Counting On-Duty Au Pair Hours When You’re In A Car or Plane

by cv harquail on March 15, 2017

How does your family handle the Au Pair’s time spent with the family over a long car or plane trip?

Formally and officially, we are supposed to count all of this time as “on duty” hours.  

342704965_cd13b82918_mBut, if you have a long haul to get to your vacation destination, you can use up a whole lot of hours — so many that it might hardly seem worth it to bring your au pair along. And, if your Au Pair is off sitting in another row, watching a movie, it’s hard to feel like that’s really “work”, especially if s/he will be having some off duty days in your vacation destination.

This is one place where, I’ll admit, I’ve stretched the rules. I’ve counted the hours in the car or plane at a reduced rate.

(For example, I’ve taken the 7 hours from our house to Granny’s as 4 or 4.5 hours on duty, and counted the 5 hours on a plane as 3 hours.  I do not discount the time spent hanging in the airport, because I’ve always needed our au pair to watch kids while I went to the bathroom, got coffee, wrangled the luggage, etc.)

My logic here is:

  • The Au Pair is stuck in the car/plane with you and the kids and can’t be free, so technically s/he’s working.
  • But if the kids are sleeping/watching a movie/being cared for by you, s/he’s not full time working either.  S/he’s free to watch a movie, nap, and relax.  S/he’s just stuck in the conveyance with us.

In all cases, I’ve discussed this with our Au Pair in advance and confirmed that it’s okay with her. And, I’ve made sure to be explicit when she should go ahead and nap, watch a movie, or try to entertain the kids, so that there are concrete expectations.   But, I am aware that this isn’t following the rules to a T.

 What does your family do?

How does your family count plane/train/car time with your Au Pair?

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From Traveling Host Mom:

We are going on a family trip soon, and bringing our Au Pair. It will take 6 hours for us to drive there.  We have a 4.5, 3.5, and one year old. We are leaving at 6am.  Do I have to count the drive time towards her hours? How is this best handled?



See also:

Taking An Au Pair on Vacation: Hotel Room Arrangements

How To Count Au Pair Vacation Days


Taking a Computer Lunch March 15, 2017 at 9:54 pm

I voted it as “it counts,” but sometimes I fudge. Is your AP on? Is she supposed to make the kids behave in the back (airplane) seat? Feed them? Entertain them? Or will you take on some of those tasks and let her – eat her meal (en famille, obviously) in peace? Are you going to ask her to change the diapers of the youngest while you and the older kids get in that long line at the rest area to order dinner?

If your AP is doing any child care tasks, then she is working. If she gets to watch her favorite movie on her iPad and help “as needed” (because you are paying for all of her meals) then I vote “fudge the hours.” And here’s where it gets tricky. Are you headed to a destination, where she might have skin in the game, or are you headed to grandma’s in a remote community where she’s trapped. If she’s being a good sport – a member of the family as it were – but the benefit is clearly to you, not her, then she’s working. If she’s working, then be very careful about when she’s “on” during the car or airplane ride and when she’s allowed to tune everybody out – if you need her to pitch in at the destination.

Now, your remote destination could be fun. I took two very different APs to visit family in a village in western CT. Fantastic AP realized my elderly grandmother could not possibly hold my child with special needs, but want to see, touch, and talk to her – she actually spent an hour sitting next to my grandmother with said child. We took her to see a “covered bridge” – an architectural feature which is common in the area, but not where we live. We went out of our way to show her places that made that part of the country different. The next AP we took up there couldn’t have cared less. She actually ignored said child while DH and I tried to deal with a transportation crisis (we had to rent a van to return home and left our vehicle with relatives to donate to a charity). She got a swift trip home – no going out of our way – because we didn’t think she’d even pretend it would interest her.

Now I know other families play it differently – they head to destinations and let the AP decide whether to come along on vacation and partly pay her way – or stay home. When I realized that my AP mistook my vacation for hers, I changed my strategy. On my vacation she’s working – on her vacation she gets to walk away from my family. On my she works and gets paid (and every hour counts). On hers she gets paid and doesn’t work.

