Taking Brand New Au Pairs on Vacation: Best Practices?

by cv harquail on March 3, 2013

Host parents generally agree that taking an au pair on vacation right at the start of his/her au pair year is inviting trouble.

Starting your au pair year in a vacation location, with host parents who are not rushing off to work and with host kids who are not heading off to school makes the au pair’s work load generally light too. Since families tend to take vacations in surroundings that are special, or more luxurious, or more exciting, or sunnier, even the coziest home can be under-appreciated in comparison.

Even more important is that families on vacation have different family dynamics. They may want to play more or relax more, eat out instead of cook, be together and/or spend some time alone.

Whatever it is that we do on vacation, by definition it is not what we do the rest of the year. And since we want our au pair to feel comfortable and fit into the rest of the year, starting her/him off in ‘vacation mode’ can set him/her up for disappointment.

Sometimes, the timing of your au pair’s arrival and the timing of your family’s vacation collide. You have no choice but to take your au pair with you despite knowing that the vacation may set up dynamics you’ll have to change once you return home.

When you *must* take a brand-new au pair with you on vacation, a reader wonders, what are the ‘best practices’?

What have you host parents done when you’ve taken an au pair on vacation within the first 8 weeks of an au pair year?

What advice do you have for this host mom Emily?

Here’s her story:

I have read a number of comments on how it is a bad idea to bring an au pair with you on vacation shortly after they arrive.  However, I find myself in a situation where taking a new au pair with us is really what works for our schedule, and I wondered if there are others, who have done it successfully and if they have any tips for how to pull this off.

This is the situation.  Our current au pair (who is our second au pair) is leaving us at the beginning of July. She is a great au pair, and I know my children are going to be sad when she leaves.   We live in a western city and will be traveling to the East Coast to visit my family for vacation at the very end of June.  I am locked into this timing in order to coordinate with my brother and his family. In other words, I have almost no flexibility in scheduling the trip.

My husband isn’t able to come until the second week of the two week vacation.  I have 2 children (3 and 5). I’m also pregnant with a third, who is due to arrive  in late March (yes, we’ll have an infant-qualified au pair).

Although I am sure more difficult things have been done, I am reluctant to take my three young children on a 4-5 hour plane ride, followed by renting a car and driving 3 hours by myself.  Having an extra set of hands would help to reduce the stress and help me take in stride any unexpected eventualities, so I really want to bring my au pair.

Our new au pair is going to be from South Africa and is a fluent English speaker.  She is fairly young, but appears to have good childcare experience, and we feel pretty optimistic about the match.

My plan is to have my au pairs overlap by about 10 days. Our incoming au pair will arrive about 10 days before we need to leave, so that she can acclimate a bit, get her social security card started etc….  I would then take the new one with me on vacation and the departing one will go back home.

I have read on this blog on numerous occasions about how it is not a good idea to take your au pair on vacation at the beginning of her time with your family, but … Has anyone done this without issue?
Were there any particular steps the host families took to assure that the vacation went smoothly?
For those, that really don’t think it is a good idea, what are the pitfalls they have experienced, so maybe I can avoid them?

Do most people see this as a problem or not?

Any advice is appreciated. Many thanks ~ OffToTheEastCoastEmily


Didis March 3, 2013 at 11:08 pm

6 days after I arrived in my family, they took me on vacation with them. There was no problems. I asked them what they expect of me, how would we manage and explained them my views and expectations.
I believe that it’s not actually vacation if your new au pair will be working. You already matched with her, so you will have plenty time over Skype to talk about daily schedule and routine. If you start conversation about that trip as a welcoming half vacation where she will not be working as usual, but she will still need to be around and help you, there should be no complications. I love about my hosts that we talk about every action before it comes to it. So take time, write rules, approx.working hours, her free time and things where and when her help would be needed and it will prevent any regrets and bad feelings. Also, make sure that your au pair feels like equal partner in making decisions, even if she is not. Ask her what she thinks about it and she will be more willing to do more for you.

Didis March 3, 2013 at 11:11 pm

* by “doing more for you” I mean she will be willing to do more than she is required and more than you ask for.

au pair March 4, 2013 at 1:27 am

My HF took my on vacation the day after I arrived. We also went to see relatives. On top of all that, we even camped with them. I have to say it was very hard for me. I was extremely homesick, had no phone or Internet, or something else to entertain myself. They all had a blast, but I didn’t. My English was terrible, so I couldn’t talk to anyone for 10 days! It was very sad. I tried to connect with the kids, but they had their cousins and grandparents around, so I wasn’t that interesting. What I want to say, make sure she feels comfortable at the place where you are staying. Make sure she is ok, because she will be lost without you. I have to say ones I got into the family, it was never a problem again on vacation, it just was my first week and I felt lonely. So I think it can go well if you make sure she is ok, and tell her what you want her to do. You might need to spell it out exactly for her, because in the beginning we are so overwhelmed with all the new things, that we sometimes simply don’t get it! So you may have to say: can you please hold the baby, can you please read a book to x, please entertain child y etc. it might be frustrating, but don’t be. Imagine how you would feel like in her situation. Also saying things like: oh you are doing a really good job at holding the baby etc. it can go well! So good luck!!

emmiejane March 4, 2013 at 10:55 am

I am the original poster; thank you for this comment. The kids cousins and grandparents will be there, and I am sure they will be less interested in the new au pair because of this. It probably does make sense for me to try to discuss this with her in advance and ask her to be patient, tell her I know it could be hard, etc… She will have internet access at least.

