Au pairing is an amazing experience, but many people encounter more obstacles when they are away than they might have expected.
This list focuses on the less obvious aspects of au pair safety that are often overlooked. Here are my top tips for au pairs on how to stay safe while away:
- Get to know your family
It’s easy for things to get a little overwhelming when you’re living with a host family. Whether or not you make friends with your host parents depends on various factors such as personality, age, stress levels of everyone involved and time spent together. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. But whether you’re a live-in or live-out au pair, the family can be a great support system if you get on well.
Your host parents can be a wonderful source of information. For me, they were the only people I knew when I began au pairing and I quickly realised that they were the ones who could advise me on the best places to go, make me aware of any issues within the city and even help out in a difficult situation. While you might want to keep your independence a lot of the time, knowing that they are there in an emergency can be comforting.
- Keep your possessions safe
What will you do if you lose your phone? How will you get home if your purse gets stolen?
Many websites and agencies will stress the importance of ensuring that you are covered for injury and illness through a form of social security, or perhaps insurance if you do not have a traditional au pair contract for any reason. However, it is easy to forget about insurance for possessions. Even if you’re already abroad, there are companies that will insure you.
Imagine losing your phone in a bar and then not being able to contact your employer or your family back home. This was a very real situation for many of my friends, some of whom didn’t have the funds to replace it. Getting comprehensive travel insurance that covers your possessions while you’re away means that you can stop worrying and avoid having to pay out too much if something gets lost, damaged or stolen.
- Look after yourself
Taking care of yourself when you live abroad for the first time can be very daunting. Here are some simple solutions that I learnt through my own experiences, stories and au pair friends:
- Trust your intuition: if it seems like a bad idea, it probably is (empty metro carriages, strange house parties, walking home alone in the dark)
- When you’re out and about keep your belongings in sight at all times. Seriously. Here is a great video on avoiding passport theft
- Find out everything you can about your host family before you agree to work for them, and if they haven’t got your accommodation sorted out yet, do not agree to work for them! It’s possible they might never get round to it …
- Sort your money
I would strongly recommend getting a prepaid travel card that lets you use foreign currency at no extra cost. It means that your bank can’t charge you extortionate amounts of money for using your card to buy a bar of Milka to satisfy after-work sugar cravings.
Additionally, I found it was a good idea to take more money with you than you think you need and always try to save a small amount of your salary. Even if it’s only a couple of euros a week, this could help in an emergency.
- Travelling around
When au pairs get time off, we like to travel. And it’s often an amazing trip. Unfortunately, however, we all know someone who has found themselves in trouble whilst on holiday or travelling around.
The first way to avoid this is to plan your trip beforehand; find out about the laws of the country you’re going to, which regions are safe, if there are any major strikes. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office website has a comprehensive list of countries with up to date advice on each, which I strongly recommend. Additionally, this guide includes advice for specific groups and types of trip, ranging from travelling with mental health needs to winter sports holidays.
My second tip links back to a previous point about insurance. You may have a form of social security that covers you in your au pairing country, but are you covered if you travel elsewhere? What happens if you need serious medical attention on holiday? I found that holiday insurance was a real necessity and meant I wasn’t limited by where I went, or what I did. Some types of insurance will only cover you for certain activities (e.g. not adventure sports etc.) so make sure to read the fine print.
As long as you think ahead (before and during your time as an au pair) you will have an amazing time exploring a new culture, making friends and learning a new language. It can even be life changing!