Kaja | My Top 10 Travel Tips!

written by Au Pair in America May 10, 2019

Hi y’all! I know it’s been a while since I wrote a blog but I’m back! I have been very busy with travelling, thinking about extending and if not what to do next and, of course, I am still au-pairing 5-6 days a week… Besides all that, I also had a little bit of a writers block and I had no idea what to write about. I was procrastinating, but I am hoping to make it up to you by sharing all of my travel tips with you!

Being an Au pair in America gives you a lot of opportunities to travel in and around America. Every au pair has at least one weekend a month off. This differs per family and what they want or need. With my current host family, I am one weekend totally off and usually look after the kids one night on any other weekend. It all depends on what they need that respective weekend; if they want to go on a date, or perhaps have an event or party to attend.

TIP #1: MAKE A BUCKET-LIST

Nevertheless, you (as an au pair) for sure have time to travel and I try to use it as best as I can. Before I arrived in America, I made a list of all the places I would like to visit. It was a very long list, my expectations were high… haha. But in all honesty, there is just a lot to see in America; it is a very big country, as you all know. I also looked up what would be good times to visit those places, just to get an indication on when or when not to go there. I can really recommend this! Try to kind of plan out when you want to go where. You don’t want to go to Chicago in January when it’s -35 degrees out, just saying 😉

TIP #2: BOOK YOUR FLIGHTS IN ADVANCE

This is, in my opinion, one of the hardest but most fun things to do. They say it is best to buy your domestic flight 30-70 days before your trip. I actually don’t really pay attention to that. I buy my flight ticket as soon as possible, once I know that I want to go somewhere. I do this, because I always have a feeling once Google knows I want to go somewhere, the prices go up really fast. I could also just go into incognito mode, I guess, but if that works, who knows… (it at least sometimes feels like it does).

TIP #3: KNOW YOUR TRAVEL APPS

On my phone I also have a folder with all my travel apps. And when I say all my travel apps, I mean all. ….name all apps… When I am bored I love to go through them and get inspiration for a new trip. I do, however, like to look for the cheapest flights to my destination, there are some websites that can help you with that:

Google flights: https://www.google.com/flights
Kayak: https://www.kayak.com/flights (also for hotels)
Priceline: https://www.priceline.com
Cheaptickets: https://www.cheaptickets.com
Cheapoair: https://www.cheapoair.com/flights
Agoda: https://www.agoda.com (also for hotels)

TIP #4: CONSIDER SIGNING UP TO A FREQUENT FLYER REWARDS PROGRAM

And the list goes on and on. I asked a couple of my au pair friends and a lot of them seem to love Kayak! I personally love to work with Google flights and just the original airline websites. Americans tend to fly with one airline and be a frequent flyer with that airline, to make it cheaper in the long run. You could do that, I am a member with American Airlines for example, but I still buy tickets with different airlines (whatever is cheapest). I don’t really know if it matters that you are only here for a year, but I do know that it makes traveling for Americans a lot easier.

Once I know where to go, I go on Google flights and check the prices. Then I double check the airline’s websites to see if it is really the best deal I can get. I like to book it straight away, because I am always scared that the prices go up. This, I feel like, is also the quickest way to get a cheap flight. But instead of using Google flights, you could probably also pick one of the other websites mentioned above.

TIP #5: CHOOSE YOUR ACCOMMODATION WISELY

Hotels

Once you have your flight you need a place to sleep. I love to find good hotels with a low price. My favorite website is booking.com. I booked a lot through them over the last 10 months, even more than before, which led tp me becoming a genius member/frequent traveller. This gives me a lot of good deals. For example, last weekend I was in Chicago, IL, and I booked a hotel for me and my dad which would have been 295$ a night. But because I am a frequent traveller, I only paid 128$… I also had such crazy deals in Boston and New York and I can tell you: Coming back to a good hotel after a loo long day of exploring the city is really nice!

Hostels

Nevertheless, I also like to stay at hostels. It is for sure a lot cheaper than going to a hotel, and almost every (if not every) city has one. If you are traveling alone, I can really recommend hostels, as this is a good way to meet other people (who are also traveling by themselves, but also groups or families). A lot of times, hostels organize all sorts of activities like BBQ’s, movie nights, but also trips to places nearby or even far away. My hostel in San Diego even offered a trip to Mexico.

Couchsurfing

There is also an totally free option: CouchSurfing. I have never used it before, but I am very interested in trying it. I think it is a really nice way of really getting to know the locals. They offer you a couch, bed or whatever they have where you could sleep on for free. I did hear that it’s best to not do this on your own, just to be completely safe. You’re still living in a stranger’s house, so be safe and do it with a friend if you don’t feel comfortable, especially if you’re a woman.

TIP #6: STAY SAFE

Speaking of which: That is my number one rule when traveling; be safe! Once an Uber driver in Baltimore told me this:

‘You know when you watch a horror movie, and a little girl is walking in a dark alley, and you are like ‘no, don’t do it!’, but she still does it, and then it goes wrong? That is Baltimore. If you don’t feel safe somewhere, don’t do it, don’t go there.’

