Become an Au Pair and Travel the World

As my college graduation loomed nearer, the idea of working 9-5 at a desk after spending the last 17 years of my life at a school desk made me feel increasingly claustrophobic. Instead, I wanted to travel for at least a few months, but also knew that I shouldn’t blow all of my savings on one trip. I found a great solution when I heard about Au Pairing:

  • You move abroad to almost any country in the world, work 30 hours per week to receive a small stipend and free room and board in a (probably dope) house. Furthermore, your visa, travel expenses, and a language course could be paid for (depending on the country).
  • The work includes childcare and housework. Tasks usually consist of taking children to school and activities, laundry, tidying, and preparing meals.
  • You receive weekends off as well as 2 weeks of paid vacation to travel and explore as much as your heart desires!

After deciding that I wanted to move to Europe, I became interested in the Netherlands due to the country’s proximity to many places I wanted to travel to and because I wanted to trade in my car for a bike. I also wanted to experience the liberal, open-minded spirit that Amsterdam is famous for and the non-translateable feeling of gezelligheid. I also knew that most Dutch people can speak English fluently, which would make my life abroad easier both logistically and socially. I am now halfway through my year here and am thrilled with my choice to be an au pair in Holland 1. During my adventures I have seen massive waterfalls in Iceland, toured London, gone on a solo trip to Belgiumpopped over to Paris, fell in love with the colors of Lisbon, and swam in the Italian Mediterranean.

When I’m not traveling, I am home with my wonderful host family. Through learning to prepare typical Dutch dinners, hearing about my kids’ days at school, joining in for birthday and holiday traditions, and accompanying them on excursions, I learn something new about the culture or language every day. If I ever have any question or need help translating something, I have someone to ask to right away, and they are always giving me European travel tips or pointers about Dutch adventures. They make me feel included in their family but also give me all the freedom and space a 22 year old would want.

IMG_313420141111_194049‘Boerenkool met Worst,’ a typical Dutch meal I make about once a week. 

Although I am thrilled to be here, I feel I have to point out that it’s not always easy to be an au pair. Here’s a few reasons why.

There’s that language barrier thing

You are constantly facing a language barrier while communicating with the children. In one common scenario, the kids squabble with each other (obviously) in Dutch. This makes it really difficult as the person in charge because when they come to me crying, I have no idea what happened or which child is at fault. I have become a much more patient person through handling the children who are frustrated at moments when they can’t communicate what they want to me in English. Although it can be a challenge, In my experience, the language barrier becomes much less of an issue over time as I get to know the children better and both of our language skills improve.

What part of the world do you want to see?

Choose where you want to au pair wisely: Does your host family live in a location from which it will it be easy to travel around and make friends? I am really lucky that there is an au pair community in my suburban village and a sizable expat community in the Netherlands. My adjustment to living abroad was assuaged because I so quickly made friends with other au pairs from places like the US, South America, South Africa, Spain, Poland, and South Korea. They  had all gone through the same steps of adjusting to au pair life abroad and are also such an interesting international crew. I am also happy with my location because there is a train station in my village which is easily reachable by bike. Don’t be that au pair that lives in that tiny secluded village who has a very difficult time getting around on weekends!

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It’s like your family, but this time you can choose. So choose wisely.

Although there are many au pair agencies which match you with a host family after completing an application, I highly recommend creating a profile on this website  and going through the host family selection process on your own. An agency match is like your freshman college roommate match: It can look great on paper but turn out to be a disaster. Skype your potential host family a few times, discuss your goals for the year, and make sure they are people that you would enjoy spending time with and that you will be able to have open discussions with them. It can really be a trying experience to move in with a host family, especially when there are cultural differences and possibly different expectations of your role within the host family, and you need to be able to communicate honestly with them.

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Overall, the au pair life for me has been a wonderful experience of immersing myself in the Dutch culture, bonding with my host family, and traveling and exploring as much of Europe as I can. I have learned so much about myself while being here, and am thrilled with how much I am checking off my European bucket list. I highly recommend becoming an au pair if you also enjoy being around children and have goals of working and traveling abroad.

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  1. So far I have visited 6 countries and have also travelled throughout the Netherlands

How to Hostel 101

“Ew, ew, ew, ew,” a stranger in my hostel room squealed, “Wake up! There’s something moving on your bed!” I sat straight up right away, freaked out by my roommate’s tone of panic and disgust. After both a headlamp and a Google search, we had confirmed that there were actual bedbugs in both of our beds. These little guys are a nightmare – they suck your blood, are easily spread by travelers, and are extremely difficult to get rid of.

