Exploring your new city


This is another guest post by Megan, who recently moved from the US to Hamburg, Germany. 

All I wanted to do once I arrived in Hamburg was explore. I soon found, however, that exploring can be expensive, tiring, and at times overwhelming. There are a few ways to circumvent these problems of exploration, namely: a bus pass, help from locals, and bringing a book along with you.

Once you get to your new city, get a bus or train pass pass. Everyone will tell you that bus passes end up saving you money, and they’re right. Bus passes are fantastically convenient, and the little laminated card can make you feel that much more official in your new home. Be sure to get the best deal on your pass, though. If you are enrolled (even as a guest student) at a local university, you should get the pass for free. Even if you aren’t enrolled at a university you can still get a student price with your old high school or college I.D. Some Au Pair families will buy you your pass so you can take the kids on the subway, and you can of course use it in your free time as well.

Remember that locals are your greatest resource when exploring. Of course the internet is good, too. You can Google “Best places in Hamburg,” or read the New York Times’ 36 Hours in Honolulu (and you totally should!), but a local is almost always the best resource. Not only do you hear what actual citizens enjoy about their city, but you also hear their critiques about these places. The personal interaction of talking with locals about their city also adds more dimensions to exploring than an internet article ever could. And you  have the added benefits of practicing your new language, asking questions, and making new friends.

Exploring and reading are rarely thought of as complementary activities, but the two do go hand in hand. If you’re on a long train ride, reading is like a little mental adventure. Even better, reading a book that takes place in your city (or new language) is like a fictional accompaniment to your real adventure! Right now, for example, I’m reading Königskinder, a story which takes place in my new city, Hamburg. The book was a bestseller here in Germany, so I feel like I’m sort of joining a massive, underground German book club. Not only am I learning about Hamburg, practicing German, and being entertained, but I’m also partaking in contemporary German culture! Find a book that takes place in your new country, or is a bestseller in your country and bring it with you on your adventures. Reading gives you a reason to sit in the park for hours, take a long bus ride, or stop at a café. When you’re finished with the book, it sort of serves as a souvenir from that time you went to the Eiffel Tower or visited Central Park.

There you have it! A few (hopefully) useful tips to help you get to know your new home. We’d like to hear from you too … what do you do to find out about your new city or town? What have you found is the best way to learn how to get around? Please share any tips or ideas in the comments below!

Getting ready for an international move: Packing Tips

Travel, suitcase, airplane

(This is a post by our new blogger, Megan Lester. She will be writing for Best Au Pair Guide on a regular basis, and we happy to have her! Her bio is below)

Conquering the Suitcase/Carry-on:

In a few days I will be flying overseas to spend another year in Germany, which means this week is packing week. One checked bag (40 lbs.) and one carry-on (my trusty backpack) are almost all I need for my time abroad … almost. This post is about how to make the most of your limited packing space: what to leave behind and tricks that can make all the difference.


This tip depends, of course, on where you are going. As I am headed to rainy/sunny/snowy Germany, it would seem wise to bring snow boots, a snow jacket, a rain jacket, hats, scarves, etc. But these items alone would take up half of my suitcase and up to a quarter of my weight limit, which is why I am leaving them behind. The clothing and accessories sold in your new country will not only suit the land’s climate (probably better than your clothes do anyway), but will also match the locals’ style. Save room, time, and hassle by buying especially cumbersome items while abroad. When it starts to snow in Germany, finding a chic coat won’t be any trouble at all.


We all have stupid clothes. Old track shirts from high school, puke-colored shorts … this isn’t just me, right? I always pack some ‘stupid’ clothes when moving abroad, and here’s why: losing ugly shorts at a hostel is no big deal. Throwing away an old shirt to make room for a souvenir is no big deal. Having an outfit that is fair game to get dirty opens you up to getting dirty. Interpret that as you will. Stupid clothes are comfortable and convenient, but ultimately disposable, which can be a lifesaver on weeklong trips to hot, muggy cities or for camping at a national park.


A day of flying is exciting and exhausting, but mostly gross. I bring a few things in my carry-on to make me feel a little more human at the end of the day: Wet Wipes, lotion, chapstick, Downy Wrinkle Release, and gum. Wet Wipes make for clean hands in a pinch, improvised showers during unexpected delays, and quick-cleanups for spills and surprises. You can get wipes with alcohol, which also act as stain removers (if prone to spills), or fancy face wipes for a refreshed face after transatlantic trips. Lotion and chapstick obviously keep my skin from turning into scales when on those mega-dry airplanes. Downy Wrinkle Release makes your clothes look and smell good after long days of traveling. If you’re meeting someone at the airport whom you want to impress, a well-timed spritz of wrinkle release can freshen an outfit effortlessly. Gum is a must-have for releasing pressure from your ears on planes, getting fresh breath without a toothbrush, and making friends with your seatmates on long flights.

The most important tip when packing for a move is just to pack appropriately. Search online for your city’s weather, fashion, trends, etc. so you know how to be comfortable and fit in. These other tips will hopefully supplement your packing prowess and get you ready for your international move.

