Katka Prackova is, for all intents and purposes, a nomad. She and her husband, Gaston, decided a number of years ago to abandon their fixed 9-to-5 lifestyle and spend most of their lives working remotely while traveling the globe.
Dennis: I caught up with Katka at a photography event in Houston and asked her how long she and Gaston have been traveling.
Katka: It’s a hard question because I was lucky to be born in a family that, both of my parents, they loved traveling. Then when I met Gaston, he comes from a different family; they didn’t find traveling interesting because you spend a lot of money on traveling. But it’s not true, you know? You can travel for free.
It was a long process but we started, the first big trip we made, it was when we were 20 years old. Now we are 39, so it’s 19 years that we travel.
Dennis: Have you been traveling the whole time of this… You were living in Germany for a while and you had…
Katka: This really like a nomad kind of a lifestyle - I think it’s seven years now or something.
Katka: Yeah. I think six, seven years. Yeah. I don’t really count it. It’s like so natural.
Dennis: You guys were living in Germany at the time, I think, right?
Katka: It started like, we went there because of his work and he was, I think, very well paid. Life in Germany was wonderful - I mean, you could get everything in wonderful quality. It was just like in heaven. But I couldn’t connect very well with the people. They are wonderful people but it gets a long time to really go deep in kind of a conversation or friendship. But then we were very lucky and Gaston was fired.
Dennis: [laughs] Most people don’t say it’s lucky but okay.
Katka: Yeah, yeah! Then we were thinking this is the time that we could do something differently. Finally we are free, you know? Then we were thinking, “Okay, to be free, it’s not like to be free completely.” You really need to have some kind of money to be free.
Katka: We figure out that he can continue working with two other clients because we live in the best era ever. We can do anything we want and we are so lucky for this opportunity. We just need to think or see the things differently.
Then we thought, “Okay, we have maybe less money. It could be the half of what we used to have. But if you want to travel, you don’t need that much.” That’s the beginning.
We were just lucky and we just said, “If not now, I don’t know when.” Because every time there is something that can be done better or you can really go for another job and get another money or something but where is the point, you know?
Dennis: Describe this to me. He was working full-time. Lost his job. You thought here’s a chance for you to travel - a lot. I say a lot. You’re traveling almost all the time.
Katka: Right now it’s like 10 months a year. For four months we like to do something different like go for South America, Central America, or Africa, or Indonesia. So it’s like three different parts of the world we like to visit. We try to rotate it because if you repeat it it’s very… repetitive.
Dennis: Yeah, right? [laughs]
Katka: We like to have a different perspective. Then we love Europe. Everything is small and so connected. For us it’s the place we really love. We try to go off for winter. It’s in November or December and we return in four months. Then it’s springtime in Europe. We finally bought a car four years ago and Gaston found the car that could be converted to the kind of a home. So he built the bed. We are in Europe and we use a car.
When I come back from Houston, we are thinking to go to Spain and Portugal, which could take us two or three months. We just go by car. We sleep in the car. When we really need, I don’t know, like to do the laundry or shower or things like that, we just stay somewhere for a night or two to be civilized again. Then we continue the journey. It will be two more months.
Then we return home because we love to do some kind of trekking and climbing in Slovakia. We meet friends and family. Summer is wonderful that we can be with the kids of my sister or Gaston’s sister. Then we are a really nice aunt and uncle.
Again, it’s September so the weather is wonderful. We would like to explore something else. We love to go to Italy this time or to former Yugoslavia, especially to Croatia. Then the winter is coming. Between all of these things, there are portfolio reviews in November and in Houston in March every second year. It’s kind of a thing that keep me focused on art more because I like these deadlines and meetings. So it’s pretty simple.
Dennis: You say it’s cheaper to live this way than it was to live in Germany. How? Traveling costs money. How does it…
Katka: That’s what everybody thinks but it’s not really true. For us it’s cheaper to travel than to live in Slovakia. Slovakia is not the place which is very expensive. It’s like normal place in Europe so it’s kind of okay but not super expensive.