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We were grossed out and grumpy, with our skins crawling and annoyed to be missing out on a night of sleep. However, we migrated to the hostel common room and actually ended up having a really great time staying up all night, chatting and swapping travel stories, and forming a group of instant new friends from all over the world: the bed bug buddies. Our night concluded as we watched a gorgeous sunrise over the Venice canals, a magical memory for all of us.

After a successful trip to the laundromat the next morning, I actually left this infestation scare and hostel laughing, and a few months later, I’m happy to have another adventure under my belt. Even in the rare worst case hostel scenario like this bed bug story, hostels are the best. They’re affordable, fun, and I always leave a hostel with a few more friends than when I got there- they provide a unique environment for you to easily meet and mingle other travelers.

However, definitely best to stay away from hostels with bed bug or other problems…. Read on for a guide on how to survive the process of finding and staying in a hostel.

Go to www.HostelWorld.com

This is definitely the best place to start when picking your hostel. They only show the most recent reviews, and I have found that their reviews are much more accurate and updated than those from other similar websites.

Read the reviews!

Once you find the reviews, read the reviews! So, so, important, and I learned the hard way! For this bed bug instance, I didn’t use HostelWorld, and instead focused on the cheap price and the awesome view from the bedroom windows. Bad idea! On HostelWorld, you can sort the reviews by how recently they were created, or by the age, nationality, or gender of the reviewer so that you’re reading thoughts from like-minded travelers.

Location, location, location

When choosing between a few, make sure to research the location. It’s almost always worth the extra money to be in the heart of the city that you are traveling to. Sometimes it’s tempting to save a few extra bucks a night on a hostel that is farther from the main touristic attractions, but you can end up either spending more money, time, and effort trying to get to the center, or just being in a sketchier location.

Make sure they got sick vibes, yo

But really, read about the hostel vibes. Especially if you are traveling alone or want to make friends, it’s very important that your hostel has high ‘atmosphere’ ratings! Hostels that have bars in the common area tend to be really fun, and it’s also smart to check out the photos of the hostel common room to see if it looks like somewhere you’d want to hang out.

Perks?

AC? Discount at the hostel bar for guests? Outlet by your bed? Breakfast included? Towels available? Usually these details don’t make or break your experience in a hostel but are all really nice to have. As for hostel breakfast, don’t expect a giant buffet; It typically is just some sort of bread product and coffee, but it still can hold you over until lunch which is great for travelers on a budget.

Wifi

All hostels should have WiFi, but there are a few that don’t offer it in the bedrooms, or the connection is really spotty or difficult to access. It’s always pretty necessary to have good internet at your home base to be able to research activities, catch up with people back home or plan your next travel step, so make sure people in the reviews were pleased with the Wifi.

Tentative schedule?

When booking, it’s a good idea to choose flexible booking and look at their cancellation policy. When traveling for an extended period of time, often times I wish I had more freedom to reroute my trip, as so many of your new friends will tell you about their trips and give you awesome travel suggestions that you never considered. For a big backpacking trip, it’s usually worth it to pay the few extra dollars for ‘flexible booking’ if you have any doubt about the solidity of your plans.

Bed count

Just know that the more beds in your hostel room, the less likely you are to get a good night’s sleep, especially if you’re in a party hostel. If I’m on a long backpacking trip, I’ll make sure to book a room with fewer beds every once in awhile to allow myself to catch up on sleep.

Must Pack List

Pack a headlamp, a mobile USB charger, shower shoes, earplugs, and a lock for a hostel-heavy vacation!

Make sure you know where you are

Research the directions to get to your hostel. Even though hostels should email you directions to get there in your reservation email, often times they are badly translated and unclear, so I always find it helpful to look it up on GoogleMaps as well and have both printed for my journey to a hostel.

Now you’re all set up to have an adventure in a dope hostel!

 

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10 Awesome Activites To Do in Paris When You’re Young

I strongly believe that everyone who goes on a trip through Europe should be required to make a stop in Paris. It’s really hard not to fall in love with the City of Love: the charming architecture with wrought iron balconies and storybook-style shutters, grand churches, impressive museums, and pleasant outdoor cafés all come together to create one of the most iconic cities in the world, and one of the most enjoyable cities for tourists to visit. Go wander, eat amazing food, sip on wine, and enjoy!

