and just skip ahead to the conclusion.
With our expenses approximately cut in half living in Prague compared to living in Vancouver, we realized that yes, my income was enough to support us. Colin could quit his job and we would be fine to make it until next June. We also realized that Colin’s job doesn’t pay nearly as well as we had hoped (in two hours, I earn what he makes in 8.5 hours).
As much as this excited me, it also made me really nervous. I’m not used to being the breadwinner. And having that much responsibility on my shoulders scared me. Working freelance, my income is never guaranteed. I could wake up tomorrow to find that all of my clients have fired me.
I didn’t want to resent Colin or become a miser. I know it would piss me off if I had to spend all day working while Colin played video games. And I didn’t want to nickel and dime every purchase we made or, worse, make Colin feel like he was on an allowance.
We had some stuff to work out. And we still do. It’s all a big work in progress. But here’s what we’ve got so far.
Colin is quitting his job. After many conversations, we realized that this is the best way for us to make the most of our year in Prague. At first Colin was resistant, but he’s come around. It was important for me that Colin was doing this not just to make me happy, but to make both of us happy.
For Colin, I think it helped logistically to see the numbers. Practically, he wanted to make sure we’d be okay with just my income. But there was the emotional aspect as well. Colin has always worked and his career back home is very important to him. And with his new job, he’d grown to really like his bosses and colleagues. There were lots of fears for him to contend with like the loneliness of working from home, the lack of purpose each day, being disloyal to his new job, and the fear that I might pressure him to work online permanently so we can travel forever (I have sworn not to do this).
But we talked about not letting those fears hold us back from making the most of this year. Yes, all of those fears, plus all of my fears, are completely valid and things to be scared of. There are lots of challenges we’re going to need to work through with his new arrangement. But what’s even worse is not having the option at all.
If Colin stayed working, we would not be able to explore Prague and Europe the way we want to. If he quits, we have the chance.
The more we talked, the more receptive Colin became to the idea. He even began to find little pockets of his own happiness in it. Beyond the ability to travel and explore more, he liked the idea of having more time. Colin loves to cook and he started talking about having time to go to the grocery store and try out new recipes. And he’s stoked to not have to set an alarm clock every morning. He even mentioned getting back into running or biking (I’m hoping his aspirations rub off on me too!). And as his final month at the hotel ticked down, Colin would often start sentences with, “I can’t wait until I’m not working anymore so we can…”
Because Colin’s hotel job didn’t pay that well (at least by Canadian standards), we’re finding lots of small things Colin can do to help supplement the lost income. He’s able to take on some of my client projects, joining me in the freelance world. If he can work for two hours a day, we’ll already have made up his hotel income. We’ve also talked about putting our place on Airbnb while we’re away on trips and the possibility of Colin doing bike deliveries for UberEats or dog walking. And hopefully with him not working, we’ll be able to spend more time cooking at home, instead of grabbing last minute take-out. Our trips will also be cheaper, as we’ll be able to take advantage of deals and booking ahead.
With Colin on board and our plan set, Colin officially gave his notice on August 5. He gave his work one month’s notice, as they’re opening a new hotel in August and one month lines up perfectly with when we’ll need to leave to meet my mom in Sweden for our three weeks in Europe moms trip.
So with his final month at the job, and then our moms trip throughout most of September, Colin won’t be officially at home without a job until the end of September. By the time we get back from our moms trip, we’ll have about eight months left in Prague. And we sure as hell intend to make the most of it!
Of course, I’m already planning all the trips. I’ve got an Oktoberfest trip plan in the works. It was so nice to be able to pitch a plan to Colin and instead of him getting worried about having the days off, actually be met with some enthusiasm and excitement. Beyond Oktoberfest I’m dreaming of checking out the nearby Christmas Markets here in the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria, catching a cheap flight to Morocco, hopping over to the UK to watch a comedy show we’re both fans of, and training down through Slovenia and Croatia. Plus, we have family who are wanting to visit us and explore Europe, and now Colin will be able to come on all of those trips!
But I’m also really excited for what this will mean for our daily life. Yes, there will be some growing pains and lots of things I’m sure we’ll need to work out. But I’m excited for Colin to live the life of not having to set an alarm clock, put on fancy clothes and commute for an hour each day. I like the idea of us having lunch together and heading out to a local cafe to do some work. And I’m really looking forward to fitting in more Prague sightseeing, now that our schedules are so much more flexible.
We had many conversations about Colin’s job before coming to this decision. We went back and forth about what we wanted to do and what was going to make us happy. Ultimately, we decided him quitting his job was the best way for us to make the most of this year abroad.
As soon as we made that decision, I got the same nervous excitement that I felt when we decided to move to Prague, when I quit my job to become a freelancer and anytime I head off on a big trip, like backpacking Vietnam kind of spontaneously. It’s this feeling where I can’t stop smiling and I keep saying, “Oh my god, are we actually doing this?” It’s both incredible glee for a big adventure and nerves for all of the unknowns. But everytime I’ve felt this nervous excited feeling and jumped in with both feet anyway, things have worked out. I have no doubt that will be the case again with our expat year in Prague.