And – if you hit the road, schedule your AP in advance so she knows when she’s on (and has to mediate/entertain the kids in the back seat) and when she’s off (and can watch her movie/hide in her room/Skype with her friends). That way, she knows which family side trips are optional and which are mandatory (she might join you on the optional ones – but don’t hold it against her if she doesn’t).

txmom March 15, 2017 at 11:18 pm

We just returned yesterday from a week in Puerto Rico with our au pair. She had the choice of staying home and taking a vacation week, or joining us on the trip, all expenses paid. We didn’t keep track of any hours during the trip, in fact, it never even crossed our minds! Our kids are 5 and 8, and they are pretty low maintenance. Our AP went everywhere and did everything with us. She had a beer with us after surfing, played cards with DH and I after the kids were in bed, hiked, relaxed at the beach, etc. Since there were 5 of us, we each adult took turns on the various flights sitting in a row with the kids. If we had counted her time, it would have been every waking hour. That said, who would she have hung out with if she hadn’t been with us? IDK. We went on a family vacation to spend quality time with the kids, so she was never one on one with them really, but still, she was with them (and us) constantly.

TexasHM March 16, 2017 at 4:22 pm

This is exactly the reason we make it clear like you did that the trip is vacation for everyone. The minute you ask her to work – even for an hour or single date night – you have to provide her a private bedroom the whole trip and write her a schedule.
We are in the car right now :) and AP is reading a book headphones in. A few minutes ago she helped pass nuggets to the back row as a human sitting in between a child and nuggets but will be doing zero work this weekend and could plan completely different activities than us if she wanted. As it stands she wants to go to the shows/activities we planned so she will likely be with us 24/7 but that was her choice. I did like CV and half counted the car hours because she worked a couple this morning getting them ready and in the car and because I might need a hand with a kid at a gas station stop or something (and because we have plenty of hours available to use this week) so I scheduled her for the whole day even though she’s not really working the whole day. Current AP is also more formal than family member right now.

We send AP and kids to grandparents in Florida every summer for a couple weeks and I fully count those travel days because she alone takes them through security, has them on the plane and then my parents get them at the airport in FL so that’s all counted for sure and I expect them to help my parents keep the wheels on so we create a rough schedule but my parents and AP usually throw it out the first day. :). Since it’s grandparent bonding time I really just ask AP to handle morning and bedtime routine and occasionally take the kids for an hour or two if my parents get wiped out so it’s hardly any hours and it’s a retirement resort community in Florida – to TACLs point I might be more worried if they were shut in with nothing to do.

Also agreed if it’s a flight or car ride to somewhere they have chosen to go (and therefore need transport to) and we are sitting with the kids I’m not counting any hours. If ap is also sitting by a kid I’m still not counting it. If she has the right to sit elsewhere in the plane, it’s not hours. We’ve had our APs sit in different rows on flights before – no problem. As long as the AP has options I’m not obsessing over hours, she’s got free will. Yes there have been times on family trips where I’ve thought it would have been nice to have a date night but ultimately its easier for us to qualify a trip as working or not entirely and plan accordingly.

DMMom March 17, 2017 at 9:44 am

This is how our Au Pair trips have been. I think if my Au Pair is counting hours on an awesome trip, or even not willing to lend a hand as part of the “family” while on vacation, then she is not the right fit for us.

We like to go on trips 3-4 times a year and we pay $$$ for her to join us, mostly because we feel she is part of the family and not for to take care of the kids 24×7. If she would rather stay home alone for a week it would be cheaper for us, but when given the option to stay home or come with they have always chosen to come with. As such, I expect that she can sit with the bags while I take the kids to the bathroom, or she can hold one of the girl’s hands while waiting for a cab without worrying about counting hours.

