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!

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.

BUY THINGS THERE

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.

STUPID CLOTHES

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.

CARRY-ON MUSTS

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.

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!

 

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!

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!