Exploring your new city

Hamburg

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!

Five great ways for Au Pairs to travel on the cheap

au-pair-blog-travel-pic.jpg

As we all know, travel can get expensive. And for au pairs getting by on a relatively small budget, spending a lot of hard-earned money on travel isn’t an option for most. So here are a handful of practical ways to help you travel affordably during your time as an au pair:

  1. Book travel EARLY – Planning ahead is not a core strength that all of us possess, but really – the sooner the book the more you save. It’s just that simple. Especially with discount airlines such as EasyJet – if you book weeks – or even months – in advance, you can find flights for ridiculously low prices. And chances are that your host parents will want you to plan your trip in advance anyhow, so as soon as you decide when and where to go, go ahead and book any flights or train tickets. You’ll be glad you did!
  2. Shop around – Don’t book the first offer you find. Travel comparison sites such as Kayak, my personal favorite, will list a variety of offers to help you compare and see which would work best. Keep in mind, however, that budget airlines, such as EasyJet aren’t normally listed on the larger travel sites so you will need to check them separately.
  3. Find a travel buddy – Not only can traveling with a friend be a lot more fun than solo travel, but you can save a lot of money. Splitting costs on everything from hotels and rental cars to food can save you a lot of money, so if you’ve got one or more good friend you can travel with then look into it for sure. Sharing expenses might mean that you can had a little bit more luxury to your trip too – think splitting the cost of a decent hotel room 2 or 3 ways, rather than slumming it in a youth hostel on your own.
  4. Look beyond hotels – Gone are the days when hotels, guest houses, and hostels were the only places for travelers to lay their heads at night. Websites like airbnb and couchsurfing make it possible to stay in private homes and apartments for cheap or even free. Totally worth checking out both.
  5. Try car sharing – Many countries have ride-sharing organizations where you pay to ride with private people traveling to specific destinations. This can be more affordable than public transportation, as well as more enjoyable and faster at times. Prices vary, of course, but are very reasonable. One one German ride sharing site, for example, you can catch a ride from Berlin to Prague for as little as 16€.

So! I hope this is helpful, and that you are able to enjoy what is left of the dog days of summer this year … as well as plan ahead for the fall and winter that lie ahead. And I’d love to hear other ideas and ways you travel without spending a lot of money. Please leave your tips in the comment section below!

 

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?

 

Ways to travel cheap as an Au Pair

Bode Museum Berlin (photo property of BestAuPairGuide)

It’s no secret that most au pairs pack their bags and move to another country to live and work with strangers for one reason: travel. Right? As we have discussed before, there are several reasons to be an au pair. And traveling cheaply is the main reason au pairs put up with all that comes along with the au pair job.

For starters, au pairs are already living in a foreign country and their room and board are free. That’s a major expense taken care of right off the bat, especially in expensive cities where the cost of living is high (think New York and Paris). Au pairing makes it possible to see and experience the pricier places to live without the hefty price tag that comes along with it.

But even though expenses are covered, it’s no secret that au pairs don’t exactly make a lot of money. So how do you travel cheaply when working as an au pair? Here are a few ways:

  • Travel with friends – sharing travel expenses with others is a major way to cut costs. In many European countries, for example, you can purchase a group train tickts or even weekend tickets to various places, making transportation super cheap. In the United States, where public transportation isn’t as readily available or affordable, you can join up with a few friends and rent a car for a fun – and cheap – road trip. Sharing hotel and food costs with friends also means a much less pricey vacation
  • Consider camping – if your budget is low, camping is an affordable way to see new places. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of the outdoor lifestyle, the money you save by camping might mean you get to visit places that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Camping made it possible for me and a couple other au pair friends to enjoy several days in Italy, and we had a blast “roughing it” in one of the world’s most gorgeous countries
  • Look into last minute travel deals and deal sites – to get the most bang out of your travel buck, you either need to book way in advance or last minute, and as an au pair with limited cash, travel is overn a spontaneous decision when you have a free weekend. Visit last minute travel websites and be sure to subscribe to services such as Groupon, which often have great deals on holiday packages, hotels, and flights (just be sure to read the fine print).
  • Travel with your host family – if your host family is going somewhere interesting on vacaction and they invite you, consider joining them even if you technically do not have to go. Although you may get suckered into doing a little more babysitting (and then again, you may not!), a free trip would likely be worth it.

What about you? Any ideas for cheap travel when working as an au pair and living on a limited budget? Share your thoughts and tips below!

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!