HMof2 March 16, 2017 at 2:10 am

We frequently drive to a nearby city where we have a vacation home. AP can choose to come along or do something else. Once she is there, she is off to do her thing. It is never required to ride with us. Our rationale is that we never need the AP to help in any way during the ride. 99% of the time, we drive at night so the kids are asleep. She can tune everyone out, not lift a finger, and be just another carpooling person who happened to be interested in going our way. In behaving as part of the family, she often engages in brief chitchat before putting on her headphones or using her smartphone or iPad. She sits in the back with the kids and they like to talk to her, until they fall asleep. We don’t count her reply back to them as work. We see it someone who seats next to another person during a ride and may choose to talk or ignore her fellow passengers. When she doesn’t want to engage with the kids, she just tells them that she is going to take a nap and turns her head away. That’s fine with me – like when I don’t want to talk to a chatty passenger next to me on the plane.

Because she is basically hitching a ride, we never count the hours as work while on the road.

SeattleHD March 16, 2017 at 7:14 am

We’ve taken au pairs to England, and that’s a 24 hour trip door to door. Even Hawaii is 12+. So there’s no way that you can count alll of that as on duty. And we’ve had au pairs that are an enormous help with the kids and some that not only didn’t lift a finger to help, was actually more work than the kids (lost her borarding pass, generally clueless).

And when we entered the U.K. and said she was our nanny we had a jittery moment when immigration wanted to know if she would be “working”, thereby requiring a work permit (however, she was a non-European who just also happened to have dual nationality in Europe, so no issue).

So this is one of those rules that makes no sense, and is impossible to follow if the trip is longer than 10 hours. Common sense should prevail. And trips like these are all optional, we take them as a bonus, don’t expect them to work much, so ithe easy solution to meeting the rules is to not take them. No reasonable au pair would prefer that.

2 kids and a cat March 16, 2017 at 7:38 am

I think it ultimately depends on the relationship. For a family that never has dinner with the AP and it’s more of a business arrangement, having the AP come on the trip just to work, I could see having to count every minute.
When we travel with AP, we discuss the trip holistically. Here is the trip, here is your schedule, here are our expectations when you’re working, here’s info on the area for your free time. We do try to schedule as little time as possible – a day so we can do a big kid activity, and a date night or two. Since she often tags along during her free time as a family member, I don’t really see the drive as work but as a family member.

A related scenario: a while back I took the AP shopping with my kids – it was her day off and she basically hitched a ride to do her own thing when we got there. We made a rest stop half way and she did stay in the car while I ran to the bathroom. To me, that was being family not working. If she hadn’t been there, of course I would have unloaded my kids and taken them with me, but she also would have been on her own for the gas to get there.

Jennc March 16, 2017 at 8:16 am

When we travel on a “family vacation” we do not do any type of schedule. Example Disney world. She may work Monday through Thursday at home and then we get in car and drive Friday and a few hours Saturday. We typically do 2 hotel rooms because there are 6 of us. We may hit Orlando running straight to parks etc. I will give her downtime if we are at the condo I say ” I’m going to pool with kids you are welcome to join, hang out in condo or do what you want” . Typically they are stuck with our transportation so she can’t really go far unless she Uber’s. My most recent trip it was just her , me and kids. She had friends in Orlando so I gave her sat afternoon , night, Sunday off. Her friends stayed the night with us , and then we hit ground running on Monday-Thursday! We are at parks 8 am-9pm. I’m not counting hours! She has fun we have fun and her trip is paid for !!!! Mind you AFTER a long trip together when we arrive home she is OFF for minimum 2 days to get a breather from us. Everyone knows what it’s like to be with ” family” good friends etc in close proximity for days . We are ALL ready to get a break ! I think if you take them on vacation and it is a ” working vacation” I explain how it goes what we do expectations, but I also tell her any opportunity she has to ” take a breather from us while we are on vacation”. Hope that helps

NoVA Twin Mom March 16, 2017 at 8:42 am

Our LCC has told us that if we’re bringing an au pair along on an awesome trip, she doesn’t count travel time as work time. We asked when we were about to bring our au pair with us to Hawaii and travel time would exceed 10 hours. We planned to sit one host parent with each kid, but our seats were three in one place on the plane and two in another, so au pair would end up near a kid but not responsible for them on the plane. We also didn’t ask her to work while on vacation, but pitch in as needed (we knew her well enough to know that she’d be helpful).