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There are more than enough to keep a tourist busy in Paris but these are my favorite activities and sights to see:

Sandeman Walking Tour

This 3 hour tour is a great way to familiarize yourself early on in your trip with the geographical and historical contexts of beautiful Paris. The tour guides point out the main tourist attractions with tips about how to best visit them, and she also helped me appreciate details of the city that I would have otherwise skimmed over. Tours start at Place St. Michel, line 4.

Stroll Through Montmartre

Hop off the metro at Anvers, line 2, and follow the foot traffic uphill. Soon, La Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre will come into view. Continue uphill until you can both visit the basilica and see the panoramic view of Paris below you. After visiting the church, make sure you wander through the enchanting winding streets of Montmartre on your way down the backside of the hill.

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Sainte-Chapelle

I think this church actually amazed me more than Notre Dame, but luckily they are near to each other so you can easily visit both! (Cité, line 4). Prepared to be blown away by the most colorful, detailed stained glass you’ve ever seen in your life. After visiting the churches, make sure you walk across the Seine on the Pont des Arts locks of love bridge before all the locks are taken away!

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Eiffel Tower

(Trocadero, line 9) I’ve heard that going up to the top of the tower can be a crowded, chaotic experience, and I felt that walking around and under it was enough to take the grandeur of this Parisian icon. Make sure to catch the light show on the hour!

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Château de Versailles

If you’re tight on money or the weather is too nice to spend a day inside, skip the line for the palace and just explore the famous palace gardens of Versailles instead. If you are going inside the palace, though, buy a ticket beforehand and still arrive as early as possible! (RER C train, Versailles)

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Musée d’Orsay

I think even ‘not-museum-people’ would enjoy an hour or two checking out the art in this museum. There is a wonderful collection of impressionist and post-impressionist arts, including work by Van Gough, Monet, and Gaugin.

Stroll up the Champs-Élysées towards L’Arc de Triomphe

Lots of shopping, people watching, and in the winter, huge Christmas markets! (Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau, line 1 or 13)

Musee de Louvre

(Palais-Royal, line 1) The most visited museum in Paris, and one of the largest museums in the world. Mostly only an enjoyable experience if you buy your ticket beforehand and have energy or caffeine to spend a few hours walking around, i.e. don’t go after at the end of a long day of sight seeing.

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Saint Germain des Prés

Lively street full of fun pubs! (Mabillon, line 10).

Cafés

Make sure you enjoy a cheese platter and a good glass of wine while people watching from an outdoor patio of a typical Parisian café.

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Crepes

I don’t think you can go wrong with any crepes in Paris, from either restaurants or street stands, but you will absolutely not regret going to the restaurant ‘Mamie Tevennec‘ (Charonne, line 9).

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How to Not Get Totally Robbed in Europe (And How I Did)

I woke up to the train conductor’s voice crackling over the loudspeaker, announcing that it was 6:30 am and that we had concluded our overnight journey from Zurich to Vienna. I squinted through the window for my first glimpse of Austria while groggily reaching under my seat for my glasses. A minute passed before panic snapped me out of my sleepiness. My glasses were not under my seat, and neither was my purse the glasses were in, which meant my passport, driver’s license, cash, and credit cards were also gone.

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I blindly made my way to the police station after de-boarding the train with two other groups of travelers – the thief had made their rounds through the train. When I got WiFi and logged into my online banking, I discovered that all the money from my cash card had been withdrawn at 4 am in an Austrian train station that I have never even heard of.

Although most trips turn out to be amazing experiences, as a traveler you are a prime target for many scams and pickpockets that are just waiting to take advantage of a nice tourist like you!

Unfortunately, my story is not really unique. Tourists are vulnerable: you’re pumped for your epic vacation, sleep deprived because you procrastinated and packed all night, jittery from all of the Starbucks you drank at the airport to consequently survive the sleep deprivation, and now jet lagged and confused from zooming through so many time zones. Although most trips turn out to be amazing experiences, as a traveler you are a prime target for many scams and pickpockets that are just waiting to take advantage of a nice tourist like you!

After I realized my purse was totally gone I started freaking out, imagining the DMV lines I would have to wait in to get a new license, the thief using my brand new wallet, and the worst, imagining the price of altering my trip itinerary due to lack of passport. I needed the passport in two days to leave from Austria to Budapest, and then most importantly to board my plane from Amsterdam to America in six days after four months abroad. Cue stress.

