Monday, March 31, 2014

Au Pairing: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Incase you didn't know, I au paired in Paris, France when I was 18 for a year & am currently au pairing in Dublin, Ireland. While I don't consider myself an expert on the subject, I do feel as though I may be able to share some useful information for anyone thinking about becoming an au pair. 

This munchkin...

The Good
Being an au pair means a solid guarantee of a job as soon you arrive in your country of choice... There is no stress of having to stay in a hostel while looking for apartments & a full-time job, which means not having to pay a deposit either! 

You usually work less than 30 hours a week (or are supposed to), leaving you plenty of time to explore & travel, which is the main reason you're moving abroad in the first place! Also if you choose carefully, you can end up with evenings & weekends off (as I do).

If you're lucky, you can unintentionally end up with a second family. This makes being away from home (especially if it's your first time) a hell of a lot easier. You can end up establishing a lifelong bond with these people, including the kids. I still keep in touch with my French family!

One of the under looked points of becoming an au pair is the practice you're getting for when you have your own children! Or... It can also be the deciding factor in whether or not you'll have children. My au pair friends & I used to joke that au pairing is the best form of birth control there is... Haha.

Do I even need to mention the fact that you're in a new country?! In my case, European, which leads to more spontaneous weekend trips & jaunts to Spain considering the ridiculously low airline prices compared to back home.

If you choose correctly, you should end up with a family who pays your accommodation, airfare, health insurance, language lessons, petrol & car insurance (if you have to drive) & cell phone bill. Oh, also food. Enough said.

Day trip to the seaside

The Bad
Generally, there is a lack of privacy. It can be almost like still living with your parents... Except for worse, because it's your employers. Often, you can't head off to your room at the end of your shift to call your best friend to complain about the temper tantrums that were thrown earlier or the fact that you had to work late... Because your host parents will most likely be able to hear your conversation. There is no bringing boys home from the bar (if that's your thing) & hangovers are made 10X worse by the fact that you're woken up at 7am Sunday morning by children's screams, when you've just got in four hours ago from a night out. Also, you cannot hang out braless in the kitchen eating ice cream straight out of the tub on Saturday morning, which is something to seriously take into consideration! BUT, you can also end up in a guest house or an apartment of your own, as I did & there are always friends couches to crash on when it gets too hectic.

It's downright stressful. But what else can you expect when the actual life of toddlers is dependent on you? My first time au pairing I honestly didn't think I'd last, seeing as how I couldn't even take care of myself properly. It does get easier though, though it doesn't get any less stressful. Honestly, you just learn how to manage the stress. This is not a laid-back pub gig or like working in your favourite clothing store. The well-being of small humans is actually in your hands.

The children you end up taking care of can turn out to be absolute menaces, with no knowledge of discipline. Luckily, most of the time being firm, confident & never giving in will help you out in these cases. Or, you can end up being like one of my friends who called me at 8am on a Saturday morning to tell me that she was boarding a plane home for the weekend because she feared she'd have a mental breakdown if she stayed.

My hippie twin

The Ugly 
Having many friends who have au paired in various countries around the world, unfortunately I hear just as many, if not more, bad stories as I do good. If you're unlucky, you can end up being overworked, underpaid & ultimately, under appreciated... Not to mention the children. You can end up becoming extremely resentful towards your host parents & the country you're living in. Being in a situation like this in a foreign country usually makes you homesick & prevents you from having the experience you had hoped for & deserve.

Luckily, as Jim Rohn says, 'you are not a tree. If you don't like where you are, change it.' Finding a new host family is as easy as signing up on Au Pair World or discussing it with the agency you joined. Not for one second should you stay in a situation where you are unhappy, especially when you are travelling. You chose to become an au pair to learn a new language, live in a new country, make lasting relationships, immerse yourself in a culture & maybe even to find yourself. Being unhappy will lead you down the path to none of these. It may be frightening to sit your host parents down & tell them it's not working out. You may even feel like a failure because of it. Don't. 

Had to...

My Advice?
To save yourself from ending up in a bad situation in the first place, I have a few guidelines/suggestions.