The reason we asked is that our au pair’s best friend had just complained (to both us and the LCC) when her host family required her to go along on a driving vacation to a beach destination about 12 hours away by car. She didn’t want to go and knew (having gone on this vacation last year) that the host parents would ‘tune out’ any backseat squabbles, leaving her to deal with all of them. They would have gone over 10 hours on each of the travel days (as they couldn’t deny she’d be working in the car). The au pair knew that complaining would force them to break up the travel days. I think the compromise wound up being that her boyfriend could drive her down to the beach and pick her up a few days early (after she’d hit 45 hours in the week) so she wasn’t “working” on the travel days.

I think the key is what host families expect the au pair to do during travel days. If they’re expected to work, fully responsible for the kids, then the hours should count as work hours. If they’re pitching in and going somewhere awesome, chances are they’ll be willing to be flexible on the travel days.

HMAdvice March 16, 2017 at 10:39 am

I agree with most oft he HM’s comments on here. This is a very grey area. I think the key is to try and be fair and respectful about it. Having said that, I agree with Computer Lunch and I also use a sliding scale. If my AP is counting every second of her time then I probably am not going to go out of my way to include them on interesting stops, dinners out or provide extra benefits but if the AP is going out of their way to be a good sport about it then I will probably do more to either let them have more free time and/or try to stop at some fun places that I think they would enjoy. The spirit of the AP program is supposed to be about cultural exchange and I think taking an AP on vacation (and including them ) is a big part of it but this is a two way street.

Mimi March 16, 2017 at 12:11 pm

If we are requiring help with the kids, then we count the time. Even when our kids were much smaller, we could manage travel without scheduling AP time and she was free to veg on the ride. Similar to 2 kids and a cat, we’ve had trips where we will step away from the kids for a few minutes and leave them with the AP, but I would never do it if they were misbehaving or if I knew she minded. We balance those moments with a give and take relationship like when recently I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from an fun outing (AP not on duty) and left the kids in the car with her for less than 15 minutes so I could get a few things for dinner, and included the APs favorite ice cream (just for her) and some fruit that she likes.

Exaupair March 18, 2017 at 8:20 am

In my view, you can’t go wrong if you treat your AP as a big sister to your kids. It would be perfectly fine to expect a big sister to stay in the car with the kids while you fill up the car, hold one baby while you feed another etc. It would also be expected that parents would make an effort to make sure that a big sister got taken to some places that she would enjoy on the trip, and get treated to the same rides, meals out etc as the host kids. A big sister wouldn’t be expected to stay stuck in a hotel with the kids for endless nights while the parents went out but, likewise, a big sister wouldn’t be expected to ignore a crying child or a mum struggling to do a million things at once. When I was an AP, it was quite simple – I was family, and really was treated like an older sister or young aunt to the host kids. Probably why I’m still in touch with my host family even today.

AlwaysHopeful HM March 18, 2017 at 10:12 am

This is exactly how I feel. Anything else feels like I’m simply hosting the au pair’s vacation, which I am not inclined to do. It’s either a family trip, or it’s not!

Taking a Computer Lunch March 18, 2017 at 10:06 pm

Just as long as you realize that a family trip is no one’s vacation. As the parent of a special needs child – I took my cues from a friend (who has never hosted an au pair). It’s a family trip if you take the kids. It’s a vacation if you don’t.

In my experience, the bad-mouthing and grudges occur when HF are not up front BEFORE the trip. I always say “This is MY vacation not YOURS.”

That being said, I also try to be fair. In the past, I have tried to be up front when I couldn’t afford to give the AP privacy, so she had an “opt out” not to go on the trip. (Because, quite frankly, if she’s working then she’s not sharing a room with the kids!!!)

DH and I rarely ever went on a true holiday with the AP. Most of our “vacations” were to stay in the homes of family members. We tried to be up front if that trip meant sharing a room (with a child of the same gender) or if there would be true privacy.

