MONEY. MONEY. MONEY.
Money is always on the mind, especially when it comes to traveling anywhere. It is also the biggest excuse I have heard for not chasing after one's travel dreams. Of course money is needed in order to travel, but not that much to be completely honest if you do your research, are flexible, and add a smidgen bit of frugality to your regular lifestyle.
People ask me all the time: Kimmi how do you do you travel so much? I ask them how do you get your nails done all the time or how do you go out to eat so often? Cutting back on certain things in life can save so much money! Think about what you can cut back on and put it towards your travel aspirations.
How do you get cheap plane tickets?
This is probably the biggest expense of your whole trip. Do not fret or let this first sentence get in the way of your dreams! It is easy to purchase a plane ticket; you have to make the jump.
Use different sites and compare them. Skyscanner (my favorite for looking all over the world to find a place to go with the 'Everywhere' destination option), Priceline, Expedia, CTrip (very good for flights to and from Asia) and a multitude of other sites offer flight searches. They also have the option to show their competitors' prices for the same flight.
Some other websites to look at for flights are through airline carriers since they may not show up on these flight search engines. Norwegian Airlines and IcelandAir (great for a stopover in Iceland, read more here) are great for flights to and from the US to Europe, but may not come up through a general search on other sites.
Overall, expect to pay between $500 to $1300 for a return plane ticket from the US to Europe and visa vera as well as from the US to Asia. It's a wide range because it depends where you fly to and from, when you purchase the ticket, and what season (summer is high season, winter low season) you plan to visit. This fare range can also be applied to one-way tickets, too.
When should you book a ticket?
Whenever you are ready and want to book, do it (I will be the cheerleader voice behind you)! But it does help if you plan a little in advance to get the best price. Best prices from the US to Europe or the US to Asia are three to six months in advance or more. Sometimes last minute ends up being surprisingly cheap still, but quite often can be sky high in pricing. Many sites allow you to create a 'price alert' for the flight that you're looking for that will send you emails if the flight price rises.
Should you plan an itinerary for a trip with multiple flights?
It depends on the type of person/traveler that you are. Do you want to be secure with your plans or do you want to let the wind take you as it may? If you have a time limit, an itinerary will help you get the most out of the days that you have reserved for travel. If you don't have a limit, being flexible may lead you to many places.
If you are planning a European or an Asian trip and exploring the continent, an itinerary may be best to use if you are using multiple ways of travel (car, bus, train, ferry, or plane) look at budget carriers. There are so many budget carriers that go to many places throughout Europe and Asia, with one-way flights costing as little as $20.
Here is a list of popular budget flight carries in Europe:
Here is a list of popular budget flight carriers in Asia:
There are many other ways to help you travel cheaply. More posts on that later. Other ways you can see the world is slow travel by living and working abroad as an au pair or as an English teacher.
So start that flight search now and make the leap and JUST DO IT. Buy a ticket and go explore what the world has to offer you.
If you enjoy teaching or think you want to try it out for a stint, try teaching English abroad. English is a universal language as you can see when you travel around the globe and millions of students are learning it as their second language. There is a high demand for English teachers, especially in Asia.
Why did you want to teach English abroad?
I started this new journey because I applied to 50 jobs in America while finishing my master studies in Belgium in May 2014 and landed nothing. This was a hard blow since I felt qualified for these positions and really wanted them. The optimistic problem solver in me looked for other options. With a quick Google search of 'jobs abroad,' teaching English seemed to be a big winner as well as very lucrative from the advertised salaries.
How did you get a teaching job?
There were many online recruitment sites, but many of them wanted you to pay for your teaching certification and your visa requirements and then you would be given a job. This seemed like a scam. I continued searching and found Teaching Nomad, a recruiting firm based in Shanghai, China. The firm promised free services for the job seeker and had many job postings throughout China (Read more about China here).
I applied to a position on the website with my CV/résumé and Teaching Nomad representatives responded back to me right away. They said that the position I applied to did not meet their requirements, but they offered other positions that they thought would interest me. I reviewed each one and applied to a couple. After selecting positions in Shanghai, I set up an interview with a member of the Teaching Nomad staff.
The interview went really well. I was asked questions about my experience with children, why I wanted to teach, teaching experience and licenses, where I wanted to teach, what could I bring to the school in the form of personality and extra abilities to contribute, and if I was open to new cultures. I asked about the duties of the position, work hours, salary, holidays, living in Shanghai, what was Chinese culture like, and if the school was open to renewal of contracts.
The major stipulation in obtaining the desired position was a 120-hour TEFL course in which I would need to take. I took the course online in two weeks time and I passed with a 94 percent. I emailed my certificate right away to Teaching Nomad to solidify my position acceptance.
You got the job! What did you do after?
I could not believe that I got the position I wanted at an international school in Shanghai, China. It paid well for a starting foreigner's salary in China ($2,600USD per month), including government holidays plus a month off for Chinese New Year in February, visa and medical check reimbursement, and a bonus ($2,000USD) upon year-end completion.
