Taking Your Au Pair “On Vacation”: How can you make sure you’re fair to your Au Pair?

by cv harquail on August 8, 2017

Today I got emails from two different au pairs, both asking for advice about going on vacations with their Host Families. In both situations, it seems that the Host Parents aren’t really following the rules around the 10 hours per day/ 45 hrs per week limits.

Scanning back through the archives, I realized that nearly all the posts I’ve written about managing vacations come from the Host Parents’ view — but what about from the Au Pair’s perspective?

Some time ago I wrote this list of 13 Tips for Vacationing With Your Au Pair, mostly to make sure the Host Mom got a legit vacation. I’ll repeat them here, and ask:

In addition to these 13 Tips, what should an Au Pair do, to make sure things stay sane and fair?

13 Tips For Host Parents Taking an Au Pair on Vacation With Them.

1. Be clear why you are taking your au pair.

Do you need her to provide childcare during the vacation? Wrangle one kid on the airplane? Speak Spanish to the tour guide? Are you worried that otherwise she’ll be lonely and feel abandoned in an empty house? Are you bringing her because you can afford to give her the treat of travel? Or, is it some combination of all of these?

2. Make sure that you communicate all of your expectations to your au pair.

3. Be clear even before you leave how much the au pair will be expected to work, and when you expect to need her to be on duty.

If you and your partner want a nice dinner out– tell your au pair beforehand so that she won’t assume she’ll have every evening free.

4. Give your au pair some specific time to “vacation” herself or himself, when s/he is absolutely NOT on duty. 

Even if your au pair is there to take care of the kids, find a way to let her explore and play without always being with your family. Find ways to give your au pair some “prime time” time for herself. By “prime time”, I mean daylight hours when the parks, museums or open air markets are open, or when it’s safe to explore the city, or when the nightclubs open. This doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but it should be enough so that she can see the Eiffel tower and get someone to take her picture in front of it.

5. Pay for every meal and admission ticket that she needs to accompany you or the kids while she is “on duty.”

Include money for a snack or a latte when you get the same for yourself or your kids. Never take your au pair to a restaurant where you can’t afford to have her buy an adult entree. I have once or twice had to say “let’s choose the less expensive items” when we’ve been at places where all the food is expensive (you know, the parks with the $5 bottles of water?!)… But, do not expect her to hold back if you are being extravagant for yourselves.

6. Let your Au Pair buy her own souvenirs.

Don’t feel like you need to pay for the $36 Little Mermaid snow globe that she simply must have. She can pay for her own souvenirs. That said, you might buy her a copy of the photo of her and the kids in the front seat of the roller coaster.

 7. Be clear about sleeping arrangements and make sure they are okay with both you and your au pair.

I’ve never brought an au pair along when I’ve gotten her a room all to herself — I’ve never been in the situation where I could afford that additional $100-$250/night. Most times, our au pair has shared a room (but not a bed) with our girls, or she has slept on the pull-out couch of a suite shared with the girls. I think that it is unreasonable to ask her to share a bed with your child, but it’s okay for them to share a room. YMMV if you have boys and not girls.

8. Find ways to give your au pair some time more or less alone, even if that is watching movies while the kids sleep.

Find ways to give the au pair privacy in the morning in the bathroom (by taking your kids into your room), by giving her some time alone to nap, and by making sure she can stay up and read or watch movies somewhere that she isn’t disturbing the kids.

9. Invoke the “second to last bus” requirement if she ventures off by herself.
(Note: do this for yourselves too, so that you get back to relieve your Au Pair on time.)

I learned this one the hard way, when I missed half of the dinner where I was receiving a professional award, the reason for which we had traveled to Toronto. We had given our au pair the day off to go to Niagara Falls, expecting her to return by 5 pm (the dinner began at 7). Well, she missed the bus — the very last bus– and I nearly missed my big professional moment. My husband missed the dinner and stayed at the hotel to watch the baby, and I got to the dinner just before desert. Ever since then, the rule has been to take the second to last bus or train, so that if your au pair misses it she still has a chance to get back without paying $85 for a taxi or ruining her host parent’s big moment.

10. Do not expect your au pair to work more than 10 hrs/day or 45 hrs/week .

Seriously. Please. Parents, don’t do this.

Just because you’re in a different place doesn’t mean you can or should break the rules. Then how do you handle changes in time zones? As fairly as possible, counting the actual hours worked AND being respectful that her body clock might need adjusting too.

11. Figure out how to pay for her hours ‘in transit’ and make sure she agrees.

This has always been a tough one for us. If you’re all in the car, with the kids watching a DVD with their headphones on and your Au Pair listening to her iPod, is she on duty? The rules for my agency say yes, these are on duty hours. But if she’s watching the in flight movie or reading Glamour, is that work? When an au pair is neither working nor free to do what she wants, I have treated this as being ‘kind of’ on duty, and counted it has 1/2 or 3/4 time…but only if I found myself needing to skimp b/c I really needed her on duty later that day. This is probably the one place that I personally have ‘bent’ the rules. Okay, that and walking the dog sometimes.

12. Make sure that she has a way to keep in touch with her family (e.g., let her use your computer to do email).

13. Be sure that she has some fun time with the kids.

Let her be “on duty” while you’re all building sand castles and flying kites and make sure she joins in.

Vacations are one of those times when it is important to be clear about who is working and who is vacationing, and when.

Given your experiences, what should an Au Pair do,
to make sure things stay sane and fair on vacation?