Seattle Mom March 5, 2013 at 3:10 pm

It would probably also help to make sure that she can get out on her own during time off. It might be hard to live without much privacy or alone-time so early on (it’s always hard, i think). Also, if at all possible she should have her own room, or at least somewhere she can be alone if she needs. It’s pretty intense to live with a new family in the beginning, and it can really help to have some down time in private. It’s actually now a requirement that au pairs have a private room when working on vacation.

Soccer Mom March 5, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I would take that “private room” for the AP while on vacation statement with a grain of salt. The AP is part of the family, and in most families there are no private rooms on vacation. If you are going on vacation for 3 months it might be a different story, but this is not a reasonable rule and if it is actually put into effect/enforced many APs will not be going to Hawaii with their HF when they go on vacation. This is not a well thought through requirement for anyone in the program.

HRHM March 10, 2013 at 9:29 am

I hadn’t heard about this one. Is this a SD rule or some new thing that is agency specific?

Emerald City HM March 18, 2013 at 6:35 pm

This is something I was told too by our area director. If she works, she must have a private room. If she doesn’t, then that’s something a bit different.

summerx March 4, 2013 at 8:22 am

I am interested to see the feedback on this as well. we have a new au pair coming March 29, and a trip to disney/cruise on April 19th. She isn’t aware of the trip yet…but we want to take her. We plan to wait until we spend the first week with her and ensure that she will be a good fit.

Dorsi March 5, 2013 at 1:33 am

Your Au Pair may need a visa for the cruise (depending on where she is from), so if you are sure you want to take her, I would start planning now.

Marisa March 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm

She may not necessarily need a visa, but the agency will need to sign her visa paperwork to allow her out of the country with you. I would have her get the paperwork signed at orientation, that way she doesn’t have to send the paperwork back in to the agency and then wait for it to return. This happened with our first au pair and we almost didnt get the paperwork back in time for her to go with us.

chicagohostfamily March 8, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Hi summerx, I know this post is a few days old, but I wanted to respond to your comment on the Disney Cruise…we went on a Disney Cruise last summer and went back and forth on whether or not to bring our AP. Ultimately, she wanted to stay home because it was her last month and we felt this was a good decision because of the tight quarters. It ended up being a very wise move. There is childcare available almost 24/7 on the ship and there is no free internet or phone which would have been very hard for our AP. Have fun! It is a magical vacation!

summerx March 11, 2013 at 11:28 am

Thanks for the responses so far everyone. We are still torn, as we have some of the fears that have been raised above. If it was one of our previous au pairs, we would take them in a minute. However, our most recent au pair flamed out in 3 weeks, but we knew on the car ride home from picking her up it was not going to work.
we are now leaning towards just taking her on the disney part of the trip with us, and then letting her hang in florida at the resort for a few days or flying back home to spend a few days here. there is really no easy answers….

HRHM March 10, 2013 at 9:33 am

I wouldn’t take her unless you absolutely needed the extra set of hands all week. We have taken APs along and it is a) a waste of money for us, b) an extra week of vacation for them, c) annoying to watch them party while our kids cling to us. There are tons of young foreign nationals on the ships and your AP will have a better time than you – at your expense.

summerx March 11, 2013 at 11:30 am

yeah, we really dont “need” the help, we just thought it would be a nice way to get to know her. I think we will decide a few days after she is here. A ships quarters are too tight to be uncomfortable, ever if just for 3 nights.

TexasHM March 4, 2013 at 8:54 am

Just a sidenote for Emily – you can’t apply for her SSN in the first 10 days because her SEVIS number will not be activated yet in the system. If you go that early, you will end up getting a declination letter (unable to verify legal status) and will have to go back and reapply from scratch, making your first trip a total waste of time. Just FYI as I made this mistake and will be taking our AP back to the social security office for our second trip this morning! Ditto with the license everyone – dont take them before the activation date on their SEVIS page no matter how great a driver they are. Once they see they aren’t in the system yet you are deadlocked, waste of time.

emmiejane March 4, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Thank you for this comment. We are actually switching agencies, and the new LWW mentioned this to me. I have had 2 previous au pairs with Cultural Care, and pretty much gone immediately to get the SS card and never had a problem. I guess with the New York aspect they had been in the country one week before the trip to the Social Security office, but definitely was not 10 days, but based on your story, I will pay attention. Thanks.

TexasHM March 4, 2013 at 1:37 pm

It actually says the activation date on the I94 So as long as you go on or after that date you are fine! We went one day too early and didn’t realize it. :(

A B C Au Pair March 4, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Also remember the week that she spends at the academy. I applied for the SSC a week after i arrived in my HF’s house and it wasn’t a problem, as I had been in the US for two weeks :) I also think the AD or LCC may help

Tristatemom March 4, 2013 at 9:38 am

We did this last year. AP arrived and 2 weeks later I went away with her and the kids (Husband could not come due to work). It was fine as it gave the kids time to bond with her at the beach. Only problem was dinner at the restaurant. Kids were behaving a lot worse than usual and I was really struggling. Meanwhile, she took her tiiiiiiiiime to eat her food and completely tuned out. Grrrh. At the end, I told that we would be waiting in the car for her.
She had her laptop with her and could FB at night so I don’t think she felt too lonely. Trip was also short, 4 days.

