I hope we don’t die

This post is firmly in the category of “important if not very sexy”. It’s about some of the less romantic details of how one goes about Pressing Pause on one’s life, and how there isn’t an answer about what to do with insurance.

House

We own a small portion of our house, maybe a door handle or two and probably that piece of guttering out the front that sags a bit because no-one else really wants that. The bank owns the rest.

“Oooh! Why don’t you house-swap in France?!”

Because we need to keep paying a mortgage. So back in February we got three Rental Agencies to pitch to us. OK, not really pitch, we just asked three. Two seemed fairly disinterested, but it was Ray White in Kingsland who were not only interested but (so far), helpful, and came up with a good number on the topic of “how much rent”. They walked around the property and told us the bits we needed to fix and the bits we didn’t. When we said we were going away in July, they said the best time to put a house on the market in winter was “Easter”.

We set out fixing all the bits we needed to and sure enough, got it all done the weekend before Easter. Ray White listed our house, had one viewing day Easter Saturday, and the first group through applied to take the property. They checked out OK, and they moved in two weeks ago. To earn their 7 to 8 % (depends on the rent) Ray White has helped us with landlords’ insurance and various practicalities.

So far this bit has gone very smoothly. And it was only after all the work on the house was done that I realised I had spent so much mental energy on that project. Once it was completed, I found myself finally getting excited about the bit where we go to France for a year, so that was nice! It was also just a good motivator to get those unfinished household projects, well, finished.

Furniture

We got lucky here. It’s hard to rent a property furnished because most people have their own stuff. However, our tenants are recently arrived from Australia. We invited them to come back around and see whether they wanted any furniture, and they took lots of heavy stuff: bookcases, drawers, beside tables.

Everything else has gone downstairs where we have a separate storage basement. The Rental Agent suggested a potential tenant might want to use this space, but we hung onto it, otherwise you’re looking at around $3,000 for a year’s worth of offsite storage.

Cat

We found a friend to look after him for a year, but I was pretty relaxed about the Ultimate Plan B if you can’t find someone: the SPCA will let you surrender your cat for $20. According to them, they will not destroy healthy animals but rehouse them. However, surrendering means just that – you’ll never see the animal again.

If we had had to go that path, I’m not sure how I would have explained to the children that they had to say goodbye to Edgar. But in my experience, it’s better to be upfront about that rather than drag on some lie that “oh friends are looking after him” – as if the kids would land in France and then after a while forget we ever had a cat…

Insurance

And so, onto the hardest one: insurance. You can’t press pause on most life/health/income protection policies. OK, maybe forget income protection! But seriously, with life insurance it’s either keep paying or cancel.  And then if you cancel, you take your chances when you come back and start a brand new policy.

With no fixed income while we are away, we can’t really afford to keep paying life insurance. So it looks like we’re going to cancel it all, and instead we will just:

  • take up some dime-store insurance if/when we get work in France;
  • take our chances when we come back home;

…and in the meantime…

  • really hope we don’t die.

Stay tuned for my next post which concerns an essential part of every Kiwi’s preparation for their OE: Staying at the Olds’!

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Why France?

So, super. We’ve decided to do an OE, we can take a year off our jobs, and we’ll be gone July 2014 to July 2015. The next big issue was when we tried to narrow it down beyond “Europe”.

Middle of last year we knocked around a few options. Our last OE was in London, because we’ve done that, and because it’s a bit harder with two kids in school, we wanted to go somewhere else. We have lots of mates around Britain, some of our best friends in Sweden, family in Italy, an increasing number of mates in Germany – but where to settle?

I was plugging for Britain: we speak the language, it’ll be easier to get jobs, then we can go travelling on the Continent whenever we like. But Joe, who is British, wasn’t interested. He wanted language to be a part of his OE, particularly for the kids. So, I speak French and Italian…eh… conversationally, Joe and the kids don’t speak anything else at all. So we argued about this for a while – I could see his point about not wanting to do a repeat on England culturally, so I was arguing for other parts of Britain: “What about Scotland??” I put Aberdeen firmly on the table: it’s charming, it has high employment, it’s got to be a winner. But Joe wouldn’t budge: not Britain.