See also:

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

Taking An Au Pair on Vacation: Hotel Room Arrangements


Jade August 9, 2017 at 1:37 am

Have also been wondering about this lately as we are about to take our AP on a week long overseas ski trip. AP is absolutely not required to come along (we were going anyway). She has her own room and bathroom in a spacious apartment and will not be required to work during any of the travel time, any evenings and 5 out of the 7 days (my partner and i figured that as long as she was there we would get her to look after the kids so we could explore a mountain a little further away). Other than those 2 days she will be 100% off-duty and we have made this clear. However, even when she is “off-duty” she still tends to hang around us which means we pay for everything. For example, on her 2 weeks vacation previously, other than a couple of days here and there, she spent all of her time hanging around the house, which meant we continued to pay for all meals etc .. My particular issue is with paying for her ski hire and lift tickets on her off-duty days as she will likely just want to come skiing with us (the kids are in ski school). Lift tickets and ski hire where we are going are in excess of $150 per day. My view is that she is on vacation and should be paying her own way if she wants to ski. She has already had over 15 days of “leave” or vacation time in the last 5 months. This trip is really just a bonus for her as we don’t need her to look after the kids at all while we are away (we’re just doing so because it’s convenient). We are obviously paying for all food, accommodation, flights, transfers, transport to and from the mountain etc .. But i feel a bit mean not paying for her lift tickets and gear hire as i suspect if we don’t pay it may be cost prohibitive for her. I know previous posts have indicated that if you take your AP on a ski trip you should pay for all lift tickets but my question is really whether this is required when those lift tickets will cost a small fortune and this whole trip is really just an extra vacation for AP?

Spanishaupair August 10, 2017 at 3:30 am

Puff tricky. Have you already booked everything for your Aupair? If not i would reconsider It ir at least be upfront about costs she Will have and let her decide. Ski holliday is not a treat but more a nightmare if you. Are stuck up where you stay without much to do because its insane expensive, its too much cost for you guess for the Aupair that each days cost of lift and hiring is more than a weeks pocket money.

TexasHM August 10, 2017 at 11:20 am

It doesn’t matter how many hours or days she works. If she works, its a work trip, you pay for everything and need to give her a schedule. If you truly don’t need her then don’t have her work and she can pay her own way then it really is a bonus trip. If she comes and works and you have her pay her way that is exactly where things go south. We had an AP join for a ski trip. Same scenario as you. We did not have her work. She paid her flight, meals out and ski gear. We bought her lift ticket as a bday/Christmas present (we went at Christmas). She loved the trip, had a great time. Didn’t mind paying at all and appreciated the lift ticket, the free transportation to/from mountain, spacious condo and meals in the condo that we provided.

Either have her work and pay for it or tell her she is optional to come and here are the potential expenses. Or tell her its cost prohibitive and she gets a light duty week at home – kids laundry, organizing closets, chilling with her friends. Any scenario can work with candid communication. It’s when people starting mixing options that it gets very messy (not a working trip but she’s working, supposedly a vacation but she can’t opt out, etc).

2 kids and a cat August 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm

We don’t pay for big-ticket activities on their off-time out of the gate. It’s easy to do something that someone else is paying for (like for a non-skiing AP to suddenly want to learn, then complain endlessly about the lesson and not even make it to after lunch). We wait to see what’s important for her to save towards and spend her money on, then reimburse her the cost of it after. I also don’t ski, so I do perfectly well finding things to do off the slopes for free.
I don’t buy (ha!) the line that APs have no money — they just wanted the handbag more than they wanted an experience.

Spanishaupair August 10, 2017 at 5:58 pm

Have to say i was an Aupair that saved money and spend It on experiences and trips and came home with money, but still a 5 weeks of pocket money for a partially work trip is too much

Ex Au Pair August 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm

I have been on ski vacations with my hostfamily and they did not pay for my ski tickets the days i was off duty. I felt that was okay since they paid for everything else and i enjoyed going off skiing on my own! Even my LCC said thats fine!

kat August 22, 2017 at 5:15 pm

i think that you should make clear first to yourself what you are ready to pay for and what not if you dont need her to come with you /even if you do i think this applies up to a point/.
and then your aupair what the options are. ie stay at home and take vacation /or not if she’s already used her holidays – then you can ask her to do some stuff at home while you are away/, or come with you on such and such conditions. if you are taking her jsut because you want to be nice /and are happy to have her around all the time/, tell her that and what do you expect in exchange.

American Host Mom in Europe August 9, 2017 at 5:56 am

We go on several trips a year (domestic and international) and nearly always take our au pairs. I think the first few points are the most important — communicating about expectations! We normally include our au pairs so we can go out for a nice dinner date at least once during a trip, and sometimes just to have some more help (e.g., beach vacations). We actually have found that most of our au pairs are happy to spend the majority of the trip doing site seeing with us (why not? then we pay the admission fees, the transportation, the snacks, and the meals), and that works out well all around. Fortunately not living in the US, there aren’t strict rules on hours, so we don’t have to figure out if they are working or not when they’ve chosen to accompany us for the day, and take the kids to the toilet in a restaurant, or the food counter at the beach.

I like it when our au pairs tell me in advance if there are things they want to do, or private plans they’d like to make, as it helps make our planning easier. Sometimes I hear a lot of “I don’t know”, and then just when I’m going to buy tickets for all of us, discover that she’s decided to go off on her own.

Look forward to hearing more from the au pair perspective.

