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!





Au pairs and sexual assault

girl on phone (photo from dreamstime)

Today I am at Au Pair Clearinghouse discussing the recent news about the German au pair who is suing her au pair agency and its representative for fraud, negligence, sexual harrasament, assault and battery, and more. According to the au pair, her host father made sexual advancements and subjected her to abusive behavior. Although the au pair agency, US Au Pair, claimed the the host father in question had passed an extensive background check. it seems as though this complaint was not the first. According to the au pair suing, two previous au pairs had been forced to leave the same host family due to sexual harassment on the part of the host father.

You can read more about the case, as well as tips on how to not become victimized while working as an au pair here.

Au pair warning – please be careful during the holiday season!

(photo by dreamstime)

Blame it on the fact that I am a now mother of three children, but when horrible things happen to people, an alarm goes off internally that simply forces me to warn others. This was the case when I read about a German au pair who lost her life in a car accident in New York state this week. The young woman apparently lost control of the vehicle she was driving on icy roads, crashing into an oncoming car. How my heart breaks for the parents of this woman!

Now no one wants to focus on the bad, especially during the holidays, but it is important, especially with harsh winter weather conditions in many places around the world, to remember to be careful. Au pairs (as well as other international travelers) need to be especially careful, as they are living in surroundings that may be unfamiliar, even if they have been in their new home for some time.

As we approach Christmas and the New Year, please remember to be especially cautious. Be safe when driving and traveling. Enjoy yourself during this holiday season, but don’t take any unnecessary risks. Make sure you do everything to ensure that you stay safe!

Au Pairs in Ireland treated like slaves?

(photo by dreamstime)

According to a recent article in the Herald, au pairs in or heading to need to be careful. The article reports that some au pairs are being forced to work 15 hour days, barred from leaving the host family’s home, and even have their mobile phones confiscated. This information came from a migrants’ rights representative, who claims that some au pairs living in Ireland are being treated like second-class citizens at best, while others are being used and treated as full-on slaves. She reports that many au pairs are under complete control of their employers and are not free to do anything without approval from them.

These are serious accusations, and while I am not in Ireland do not know how much of this is true (although it appears legitimate, if social workers focused on migrants’ rights are involved), I do know that it is very important for au pairs to do their homework and make sure that they will be working for a caring, welcoming family who will treat them as one of the family and not a servant. While it is not always possible to know exactly what you are getting into, the best way to ensure not becoming a slave (or even a second-class citizen – not as dramatic, but also not fun!) is to go through an au pair agency.

With human trafficking so prevalent in today’s world, it is important to take precautions and be as safe as possible. It is also important to remember that those already employed as au pairs have the same employee rights as others. Because you are working in a family’s home does not mean that you are not a real employee. On the contrary, au pairs enjoy legal employment status. This means that au pairs are only required to perform the tasks stated in their contracts within the specified number of work hours, no more. If the situation is not what has been stipulated, it is important to turn to the agency or to government officials for help.

Remember, au pairs are employees and part of the family – or at least they should be! Any sort of behavior control or abuse should not be tolerated under any circumstances.