Momma Gadget March 4, 2013 at 11:40 am

When is a vacation with 2 children, 5 and under ( 1 being an infant!)ever truly a “vacation” Oooo and piloting them through an airport with all their stuff … What “fun”!LOL-( Sorry-been there done that w/ 2- I can’t imagine 3)
Maybe the timing is not ideal- but it is workable with clear communication. I would just make sure you are clear in your own mind on what how/what you need her to take care of and be sure to communicate that with your new AP. I think it also very important to make a very clear distinction of what her work schedule will be and when her free time will be.
Also since you will be meeting up with relatives, I would try to give her a little history, and tell her a bit about who will be there. Maybe suggest that she do a little online and research on the area you are going.

Tristatemom- that sounds a tad passive aggressive !
I think frank communication can nip that right in the bud- “Sorry-I know you want to enjoy your meal- But these guys are obviously over tired. Why don’t we pack it up to go,before it get’s really ugly…”

Tristatemom March 4, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I wasn’t really in a calm position at the time to find the best way to communicate with the AP.

Your approach, with due respect, sounds patronizing to me because AP was off the clock and telling her to pack up her food is treating her like a kid.

CA Host Mom March 4, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Momma Gadget & Tristatemom … you both bring up a good point and it’s something I find that I REALLY struggle with.

I think that your dialogue here just helped me see that while I often try to be respectful and not come off at all as patronizing, I often “suggest” things as opposed to directly asking for something to be done or not done. I could totally see myself tagged as “passive aggressive” because of that – even though I am just trying to be polite and respectful.

It’s a hard line for me to draw and I often struggle to maintain a good balance between clear and direct, while at the same time respectful and not patronizing … I am gonna go search and see if there is already a post for that topic on APM. :)

Should be working March 4, 2013 at 5:27 pm

I think Momma GAdget’s approach is fine, not passive-aggressive: she acknowledges the AP’s desire (to eat slowly) and indicates the larger needs of the family (to get out quickly) and apologizes for inconveniencing. I would say the same thing to my mother, my husband, or another child in the family.

I have difficulties sometimes in being direct with our APs, and instead I get resentful, passive-aggressive and grudging. Better to just say what is needed while acknowledging the AP’s thwarted desires.

Seattle Mom March 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm

I agree- even when off the clock, they are a member of the family and when they are with the family they need to help keep things on track, or at least not be in the way.

Momma Gadget March 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend.
Your post gave me a flash back to when my 2 ADD boys were small.
Perhaps your children are better behaved when they misbehave than my guys – when excited about a new place coupled with being off schedule (as often happens to us on vacation).- I’ll tell the flying ketchup covered french fry story another time.
It would be impossible for anyone to be oblivious to their bad behavior and dilly dally through a meal, unless they were being passive aggressive…I have, in the past ,had the the waiter pack up our food to go when it became obvious that my kids were overtired and no longer of capable of sitting properly at a table.
Whether on duty or off, the kids well being and sanity of the parents still needs to be a priority. I don’t see it as patronizing to do what needs to be done to take control of a rapidly declining situation… we certainly enjoyed eating our somewhat cold dinner on the balcony of our hotel more- with our boys peacefully sleeping in their beds looking like little cherubs.

German Au-Pair March 5, 2013 at 1:47 am

As an au pair, I’d agree with MG here. I would feel better if someone asked me if I could get my food to go (something not very common in some other cultures…so it might not have occured to her) than let me sit there all by myself.

HRHM March 10, 2013 at 9:44 am

I also think that if you are hosting an AP who does not have much younger siblings at home, her time with your family may be the FIRST EV ER time that she’s eaten in a restaurant with out of control kids! It probably would never occur to her that dinner can and will end at a moments’ notice due to kid-factors beyond anyone’s control. I think it wise to explain to ALL new APs to the younger set (below six for typical kids, maybe higher ages for special needs kids) that dinner will be shorter than she may be used to and if things go wrong, will be cut off completely. At nineteen, would you ever imagine yourself leaving before the appetizer was completed and asking for the entree to be boxed up? LOL Yet, here we are!

FourTimeTexasHostMom March 4, 2013 at 11:58 am

We’ve struggled with au pairs on working and non-working vacations, even when they are not new! My biggest challenge is helping them help us by taking initiative and not waiting for every single detailed instruction before they do anything. Because of multiple frustrating experiences, we’re reconsidering taking au pairs on vacation at all. My advice would be to write out your expectations and au pair role and responsibilities on vacation before you leave, and review it with her before you leave then early into the trip. Also, if you plan to give her free time on the trip, help her figure out how to plan an interesting activity.

Skny March 4, 2013 at 8:08 pm

That’s a good idea. Last time we went away I let my Au pair go out with the car one night. She also got in touch with Au pairs from the local cluster (with our LCc help) and had some girls from her home country to hang out with.
Maybe you can get in touch with the LCc in the area you will be at and ask email of the girls there… Have your Au pair get in touch with them… Make some friends. And have company exploring

Skny March 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm

And finally do count the travel as work hours. Many families don’t count travel as work hour. Or have the Au pair travel with them on her day off. The Au pair always feel like she was taken advantage of.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 4, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Agreed. I feel that an AP trapped on an airplane or in a car is working – unless she’s completely able to zone out (I’ve had a couple put their earbuds in and completely ignore the family – and the overwhelmed new AP slept the entire way – except for food and bathroom breaks). I had one AP decide not to sit with the family on a Southwest Airlines trip – so many guys hit on her that she decided sitting next to us was the best thing!