Imagine there are places in all the world, for instance in Indonesia, where you can have a hut that cost like $5 for two people with breakfast. Then life is very easy with this kind of money. It’s very affordable. Just only about the fear that we never book something in advance. We just get the ticket. Then it’s about you. How you are going to work with this kind of fear and pressure and everything but it’s super easy. You just go somewhere.
Believe it or not, every time you meet somebody who is willing to help you and you learn how to find accommodation. Sometimes you lower your standards. You are not having super great place. But why would you like to have a super great place if you are staying there only for a couple of nights? You are there because you would like to be at the beach. You would like to see and experience something. So it’s pretty easy.
Every trip we try to learn something. Like in Central America, we start to speak Spanish. In South America, we took really good language course so we improve the ability to be connected with the people. It’s impossible in Indonesia or Southeast Asia because the tonal languages are very hard to learn. So, with couple of words, we try to make a conversation. But you don’t really need that much and it’s super easy.
We do languages, we do diving, we do climbing, we do a lot of trekking, and we love everything. There’s the thing because I think the life is to be happy and to experience everything and it doesn’t really cost money.
For instance, when we were students at the university, our first big trip was… Gaston wanted to go to Amsterdam and I wanted to go to Paris. We didn’t have money so we said, “Why we don’t try hitchhiking?” It went wonderful. We met the people that changed our life forever.
I think my passion for art grew because the first guy who took us in the car from Pozsony to Koln in Germany, I think it was six or seven hours in the car with him, and he was an artist himself.
We came to Koln. It was a night. He asked us “Where are you going to sleep?” We said, “We don’t know.” So he offered us to sleep at his house. We were very polite and we declined twice. But on the third time we said yes because it was raining and we didn’t really have plan and we didn’t know nothing.
Dennis: You didn’t have money, right?
Katka: Yes. We came to his house and that was the first time I saw the house filled with art and it was amazing! Everything was amazing like the table or door or whatever. I was thinking, “This is unbelievable!”
During the trip, as we sit in the car, he told us how he loves theater. That it’s the reason he come back to Prague. He exiled because of the former socialistic era but he goes there because of theater. Then he said, “Oh, you know, I love wines. This red from Spain is amazing.” For us, we didn’t know nothing about art, about theater, about wine. Nothing! Because the life that we used to live was very simple.
Nowadays when we are in Europe, like a couple of years ago, we just heard about a wonderful wine. Now we order Spanish wine for the website and we visit the client in Germany. We just pick our wine, which was delivered from best shop in Berlin and we have the red wine from Spain.
Every year we go to Champagne because I love champagne. So we get our bottles. The white wine I prefer from Germany. So we have these little trips to keep us busy and it’s wonderful because you visit the winemaker. You make your own stock. It’s affordable. You travel to get your stuff and we enjoy with the friends back home in Slovakia and we visit all of these friends that we have.
We stop by in Paris. We have second mom and dad that I knew in Houston couple of years ago. We visit all of these beautiful people that we met in Central America, the guy from Belgium. Always where we go somewhere, we try to do this trip to see these people, you know? Then the friendship grows and you learn the tricks.
I love people who are older than we are, like 20 or 30 years older, because they are so clever. They can teach you the tricks before you get there. The only thing you do is just observe what they do. That’s simple. I don’t know what I could say, I think.
Dennis: I think it’s great. You made the decision to travel, you sold your flat, didn’t you? Or…
Katka: No. We decided to keep the flat but to rent it out. At the time we were able to buy a few flats. We have kind of this passive income, which is not always passive because sometimes the tenant leaves so we have to come back and look for another one. But, basically, we don’t have our own space.
When we come back to Slovakia, we stay in a flat with my mother and she’s a wonderful person. The place we live in Slovakia is very kind of a cheap place so you don’t need that much money. We pay the rent, in Slovakia, with my mom so it’s a very small amount of money. Whatever we do, we try to find a good way to do it.
We love to travel but we love to work as well. For me it’s like to take the photographs. I try to put them to the photographic banks so I can get some income from my photographs. Gaston, he still works for two clients but we live in this wonderful era - wherever we go there is Internet. We prefer to spend the time by beach and it’s also this limitation like we would prefer to be in the water so let’s hurry up. Let’s make this thing happen. The time is limited to create the money but we like to do that.