2 kids and a cat August 9, 2017 at 6:30 am

We recently took AP to a resort area. Before we left, I sent her websites and gave her pamphlets from past trips so she could see what her options were. I told her that she would have her day and a half off mid-week, and let her know which activities we’d be doing as a family during that time and what I wanted her to do with the the kids on her work days so she could plan her own excursions. As soon as I could, I gave her the firm schedule. It went fairly well. One thing we realized was that on the weekend (also off) she hung around with us because she (understandably) didn’t want to pay for her own meals — I realize this should have been obvious on the front end, but I somehow missed thinking about this. So, in the future I might give her a per diem for food on the days off.

newAPmom August 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

I have taken my au pairs on vacations, and have learned several things. Do not take her unless you really need her to work. Do not take her unless you really enjoy spending time with her. If you don’t enjoy her company it will not be a vacation. Our first AP came with us to a resort and if we didn’t specify she was “on duty” she kept to herself and didn’t help. So after the first day we gave her a work schedule and used the full 45 hours. We didn’t enjoy that vacation though because we felt taken advantage of. If I’m paying for everything for the au pair, working or not, they better be pleasant to be around and appreciate it! My next au pairs acted as family members and didn’t even want work schedules. Everyone was happy and we enjoyed spending time with them. Our kids are older now, and we don’t bring the au pair because it costs extra and we don’t really need her to work.

massmom August 9, 2017 at 11:02 am

Interested to hear what the au pairs have to say from their perspective!

In my mind, there are three kinds of trips we might take the au pair on, and the expectations are different for each:

1) A working trip — This is when my husband and/or I are working or attending a conference, and we bring the kids and AP along. These are easy to manage, as there are very clear hours when the AP is working and solely responsible for kids. We would fully expect that she would want to join us for fun activities, but would also make sure she had time to explore the city on her own if she so chooses and time allows.
2) A working vacation — This is when you’re on vacation, but need the AP to work some hours so that you can enjoy the vacation. I feel like this is the most nebulous option, where most families and APs run into expectation mismatches and resentments. Personally, we haven’t done many of these as I get a kick out of being with my kids full-time on vacation, and we just adjusted our idea of travel when they were younger. Now that they are older, we don’t really need any help with them, and given that our house is a revolving door of family and visitors (both ours and the APs) throughout the year, I need at least one week a year where it’s just me, hubby and the kids. Often, I plan these to coincide for when an AP has requested their week of vacation.
3) An optional vacation — This is when you don’t need the AP to work, but you would enjoy their company and would like to give them a fun experience — for us, these are camping or skiing trips that are usually new activities to our APs. We always make clear upfront what the sleeping arrangements will be, and any costs that might be involved, and leave it up to them whether they’d like to join. Our APs have always pitched in and helped entertain the kids where they can, or offered to sit for a night so we could go out, and these trips been really great for all involved. The key is spelling out expectations upfront so everyone is on the same page.

I’m curious how APs view these, and whether they get offended when not invited on vacation. I’m assuming in many cases they would prefer to be hanging out with their friends rather than hiking or playing board games with us in a remote location!

Taking a Computer Lunch August 14, 2017 at 9:49 pm

In general, I don’t call anything when I’m taking the kids a vacation – it’s a family trip (it’s been a running joke with some friends who also have children with special needs). If you start calling it a family trip, then the AP will have the idea that it’s a family trip and not at a similar to a holiday with her friends (which should be obvious, but based on past experience, not always).

Take the initiative in communication. Be every clear. Everyone makes a mistake with their first family trip with an au pair. You’ll figure out what you want/need/feel like you’re entitled to since you’re paying, and be up front – before you step into any means of transportation! That way there are less opportunities for hurt feelings.

If you’re going somewhere isolated, warn your AP that this a family trip with a lot of family time (e.g. family game night, weenie roasts) and absolutely no public transportation. If there is somewhere of interest to her and the entire family, then go there (AP #3 loved to see Niagara Falls in December – we were over an hour away for a family funeral and rewarded for her positive and enthusiastic family member support). If your AP is a rockstar, then pre-arrange for a side trip (AP #13 received a one-day trip to the Grand Canyon with a friend when we were staying in a city that made it possible). I always enjoyed doing this for my APs.

Warn your AP what to pack. If she doesn’t listen, then its her fault. AP #8 didn’t pack sturdy shoes and did not enjoy the hike to see petroglyphs in a canyon.

If it’s someplace your children have been, then have them share their stories of their favorite places in advance. Child #2 used to cry “Do we have to see it again?” but by the time he became a teenager, it was routine, “Of course we’re going to see it again!”

If we absolutely did not need an AP to travel with us, we gave her the opportunity to say no. If the AP had already used plenty of vacation time, then we asked her to organize the toy and clothing closets and gave her about 2 hours of tasks per day we were away. It was up to her how she got them done during the time we were away. We did not give her any tasks that were not related to the children. We have pets, and told the AP that if she did not want to feed them, then we would pay a neighbor to do it – but we could not control when the neighbor would show up. You won’t be a bit surprised that the AP was always willing to feed the pets.

My motto – as a HM be generous in intent, but firm about the commitment a family trip entails.

WestMom August 9, 2017 at 11:06 am

Every trip where we invited APs, she was not expected to work. We even planned some trips with them in mind. Never needed them to work, and we always expected them to just hang out with us the entire time and squeeze in to our accommodations. I basically paid for everything. That being said, these trips were all pretty low key, no flights involved, usually renting a home, doing a home exchange, or even camping. As a family of 5, I could not afford to bring AP of a trip with us ‘just for fun’. We never brought AP on bigger trips (usually to their home country anyway- who wants to do that!).

I also never planned to invite AP until we have spent some quality time together and I know for sure that I want to be on vacation with her. Some past APs we have not invited on vacay, because we weren’t as close during off hours, and it would just not have been the right experience.

Fast forward 8 years, and no longer in the AP program, but we still vacation in France regularly where 6 of our 8 APs came from and we rent a big house and expect some of our APs to come visit and hang with us for some time, just like in the good old days. No expectations, but yes, we usually end up paying for everything for everyone. Usually ones end up picking up the tab for a meal or for groceries, or offers to babysit one day/night while we go out. With real rock stars, we never seem to need to set expectations, right?