In my experience, the more you explain up front, the less your AP has opportunity for hard feelings. The more you say “family trip” and the less you use “holiday” or “vacation” the more she’ll understand. Remember – your AP will associate vacation or holiday with the own trips she either took with her parents or her own friends, and not associate them at all with working. So, if she doesn’t lift a finger during a gas station stop or an airplane flight, don’t necessarily blame her – think about how much you explained your expectations for “the job.” And if you expect her to work (and not just put on her headphones and watch a movie on her iPad) then she’s working.

Now fully in countdown mode. 11 working days until we no longer have an AP – “The Camel” is an “adult” (albeit one in diapers who has to be fed). Family trips will never be the same.

AussieAP in DC March 21, 2017 at 2:26 pm

While I mostly agree with a lot of you that if the AP can zone out on the trip it doesn’t count as work, I feel there needs to be a balance between technical hours and common sense/fairness.

Three or four times now 10-15 hours of my scheduled 1.5 days off for the week were during the long car trip to and from a family trip. While I wasn’t expected to go out of my way to deal with the kids, it did seem a little unfair to me that the only large chunk of free time I got that week I was stuck in the back of a minivan, surrounded by piles of luggage.

LuckyHM#3 March 22, 2017 at 10:46 am

I think the key here is communication. We have family in London that we go visit every year. I’ve taken 2 APs to London with us. Both times, we were there for almost 2 weeks. Visiting family means I don’t need my AP to help with the kids there but she needs to act like a member of the family while there and be willing to sleep wherever there is space because houses in London are small vs US homes and we stay wth my sister or brother who have their own kids. I match with LA AuPairs so typically have not been to Europe and may be their only opportunity to go. I tell them the situation including the fact that going there (we were in CA for those 2 trips so door to door was 16-18 hours) will not be counted as work but I will expect them to help with the kids on the plane. I also explain the sleeping situation when we get there so no privacy and you will most definitely be sharing a bed with female child or cousin. You will also consider at least week to be your vacation. BUT I paid all the costs to get you there and back of $3-$4,000. Every single AP said yes to such trips very happily and still talk about the experience? years later. They both loved the experience and often ended up sitting with one kid for the whole flight. We always surprised then with a Eurostar ticket to Paris for a weekend with one of my teenage nieces.

So for me, of you say no, take the week as your vacation and do what you want. If you say yes, hey the trip of a lifetime and behave nicely and dying expect anyone to clean up after you and don’t expect a hotel room for 2 weeks in a city that will cost me $$$$. Either way, I don’t really need you there

CzechAupair March 31, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Just count it. She is stuck in a car, she is not off. If my hp tell me that i was off because i could watch a movie, relax or sleep I would be mad. I dont want to watch a movie, I dont want to go for a run, to a gym, hang out with my friend. “Hey look, there is a gym i am member at. can you please stop, since the kids are asleep and it is my time off so I can use it as I wish.” honestly would you stop? And if you are going to tell me that you are taking her on a trip, she can see a new place- please, who made up this trip, do you really think she would care if she is at the home town or somewhere 6 hours away? imagine your boss telling you to expect you to sit at your office out of your bussiness hours but please dont work. you are going on family vacation, be with your kids, enoy your family and kids together. do a date night, but allow your ap also enjoy it.

Aspie Mom May 3, 2017 at 3:50 pm

We state our approach to vacations clearly and upfront. Our au pair is welcome to come with us on trips, but this time is voluntary. We pay for all food, lodging and entry to activities when she is with us. We consider each travel day as a full 10 hours worked. Every day we are at the destination is considered vacation, the off weekend, or off day, depending on how long the trip is. She is welcome to stay with us when we get to the destination, or go off on her own. Because we consider it her free time, we do not try to dictate that she stay with us. We usually schedule 1 date night and use scheduled hours. This gives us an opportunity to explore the destination in a way would wouldn’t be able to with the kids and gives value to bringing our au pair with us.

Aspie Mom May 3, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Also, our au pair is welcome to stay home during our trips, but the entire time is considered off time.

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