Host Mom in the City March 5, 2013 at 11:07 am

When we’re traveling, I decide how I want our au pair to interact with us. If I don’t care a bit what she does (like I wouldn’t be even a little bit irritated if she’s sleeping or reading a magazine rather than helping if the kids are all over the place), then I don’t count it as work hours. If I expect that she’ll be engaging the kids or at least lending a hand if they get out of control, then I do count it as work hours.

Kelly Hand March 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm

This is a great topic for a post because it is true that generally taking an au pair on a vacation right away is not ideal, yet it sometimes has to happen. I’m glad Momma Gadget pointed out the importance of making the schedule clear. It’s especially tough when the vacation is at the home of relatives in an isolated place with nothing to do, as one au pair above mentioned. In that case, go out of your way to do some fun excursions to whatever local attractions–natural or cultural–there may be. Or just offer to drop the au pair off at a shopping mall during her free time if she is one of the many au pairs who love to shop. If she has no transportation, then you really should facilitate her ability to get out and away from your family. As a former au pair counselor, I’d also point out that host families are obligated to provide au pair with a private room while traveling; all State Dept. rules apply, including those about work hours and days off (if she is sitting with you and helping out on the plane flight, then that counts, too). If somebody has to share a room with the kids, it should be the host parents and not the au pair. An au pair really needs to have private space–and if there’s no internet connection where you are staying, then I think helping her find places to go where there is one is also important. If things don’t go smoothly all the time on vacation, don’t make an immediate judgment about the match. Things will be different back at home, and you will all spend less time together, but try to enjoy each other’s company while you have the time together.

emmiejane March 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Thanks for your input. She will have her own room and internet access. It is fairly tight in that I will be in the next room with an infant, but she will have a totally separate room. However, transportation will be limited, as we will have a rental car, which she will not be able to drive. We will be near the beach, which is walking distance, and I will be able to drive her a bit, but with 3 kids by myself, there will be a limit to how much I can transport her around. I do question how much fun she will have doing activities alone and wonder in reality if she will just choose to stick around with us. I also agree with the suggestion of going over the schedule and expectations in advance.

EastCoast HM March 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Do others of you aupairmom HP give an AP a private room while traveling? We simply can’t afford that option. So, we never have. We invite the AP on the trip and We DO tell the AP she will be sharing a room (never a bed) with 1-2 of our kids (same gender as AP; we have LOTS of kids :), several boys and several girls for children, so we have options with male and female APs), and we give the AP the option to come with us, on duty, and accept thd setup whatever it may be, or stay home, on duty, and housesit/do other kid related chores. So we do full disclosure on what the setup will be, but we do not offer/provide a separate room.

Should be working March 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm

This topic came up recently on CCAP’s community board. The top banana there indicated that the letter of the law would seem to require a separate room for au pairs, but the agency was definitely pointing out to the US govt that travel with HFs is a big perk and sharing a room with kids while traveling is for most families the only option for them to be able to afford bringing the AP along at all.

I feel like that exchange ended with some paradoxical solution where a room would not be required if she weren’t working (because then it’s her choice to travel with family and thus she chooses the shared arrangement) and would be required if she is working (because it’s not her choice to be there). But I can’t remember, that might not be right. The agency was definitely hoping they could get clarification on that legal guideline that would allow for sharing room with kids while traveling.

HostMomDP March 5, 2013 at 2:00 pm

This “paradoxical solution” is exactly what we have done in the past. When it’s a vacation where the AP truly has the OPTION to come or not, she can choose whether or not to join us, with full disclosure that if she opts to come, she’ll be sharing a room with a child, or even (in some circumstances) on a pull-out couch in a common area. (And they’ve almost always opted to come. Heck, *I’d* happlily sleep on the couch if someone was offering me a free trip to Disney World or somewhere similar!) When it’s a trip where we actually NEED childcare and can’t offer the AP the option to stay home, we’ve provided a separate room.

Seattle Mom March 5, 2013 at 3:29 pm

I read that discussion as well, and that is how I remember it.

I had a work trip last year where I had the option of taking the AP + kids. If AP stayed home, kids would be staying home too (with AP + dad). The kids were pretty little then, younger DD was about 12 months old and had never been away from me. So I gave AP the option of coming with the kids, or staying home and helping DH with 2 kids who missed their mom. She had to share a room (not bed) with my older DD- I slept in the room next door with younger DD. I guess I could have shared a room with both DD’s and let the AP have a room to herself… we were staying at my MIL’s house, and she gave up her bedroom. Anyway AP was happy to come along on this trip- we were staying about a mile from the Capitol Building in DC, near Union Station- who wouldn’t want to come? She had 2 tough work days (it was raining and she was stuck at MIL’s non-baby-proofed house with 2 kids, no car, with a box of toys to entertain them, and MIL is not a baby person at allllllll). But then she had 3 days off in a fun city with lots of awesome stuff to do- and it didn’t rain anymore. She did help me every evening getting the kids dinner and to bed- since MIL was no help whatsoever.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 4, 2013 at 10:42 pm

We have usually ponied up for a private room when we travel – except when we’re visiting family members. When were visiting family members who just don’t have enough bedrooms to go around (which is most of them), the AP has the following options: 1) not to travel with us, 2) to share a room with The Camel – so she has a door that closes or 3) sleep in the open so that we the HP share a room with The Camel. Our favorite APs have willingly chosen to come along and sleep with The Camel or in the open. Others have chosen not to travel with us at all.