Should be working August 9, 2017 at 12:44 pm

I’m another no-longer-hosting mom–just finished our first week with no au pair–and we had a beloved former au pair meet us at a country house in a country near her home country for a few days, it was great. She kept the kids busy, hung out with us, of course we paid for everything. She really is family!

At the end of the trip I left the family and went to a work event in another country, and had dinner with another former AP, very nice also. And our last AP was fine but not a rock star–and yet now that he is gone we are all feeling very warm toward him and talk about possibly seeing him in his country next year. Except our first AP who flamed out, and a relatively recent AP who made such a terrible last decision that we can’t have contact now, we are in contact with all and have had visits from most.

TexasHM August 10, 2017 at 11:13 am

Wow Westmom! (We’re not worthy! ;)) So glad to see you pop in! Totally agreed with you with real rock stars you don’t generally have to explicitly overcommunicate everything or even if you do – they get it and appreciate it and nod their head politely while thinking it is all super obvious and a no brainer. :)

We also do not have APs work on vacations. We are (from what I have seen on here) a little bit of an oddball in that we take more, bigger trips than it seems most do but we love traveling. We usually take two 9-11 day trips per year plus weekend trips. The two big trips we have also sometimes tweaked or aligned to AP bucket list items, the APs never work but are expected to act like a family member (don’t let a kid walk into traffic in front of them, hand me something across the aisle if I need it, help with dishes in the condo, etc) and we actually have them pay some of their way. We pick up the community items (car rental, gas, condo unless she wants her own room and we get a bigger condo then she might need to chip in the difference which usually isn’t that much and we’ve only had to do that once in 7 years, meals at the condo or fast food out, etc). She usually picks up her plane ticket, her activity tickets (shows, Disney, etc) and meals out at nice restaurants.

This has worked exceptionally well for us. We never have to worry about sleeping arrangements because they are not working so there are no rules (if they work even one hour on the trip you are required to pay their way for the entire trip and provide a private bedroom – period). They have the option to not come and go vacation on their own at the same time (and end up getting more than 2 weeks total per year). They have the option to opt out of the activities or meals out (though none ever have). They appreciate being included and having the opportunity and paying part of their way ensures they actually want to go, that we can do more things on the trip and that we can take more trips overall.

HF friends that have had APs work I have stressed to them the importance of creating a schedule as best they can. I can’t even count the number of APs that have cried in my kitchen about going on a trip to Disney/Hawaii/some other AP dream trip but then worked 24/7 and never got to really experience any of it. Now did they really work 24/7? Of course not but the perception was that they did. Sleeping in room with kids, having them during the day, being expected to join family on meals/activities = them feeling like they are working 24/7. CV had some great points above on how to prevent them from feeling that way and ensuring everyone can have a positive experience. Just like everything else in the AP program expectation setting and communication are critical. If you say Hawaii they see sleeping in a hammock on the beach drink in hand Instagram dream – not stir crazy kids bouncing on the bed in the condo for half the day and keeping hands on them in the pool the other half only to fall in bed and have them wake you in the middle of the night. :)

To go back to the AP perspective here is what I would tell them (and have told them):
Ask your HF what the schedule will be, where you will be staying, when your 1.5 days off will be etc. Tell them you are excited to come along (assuming its true) and you would love to take advantage of being there and explore. Tell them you want to make sure you are available to them when they have you scheduled. Just ask for as much detail as possible. Tell them (assuming its true) that you would love to join them for some meals but also might want to try some places on your own. Help your HF build a schedule if needed. Explain that you want to do a great job and be available to them and in order to do so, you need a schedule.

On the trip say thank you! Be positive! Look for the good even if you are bored or in a place you wouldn’t normally vacation (meet new people, catch up on book reading, explore!). Do a good job, be a good roommate and it can be a great experience for both sides.

newAPmom August 11, 2017 at 9:25 am

OMG, yes, au pairs don’t forget to say thank you! So many of mine haven’t that I was irritated to have spent a ton of money on them on vacations.

WestMom August 26, 2017 at 8:50 pm

Hi again THM! Just got back from a 2-week French vacation where we met up with AP#2 who spent one week with us, used her car for long day trips, shlepped my kids around, went back and forth for groceries, helped with dinner every night, kept my elderly dad entertained (in his native language). She was no doubt one of the highlights of our trip. I was happy to pay for every dime of it!

TexasHM August 29, 2017 at 3:19 pm

That is awesome. We hope to visit our exAPs in their home countries when the kids get a little older! Can’t wait!

MoreCoffee August 9, 2017 at 11:55 am

We bring our APs on trips with us mostly as a treat/bonus. We cover accommodations and entry tickets, and we ask them to “work” while we are in transit (because we really need the help wrangling small people in airports, stations, etc.) but otherwise, we make clear that once we get to our vacation destination that they are mostly on their own.

The times we’ve tried to include our AP in our family vacation just didn’t work well for either us or the AP. Either we had different vacation styles (I cannot stand souvenir shopping), or we as the HPs had to spend too much mental energy “assisting” our AP with transportation, logistics, etc. We found it much easier to treat the whole experience as a gift, and then let our APs make the most of it the way they see fit. (We always explain the breakdown of costs before we book anything, to ensure our AP can cover her share of expenses if she chooses to come.)

This might change, of course…I have yet to schedule an AP to work to cover a dinner while on a trip, but that might be nice in theory someday!