We basically don’t own that much. We have just a car. We stay by my mom. We try to find interesting places which doesn’t costs that much. That’s kind of our thinking how to do it to earn money in Euro or dollars and spend them in the places like Indonesia where you can get so much more than if you have spend this money in, I don’t know, US or something.
Dennis: Interesting. I’m familiar with your fine art photography. You do travel photography?
Dennis: I didn’t realize you did that.
Katka: Yeah. We have a blog that we set up for our family and friends. So they can follow our little adventures. It’s in Slovak. My husband, he writes, and I take the pictures. It’s wonderful way to stay in contact with the people. Because then we come home and they are excited or sad with us. They say, “Oh, that was wonderful what you did,” or “Oh, I would like to see the places.” The best compliment I ever heard was “I would love to live in your photographs.”
Dennis: Ah, nice.
Katka: It’s so nice, you know, and people are so visual. So they can see the image and they connect.
Dennis: You’re so positive about the whole thing, the experience, and you’re positive about how to make it happen. But you’ve had to have had some obstacles or problems along the way, no?
Katka: I think it was very hard at the beginning to learn how to do it. I mean my mom, she was very positive for our decision to do it this way. Of course, she miss us and everything. But the family of Gaston, they have different set of values. It was a longer run for them but now they are big fans of our blog.
My father-in-law, he’s a wonderful man. When we don’t write in a week or something then he asks what’s new because he can’t read nothing on our blog. It’s so great to know that there are people who read the story and see the pictures, you know, that keeps you doing this thing.
I discovered it’s a great motivation for people and I’m not doing it for other people, I’m doing it for myself because I believe it’s such a great thing to be alive and you should really be thankful and enjoy it to maximum.
If you think that there will be this retirement and you postpone everything, it doesn’t really make sense because then you are tired, or broke, or you have some health issues.
That’s great about the traveling that you also meet the people. The oldest lady we met, she was 82 years old, and she was wonderful! The first time she went to Europe she came by boat. You see these people and you see them - of course, they don’t do the mountain climbing to 6,000 meters - but they are so active!
Because you travel you use so much your brain. It’s about instant decision. It’s not like… You have to decide where you are going to sleep. You have to decide what you are going to eat. It’s like the most important choices you make. They are just few choices like where we sleep, what we eat, and then what is here to experience. Are we going to the national park or are we going just to learn how to do the kickboxing or something. Every place is wonderful! Every place is wonderful!
You meet these people and it gives you such a motivation like look at that man! He is 65 and look at how good shape he is in. I would love to be 65 and be in this shape. He just say, “Okay, I’m a former fire department officer and I decided just to sell everything. So I have two B’s: one is bed and breakfast and second one is a backpack.” You look at him and you say, “This is wonderful!” He said, “You know, I was so stupid to wait so long and I’m so happy for you that you are so young and you are doing something like this.” You realize it’s not that hard to do it. You just have to put your guts together and you just try.
Dennis: That’s it.
Katka: The last time we met a guy in Uruguay, he was from the States. I don’t remember if it was Boston or Chicago, but it doesn’t matter. He said that he has this kind of a crisis and he thought it would be nice to have like half year as kind of sabbatical year. He said he never met in his whole life so many interesting people in hostels, you know. Because, you see, the other travelers, they are so excited about, I don’t know… falls… Iguazu Falls, and they give you all of the tricks how to do it.
But the mentality of the traveler is mostly the same. You find such wonderful people and they put it somehow together. Either they save money and they do like half-year but you get addicted! So you have to change your style of life and I know it doesn’t make totally sense but you have to start somehow.
I think it doesn’t really make sense what I’m saying…
Dennis: No, no, make perfect sense.
Katka: …because there are so many aspect. It isn’t easy to describe; it’s very complex.
Dennis: It is, but you’re describing it really, really well. The benefits of it, and how you did it, and how you made it happen, and that’s what I wanted.