I can’t tell you how many times the AP has had her own hotel room and DH and I have slept in a double bed a kid sleeping on the floor of either side of the bed – and we have to scoot off the end to get out. We’ve even re-arranged hotel furniture to fit all 4 of us in a room. The last time child #2 lovingly slept with his arms around The Camel so she wouldn’t fall out of bed (the inflatable mattress we had used for years had given up the ghost).

Do not underestimate how much your family vacation is not hers – especially if you’re not headed for a destination holiday or not heading to a location with public transportation. (We used to convince APs to head with us for a family trip because the location was near Niagara Falls – and we’d head there as a family for the day and let the AP pick the activities.)

EastCoast HM March 4, 2013 at 11:14 pm

I get those kids + parents arrangements; we too sleep with kids when we travel! But we have 6 kids, so we already need two rooms (minimum) wherever we go bc most places have a max of 5 or 6 per room. We simply can’t afford 3 or 4 rooms… So we give the choice — come and share a room (and be on duty) and see somewhere new; or don’t come, stay home alone (and be on duty).

German Au-Pair March 5, 2013 at 1:56 am

That sounds fair. It would not be fair to force her to come and share a room. But with a normal au pair and a normal host family au pair relationship that should not be problem. My host family took me on vacation, I was expected to work a bit and share a room with both host kids (one is male and a teenager and I didn’t die…). The question whether or not this trip was optional for me never came up because for me it was clear that they wouldn’t pay for another room for me…
Next vacation I could choose if I wanted to sleep in an open space or sleep in the same room as my girl. This trip, too, was partly working, partly vacation -we never really talked about it but waited how it played out.

Unless the location is like the least desirable on earth and the au pair is dragged along and has a rocky host family relationship, I don’t really see why someone would complain about the sleeping arrangements.

Host Mom in the City March 5, 2013 at 11:11 am

We have always had a hotel suite – so it’s a one-bedroom with another room that has the pull-out couch, kitchen, etc. Then AP gets the pull-out couch, we’re in the bedroom with the two kids. We have always given our APs the option – come with us and sleep on the pull-out in the suite, or don’t come. If we were required to have an entirely separate hotel room for our au pair, honestly, we wouldn’t ever invite her.

Host Mom in the City March 5, 2013 at 11:18 am

I realized that last sentence sounds kind of mean. It’s not like we wouldn’t want her to come or would be angry that she wasn’t ok with the arrangements. It just wouldn’t be something we could afford. If we stay in a $150/night hotel for a week, which is just for a very basic room that the four of us would squeeze into (DH, me, two kids), there is zero chance we’d be able to add on another $1,050 to the vacation budget so that our au pair could have her own room. If that was the hard policy from the agency, we just wouldn’t be able to bring her on any vacations.

emmiejane March 5, 2013 at 11:23 am

In our particular instance, we are going to be gone for awhile and at my parent’s cottage. The au pair is going to be working, so I have told my parents that she will need her own room. I will not be getting my own room :), but in this instance, it is not costing me more.

I completely relate to not always being able to afford it. We went up to stay at a resort for a conference for my husband in September, and we did not offer to bring our au pair because our family was all going to be in one room, and we couldn’t afford to pay for a 2nd room as the place was expensive. We have plans to visit some college friends on their farm in Washington next year, and we aren’t going to be able to take her because I can’t ask them to give her a private room, and there are already 5 of us. I think it is just a mix of situations. We have gotten a suite before, and that has worked-we are all in one room, and she is in the other, or we try to get a larger place on VRBO. Yes, if we had 6 kids, we’d be in the same situation. I think the above mentioned approach of giving them the choice to come and share or stay home seems like the best option. I do kind of agree with the agency’s approach actually, if you are going to require them to work, they should have their own room. If they are just coming for fun, they could pay for their own room, or potentially share. We actually have the same issue with paying for plane tickets. At times, if we don’t need the au pair to work, we don’t feel like we can afford the extra ticket. We have offered to split the fare if she wants to come as a vacation.

Seattle Mom March 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Yeah ITA on plane tickets.. DH wanted to split the cost with AP for the trip to DC, but I was like no way, she is going to be working, even if for only 2/5 days (but then also some evenings helping me). It’s not fair to ask her to pay anything! He’s kind of a cheapskate… luckily I balance him out pretty well :)

BoysMama March 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm

HMitC- I was actually so relieved that you wrote that last sentence, I was feeling singularly evil that we rarely offer to take our APs on vacation with us because it’s simply beyond affordable. We are already a family of five, adding another flight and room has never been financially feasable where we have gone with our family. The one time we did take an AP it was awful, she did have her own room in a big house in nature (nothing for her to do) with two other families with kids. We were surprised she agreed to come at all.

Not taking APs along has never been an issue for us, it seems our APs have always been excited to get some alone time in the house to spend with their friends (we live at the beach, why leave? literally can’t beat the weather here) rather than deal with our three boys in travel circumstances. I don’t blame them a bit.

I have been reading this discussion and am very surprised by how all of you can afford to take them with you. Maybe we are travelling further and not staying with family like others are? Do you APs really want to travel on family vacations and do you feel insulted/ left out if you aren’t invited? We have never had an option that would cost less than an extra $1200 for a trip… and hard to imagine they would really enjoy it anyway.

SingleHM March 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I am going on a trip to Florida next week with my AP. I need her help, since I’m a single mom w/2 kids. But I don’t have a separate room for her. She seems annoyed with having to sleep on the living room sofabed.

Since I’m paying her way, as well as all of the admission fees, food, etc. I would think she’s happy to get a vacation out of it.

Is this a bad sign?