WorkingTWINmom August 10, 2017 at 3:44 pm

We are at the point of finishing our first year with an au pair and I am not planning on taking an au pair on vacation again. During matching the au pair we choose made it very clear her dream was to go to Disneyland while here. We live in Central California so being only eight hours away we figured we would try to make that happen. For our Au Pairs school there was a four day weekend class in San Diego that meet the requirement over a holiday weekend so my family and I planned to drive her down and enjoy the days together while she was in school and than go to Disneyland on the way home for two days on the way back. She had zero working hours. We told her we would cover everything but the ticket to Disneyland, so we covered all travel (my husband drove her back and fourth to her class everyday from the hotel), hotel and food. The afternoon we arrived in Anaheim we walked to downtown Disney and I got in line to buy the tickets while my husband waited with the kids. I was surprised not to see Au Pair behind me. I bought our tickets and asked her if she would get in line to get hers (line was super short) and she said she decided to do something else the next two days and would come back with relatives when her year was finished. We still had a great time as a family but we felt used like a hotel (we never got a thank you for anything from providing her hotel and food in San Diego or in Anaheim). It was very disappointing. The whole trip she never acted at all like family (grabbed her bag out of the vehicle and settled in and was asking for the wifi password while I was trying to unload luggage and children) and it was not the best experience. I would never plan a trip for an au pair again and will only take my family on vacation in the future (unless we find these rock star au pairs that people talk about).

Reluctant Grownup August 11, 2017 at 2:11 pm

I’m SO sorry that this happened to you. You went out of your was to fulfil a dream of hers and she opted out last minute?!!

Living right by Disney we are able to let our APs experience it without us. Thank goodness. Central CA coast is our Disneyland:-)). Sea otters and wine.

WorkingTWINmom August 14, 2017 at 9:47 am

It was a learning experience, one of why we are not renewing our Au Pair (she is looking for a family for next year right now). From the beginning she has never made herself a part of the family. The only way I can get her to eat dinner with the family is if I put her hours to work over dinner, Holidays was her taking selfies and videos of herself opening presents the whole time (otherwise she was in her room). We really tried and this trip was in the first few months of her arrival. She is acting more like family now but I think it is because she needs the recommendation and because she hasn’t found a new host family close by (she has a boyfriend here) and she needs to match in the next couple weeks. I grew up with exchange students my whole life and I truly want the family relationship with an au pair, not just to be an employer that happens to provide room and board.

Reluctant Grownup August 14, 2017 at 2:08 pm

The way that most younger people “experience” things, with their phone glued to their face & hand, is off-putting and pervasive & probably worthy of its own post. I’m sure many families have stories of APs on their phones at Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas morning… I know there are threads about phones, and being part of the family on holidays, but perhaps not the combination.

Reluctant Grownup August 11, 2017 at 2:04 pm

The vacation experience usually involves closer quarters, and dealing with children at all hours, as well as travel delays, disasters, etc.

Communication, setting realistic expectations, and a sense of humor is key. I also agree with those who’ve said to encourage APs to have “skin in the game.” For example, if you rent a bigger house just to give her space, on a truly optional trip, discuss her paying part of the “upgrade” well in advance.

Being fair to an AP involves planning well in advance, discussing the type of trip, and making sure she’s not coming along just to be fed… are there past posts about how much (extra) money to leave with your AP if she chooses to fend for herself at home while the host family is traveling? Or how much to give her when you part ways for the day when you’re vacationing together?

We have taken two trips to Hawaii, from California, with 2 different APs. The experiences were absolutely night and day. The first time we did everything wrong. New AP (first time hosting), trip already planned, in her 3rd week, decided on resorts instead of a house (didn’t want laundry & dishes…), kids were up super early, got her a room on the 3rd night and resented the cost… she hung around grumpily & constantly & never said outright “if I can have $20 for coffee and breakfast I’ll sleep in instead of waking up & waiting around…” she never said thank you, or had and one child In her charge for one single second. Even when our AC broke and hers was working & the kids wanted a movie in her room…

In retrospect, seeing this tip from her perspective, we should have given her much more detailed information and an informed choice… (kids wake up at 4-5 am & they’ll quietly leave your room…) & she’d have picked a per diem to stay home…

I should have at least switched to a house in a neighborhood walkable to coffee, beach, etc. And told her we didn’t need any on-the-clock help, besides to assist a kid choking or drowning in front of her.. I’m just so used to traveling with kids that I didn’t think to warn / prepare ad nauseum her for the give and take it requires. Or even to say outright that her flight plus lodging cost what she earns in 6-8 weeks and we are happy to provide the experience if it’s something she’d value experiencing.

The second time we asked our AP if she wanted to go; she bought a plane ticket, we bought food, lodging, etc. She was in awe and constantly remarked how beautiful & amazing everything was. She *communicated* her needs to us – hungry, tired, need coffee, etc. She volunteered to take the kids one night so we could have a date. She insisted. It was much more of an auntie dynamic. I miss her terribly.

That being said, it can be truly pricey to take an AP on an optional trip. A real vacation. No quotation marks. Parents always get a “vacation” unless you’re at an all inclusive with food & childcare… If you want to do this for your AP, approach it as a gift / bonus (imply but not dwell on how much it costs but it’s worth it to share paradise with a true family member…). With non-rockstars you may be better off enlisting a cousin.

(The “family” spirit of the AP program ended up making it a bad fit for our family and we don’t host anymore. I became mom to them. It’s my default mode. I was guilty of treating the AP like an exchange student / guest. Our older 3 kids are getting teenager-y & less impressed with life and it was so amazing to see a young person with a zest for life.)

**There is at least one past post about not taking an AP during the first part of your year together. This is such good advice. Time together can help you communicate & make a good choice together.**

Aspie Mom August 11, 2017 at 5:56 pm

I think it is really just important to talk about expectations ahead of the trip. It is ALWAYS voluntary for our au pair to travel with us, so we lay out the expectations for the trip so she can decide to come or not. For a week long trip we would count the travel days as full work days, the rest of the days are vacation, and then ask her to work a date night (which is obviously not a vacation day). On the days we consider vacation she is free to explore on her own or hang out with us. If those terms are not appealing to her she can decide not to come with us on the trip, and the entire week is considered her vacation. By making the trip voluntary and setting clear expectations, we hope we will all feel we have been treated fairly.