On 1 October last year we were on holiday in the South Island when the travel agent called me to say the cheap airfares had just been released.  We had until the end of the month to book tickets (the non-changeable kind) and pay. That night we tossed around Sweden, Slovakia and Scotland. By the end of the week we were in a car driving from Christchurch to Mt Cook and I said “Joe, WHERE are we going?” He knew I didn’t mean Lake Tekapo. I sat in the passenger seat stressing “oooh this is SO HARD” when I had a moment of clarity: actually, this is not hard. Someone’s grabbed you by the lapels and said “Carlene: I need to send you to Europe for a year – where would you most like to go? Just pick your favourite country.” My Favourite Country in Europe. Everyone’s got one. If it was the Wheel of Fortune – with every country in Europe on it – and it starts spinning, you’re standing there with your fingers crossed saying “Gee, I hope it lands on […]”

“France.”

“Sorry?”

“It’s France. I want to go to France.”

“France?”

“France.”

“Cool. France.”

“Done”.

And then Joe says “Where in France?”

Ah look, I guess I knew that question would come too. I had no idea. But Joe and I figure we are “City” people, and we need a certain size to find work. We aren’t going on holiday, it’s an OE. So before we get to Tasman Glacier I grab my phone, Google (literally) “cities in france” and start reading him the list.

“Paris? Marseille? Probably too big eh? OK Lyon, Toulouse, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg… hey I like the sound of Strasbourg!”

“Me too – done.”

So officially, we’re going to Strasbourg. No, we don’t know anyone else there – closest is some friends in Freiburg just over the border. But since we stuck our finger on the map and hit Strasbourg, that’s it, like, that’s where I want to go! I want to go there and make it my home. And OK look, if between now and July one of us lands some sweet job in Montpellier, well of course we’d just go there. But for now, look out, Alsace: we’re coming!

Are we brave, doing this? Taking two kids to Europe, no jobs lined up at the other end – are we the Super-Duper-Bravest-of-Brave People Ever? No. At the end of the day we’re going to a large, modern, Western country which has lots of stuff. We have the right to live and work there forever. We’re not going to Belize, or Kyrgyzstan, or Scott Base. And if it really doesn’t work out… we could just go to Scotland!

Why an OE?

OE = Overseas Experience.

If you’ve never heard the term “OE”, it’s a rite of passage for young New Zealanders: we have a preferable immigration arrangement with the United Kingdom so youngsters can do a working holiday there for one to two years, travel to Europe and beyond, and then come home again.

Joe and I did our OE in London from 1998 to 2003 – Joe is British so we could stay as long as we liked, and our son Jack was born there. In that six years we made many, many friends and when we left we talked about going back for a visit “one day”.

So a couple of years ago, Joe and I started talking more seriously about this “visit”. Neither of us liked the idea of taking 3-4 weeks’ leave from our jobs, rushing to the other side of the world with two kids, visiting maybe two friends properly, ticking off one big ticket item, heading home exhausted and not going back for another 10 years. Bugger that.

“Why don’t we go for longer…?”

“Why don’t we just do another OE?!”

We thought, instead of taking 3 weeks off work, let’s see if we can take 52 weeks out of our lives here. Let’s just push pause on everything we have in Auckland: rent out the house, see if our jobs would give us a year off.

Well, they both have. Joe’s work dictated the timing: July 2014 to July 2015. I feel this has reduced a lot of the risk involved in this project – if it all goes south, at least we have jobs to go back to. For many other areas, the romantic idea of pushing pause on your life hasn’t been quite that simple! But more about that in another post.

What a second OE means is that we can spend the time getting settled into a life on the other side of the world, not just licking the chocolate off the top. We will have the time to visit our friends properly and see some big ticket items.

And – and this is the best bit for me – Joe and I will have something to talk about when we’re in our 70s, rather than “Oh, remember that year we stayed home and paid off some of the mortgage? Yeah that was awesome!”