I’d love to hear from readers – what do you do to get ready for a move? Any packing tips that you swear by? Share in the comments below!

Megan Lester is a graduate from the University of Portland where she studied English and German. She recently moved to Hamburg, Germany on a Fulbright scholarship and finds her new home ganz schön.

Adventures in America – Guest post from an Au Pair in Georgia

au pair in Georgia This is a guest post from Agnieszka, an au pair from Poland currently working near Atlanta, Georgia. She will be writing regular posts for us, and you can read more about her au pair experience – as well as advice for others – at her personal blog.

About myself

My name is Agnieszka, and I am a 22-year-old from Warsaw, the capital city of Poland. I came to the US as an au pair in November 2013, and I live near Atlanta, Georgia, with a 5-year old girl named Alicia, and her dad, Nathan. We also have one more member of a family – a cat named Cleopatra, whom we call Cleo for short.

Why am I here?

It  all started when my host dad, Nathan, and I decided to create a series of posts about how children should be treated, which I posted on my personal blog (the link is above). I then got in touch with Talya and was offered the opportunity to share my experience as an au pair, which I will be doing on a monthly basis here.

Why I decided to become an au pair …

My life back in Warsaw was not very easy or pleasant, which is why I decided to make a change. I was working as a receptionist in a dancing school for almost two years, working hard, and more or less just scraping by. I knew I wanted to enjoy life, travel as much as possible, meet new people and make my dreams come true. I was not quite sure what to do and looked into different options. Everything changed while I was on a trip to Slovakia with two friends in 2012, when one of them told me she saw a video of a girl who went to the US as an au pair for a year. The girl talked about how much she liked it, how much she learned, and she also said it was a very good way to become more independent.I was very interested, so after the trip I started to research to learn more and more about au pair programs in the states. At that time, I was not extremely interested in living in the United States, but the more I read about it the more I was convinced it was for me.

It took quite some time to organize my life so that I could go to the US as an au pair. I had to work to save money, get my driver’s license, and finish up my schooling. It was a very stressful time but I am happy that I had a goal and did not give up. I knew I exactly what I wanted to reach so I kept trying and by 2013, after finding an agency and then a host family, I made it to the USA as an au pair!

At the time, my biggest dream was to go to California, but I was offered a job with a family in Georgia, and I am very happy here. I’m enjoying new things, meeting new people, and have opportunities I did not have before. Georgia is not California, but it is a great place!

So … that is all from me today, but I will be back again soon to share more about my experience as an au pair in Georgia. In the meantime, I would love to hear from other au pairs living and working in the US, so please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below, or join our forum!


How to learn a new language without losing your mind

languages and continents(photo by dreamstime)

If you are working abroad as an au pair, there is a good chance that one of the reasons you are is to learn a new language. Right? Or you may be there to perfect a language that you already have started to learn. OR – you’re an au pair simply for the fun of it, and learning a language is part of the deal.

Whatever the case, learning a foreign language can be challenging. And interesting. And overwhelming some days too. Some learn languages more quickly than others, but even those who learn foreign languages easily still have their days.

So how can you learn to speak your new language like a native? Because let’s face it, even if you are taking a language class (which you should be, it’s one of the benefits of being an au pair) you are still going to have to work hard outside of class if you want to learn to speak the language fluently.

Here are a few things that help speed up the language-learning process:

Stop speaking your own language with your host family – if your host parents speak your language well, it’s tempting to stick with the comfort of your mother tongue when speaking with them. Give yourself a set amount of time to learn the basics of the new language and get comfortable with it, and then stop speaking your own language with your host parents so that you are forced to speak the new language. It’s a bit scary at first, but it will make a difference.

Meet locals and speak their language – Getting out and meeting people is important – not only socially, because you want new friends – but also to speak the language. And just like with your host parents, even if your new friends and acquaintances speak your language, do your best to converse – at least as much as you can – in the local language. As they say, practice makes perfect, and with languages, it tends to be true (as long as your friends are willing to correct your errors!).

Watch local tv shows and movies – Even if you don’t understand everything that is being said, watching TV and movies in your new language is a fabulous way to learn the language, especially because you will learn the language the way it is actually spoken – not school-book language. To baby-step it, you can even rent movies that you have already seen in your own language and change the settings to watch it in the local language. You’ll know what is going on AND benefit from learning new words and expressions. Give it a try!

What do you do to learn a new language? What other ways are there to become fluent in the language of your new home?


Be careful, because you just might fall in love

love photo(photo courtesy of dreamstime stock photos)

When you take the chance and move abroad to work as an au pair, there is a pretty good chance that you will fall in love. And I don’t just mean with the adorably cute foreign guys and girls you will meet, although there will likely be plenty of them, with all the drama a foreign romance entails (more on that another day … ).

But a recent article about an au pair working in Rome reminded me how the loves you gain while living abroad can be many and life-long. The story was a short one about a New Zealand student wanting to travel abroad before beginning her university studies and moving to Rome to work as an au pair for one month.