We can’t always use schedule hours for travel for a weekend trip. On the other hand, we wouldn’t want to say, “We need you to work 45 hours this week due to our work schedule, so you can’t come on that road trip to Mesa Verde with us. Sorry!” Instead we let her know she is welcome to come with us, but it will all be counted as off time. If she chooses to stay home, then that’s her prerogative, and we will count it as her off weekend for the month.

We pay for all room, board, and entry to activities whether she is “working” or not, and we cover transportation to the destination. If she chooses to explore the city on her own then those costs and transportation are her responsibility.

Sleeping arrangements are an important one too. Our au pair needs to understand she will not get a room to herself if she comes on a voluntary trip with us. If she wants to pay for her own lodging, she is welcome to.

We really try to give our au pairs a lot of choice in matters where we can!

I really like the second to last bus rule. I never would have thought of that!

txmom August 13, 2017 at 10:55 pm

This is pretty much how we do things. I have to say, scheduling the au pair on the travel day and having her sit with the kids on the plane is an amazing perk of traveling with an AP. My kids are school-aged and great flyers, but it’s pretty great to read my book and not play 85 games of hangman.

We always make travel optional, and we pay for everything. If she chooses to go, she is scheduled to work the travel days and one date night or activity. She has all other days free, but she is welcome to stay with us (and thus have us pay for everything). We often stay with family that live in cool places or rent an air bnb in other places, so it’s not always easy for her to get around without us and the rental car. If she were to choose not to go, and it was a full week trip, we would count it as a vacation week for her.

So far our AP (we’re on our first in an extension year with an outstanding AP) has always chosen to come and spends most of her time hanging out with us.

Exaupair August 12, 2017 at 6:41 am

As you can see from my user name, I used to be an au pair. Holiday time is when I really think the ethos of the programme kicks in. When I was an au pair, I’d like to think I was a rock star, but then my host family were a rock star family too. All through the time, I was treated as an auntie/big sis to the kids.
The family took me on holiday to Disney and we had a great time. They paid for everything (they weren’t rich, but they knew that my stipend wouldn’t cover very much – I was happy to share a room with one of the kids), but in return there were no formal schedules and I mucked in all the time as a big sis/young auntie would. I spent all my time with the family (I’m not the type who would want to go off exploring in a vacation area where I don’t know anyone), and they were happy with that. When organising the activities, the family took into account some of the things I wanted to see, in the same way that the rest of the family also got to choose a few experiences each. I babysat for a couple of date nights, but other than that we were together as a family pretty much all the time, with everyone chipping in when needed.
I suppose every au pair and host family are different, but I was lucky to find a host family who truly wanted a new member of the family, not just an independent cheap source of childcare. We’re still in touch now, years down the line.

momo4 August 13, 2017 at 8:47 pm

I’ve been hosting for 10 years, and I have to say that each AP has been different. Some I would have gladly taken on trips, and others I would never have considered bringing along.

First of all though, traveling with children is unlikely to be any sort of “vacation” in the sense most 20-year-olds think of vacation. I prefer to refer to any such traveling as a “trip”.

I feel like there should be a flow chart about taking AP’s on a trip involving the following questions:

***Do you NEED the AP to work?
–>Yes –>Set clear expectations about work hours, help needed, etc. Provide AP with their own room, respect their space, pay for everything they are required to be a part of, including airfare, lodging, food (just like you would at home).
–>No –>Do you like your AP enough to spend unnecessary time with them under stressful circumstances?
–>No –>Leave them home with some reasonable food stipend or plan trip to coincide with their vacation.
–>Yes –> Make especially sure that you yourself understand what your expectations of them are to avoid resentment on either side.
-Determine what you will expect them to pay for, and what you will pay for.
-Ask them if they want to come along, after making sure they understand clearly what your expectations of them are, work hours, what they will have to pay for, etc.
-Leave them emotionally free to choose either way.
-Do not pressure them.
***They don’t want to come along: Leave them home. Make sure they understand your “rules of the house” while you are away. If this is one of their vacation weeks, wish them a good time.
***They want to come along: Great. Review expectations about what you expect from them during the trip, how it is all going to work, etc. Respect their need need for privacy to the degree you can.

All that said, I strongly recommend knowing your AP very well before deciding to take them on a trip that you do not absolutely need them to come along on.

Trips are where the distinction between AP’s who feel themselves to be “part of the family” and those who don’t becomes painfully clear, but ideally you would know this long before the trip. An AP who is likely to put in their earphones and ignore my children while we are in the airport is not getting invited along unless I absolutely need them to work.

My current AP (starting his 2nd year with us) is absolutely wonderful, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him. He is truly a part of our family, and we recently returned from a month long trip to CO and CA. I am very respectful of his working hours, but I never have the feeling that he is counting them. He is just automatically part of things, keeping an eye on the children whenever he is around them. I paid for everything on the trip, including a weekend trip to San Francisco for him (by himself) and arranged for him to go see some national parks that were of interest to him. Of course he had his own room where ever we went. It was a long trip, but he was able to see a lot that he might not otherwise have been able to see, and it was a trip I would not have been willing to take by myself with the kids (since their dad had work obligations that prevented him from joining us). I was tremendously grateful to have him along, and he was grateful to have to opportunity to see so much.

