A while ago, I wrote an article that listed 7 alternative travel methods. On that list, I could have also included the idea of working abroad as an Au Pair, which means working as a live-in nanny.
I figured now would be an excellent time to investigate the job prospect a bit more.
In doing so, I have reached out to a couple of traveling ladies that have spent time working in this field to interview them on their experiences relating to their job, cultural immersion, and travel opportunities.
Undoubtedly, working as an Au Pair provides a cultural immersion of sorts, but how does it fare compared to working in other fields abroad, and does it allow for travel opportunities while overseas?
The four ladies who responded to my questions provided more information than I could have imagined, so I chose to feature essential bits below.
Chicago and San Diego, USA – two years
Find Stacey on Twitter and Facebook.
Stacey's Au Pair job, besides looking after two children (boy and girl age 4 and 5), seems pretty laid-back.
Her duties included dropping the children off at school, having daytime hours off, picking the children up at 2:30 pm, and working until 6:30 pm.
In the middle of that, she had to clean, provide snacks, and do laundry a few times a week, but she never really had to work weekends.
Stacey felt very lucky when it came to travel, especially since the rules entail that Au Pairs only need one entire weekend off every month.
Her freedom on the weekends meant she could road trip to new places and even take advantage of US public holidays for long weekend breaks.
Over her two years working in the US, she was able to visit 16 states, take a day trip to Mexico, and spend ten days in Florida in the middle of winter.
Stacey added, “My focus was on travel though, and a lot of Au Pairs will spend all their money on clothes and clubbing and only have seen the city they live in when they leave.”
In terms of cultural immersion, Stacey explained:
“I definitely feel that I gained a far deeper insight into the United States by living with Americans as well as working there.
My host dad's a hard core Republican from New York, and I'm very liberal and from New Zealand, so we would have political debates that opened my eyes, and taught me more about the issues that everyday Americans face.
I'm also very thankful that I got to experience Halloween, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July twice while I was there, in two different cities.
These are such “American” holidays, and I'm so lucky to have had the opportunity to celebrate them in the United States.”
Aerdenhout, the Netherlands – eight months
You can find Jessica on her Au Pair Cooking Channel.
Jessica Walters currently works about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam, in a town called Aerdenhout, where she has been working for the past eight months.
Here she cares for a 12-year-old girl, taking care of all the ironing, cooking for four days a week, cleaning the kitchen daily, and taking the girl to her various activities and lessons.
Jessica adds, “She is a dream though, and it's like having a younger sister. . .”
Jessica is also lucky in that she gets to travel a lot. That doesn't happen easily on an Au Pair's salary, but the time is plentiful for her.
“I save all my money (well, most of it) from each month and take a weekend trip, or if it's a holiday from school, then a week-long [trip] somewhere once a month every month.”
In terms of cultural immersion, Jessica explains:
“It's the best way because you are living with the people you work with so you have the culture and language around you 24/7. I have worked in Bulgaria as a housekeeper before, and I didn't live with the couple I worked for.
It was a wonderful country but a completely different experience because all I did was work and on my time off I walked around and did more tourist things. . . it got lonely sometimes.”
Rome, Italy – four months
Find Amanda on Twitter.
Amanda Slavinsky lived the typical Italian life while working as an Au Pair in Rome for four months. Her duties involved caring for two girls (age 8 and 10) that started with breakfast and getting them to school.
Her daytime hours were free, and she resumed work duties when picking up the girls from school, helping them with homework, and taking them to their afterschool activities.
Dinner was eaten every day as a family around 8 pm in true Italian supper fashion.
Amanda did find travel a bit challenging given her work schedule but did manage to take either day or weekend trips around Italy by train. Exploring other countries was much more difficult.
In terms of cultural immersion, Amanda explained:
“I celebrated birthdays with my family (complete with a sheet of tiramisu in lieu of a birthday cake), watched a lot of Italian television that I would've never been exposed to without them, celebrated my host mom's feast day, ate home cooked Italian meals every night, and learned about how things are dealt with on a familial level in Italy.
I've worked in Korea for 18 months and can say without a doubt that working as an au pair provides valuable insight into another culture, much more than just teaching English.”
Paris, France – two weeks
Jessica Barney had a different experience while working for two weeks in a suburb of Paris.
She cared for two children (a boy and girl, ages 7 and 10), but their communication was the big issue.
In terms of travel, Jessica said she could sometimes travel into Paris city, but she worked long hours during the week and had little time for herself.
However, she only stayed for two weeks, so perhaps she could have achieved more travel if the situation had been different.
In terms of cultural immersion, Jessica added:
“I feel like I would have gained a better insight at another job. Interacting with one family, it may create a stereotype.”
As you can see, the Au Pair experience can vary significantly given the family, country, and expectations presented.
For the most part, the girls above had good experiences with plenty of travel (if they made it a priority) and a great deal of cultural immersion.
Brooke lives a thrifty lifestyle so that she can travel the world at every possible opportunity. Find more of her writing on her website: Her Packing List. Or follow her on Twitter.
Planning a trip? Go Backpacking recommends:
- G Adventures for small group tours.
- World Nomads for travel insurance.
- Hostelworld for booking hostels.
- Rail Europe for train passes.
Monday 1st of October 2012
I'm strongly considering spending a year as an au-pair in Switzerland, so it was heartening to hear about these girls' positive experiences!