Dorsi March 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm

The irony here is that the agencies put them 3 to a room at orientation. I imagine sharing a room with 2 people who may not speak your language, are still mentally in a different time zone and are total strangers is way more disruptive than sleeping with my kids who you know incredibly well.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 4, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Some advice, having taken a new AP on vacation a week after she arrived (with an outgoing AP who was totally part of the family). The new AP was from a completely different culture and we went to a little cabin on the edge of a lake, completely away from supermarkets that sold food that was familiar to her. Already in culture shock from the moment she arrived, by the time we returned home, she was struggling (we, too, vacationed without Internet access). We attempted to include her on family outings, but we didn’t realize that not only could she not swim, she was completely afraid of being in water – so she did not join us. Sometimes the outgoing AP did and sometimes she stayed with the incoming AP. We had taken 2 cars with us on the vacation, so there were times when the outgoing AP could drive places with the new AP (the new AP, even in rural America, proved she could not drive, so some part of our vacation was spent working on driving skills).

So, if you take your new AP along:

1) Don’t call it a vacation. A rule of thumb (since you want her along to make your life manageable) – if you’re taking the kids along it’s a family trip, if you’re not then it’s a vacation! So, don’t use the word vacation with her – because that will evoke holidays with her parents.

2) Since she will be new and won’t know your family routine spell out her responsibilities clearly, making sure you’re giving her support since you’re asking her to do them before she will have mastered them at home.

3) Give her down time when it’s convenient for her to Skype with friends and family back home. Help her stay connected.

FutureAP March 4, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I have been an au pair already; here is my experience:
I arrived in my HF on July 1st, on the 3rd we were leaving for my HM’sister’s lake house for a long weekend with relatives. Although I had a fairly good time, I was still jet lagged, got tired by people talking a different language rather quickly and felt out of place all the time. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do and I was standing there doing nothing, I tried to help but asking for everything is not really helping. In addition, the 2nd AP of the family (I was the 5th) came for the weekend and I felt inferior as she knew what to do, already had bonded with everyone.

On July 29th I left with my HF for a 2 week road trip. Hours in the car, sharing a camper (and a bed with the 7 yo). To be honnest, it was not easy, I am lucky that I bonded pretty quickly with the children but I never knew if I was working or not, was always waiting for my HM or HD to ask me to help… Living on top of each other I did it 2 other times, it is never easy, but way easier when at least you know these people. One advise though would be to make sure your AP knows her tasks so she can at least know what to expect.

I must not have been terrified by my first AP experience since I am going to be a repeat au pair, starting next August.
I am leaving for the Academy on August 19th and my HF is in France & England from the 3rd to the 18th, I will meet them in Paris so we will get a chance to see each other before I arrive.
This is a good thing because they are planning on taking me to a short trip to the beach before the school starts (which means within the first 10 days of my arrival in their house). They told me to tell them if I’d rather not got but I did not feel like breaking what seems for them a tradition nor miss an opportunity to get to know them when they actually have time to chat, advise me, etc.

I have different point of view on this since I have been an au pair already and know a bit more what to expect. Although being out of the everyday life might be setting the bar to some standarts, this is also a chance for you and your AP to get to know eachother (you won’t be tired of working, she won’t be in a hurry to go out to meet friends), to really talk about what you expect of her of the upcoming summer. For this vacation as much as for any other part of your year with your AP, communication will be the key. Especially since her english is already great, you don’t have to worry about it. Maybe you can send an e-mail to your family and ask them to just introduce themselves to your au pair or you can send her a collage with pictures of all of your relatives she is going to meet. Just small things which will help her to feel not as much out of the picture once she’ll be with you on vacation.

Dorsi March 5, 2013 at 1:52 am

I have done lots of travelling with Au Pairs and various points during the year, and have mostly had successful experiences. A few things I have learned:

1. Beginning Au Pairs do not have Parent Sense. This is true of even my best Au Pairs (and I was quickly reminded of when I just took new AP sight seeing in our city on her first weekend with the girls. Do not expect her to anticipate how to handle a child in a crowded airport, at the baggage claim. One AP thought I knew a child was following me as I went to go get my rental car. Do not expect them to know that whiny kids need snacks. To take the preschooler to the bathroom since she is going too. My great APs figured this out on subsequent trips. Expect the AP to do exactly the tasks you ask her to and nothing more.

2. APs may not have flown much before. This has been true of all my APs (european and south American). They wanted window seats, didn’t know how to efficiently move through security (oh, the lovely AP who didn’t know she couldn’t take her expensive 5 ounce bottle of perfume in the carryon before it was too late — luckily there was time to run back and check the bag), and were not able (in the beginning) to anticipate the kids’ (or even their own) needs while flying. They are also not so great at packing.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 5, 2013 at 10:39 am

Dorsi, your last sentence makes me laugh! DH recently asked the AP to pack for The Camel – but to just put the things on our dining room table rather than in a bag. Thank goodness we did – she completely forgot pajamas, but also some medically necessary items that would have been impossible to replace in the rural area to which we were heading. I actually have a list of items for The Camel that I use for summer camp, and would have rather the AP had followed it and had thrown in the swimsuit and swim ring than left out medical supplies!!

Unless you’ve helped your AP pack up your children’s items for a trip, don’t expect her to think of everything! Don’t tell her verbally – give her a list of seasonally appropriate items for your destination!