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Here’s what I learned:

Don’t keep everything together

Looking back, I think it was my saving grace that I didn’t keep all my eggs in one basket; Although my money and passport had been robbed, I still had my iPhone which had been in another bag.

Know how to communicate without a phone

Even though I had purchased Skype Credit so that I could make international calls to cancel my credit cards, cry to my parents and call the Austrian US embassy to replace my stolen passport, it’s important to know other ways to communicate if I did get my phone stolen. Make an emergency card with phone numbers or even give important phone numbers to your fellow travelers, that way, if something happens (because something always happens when you travel), you’ll be really happy you have your mom’s number (because who remembers numbers anymore?). Also know how to get your hands on a phone and a calling card. General stores across Europe have carry them for when this happens.

Have multiple forms of money

Credit cards are great to have but cash will get you out of any bind. Keep a small wad of cash on your person at all times.

Remember to make copies of everything

Once I got to the embassy, I was very thankful that I had copies of my passport and driver’s license to show them that I was a real person. I wish that I also carried copies of my passport photo because it’s really unfortunate to have to take a new one with puffy eyes from traveling overnight and sporting an unfortunate (but cozy) green turtle neck with polar bears on it. Make copies of everything, store them in another location and even take pictures of them so you have them on your phone. It’ll make the process that much easier.

Guard your stuff when sleeping

Yes, we learned that the hard way. Let your bag be your pillow or drape yourself over your suitcases so if there’s any foul play, you will be alerted.

Always be on alert

In the end, it all worked out and I had a beautiful, Austrian Christmas with a replacement passport that I never let leave my side. I think it’s important to note, though, that while this article is entitled ‘How to Not Get Robbed in Europe,’ the lesson that I learned in Austria is one that can be widely applied to where I travel or live. In fact, crime rates in Europe are actually much lower than they are in many American cities. Like I earlier wrote, the reason that tourists are so susceptible to crime is because of the vulnerability that comes along with being tired, overwhelmed, or just inattentive to the situation. I now realize the importance of being extra smart and cautious wherever I am, because I don’t want to spend any more holidays in an American embassy!

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Mistakes We Made Camping So That You Don’t Have To: Part 1 – Road to Zion

The road-trip to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon –  an epic week of camping where we learned a lot about what to do and what not to do, the hard way!

1 Volvo, 5 girls, 7 epic days of camping, you do the math.

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Lesson 1

Check campground availability. Although we did successfully plan our route beforehand using the wonderful www.roadtrippers.com and had a comprehensive packing list, our first mistake occurred early on in our trip: we didn’t realize that we would be camping over Memorial Day Weekend. This meant—you guessed it— everyone and their mother (literally) wanted to go camping this weekend, so there were zero campsites open at Watchman Campground in Zion National Park, our first stop.

If we wanted to camp at Zion that weekend, we would have to drive nine hours overnight to snag a first-come-first-served campsite in the early morning at South Campground. Our trip went something like this…

 10:45PM: Los Angeles. With our Volvo bursting with our supplies for the week, we hit the road. Blasting Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood Remix,” we drove-thru Starbucks for some venti coffees to start the night.

3 AM: Gas station on I-15, off the Vegas Strip. What started as an innocent candy refuel stop quickly turned into a disastrous gambling opportunity. $3 were lost at those gas station slots.  Still blasting Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood Remix,” we went on our way. Our ‘Snapchat Stories’ continued to document the story of our increasingly delirious journey on the desolate highways connecting Los Angeles and Southern Utah: dollar bills of the Las Vegas geotag rained on tired heads resting on neck pillows, Nerds Ropes and Hot Cheetos refueled our spirits when we were in desperate need of a 5AM snack, dynamic stretching in an otherwise abandoned gas station helped energize us through the final hours of the drive, and a spontaneous purchase of matching raccoon hats had us cracking up as we greeted the sun that sleepily crept up through our windshield.

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Lesson 2

Know your time zones. We weren’t going to put this on the list, but sadly we struggled with this more than once. In this unfortunate mix-up (the first of two), we were forced to forgo a diner breakfast feast when we lost an hour crossing into Utah. Our two-hour window to get to the park and find an open campsite turned into a one-hour window, so our glorious feast turned into a quick stop at McDonald’s. But hey, not mad about Egg McMuffins. 7:30 AM (NOT 6:30): Zion National Park, South Entrance. We zipped through the waking town outside of South Zion, and were all surprised by the fact that we weren’t really “out here” in the wilderness. In fact, there were grocery stores, cafés, and even a movie theater. Blasting Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood Remix,” we continued into the park.