  • Do not au pair if you dislike children. It's not worth it.
  • If it is your first time, do not choose a family with more than two kids. Preferably, choose a family with one & who is at least three years old, though of course the older they are, the easier (generally speaking) they are.
  • Don't accept less than 100 euro a week, or the equivalent in the currency you'll be paid in. I make double this & wouldn't accept a penny less.
  • Be picky! Do not rush the process of finding your host family out of excitement, which I know can be tempting.
  • Although it seems like a good idea at the time to choose from families spanning ten different countries, narrow it down to a maximum of three countries. My second time around I actually narrowed it down to just one & it made the process a million times less stressful.
  • Think twice about working for parents who work from home. Children can tend to act up when they're aware that the parent is home. Also, it can feel as though there is a lack of trust, even if there isn't.
  • Search for au pair groups on FaceBook, & even CouchSurfing in the area you'll be living in to see if there is a large community of them. This is especially important if you are not attending language school, as meeting other au pairs/making friends in general can tend to be harder.
  • Ask beforehand about vacation times & whether you can have friends & family stay with you. Personally, I would not au pair for a family who would not allow me to have guests. You are working for your room & board after all.
  • Do not be afraid to speak up! Miscommunication is often the largest source of unhappiness in au pair/host family relationships. Often times one party may not even realize there is an issue.
  • This goes along with being picky... Take your time & find a family where you either a) have your own bathroom, b) are in a guest house or, c) have your own apartment. Trust me, there are plenty out of families out there who offer these types of accommodation & it is worth the wait. Just be patient.
Have any of you au paired? It'd be great to hear about your experiences, good & bad. Even advice! Also, if anyone has more specific questions about au pairing I am more than happy to help as best I can. Regarding the amount of factors involved, I can say I'm very lucky to have found the two families I have & do not regret my choice to au pair abroad. Cheers! xxx

Monday, March 24, 2014

5 Days in Oslo: What I Spent

I figured before I'm off to Amsterdam next weekend I should write more about Norway. Other than, of course, what I've written about our ridiculous CouchSurfing experience. So on a lighter note, onto breaking down what I spent!

View from the Opera House

Flight: 36 EUR (Ryanair)

Bus to & from Dublin airport: 14 EUR

Bus to & from Rygge airport: 36 EUR
Thinking back, it would've made more sense to just book with Aer Lingus to save us the one hour bus ride each way. In all honesty booking with Ryanair saved us maybe 10 or 20 euro tops.

Overlooking Karl Johans Gate

Accommodation (Hostel): 30 EUR
Fortunately after being stranded my Norwegian friends pulled through for us, except for the last night which we just decided to book a hostel. Booking last minute of course upped this price, but for reference hostels in Oslo do tend to be on the expensive side. We stayed at Anker Hostel.

Transportation: 35 EUR
Basically just metro tickets. I made the rookie mistake of buying single tickets until the 4th day where I finally caved & bought the 48 hour pass, though I was reluctant to, for no valid reason.

Food: 78 EUR
Food was my biggest cost, unsurprisingly being that I'm a hardcore foodie. I only ate in an actual restaurant once though & the meal cost me about 23 euro for a pasta dish that would've cost 8 euro in Dublin. Other than that we did groceries, but since we didn't have a homebase for the trip we did end up making a few fast food runs which weren't really necessary. A Big Mac meal costs about 13 euro in Oslo, which actually makes it the most expensive Big Mac meal in the world!

Oslo Harbour

Museums & Attractions: 0 EUR
Every museum I visited I saved for Sunday, which happens to be free entry for most museums in Oslo. This saved me a ridiculous amount, though an Oslo Pass is a possible option as well & a smart one at that. You have the option of choosing 24, 48 or 72 hours. Transportation is also included in the pass.

Alcohol: 25 EUR
We bought our Jameson duty-free at the Dublin airport & I actually only bought one beer out. Cheers for duty-free is all I have to say about that.

Total: 256 EUR, or 397 CAD... Which equals roughly 79 CAD a day, including flight.

Basically our trip... Ha

Now in reality I could've spent an insane amount more. But I also could've spent an insane amount less. Considering all of the mistakes I knew I was making, I'm pretty happy with what I spent & have no complaints. Saying that...

My backpacker budget tips for one of the most expensive cities in the world:
  • Seriously consider which airline you choose, you may end up saving money by NOT flying Ryanair & flying directly into Oslo airport, saving the bus trip from Rygge.
  • Stay with friends &/or family. I would say CouchSurf but I'm not the biggest advocate of it after our fiasco. Otherwise, book your hostel WELL in advance & go during off-peak dates, during the week & from January-March are most affordable.
  • Buy either an Oslo Pass (price depends on length of pass), the 24 hour metro ticket for 9 euro, or the 7-day metro ticket for 23 euro. You can walk most places in Oslo, but it is a pretty large city & some of the cooler destinations you will need to use the metro. The Oslo metro system is one of my favourite in Europe though, being extremely efficient. Also, no matter how many zones you cross your ticket remains the same price & is usable for one hour after you buy it!
  • Grocery shop! Noodles on noodles. Or live off the hot dog stands scattered around the city... I must say they're pretty amazing when you're a starved backpacker. Also, Grønland is one of the areas in Oslo with the best prices for fresh fruits & veg. Meat too of course. If you're into markets be sure to visit here! 
  • If you don't want to spend the money on the Oslo Pass (like me), visit whichever museums you'd like to see on Sunday! Most are free. A lot of the attractions in Oslo though are honestly outdoors & free anyway.
  • Don't drink or buy your alcohol duty-free & pre-game, hard. Enough said.
I'd love to know, do you guys skip the more expensive cities or try to work them into your travels anyway? & if you do work them in, which cities?!

Frognerseteren, last stop on the metro line 1