Should be working March 5, 2013 at 12:49 pm

And the list should include quantities. For a 5-day trip our AP packed for our daughter 9 tops and 6 bottoms. Which more reflects the AP’s approach to what is ‘necessary’ clothing.

au pair March 5, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Haha;) but I get where your au pair was coming from. I don’t know how old your daughter is, but I also pack 9 tops and 6 bottoms, because she always spills her milk on her shirt;)

Host Mom in the City March 5, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Yeah, this actually speaks to being clear about what you want. If I was going on a 5-day trip with my 3yo (without access to a washer and without a restriction luggage size), I’d probably pack him just about 9 tops and 6 bottoms. So it sounds reasonable to me as a mom, but it’s good to be clear about YOUR packing list.

Seattle Mom March 5, 2013 at 3:40 pm

My kids need 9 bottoms and 4 tops.. if there is any water on the ground, chances are they will fall in it at some point (while doing some crazy stunt). We learned this the hard way the first time we went camping- we need lots of bottoms, and we don’t care about stained tops.

this is for camping with toddlers, though.

Should be working March 5, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Haha, my daughter is a preteen, so she WANTS 9 tops and 6 bottoms for 5 days and doesn’t need them.

Multitasking Host Mom March 5, 2013 at 8:53 am

I am glad this topic was posted since we are going to experience the same thing. I was actually reading old posts related to this just last week. Our AP’s arrive just before spring break. This year we will be going on a much bigger trip than normal. I am going to be very clear with her that this is a “once in a lifetime trip”. Worried that she will expect lavish vacations for the rest of her time with us. I am going to clearly discuss when she needs to work, and when we want her to see the sights with us ie hang out as a member of the family. I am going to use the term “shared time” that I got from a comment on another post-host dad I think. In the evenings, most days, she will have off to explore on her own. Hope that this trip away from the regular schedule will be a time for us all to get to know eachother better.
I actually haven’t mentioned this trip to either my incoming AP or outgoing AP. I know they talk on facebook. I know our current AP would have loved to of joined us, but it was purely timing of when the school break fell, and her date to start her extension year with another family occurred. Don’t want any end of the year bad feelings.

PA AP Mom March 5, 2013 at 11:52 am

Dorsi brings up a very good point. Make sure that no matter where you are going, she knows what the luggage expectation is.

When we go on our vacations, we tell the AP, “the airline allows one free checked bag and 2 carry on bags”. One AP wanted to bring a second checked bag on our 10 day cruise so she paid for the extra charge. I also make suggestions about what the AP should pack, clothing-wise so she’s not over or under-dressed and that she has appropriate shoes for all activities.

Seattle Au pair! March 5, 2013 at 12:11 pm

That is a really good point. Most girls don´t bring a lot of clothes from home because of luggage limits or because they want to buy in the US. so make sure to tell her about the luggage and what kind of clothes she will need, and ask her if she wants to go shopping before the trip.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Some times you need to be explicit about what is appropriate. I’ve had APs go to expensive restaurants in jeans because that was their idea of “nice.” (Fortunately they weren’t turned away.) I had an AP who brought a pair of Converse to go hiking in the desert after I told her to bring sturdy shoes. It only took 1 mile for her to figure out Converse weren’t sturdy enough!

emmiejane March 5, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Thanks, I maybe would not have thought of the luggage aspect-although I have certainly seen my au pairs not having appropriate luggage, ending up paying luggage overages, etc…so this is a very good point.

A Host Mom March 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm

I feel like a bad host mom because we’ve never taken any au pairs on vacation with us. Aside from finances constraints, we enjoy spending that time alone with the kids.

BoysMama March 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm

Again, I agree with you AHM. We have great lasting relationships with our APs and we feel very strongly about treating them like family within “the spirit of the program” and yet I’m comfortable with our (general) decision that APs come and go but there are some moments in our family life that are sacred and private for us. And I don’t think that’s wrong.

Au pair March 6, 2013 at 12:43 am

I dont think that is correct. I understand if you dont take your au pair because you can not afford it, but just because you want “family time” and thats the reason why you are not taking them is not fair. Its like: hey your part of the family, you gotta pitch in in everything around the house etc, because thats what a family does right? But sorry,we cant take you on vacation because, we dont need you there as a family member, let US pick the time when we want you to be one. The program clearly states, that you should treat and include us in your family life. Otherwise, why would you not get a nanny, then there wouldnt be that problem.you signed up for the program so YOU have tons of benefits ( flexible childcare, cheaper–> and yes it is, especially if you are not taking them on vacation;), not worrying about coming home late ones in a while, because au pair will be there anyway etc.) im not saying we dont get any benefits, we do,but we also make your life easier, do a lot more than nannies in order to be accepted as a family member. But that with the vacation, i dont think is fair. And i also think if you stated this like that to your au pairs, probably lots of feelings got hurt. Just saying. And i dont want to be rude or anything, i just wrote that here, because i once had a friend living with us for a week, because her family didnt take her on vacation, because she did not fit in as a family member for that week. But because they “loved” her so much, she could watch the dog, because that is what famiy does. My hm, called lcc—> asked her about it, and she said it was NOT the way you should treat an au pair. If you want family time– get a nanny.

German Au-Pair March 6, 2013 at 1:44 am

Mhm, difficult. My family does stuff without me all the time and they usually don’t ask me if I want to come (they did take me on most of their vacations, though). I’m always kind of torn between feeling left out for not being asked and understanding where they come from.
I mean most host parents work so much that they rarely get to spend real quality time with their kids (or each other for that matter). So I can see why sometimes vacation might be the only time where the family can spend time without needing to juggle someone else’s needs.
I always try to think how it would be if *I* were the host mum and honestly, no matter how much I liked the person, I would still value some family-alone-time every once in a while.