Teaching Nomad helped me throughout the entire visa process and my employer would pay for my visa once I arrived in China. I sent my documents to the recruiting firm and they sent me the paperwork that I needed to fill out and sign. I had to complete a full medical check-up which you would have to complete again upon arrival in China (the medical check-up in China would be reimbursed by my employer).
There were a few delays during the document process from the Chinese government, therefore delayed me in sending my passport to the Chinese Embassy in the United States for the official visa sticker. Again, look at the Chinese immigration section on their website and create a checklist of what you need to include in order to obtain the visa in your passport.
I ended up not purchasing my plane ticket until I knew when I would have my passport in my hand, so three days before I actually left. The one-way ticket was $800USD and I left with one suitcase and one backpack right after received my passport with visa in hand.
What happened once you got to China?
Prior to arrival, Teaching Nomad told me certain expenses to expect. The agency said that rent near the school was really cheap at $350-$400USD per month with a flatmate, but when I chose an apartment that I would have to put one month down for deposit and pay two to three months of rent up front, so about $1200USD. I would also have to pay up front my medical ($100USD), resident permit ($80USD), and food for the first week ($100USD). This totals to about $1500USD.
Other things to consider right when you get off of the plane: new cell phone and/or cell phone plan ($10-$12USD per month with data included), money for transportation and activities, so round up to about $2000USD as your 'starting over fund' as I like to call it.
Teaching Nomad and my employer put me up in a hotel for a week when I arrived in Shanghai so I had a short time to find an apartment and get all of the above in order, all while teaching. As you can imagine, it was stressful and at many times daunting since I did not know how to speak or read Chinese! Survival mode went into play. I tried to stay afloat and not drown. I asked for as much help as possible.
Apartment hunting in Shanghai…how was it?
The day after I arrived, I had the infamous medical check. I met some people with whom I was working with and asked if anyone wanted or needed a flatmate. A cool guy in a Stars Wars shirt said he wanted one and then we decided to be flatmates together.
Later, he and I went to a realtor agency across from our school (there are agencies everywhere!) and we were shown many different apartments over the next couple of days. The apartment we ended up choosing had a move in date ten days away, so we had to stay in a hotel closer to the school before we could move in.
How was the work load?
I teach Monday through Friday. I am at work from 7:45AM until 4:15PM. I teach 18 periods each week (about 4 lessons a day) with a period being 40 minutes long. Depending on the activities that week, I will supervise recess for the children twice a week. One night per week, I sit in a classroom for an evening study hall session from 5:45PM until 7:30PM. I also created a photography club at my school as well as help organize school-wide events. My work consists of lesson planning, material gathering, grading and documentation for students. Some days are hard with my students or the lesson plans do not go as planned and other days are truly fantastic and my students have equally as much fun as I do. Overall, a very doable schedule and work load.
Holidays are a very nice perk, too. I have a week off in October for National Day and almost a full month off for Chinese New Year celebrations in February. There are a few one-day holidays peppered throughout the year, too. Summer months are July and August. Again, a very nice schedule.
Teaching has been a very rewarding job and I am so happy to be working with my same students next year as that is the format of my school that I work at in Shanghai.
Hopefully you have read my initial post about becoming an au pair in Europe.
This article is about some of my experiences as an au pair for one year in Brussels, Belgium.
So the popular phrase of 'An American in Paris' has been glamorized by Hollywood. Many people's dream is to go to Paris, and why not? It is an alluring and inspiring city. (Read more about Paris here) I ended up in a city and country that is quite overlooked by the world. I somehow got to Brussels, Belgium.
So why Brussels?
Well I did not match with a compatible family in Paris, but I did find a great one in the next best city….Brussels! Now you are probably wondering, why Belgium? (Look at that picture! And read more about all of Belgium here) I honestly had no real idea what was in Belgium except waffles, chocolate, and beer. I liked chocolate and waffles beforehand, but hardly drank beer. I did not know what to expect at all or how much I would come to love working in Brussels.
After asking the family the other questions I had written down, I felt that they matched well with me. I asked them more about Brussels and what they personally like and dislike about it. It seemed like a good place to start my European dream and it sure was. Not only was the au pair pay better than most countries in Europe (€450/month), the cost of other things like public transport (€2), trains(€10 return with youth pass), and local activities (€5 beer and frites in the local square) seemed to be more reasonable, too.
I accepted the job offer and completed a contract stipulating my work hours and time off, duties, and what benefits I would receive for my work, such as medical insurance, full visa reimbursement, half of my flights and half of my language classes paid for by the family. I arrived the week before school started for the three children I needed to help take care of. This was perfect since this was my first time living and working abroad. I got to see and go through the three separate routines for each child as well as get my directional bearings in order. I also got to explore the city and the area around the house a little bit.
How was it when you first got there?
Settling into life in Europe was a fairly simple and easy transition for me. I enjoyed the café culture and just walking around and hopping on buses or trams to see more of the city. It was hard to meet people at first, but then after I met one person, I met four others. The one obstacle when I first arrived was that I had to go to the commune, or the neighborhood city hall. This was difficult since I did not speak ANY French or Dutch at that point as well as there was a really long waiting line to be seen. I just gave them every piece of paper they could possibly need and the small fee for my identification card and was told to come back at a certain time to pickup my ID card.