We proceeded to unashamedly peer pressure a stranger out of his campsite; then crashed for the next few hours before the next phase of our adventure began.IMG_7363Credit: http://bit.ly/1V6TYN9

Lesson 3

REI is your friend. Even though we made some pretty basic mistakes, we didn’t do everything wrong!

If you’re camping on a budget (or not), REI is perfect for you since they have a great return policy and reasonably priced rentals. We rented a tent and a cook stove from these guys—the cook stove ended up being a huge lifesaver as the rainy weather we had for half our trip would definitely have prevented us from starting and maintaining our own fire. We also bought a lantern from REI for our trip, and when we returned it we got all of our money back! (Sorry we’re not sorry, REI).

1PM: South Campground, Zion National Park. We awoke after several hours’ rest, excited to explore the magical park we would spend the next two days in. How much success would we have, and how much more of a joke would our lives turn into? Stay tuned for the next installation of our camping trip, where we restock in nearby civilization and learn the hard way that not all windbreakers are waterproof….

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All the other pics are ours!

Why You’ve Gotta Get to GHENT, BELGIUM

There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of this city, but you should book your next trip here, ASAP. It’s a walkable city with Medieval roots that’s full of charm, friendly people, delicious food, and perhaps most importantly, Belgian beer. It’s a perfect destination for young travelers as the city has a huge student population, meaning there are deals for young people everywhere! Seek these out while exploring the many bars, museums, castles, and churches in this lovely city. Ghent isn’t quite a touristic city (yet), and its proximity to other major cities, reasonable prices, and cultural and historical richness made Ghent one of my favorite European cities I’ve visited so far.

Where to Stay:

Hostel Uppelink- I can’t recommend this hostel enough. Through the hostel’s stained glass windows, you can look out on the best view of Ghent’s city center: a winding, cobblestone street with impressive cathedrals, the busy Sint-Michielsplein Bridge, and a river-side platform that serves as a perfect location to pack a picnic and chill out on a sunny day. The hostel is clean, the WIFI and hot water works well, and there are tons of activities offered by the hostel, such as a free walking city tour, kayak rentals, and a weekly beer tasting. I easily made friends from all over the world in the cozy common room, which holds a bar stocked with plenty of Belgian beer (and a discount for hostel guests).

What to Do:

Go On a Free Walking Tour- It departs daily from Hostel Uppelink’s front door at 1 pm. Walk on your first day for an interesting intro to Ghent and its history!

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Eat Lots of Waffles– I suggest heading to ‘Koffie, 3.14, Thee’ in the Groetenmarkt, grabbing a warm take-away waffle, and eating it along the river. Side note: The Belgians prefer plain waffles, and think tourists ruin them with toppings! However, I can’t resist whipped cream or melted drizzled Nutella…

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While you’re in the Groetenmarkt, also Try Cuberdons (‘Purple Nose’ candy) from the two competing vending carts. Expect a hard gummy outside with a syrupy inside. Expect to feel a sugar high after eating just one.

Taste Belgian Beer- I recommend the beer tasting event offered by Hostel Uppelink. It’s great if you’re on a budget and want to learn about what you’ll be drinking for the next few days.

Hop on a Boat Tour- Can board at many locations along the river at almost any time of day for a quick, enjoyable tour. Student discount!

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’t Dreupelkot Jenever Bar- Jenever is the traditional liquor of Belgium, and it’s what gin evolved from. This bar has literally HUNDREDS of flavors of jenever to try, and you can enjoy them on the outdoor patio if its warm out. Small shots are about 2-3 euros, 3-4 euros for a large. Good deal, good alcohol.

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Climb the Belfry Tower- Provides an amazing view of Ghent from above, and is very cheap with a student discount.

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Go to St. Bavo’s Cathedral- and learn about the Stolen ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ painting- an art history mystery. Notice that you can choose to either see a copy of the painting in the church (for free), or pay to see the real painting.

What Next?

Most travelers in Ghent are also traveling to the romantic city of Brugges, as it is only a cheap, 30 minute train ride away. Others are taking trains or busses to the bigger Belgian metropolises of Antwerp or Brussels, and some are traveling internationally to Holland. If you are taking a train, use the Gent-Sint-Pieters Train station, and expect to take a tram to connect you to the city center.

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