With the right AP and mutual respect, trips can be great!
With an AP who is not a great fit, mismatched or unrealistic expectations, it can be awful.
Plan ahead, know your AP well, and always be crystal clear about your expectations.

Jade August 14, 2017 at 2:13 am

As a first time HM I unfortunately didn’t turn my mind to the logistics of how a ski trip with an AP would work. We had already booked everything well in advance and then upgraded our apartment from a 2 bedroom to a 3 bedroom when the AP expressed an interest in coming along. We also booked her flights and travel insurance shortly after. In hindsight I wish I had had the conversation about working/not working so that I could have given our AP the option of not coming. We still would have paid for her flights and accommodation if she wanted to come and not work but I suspect if she knew she was going to have to pay her own way skiing she may have been less enthusiastic about coming and may have even opted to have another week off. Our AP seems to be trying to save money while she is with us (to the extent that her parents are still financially supporting her even though she earns considerably more that the required weekly stipend). I suspect she is saving for the next part of her trip which includes more international travel so she would be reluctant to spend her own money on something like skiing.

We truly don’t need the AP to work but are asking if she wouldn’t mind so that my partner and I can have a bit of time to ourselves (something we haven’t had since she arrived). I am now considering not having her work at all and just foregoing the extra skiing with my partner. For the record we are not staying on a mountain where our AP will be bored out of her mind with nothing to do. We are staying in a place considered to be one of the adventure capitals of the world. But our AP is not one to go out an explore on her own. If we give our AP the option to pull out now and she chooses to we will lose close to $2000 in flights and accommodation. Oh well you live and learn

Seattle_AP_Mom August 14, 2017 at 3:32 pm

First time AP mom here . . . Do most host parents have older kids? We have a 3 and 5 year old, and most vacations at this age are definitely “trips” that are not relaxing for mom and dad, certainly not anything that would qualify in the “vacation” category. :-) I can’t imagine paying an au pair’s way and allowing it to be 100% leisure time for them.

I was straight up with au pairs during matching they are welcome to come on our vacations, but that they would likely be sleeping on something like a sleep sofa. We often travel with friends who have another au pair, and finding a six-bedroom house is difficult or well out of my price range. My plan is to ask the AP to work half time while they are there, mostly helping during travel time, AM/PM, and maybe a babysitter night, and to clearly schedule it, but otherwise her time is her own. Is this unreasonable? I book camp, activities, or lessons for the kids, or if we’re camping we take them out and do stuff. Our coordinator said that most host families in practice don’t supply a private room and bedroom. They just give the AP the option of coming or not. Vacations are expensive, especially ski ones – I can’t imagine paying for someone to come along all the time and not actively contribute to making the vacation better for everyone. Is this unreasonable?

TexasHM August 14, 2017 at 7:16 pm

Jade it’s never too late! Given the investment you’ve made I personally would build her a schedule and have her work. Make clear when she’s off duty and if she wouldn’t spend her money skiing why would you fund that? Especially like you said if you are going to a locale that has a lot of other options of things to do in her free time there’s no reason you should feel obligated to fund other activities. CVs advice above is good. You have already done what is required in order to take an AP on a work trip (get her a bedroom and pay for her transportation) so why not have her work?! Just take CVs advice above and talk through all of it before you go!

I had different advice before because you made it sound like she would really really want to go skiing and because she was working the other days so it seemed like perhaps you were doing it to try to save money exclusively but with the additional context you have added that is obviously not the case. The agency documentation here in the US usually makes it very clear that if she is on duty you are paying if she is off duty she is paying. I’d just have a candid conversation. “You are of course more than welcome to join us during your time off or you can go explore on your own, either way you will be responsible for your expenses. I am happy to help you build a budget or get you costs for anything that you are interested in so you can save up, and if I see any discounts or promotions I will be sure to send them your way.”

Are usually give them an itinerary that lists everything we are going to be doing and I build them a rough budget of the costs and then they decide which of those things if any they want to do!

CanadianAuPair August 14, 2017 at 11:35 pm

Okay, so as an ex au pair in France, I encountered this situation from the other side a few times. French children get a lot of vacation, and sometimes I would watch them for a day or two of said vacation, and then they would go to their grandparents and I would get time off. I was invited to go to the grandparents, but chose to travel Europe instead, and no feelings were hurt at all. The family went on a long weekend trip to a part of France that they knew I was very interested in going to (think very historical), and invited me along. I was thrilled to be included, and so touched that they thought of me when planning the itinerary and stopped at a very Canadian stop. They went on two big trips that year while I was there (a week each), one was skiing in the Alps and the other a warmer sunny trip by plane (which I was not invited to, and absolutely 3000% understood/wasn’t expecting to be). They invited me to go skiing with them, and I gladly accepted, with the idea that I would pay my lift ticket and rentals – I am an avid skier and really looked forward to this- total bucket list item. Then while we were there one of the host parents fell and broke a bone, and had to be airlifted out to the nearest town…. Thank god for health insurance but basically I watched the kids for two days unexpectedly, but I was more than happy, able and willing to help- all au pairs should be in a scenario like this! As a thank you for the flexibility and supervising the kids on skis (and I am a good skier, but wow they are a handful) the host family paid for my rentals. I don’t know how relevant this is to anyone but its a very different experience, and thought you all might enjoy hearing it

Jade August 15, 2017 at 1:54 am

Thanks TexasHM for your direct response and for the other replies. Our experience has been it doesn’t matter whether our AP is on or off duty we pay (for the most part) and my concern is that this expectation will continue on vacation with ski passes. It’s our own fault for not setting clear boundaries from the outset and for being extremely generous early on. It’s difficult to rein it in when you feel that certain expectations have been set. I try to never talk about money in front of or with our AP because I never want her to feel that she is a burden, even though there have been times where I have felt she has been excessive (our first week’s food bill was over $700). But it’s all part of the learning process and for the most part I am incredibly grateful to have such a kind, responsible young woman looking after my 3 year old.

