Yes, you read that one right, I did in fact save thousands of dollars while living in two of the most expensive European cities as well as an excellent Philadelphia suburb and… got paid to do so!
So how did I do that? What was the magic secret? And can you do it as well? The answer is YES you can!
Right after I turned 18, I knew one thing: I wanted to travel. I wanted to see the world, learn new languages, experience new cultures… It all sounds pretty exciting, if it wasn’t for the fact that I had no money. I didn’t even have a bank account by then, but my wanderlust was bigger than life.
I wanted to travel and I knew somehow, if that’s what was meant for me, either as a hobby or a career, the Universe would make sure it happened. And it did.
One day, while passing by a youth organization near my school, I bumped into something really fascinating. It was called “au-pair program” and basically, it was a cultural exchange program, where a young female (and sometimes a male) moves to a foreigner country, for a specific amount of time and lives with a local host family.
You’ll get a private room, most times with en suite bathroom, all meals covered and depending on the country, a nice pocket money to spend on your free time. It all sounds perfect, your only duty is to help the family with their kids on a part time basis.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I rang the agency the next day and soon after I was flying to London, my first solo female trip when I was only 18. London was the opposite of everything I was used to. It was so dynamic, so multicultural, with lots of things going on every single day. I was in heaven!
Soon after I arrived, I was given a list with the telephone number of all the other au-pairs in the area, so I could make friendships. I think those were the best days of my life back then. Not only was I living the dream, traveling a lot with my new friends from all over the world, but I was being paid to do so!
Life revolved around exploring that amazing city, as well as traveling down to the Stonehenge, visiting the beautiful southern coastal city of Brighton – where the sky is always bright -, experiencing the British pub culture and everything else the UK has to offer. Life was perfect.
Actually, life was so exciting I decided to take a bolder step and signed for a 1 year program in the US. And that’s how I moved to the States for a while, by being an Au-pair. Now, I was a bit more experienced, more confident and I can say, that these adventures, changed my life forever.
My host family and I became best friends, they integrated me into every aspect of their lives. If I thought I would experience the stereotypical mainstream “American culture” I was (fortunately) very wrong! There were no MacDonald or burger king meals, but amazing organic tofu and veggie burgers. Instead of frozen meals, we had tons of veggies in our fridge. There was no coca-cola, but there was always some Kumbucha.
In other words, I was awarded with an amazingly progressive family, who were responsible for a very special time in my life. And in between babysitting duties and children play dates, I had the chance to travel basically all East coast with my new friends. By the end of my program, I had enough money to travel for a couple of years.
Those 2 experiences helped me become a more confident person. My language skills improved dramatically. I had the chance to live and travel to places I would never be able to afford. Experiences I thought were destined for kids with a huge bank account. But it is true when they say “when there’s a will, there’s a way”.
After many adventures in Europe, USA and Asia, there was a destination, that is so expensive, I could never dream of, unless I would become an Au-pair again, so last year, I made that dream come true!
I moved to Zurich, Switzerland, considered multiple times the world’s most expensive city. I wanted to see the Alps, taste the amazing Swiss chocolates, visit the postcard perfect villages in the mountains, and I managed to do it all.
I was fortunate to get the most amazing Swiss host family in the world. My host mom, a pilot for a big European airline, was such a kind hearted woman. Always with a smile and words of wisdom. The children were pure fun and we all hit off in absolute perfection.
Every morning I woke up with the most spectacular view of the world: the huge snow covered Alps , that ripped the blue skies on a winter’s morning.
My time as an Au-pair is over, but you can live exciting adventures across the world too, while being paid to do so. So leave your fears behind, pack your bags and just go. You can find lots of good info online and you can find a great Au-pair resource here too.
My friend Trisha and I are running weekly travel advice series here on Thought Catalog. If you have general travel related questions, send them our way. We’ll try to answer them all.