Settling into life with the family was a bit different as I had not been living with my own family for four years at that point. I was given a rundown of the house, how to take care of the kids, how to care care of the two cats, what cars to use when, and how to work everything else. I had my own little bedroom with shower and sink inside, with my bathroom down the hall and in the cloakroom. I was not given a curfew and the family did not push anything upon me, so I had lots of freedom. I was not treated like a child and my privacy was respected.
How were the kids?
The kids entrusted to me were 11, 9, and 4 years old; a girl and two boys respectively. To be completely honest, they were quite the handful! I had worked with children for many years prior, but living with them full time was a completely different atmosphere than I expected it to be. This was okay though, and I adapted very well to the work routine quite quickly. I had to drive them to and from school, and had a long break from the morning into the afternoon to go and do whatever I wanted. After school, I would drop the children off at their specific activities and appointments for each day. Some days were rough when the kids would not listen and other days were amazing and fun because the children loved to play.
What did you do in your down time?
I explored the city and learned a fair amount of French! Brussels is a great and easily walkable city with beautiful churches and buildings around every corner. There are so many cafés and bars to get some amazing Belgian Trappist beer or you can sit in one of the numerous squares and watch people pass by. At first it was hard to make friends since I had no connections in the city when I arrived. I met my first and best friend at a frites (french fry) stand oddly enough. I also did day trips around Belgium because it was so easy and cheap (€10 return ticket with Belgian train youth pass). On the weekends I took longer train rides or cheap flights (Ryan Air, EasyJet) and made a whole weekend of visiting cities around Europe. Being an au pair allowed for all of these things.
Would you recommend being an au pair again?
Overall, I am so thankful and happy that I took the leap to be an au pair. It was a great learning experience and I got to be fully enveloped by European culture. I learned French fairly quickly because I needed to use it each day. I got to see so many places in Europe that I did not think was possible. It was a great chapter of self-growth, and would recommend being an au pair to anyone who enjoys children, but also wants to be adventurous.
You want to go to Europe? You want to see Europe?
You want to immerse yourself in all things European?
BECOME AN AU PAIR.
It's a great gig for anyone wanting to spend a good amount of time abroad and I highly recommend it since I did it for a year in Brussels, Belgium.
What is an au pair?
It's a French word meaning in a pair, and the idea behind the term is the cultural exchange between a young adult from another country and a family, particularly with their children. Typically, an au pair works between 20 - 40 hours each week with a family's kid or kids. They can do many things in the household such as babysitting, cooking, light cleaning, chaperoning, etc. An au pair receives a small monthly pay, room and board, and other little extras for working with their chosen family.
Where can I find au pair jobs?
Start the process three to four months before you plan on going. You can get an au pair position online. There are many websites that offer au pair programs, but they want to charge you for their services. To me, this seems kind of like a scam when you have to pay for a job. Be careful with these sites. I used a free service through the website GreatAuPair.com. It's a great and simple matching service.
How do I get the job?
You create a free profile on GreatAuPair.com or whatever site that you choose. Write as much about your experience with children as possible, or if don't have too much experience, why you are open to working with children. You can include your personal job preferences and preferred locations in your profile page. After your profile is created, you can start searching for families in the places that you would like to immerse yourself for a year or longer. It is okay to be picky about choosing the family for that reason, so be as picky as you would like to be.
I have made contact, now what?
Once you have a few families lined up, set up Skype interview sessions to see if they are a good overall fit for personalities, work expectations, as well as being a good employer. Do not hesitate to ask questions. The more questions the better idea you will have if this family is for you.
Some questions that I asked when going through the interview process:
Hope these questions help you in your au pair search and interview process. Again, do not be afraid to ask questions since you will more than likely be living with your chosen family.
I got the job! What do I do now?
Congratulations! This is the first big step to being abroad! If you have your passport already, great! If not, apply for that as soon as possible in order to travel internationally. Now you have to complete some paperwork in the form of contracts and visa requirements. Each country's visa structure is different and can be looked up on their individual immigration websites. You can ask your family if they have had any experience with the visa paperwork as they need to sponsor your employment. Remember to make a checklist of all the items needed to complete the visa process and keep any receipts for reimbursement purposes. Be flexible as working with government agencies can sometimes take longer than expected to complete documents.
Visa is obtained, now how do I get to the family?
Start searching for flights to the nearest airport to the family's house. Your family should give you a window for when they would like you to arrive. I arrived a week before school started for the children. This was a really good idea because I got to know their routines and where places of importance were. I recommend using Kayak or Skyscanner for flights since there are many filters that you can use for searches. You're more than likely going to be booking a one-way ticket, so budget between, $600 - $900USD from America to Europe. Ask your chosen family if they will be able to provide transportation or give the best way to get to their home. Again, keep all receipts for reimbursement if that is what you and the family agreed upon in the contract.
You're on your way....
Now you are ready for the adventurous leap across the pond to Europe!
Best of luck to you and the journey ahead.
Read more about my experiences as an au pair in BEING ABROAD.