On an unrelated note, I would just like to say that I have found the information on this site invaluable and have really enjoyed reading everyone’s contributions.

2 kids and a cat August 15, 2017 at 6:44 am

I want to second TexasHM that it’s not too late. Several weeks before the trip, give her the schedule as if you had always planned to. If she complains or pushes back, say, Oh, did you want to take the week off and use this trip as one of your vacation weeks?
It really helps to be transparent, both for language reasons and general expectations. When the next trip comes up, you can say “we were really happy to offer and pay for that last trip. We really appreciated how you helped with Suzie and it was great to have you as part of the family. For this next trip, we are able to invite you, but it’s going to be a little different. Do you want to come and rent a sailboat on your days off, or would you rather use vacation time/have an extra week off?
We DO talk about money with our kids and AP — not because we want them to feel like burdens, but because we are raising our kids to appreciate what we can pay for and to understand the disparity between them and kids with food insecurities form whom vacations beyond a day with grandparents are impossibilities. Sometimes we buy things for our kids, sometimes we tell them to save up if it’s really important to them. We do the same for AP. I think being transparent about the financial values and priorities of your family may help the AP understand why you are paying for a ski vacation but not extra chocolate imported from her home country — and not resent that the au pair down the street may have said chocolate but is staying home while the family goes on a cruise.

Elizabeth August 15, 2017 at 9:55 pm

Just have the conversation that you would like her to work and will not be paying for a lift ticket. We took my AP to Orlando and told her she’d have her own room and car on her free time but I needed her to work a few hours every day (we exercised, went to dinner). We also told her she could come to Disney World (not asking her to work at Disney) but she would have to pay her way. She was psyched to have to day off, go to the outlets and lay by the pool. Not communicating honestly is a killer – it builds resentment, misunderstanding, a feeling of not being appreciated and is often not based in factual reality. For example, it may be that if she is expected to ski then she expects you to pay but she may also prefer to watch a movie all day and Skype with her friends. You never know unless you talk to her about her needs and wants AND your needs and wants and work together on compromising. You can always change the dynamic too. Don’t forget that you are a role model for this young woman and being upfront with what you would like (a little work, not to pay for EVERYTHING) and just asking “are you okay with that?” will not crush her if you do it in a way that makes her feel heard and considered. It’s all in the delivery but you need to make a “delivery” or it’s all on you – accept that you don’t want to be honest and then accept that your wants and needs will not be met (i.e. you can’t be upset for her “expecting” things when all she is doing is receiving what you are freely giving). Good luck – I’m learning so much after my first year and from this great site!

TexasHM August 18, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Jade communicating openly and honestly isn’t being ungrateful! We are all grateful to have great APs that care about our kiddos but there are also boundaries and expectations. It is a job. They are living with you. Sometimes you need them, sometimes you don’t. Communication I have found is the dealmaker or dealbreaker in hosting. If you can’t discuss tough topics then you are going to struggle. While it might seem rude without context to talk about money, I agree with others that I talk about it all the time with full transparency with our APs and they have said repeatedly that they learned a lot from that about how to manage finances, a household etc.

We talk about property taxes, how much it was to fix the roof or pool or how crazy the water bill is this month. We give them itineraries for our trips that say what we are doing, how much it is and whether we are covering it or not. As long as she is free to do something else there should be ZERO expectation that you will pay for something. Now if she decides to come along that is her choice but it still does not at all obligate you to pay for it. Two different scenarios. If you think there might be an akward moment or expectation then just tell her in advance. Even if its the day before or morning of (sooner is better but responding to your assumption that it is too late to articulate – strongly disagree).

And just because you did something yesterday does not at all mean you are obligated to do it tomorrow. Does it mean you will likely have to have a conversation to reset expectations? Sure. Is that better than sucking it up and paying for things that you don’t want to and resenting it? Heck yes! Is that better than going and telling her when you are walking out the door or when you are standing in the checkout line that you are not paying? Heck yes. It is just words. Just a conversation. You don’t need to explain yourself. Here is the trip, here are the things we are covering, everything else you are free to do as you please or come along but it is on your own dime. Period. It even says exactly this in several of the AP manuals from the agencies (if you go on a trip with HF and are not working you are on your own and pay your own way). Plus like you said this is an expensive trip so its an exception itself. I think you might be surprised too. She might be relieved to not go skiiing or relieved that she can go when she wants, where she wants or relieved that she can sleep in and watch TV for a day! Every trip we take that I communicate with our APs about (been dozens at this point) they say something that surprises me. Whether it is they want to join something adventurous I wouldn’t expect or they don’t want to join something I thought they would love or they want to spend extra on something I figured they would never do. Unless you have the conversation you know nothing. We have changed all of our trip plans due to AP preferences (saved money and skipped something we were doing more for AP than us, spent a little more to check a bucket list item with them, etc). They end up thrilled, we have a great time, all appreciate it and lots of great memories and no stress! Win/win/win!

Taking a Computer Lunch August 31, 2017 at 9:44 pm

I’ve probably said this elsewhere – but the most important thing you can do as a HP is remind the AP that this is YOUR vacation, not HERS. If you call it a family trip, then it won’t evoke a nice relaxing time hanging with friends. Do propose a working schedule, but warn her that like all things on a family trip – it’s subject to change. Do talk about what she might want to do on her day off – and if you’re going to a rural part of the country with little entertainment options, then make it clear she she load some movies onto her electronics if she’d rather shut herself in her room than go for a hike in the woods. I found that over-explaining expectations and the reality of the trip decreased hurt feelings.

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