Katka: I think they are not really obstacles. They could be kind of a fears because sometimes you arrive late and you didn’t prepare properly or it’s a dangerous place or something happens. So, you could have these fears. It’s normal. It’s natural. It’s also very healthy to have kind of a reasonable portion of fear because you are ready to deal with the situation. But what is great about traveling, it’s like you constantly use your brain so you can’t get old, you know? The decision process is very simple and it gets simpler and simpler.
Also, with the backpack, at the beginning we used to have a huge backpack. Now, we try to minimize and still we have a lot of things. At the end, you realize that you use for four months, you use four different t-shirts and I have maybe two skirts and some trousers. Then when I can’t use them anymore because, I don’t know, I put them to the laundry and then with the iron they just make a new hole and I am not particularly keen on this special element so you just throw the shirt out and you buy another one.
Katka: So my collection of clothes is very interesting because I have… From every part of the world, I try to have something special. But for the regular use, you have these wonderful shirts or something and then when you go home, also with the things, I try to leave all these old things with somebody who can use them. Even I end up with one shirt that I really like and I’m going to take it home, the rest I leave with these nice people who clean our place or I met the restaurant owner and I like the daughter so I offer these things because I don’t use them anymore or I’m so fed up after a couple of months of the same thing.
Dennis: You’re tired of it. It’s time to change it. Yeah.
Katka: Then I have a space for the presents. These airfare limitations and everything and it’s great because it keeps you focused that you have this limited space. Everything is just about just go and try! If you don’t have maybe really this power to change it, just make small thing like go somewhere and try it.
It’s really good also to lower your standards. I mean I would encourage you, even if you are older, just to go to hostel and you meet wonderful people. They are young and crazy or you meet the fellow traveler who is even like 15 years older you are or something. It doesn’t really make sense to go to a fancy hotel because you don’t meet anybody interesting.
Dennis: Not at all. You may, but it’s really hard. It’s harder. Yeah, yeah.
Katka: It’s really hard. So go to the hostel. You can use like booking.com or TripAdvisor. In TripAdvisor there is this section of accommodation and you have hotels and there is thing like other options. Usually, in other option, you will see the hostels or special kind of lodging. This is the place where you really meet people who believe that traveling is more about the experience than like having a super fancy place to sleep.
You are not there to have the best bed of your life. That’s the place where you really learn something. And, I think we are here to learn and to experience. Why would there be so many wonderful places in the Earth if you can’t visit them? That’s very simple.
If you are afraid, make it easy. Step by step you build or you will not build addiction to travel but, to be honest, I never met somebody who didn’t wish to prolong sabbatical half-year or sabbatical two years of traveling. Then, there is a question: “How may I do it that it’s like a constant kind of traveling?” So there is a challenge.
First, just try to travel. It could be a month somewhere or it could be a longer period of time. Then you will see that you would like to return to this place or this kind of living.
The best part for us is that we travel as a couple so we have all the time in the world. For us, we are 24 hours together. So it’s like you deal with the person and we really like it because we married, we wanted to be together. What is the point that if Gaston is working somewhere 12 hours? Even if he’s earning a lot of money, what is the point? I don’t see him!
Dennis: That’s great.
Katka: Come on!
Dennis: That’s true.
Katka: I can’t wait till I am 65 and then he finally have enough time for me. No, it’s impossible. If you like to be together or something, this is a really nice way how to spend your life together.
And we meet families! In Cambodia, when we said that we are going to Cambodia, everybody thought it’s a very dangerous place but it’s not. Of course there are places that could be dangerous but people there are so lovely.
There we met a mom and she had this special instrument and we were like “What is this?” She said, “That’s a scanner.” We were like “What are you scanning?” She said, “I have two boys. I do homeschooling.” I said “Really?” They were travelling for two years! Third child was in a stroller and I think it was even born on the way. I don’t know. It was amazing!
So she was homeschooling the boys in Cambodia and she has this infant and she was traveling with her husband and three kids and she said it’s the best for the family. They can be all time together and it’s not this kind of a family that parents give this device like phone or kind of a game or something.
Dennis: Right. They’re giving experiences instead, right?
Katka: It’s about talking, and experience, and playing and everything. It’s not about that you can’t do it because some people say, “Oh, wait till you have children then you’ll see.” Yeah but I still saw so many people traveling with children. So you have always an option. It’s always your choice.
