How I Was Paid to Eat, Drink and Live With a Family in Australia

Lucy and a friend sitting on a camel
Lucy Huber, center, became an au pair to make money while she traveled. Photo courtesy of Lucy Huber

Fresh out of school with students loans to pay and no job on the horizon, it would be irresponsible of me to just pick up and travel the world, right?

After I left college, it seemed like all my friends were traveling. My Facebook newsfeed was littered with my friends smiling in front of the Coliseum, relaxing on a beach in Bali and riding mopeds through Paris. I found it to be very obnoxious.

I know it wasn’t their fault, but I knew that if I wanted to travel, I had to find a way to do it while still making money. So I became an au pair.

When most people think of au pairs, they think of women coming to the US to take care of kids, but many Americans — both men and women — go abroad to au pair.

How to Get Started as an Au Pair

There are several websites that help au pairs connect with families. I used the very free and very basic website Find Au Pair. I also used the slightly more sophisticated Au Pair World, which gives you an option to pay to connect with families directly. The website allows you to pick the country you want to au pair in; I picked Australia.

Be sure that the country you choose allows au pairs from your country to work legally and find out what the stipulations are, as the families you work with might not know the laws for your specific country. I made a profile online and waited for families to contact me.

I felt pretty safe meeting a family online as long as I Skyped with them first to prove they were real people, to see if I connected with the kids and to subtly see if they had a cute dog.

Pretty soon, I matched with a few families, arranged some interviews and found a family I liked.

Living Abroad as an Au Pair

Most families won’t pay for your plane ticket, so I had to save up for that. I arrived in Melbourne with almost no money. But as the Australians say: no worries!

I knew as soon as I got there, I would get a salary and have a place to live. As an au pair, your housing is free and host families normally provide all three meals (and in the case of my family, a lot of wine).

Be sure to ask where you’ll live ahead of time and make sure you’re comfortable with the arrangement. I had my own floor with a bedroom, living room and bathroom. Some au pairs I knew had their own private pool houses, and others lived in an extra bedroom.

Some families may even provide you a car. Mine did, although I usually took public transport because it’s really good in Australia and because I was terrified of accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road (unlike Americans, Australians drive on the left side of the road).

In addition to food and housing, the family will pay you a salary. Rates vary depending on the country, how much they need you to work and the number of kids. I purposely chose a family that had kids in school all day, so I worked in the mornings before school and took care of the kids after school. During the day and on weekends I had free time to explore Melbourne.

I also often babysat for the family at night or offered to babysit for other families of au pairs I met to make some extra money.

Since I wasn’t paying for housing, food, or transportation, I was actually able to save money while I was in Australia. I had enough to pay to go out for food and drinks and to keep my student loans at bay.

I was also able to save enough that I could go on a few trips around the country, as well. I traveled to Brisbane, Sydney, Darwin, and Alice Springs; I took a road trip down the southern coast; and I took multiple day trips to wine country and the beach.

As with all jobs, there are challenges to being an au pair. Living in close quarters with a family can be tough, especially because you live at work and sometimes it’s hard to tell a 9-year-old that while you’d love to watch the Disney Channel with them all Saturday, it’s actually your day off and you need a little me-time.

Be sure to ask the family lots of questions about where you’ll stay, what their expectations are for your work schedule and even a little bit about their personal beliefs to make sure you’re going to jive.

If you find a perfect match, you can create a strong bond and a home away from home for life. And it doesn’t hurt that now you get to be the one posting jealousy-inducing Instagrams.

Lucy Huber is a freelance writer with an MFA in creative nonfiction and three cats. She lives in Beaufort, South Carolina.