This may be a very specific Baltimore issue, but I kind of go by that rule for every city I am new in. Besides CouchSurfing and booking.com, there are lots of other good websites to book a place to sleep. Airbnb, for example, is really nice and you can get really good offers on there, too. It is actually kind of like CouchSurfing but you have to pay for your place. Some of the websites I mentioned above (Kayak, Agoda, et cetera) can also be used if you’re looking for a hotel.

TIP #7: PACKING

Packing is another struggle and perhaps the biggest one. Every trip is different and every time you will need different stuff. Besides that, you also have limitations as to what you can bring. Some airlines let you bring a carry on for free, but some don’t. Do you want to pay extra for a carry-on, or just go with a personal item only? And when traveling for more than a weekend, are you willing to pay for a big suitcase or should you simply stuff everything in your carry-on? Struggle upon struggle upon struggle.

Where are you flying to and how long will you be staying for?

It differs from airline to airline what they accept. I love Southwest, because they allow two big suitcases up to 23kg/50lb for free. So when I flew to Aruba for spring break (with Southwest), I had one big suitcase and a personal item. But on my flight to Chicago, we only had a personal item – since we only went one night, I did not see the point to add a carry on. When I went to Boston with my mom, we flew there with Southwest and back with Spirit, and we decided to add a carry-on to our Spirit flight so that we could shop in Boston. So it really depends on how long you’ll be gone for, and what you really need.

Packing hacks

I like to pack very lightly when I travel. Travel-sized toiletries, just the clothes I need and maybe an extra set of clothes, that’s all. It is smart to plan out your outfits beforehand, so you have it all ready and you don’t pack any unnecessary clothes you will not need anyway. When I pack, I try to be as efficient as I can be:

  • Big suitcases: I roll all the clothes I am bringing and put those on one side of my suitcase. My toiletries, shoes, books and all other stuff I put on the other side.
  • Carry-on: I usually put my shoes on the bottom and my clothes (rolled) on top. I have a front pocket where I like to put my toiletries so when I am at the airport and I go through security, I can just easily get it out.
  • Pro tip: To keep your shoes intact, stuff them with socks or whatever else can fit in there. That way, you save space and your shoes don’t get squashed.
  • Pro tip #2: If you are flying to or from America and have a big suitcase + carry-on and whatever else, it is smart to pack all your heavy stuff in your carry-on! They never weigh your carry-on…

TIP #8: TRAVEL GREEN

Au pairs love to travel. And not only au pairs, but I read that one billion tourists a year are traveling the globe – and that’s only by plane. Not to forget all the cars and motorcycles that also have a negative effect on the environment. On top of that, things like fresh towels/bed sheets on a daily basis at your destination are bad for the environment. Traveling is not the most environmentally-friendly thing to do. Avoiding air travel entirely isn’t going to happen. But there are some things you could do to do your part to help the planet.

  • I, for example, bring a reusable water bottle everywhere I go. Then I don’t have to buy one but I can just easily fill it at a water tank.
  • In your hotel, try to keep your showers short, and shut off the water while you’re brushing your teeth.
  • When you leave the room, turn off all electric devices – even the air conditioning
  • Reuse sheets & towels
  • Bring your own toiletries, and if you really have to use the prepackaged ones, use them the rest of your trip or at home.
  • Whenever possible, use public transportation instead of an Uber, taxi or a rental car. If you have a rental car, try to go with the smallest that still fits your needs. With a smaller car, you need less gas per mile
  • Even better: walk or bike. I have walked so much. I think I set a personal record in New York; I walked more than 27 km one day…

TIP #9: ALWAYS MAKE SURE THAT YOU HAVE YOUR TRAVEL ESSENTIALS WITH YOU

Besides my reusable water bottle, I always bring my sunglasses, a small 30+ sunscreen, a hand sanitizer, tissues, a chap stick, a file for my nails, a small bug spray (especially if you are like me and get stung by every mosquito there is), a small first aid kit for any accidents on the road, ear plugs if you are a light sleeper, and, of course, don’t forget a power bank. You need to be able to take all those pictures, after all! And don’t forget the basics like chargers (phone/camera), head phones, your passport and maybe even your DS2019 when traveling outside America.

TIP #10: TRAVEL SUSTAINABLY

With all the traveling we au pairs do, a lot of people ask me how I save all the memories I made. For example: What do I do with my pictures and tickets I get? I like to do a couple things. First I like to make a video about the place I have been to. I usually send that one to my friends and family at home, so they have an idea what I have been up to! It is also a real fun thing to have and look back on after your year is over.

Another thing I do is I keep a travel diary. It’s a really cute book where I safe my tickets, write down what I did that day and put my pictures in. I like to work on that with other au pair friends when we get together. This too is a very nice thing to have when your year is over. I already filled up one book and have to buy a new one now to get started again…

Last but not least, I think that traveling is a good opportunity to discover new parts of yourself (it’ s even scientifically proven!). Thanks to traveling, I feel more confident and more open to talk to strangers. I’ve traveled a lot by myself, too, which I did not expect, but I can really recommend. Don’t have anyone to travel with? Go by yourself, go out there and meet some new people!

Be friendly to people and be respectful of the places that you visit. Learn a few words in their native language, be open to cultural differences and read up on the area before your trip. People will accept you more if you are openly happy and curious about the place that you are in. Happy Traveling!

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