After the post « Never stop traveling » I had many readers write wishing to learn more about my solutions to traveling over a long period. With this in mind, I wanted to do interviews and give a voice to travelers who have used some of these methods.
We begin “Travellers interview ” with Laetitia who tried the “Au Pair” experience in the USA.
Hello Laetitia before starting, can you introduce yourself in a few words?
Hello, I’m Laetitia, 27, french photographer and graphic designer. Passionate about art (photography, plastic, musical), travels, discoveries and encounters.
So how did you get the idea of being an “au pair” and why did you choose San Francisco?
To be honest, I felt a choking feeling in France, something that told me it was time to leave, so I looked into what country I might want to go too. I swayed between Argentina and the USA, two places I had never explored before. My choice fell on the USA because I thought it was the best to improve my English before any other language.
Why did you choose to “Au Pair”? I chose this because it was one of the simplest and quickest ways to enter the US and I had lots of experience with children.
Regarding the choice of city, be aware that as an au pair you can not “choose” the city, but you choose a family, this is called making a “match”. I was lucky to fall for a family that was in one of the cities that I had always dreamed of visiting.
What were all steps from the moment you decided to start this adventure?
– Gathered all documents : Medical check, child care references, provide photographs of my family, friends, video presentation.
– Then I had an appointment with an agent (AuPairCare agent in this case) and took a psychological interview.
When all documents were validated, the unbearable waiting starts. You must wait for a family to contact you via an online folder. Personally after 3 days, 3 families had contacted me. I really enjoyed the interview I had with the first family but I decided to be sure and got to know two other families as well.
In this step, I exchanged emails, phone calls and Skype messages (mandatory) with the family.
– Then comes the moment of the “match” when families offer for you to work as their “Au Pair” and then you need to make your choice. I made mine 14 days after the initial contact.
The next step is the visa application and making an appointment with the embassy.
Family chosen, ticket and visa in hand, the departure day was approaching. For me, I made a “match” on October 18th and I left France on November 18th. All of this happened very fast for me, but this is not the case for everyone! And it doesn’t mean if you wait longer you won’t find the right family.
What was your budget for this trip?
What I really like about the « Au PairCare » program is that you neither pay for the flights, accommodation, meals, phone calls or transportation, this means you can leave with very little money. My agency fees were 295 euros, however I still left France with 2000 euros that I collected after selling all my French goods.
How were your first steps with your host family?
My host family was a rather young French-American couple, they were 32 years old and I was 25, so my integration was rather simple. First days were a little bit difficult as we were still getting to know each other. During the first 3 days you do not have the right to be alone, the family must be with you, they show you the neighborhood and show you the family routine.. this is what my family did and I quickly felt at home.
Can you tell us one of your typical days?
I usually worked from 9am to 6pm. Being with a baby, the first months are often the same. I took care of her, made bottles, we would go for walks in the stroller, we would play in the sandbox. Then after 6 months she started having a musical awakening and at 1 year old she took gym and art classes. We also were painting at home, cooking cakes, I also prepared her jars and meals. By late afternoon the parents returned home and took care of her.
What is the cost of living in San Francisco, does it seem higher than in France?
Living in San Francisco is expensive, it has one of the highest costs of living in the US. However I find that it is quite similar to prices in Paris. Some things are more expensive, such as milk, bread, eggs, and of course butter and cheese. The personal services like haircuts, beauticians and the doctor are also more expensive. However I found the restaurants and bars were pretty much the same price. As for clothes, their prices are much cheaper.
What are your favorite places in the USA and what was your best memory of this “Au Pair” adventure?
This is a difficult question, I realized many of my dreams by living in San Francisco, singing ACDC with thousands people in Coachella festival, watching the sunset at Horseshoe Bend during a roadtrip with friends I met in San Francisco, found myself within 2 meters of a Bison in Yellowstone National Park, walking the streets of New Orleans listening to jazz, beyond my limits in Hawaii while hiking 12 hours with people I met that morning in the hostel. I can not really answer this question but I made great memories.
And the worst ?
I don’t remember anything that I would categorize as the “worst », each location had something to offer and each person also. Please note I did not say it was pure happiness, far from it. It is sometimes difficult to live with people 24 hours 7 days a week, especially when it is supposed to be an employee/employer relationship. Like all roommate or human relationships there are ups and downs.
Do you feel you have lived your “American Dream”?
Totally … the freedom and personal development that we feel there is amazing, we have the right to dream and believe in ourselves and others believe in you as you grow and achieve your dreams. Something I was not accustomed to from French culture as we are asked to go into a kind of mold.
These meetings, these beautiful landscapes, the sense of freedom … yeah I really had the impression of having lived my “American Dream.”
Has this experience changed your way of thinking and your view of what traveling is?
When I left, I thought that the USA was a bit « too much » it was not going to change my life or surprise me as much as Argentina or China had, for example.
I did not think this destination would be a huge challenge, but I was wrong, every journey is a challenge, every place has something wonderful, and every encounter is an experience ! Previously I was doing photography as a passion, it was not my main income, but living in the US made me realize that it could be one day
I’m currently back in France and I keep thinking about traveling again, continuing to explore the world and creating memories with people I meet along the way. I do not really know what my future will be, but I know that I do not want to spend it behind a desk! I want to travel the world, make my passion for photography my career and giving to others by doing humanitarian work. This experience showed me what made me alive, what really mattered to me.
Would you recommend this adventure to a person wishing to travel and improve their English and what advice would you give him or her?
I think for a first solo trip this is one of the best way to start because you cant really keep to yourself, you are pushed a little out of your comfort zone and learn more about yourselves. This is a wonderful way to learn English, either with the host family or the multitude of friends from around the world you will meet.
Advice? Take your time when choosing your family because this is what will make your experience a success. And do not “Au Pair” if you do not like children because they will be a major part of your day and also your memories.
A final word ?
Do not be afraid to do something you’ve never done before, do not let things stop you from having a rewarding experience because no matter how long it will be or how it will end, it will always be rewarding, it will teach you a lot about yourself.
If you have traveled with one of these methods ( “Au Pair” Wwoofing, Workaway, HelpX house-sitter, been part on a crew boat …) ? Do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to share your experiences.