Dennis: How much longer are you guys going to do this you think?
Katka: I think forever we will, yeah. We are not tired yet.
Dennis: There you go.
Katka: I see the difference like maybe ten years ago. We could stay longer time without a proper bed or we could do a long ride or flight. Now, I’m more tired that I really need shorter bus rides. I see that my body gets a little bit older, you know, but it’s okay. We now try to do it slower and it’s really good because then you experience the place more.
From the first trip to Venezuela, we met two very interesting older people. One guy is from Ireland and the lady is from Italy. They were not a couple but we just happened to go together to Angel Falls, which is the tallest fall in the world. The guy, Patrick, he told us every year he goes for a half a year to the cheap country to spend winter because to pay heating in Ireland - he’s not that rich.
He goes every year to Mexico now and for a half a year he pays, he learns Spanish, he eats fresh fish, and he just love it. He spends so less money compared to Ireland.
Dennis: So it’d be more expensive for him to heat his place in Ireland in the wintertime.
Katka: And then when he comes back in summer, he does workshops kind of like how to make your own basket from, I don’t know, the branches. I don’t know how you…
Dennis: Weaves or whatever. Alright, yeah.
Katka: Or kind of a fishing workshop. He invites people to his place because he loves people. Then the winter is coming so off he go. Every year we exchange a few of the emails and I see his painting is getting better and it’s wonderful.
Or we know a guy from Germany and he loves Central America. He’s, I don’t know, he can be like 65, I guess. I don’t know. He go there every year and he loves diving, he loves fishing, and he loves boats. So he goes from Honduras, Utila, all the way to Panama, or he stops in Corn Islands in, what is it, Nicaragua? Not Nicaragua. I don’t know. [laughs] But it’s amazing place to go and that’s it.
Dennis: It’s crazy.
Katka: It’s not crazy because we meet people; they do this for 40 years.
Dennis: That’s unbelievable, I guess.
Katka: So we are kind of a novice still.
Dennis: Still a novice. [laughs] Seven years later you’re still a novice. How many countries have you been to?
Katka: Oh, not that much. I think 65.
Dennis: Not that much.
Katka: Not that much.
Dennis: Yeah. Compared to what? [laughs]
Katka: I don’t know. It’s not about the comparison.
Dennis: No, no. But you said not that much and you say 65, I mean…
Katka: Every time you meet somebody and he speaks about this delicious dish you could eat in Uzbekistan and I’m like, “I would like to go there.” Or we met a girl from… she lives now in Australia and she said she had such a wonderful time in Iran. Then you have another destination, you know. It’s unstoppable. I hear about the food or some natural wonder and I want to see it, you know.
This time at Galápagos, we did a small cruise for eight days, I think. It was amazing. There were a couple of women and they were telling us the most amazing stories like they went for Trans-Siberian Magistral last year and they were like one was 75 and the other one was 65. They go twice a year for this kind of experience. They have limited time because one is still working as a nurse and they do a short holidays. But they have this kind of life, two holidays at least, but active holidays.
So, they went in winter this year, they went to Ecuador and now they go to Japan. They are excited and it’s really nice to see, you know. The older one, she had a little bit problems of walking so she brought the sticks but, mentally, she was so young. It was unbelievable! You saw her with these sticks walking on this volcanic island. She puts on bathing suit and go swimming with us or snorkeling and it’s amazing. I wish my parents could do that but it’s a different mentality.
Dennis: Absolutely. That’s right.
Katka: We were very lucky to be born to this wonderful era. So everywhere you meet somebody, every place, and then… It’s really wonderful!
Dennis: Your energy is just so contagious. It is. The sparkle in your eyes as you’re talking about it…
Katka: It’s so great to travel.
Dennis: It’s great. Katka, this has been great. Thank you so much.
Katka: [laughs] I am very pleased to be interviewed, I must say. If you are going to broadcast I hope it will be interesting for somebody. I’m not here to encourage people. I am just living my wonderful life.
Dennis: People that hear this cannot help but be encouraged, you know. So it’s great.
Katka: Yeah, it’s so easy. Just go!
Dennis: Love it.
Katka: Just go!
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