She ended up falling in love with a new country and family. And although her experience is recent, I would be willing to bet that ten years out she will be just as fond of her experience as an au pair. Although no host family or host country is perfect, there is a good chance that your new home and family will become very dear to you. So consider yourselves warned!

Staying Safe Abroad

happy womanPhoto by dreamstime

Safety is a concern for nearly every traveler, especially au pairs, who are typically young women traveling solo. And even if the au pair herself (or himself) isn’t overly concerned about their safety, there are probably parents back home who are! Below are a few tips for staying safe overseas:

Make sure you are healthy before you leave

It’s important that you start out your au pair journey healthy. Adventures Abroad recommends seeing your doctor at least three months prior to leaving your home country in order to check your overall health. Not everyone is organized enough to plan a doctor’s visit that far in advance, but the important thing is that you do get a physical exam and check up with your doctor before leaving for your trip. The last thing you want to do is get to your new country and have a health issue that could have beeen prevented or treated beforehand.

Another benefit of visiting your doctor is that you can get prescriptions of any medications you will need to have for the first little while overseas. It can take some time to get health insurance coverage through your host family, so you will want to have several weeks of any necessary medication that you take regularly on hand.

Remember dental and eye health as well. Visiting your dentist and/or opthamologist to check for any problems will also help ensure that you arrive to your new home in as good a shape as possible. If you are a contact lense wearer, be sure to take a copy of your prescription with you, as well as extra lenses.

Get travel insurance

Even though your host family will provide you with health insurance while working as an au pair, it can take several weeks for coverage to start. Even when coverage does start quickly, it often will not be in effect until you actually start your job. Having travel insurance will ensure that you are covered in the event of an emergency during the first weeks of your journey. It is usually not very expensive and is worth the small investment.

Safety while en route

Use your street smarts when travelling to and from your home to your new destination, and while you travel during your stay. The U.S. State Department suggests traveling light, dressing casually (affluent-looking tourists are more likely to be victims of theft), and keeping as few valuables as possible with you while traveling. The State Department also has the following recommendations for being out and about abroad, and the list is pretty complete:

  • Don’t use short cuts, narrow alleys or poorly lit streets.
  • Try not to travel alone at night.
  • Avoid public demonstrations and other civil disturbances.
  • Keep a low profile and avoid loud conversations or arguments.
  • Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers.
  • Avoid scam artists by being wary of strangers who approach you and offer to be your guide or sell you something at bargain prices.
  • Beware of pickpockets. They often have an accomplice who will:
    • jostle you,
    • ask you for directions or the time,
    • point to something spilled on your clothing,
    • or distract you by creating a disturbance.
  • Beware of groups of vagrant children who could create a distraction to pick your pocket.
  • Wear the shoulder strap of your bag across your chest and walk with the bag away from the curb to avoid drive-by purse-snatchers.
  • Try to seem purposeful when you move about. Even if you are lost, act as if you know where you are going. Try to ask for directions only from individuals in authority.
  • Know how to use a pay telephone and have the proper change or token on hand.
  • Learn a few phrases in the local language or have them handy in written form so that you can signal your need for police or medical help.
  • Make a note of emergency telephone numbers you may need: police, fire, your hotel, and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • If you are confronted, don’t fight back — give up your valuables.

In the end, using common sense and paying attention to your surroundings will help ensure that you stay safe during your stay abroad. Use your head, be careful, and have fun!

If you have any other good safety tips for au pairs/travelers, please comment below!





Poll: What are the top Au Pair destinations for 2012?

travelSince we are starting out the new year, I would love to hear from au pairs – and anyone thinking or dreaming about going abroad in 2012.

Where are you thinking about going? Which places keep you up at night wishing you could see? Is there more than one place you would consider working as an au pair? I worked as an au pair in Germany and loved it, but as I was am pretty much obsessed with all things French, I sometimes wonder whether I should have gone to France instead …

But what about you? If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Please let us know in the comments field – and yes, you are allowed to list more than one top destination!

Why you should consider Au Pairing

Chinese Tea House Potsdam

As 2011 begins to wind down, it’s time to start thinking ahead towards next year. Do your plans for 2012 include being an au pair overseas? If you are considering a gap year abroad, working as an au pair might make sense for you.

Why? For starters, working as an au pair is a very affordable way to see and experience a new place very inexpensively. The only major cost would be that of the plane ticket to your new country of residence. If you’re lucky, that expense may even be covered in part by your host family. You get room and board as well as a monthly stipend. The monthly salary you get won’t make you rich but is enough to be able to enjoy life.

Another good reason for working as an au pair next year is because in the shaky world economy we are in right now, finding a “real” job isn’t as easy as it has been in the past. Unemployment is still very high in some countries, and jobs are continually being outsourced or cut out altogether. So instead of being at home without a job, why not get some overseas experience and learn a new language?

Another – and maybe the best reason – to consider being an au pair in 2012 is because it is worth it. Yes, working living in a new place and working with kids can be challenging at times, but the au pair job can also be incredibly rewarding. You gain a new family, a new language, invaluable life experience, and more as an au pair. So why not go for it?