Boys Mama March 6, 2013 at 3:14 am

Please try to calm down, step back and understand that our children are spending their ENTIRE childhood with lovely, involved APs who will forever be part of our family. We share everything we have year after year with young people who come to us as strangers. You are suggesting we don’t deserve to host Au Pairs (only nannies) and that it is “wrong” of us to want a few days every year or every other year alone with our own kids. If you don’t want to be rude, please do try a little harder.

Boys Mama March 6, 2013 at 3:16 am

And thanks German Au Pair for trying to understand how host families feel. :)

au pair March 6, 2013 at 9:23 am

“our children are spending their ENTIRE childhood with lovely, involved APs” –> great for them! and i mean that! i think to have an au pair is great for a child, because it gets lots of attention and love. BUT: “We share everything we have year after year with young people who come to us as strangers.”–> You choose that option, and you are also strangers to us. After i wrote that last night, I talked to my hostmom, because I wanted to hear her opinion about that. What she said was: If I want family time alone with my kids and husband, I would not have gotten an au pair. When I signed up for the program, I knew that there will be no more “alone” trips, but i am fine with that, i signed up for it, and i enjoy it. Noone forces you to host au pairs. But I think it is not fair, if you want her to act year around as a family member, but not on vacation. Do you know where I am coming from? It is like you want the cake AND eat it too. There are many au pairs who don’t like to be part of a family, and are super grateful if you leave them home, and thats totally fine, but they usually don`t act as a family member around the year either. And yes i do understand, I don`t say: oh my gosh take her on every outing you do, parks etc. NO thats fine! we do not want to join every single activity with you, but vacation is something different. As a side note: the reason why we like to go on vacation is also, because we enjoy getting to know you when you are not stressed out because of work etc. So again, I am sorry if i came across rude, that was not what i wanted, and I am really sorry if i did. I just wanted to make a couple things clear, and I hope you can understand me now a little better.

Host Mom in the City March 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

I think you both are making some good points, but really doesn’t it just boil down to matching with the right family? If you are a family who is going to take vacations and won’t be inviting your au pair (either for monetary reasons or because you want exclusive family time), then make sure your au pair knows that when matching. Hopefully you’ll find an au pair that is excited about the prospect of having time to herself! If you are a family that is open to having your au pair vacation with you, find an au pair that wants that. I think both are valid, it’s just best to clear it up so that no miscommunications or hurt feelings occur on either side.

Now I do agree with “au pair” that there is a fine line between “you’re part of the family” and then saying “but not in this instance.” Not that we all rationally know that au pairs are not truly family members, but you do need to be careful where you draw that line and what the message is to the au pair. I agree that “we only take family on vacation” but “hey can you watch our dog because that’s what family does” is out of line (but obviously Boys Mama wasn’t the one that did that).

We personally don’t consider our au pair being around as impeding family time – we’re very open and more of a “the more the merrier” type group. So it’s never like I wouldn’t want her to be around because I’m having special family only time. I personally always would love our au pair to come whenever we go anywhere, but also completely understand if she’d rather stay home. But I completely get that some people/families are more private and need that. Again, something to be clear on with matching.

But finally, the financial issue is totally separate from the emotional issue. We went on a trip with our first au pair that was on the other side of the country. Each plane ticket was $350, food is always way more expensive when you’re traveling for the week, then there were the tickets to the events/parks we went to, then there was needing a bigger hotel room so that she had private space (I discussed above how we usually get a suite). Even with the suite, it added almost $1,500 onto our travel budget to bring our au pair. Yes, we chose to take her and yes, we enjoyed having her along. That year we could afford it, but this year we can’t (we’re not taking any long-distance trips at all this year actually).

It’s tough because I feel like this plays into the host family competition – there are going to be some host families that travel extensively with their au pairs because they can afford to and some that can’t. We’re a host family that can’t this year even if we’d really like to!

German Au-Pair March 6, 2013 at 9:08 pm

AP has some good points and I totally agree on the dog vs vacation situation.
But HMITC is right: you need to find the right match. My family for instance spends very little time together as a family (and even on vacation it was not like a family-thing most of the time).
They’ve taken me on most of their vacations but when they do something with the kids (go for a movie, a concert) they don’t invite me. I wish they would, but understand that those occasions are so rare and I spend so much more times with their kids than they do that they need that special time with them. They have a very different family dynamics and I’m sure many au pairs would feel not included.
I value the freedom that gives me. I’m just like another grown up living in the house and I enjoy that most of the time. Sometimes I see other host families and envy how close they are with their au pairs, but then again I would not want the kind of supervision they get either. So that would be a “cake and eat it too” situation for ME if I complained about not having a warm, fuzzy relationship and then appreciate the freedom.
It’s a good reminder for future au pairs to determine what’s important to them and talk to their potential host families about their family style (and to host families, to do the same! my HF explicitly said in their letter that they are not the type of family who sits down and has dinner every night. I knew what I was heading into.)

Dorsi March 6, 2013 at 4:19 pm

This is written like someone who has not done much travel as an AP (or has the benefit of fancy, destination-type trips with older kids). Traveling with children is hard work and not always a lot of fun. We travel a lot to meet family obligations (we are a plane ride away from both families — or a 10+ hour car ride). We will like drive to one family this summer, and I have been talking up the “road trip” with my AP, but it will not be relaxing.

We bring our AP along because we need the help. We hope they enjoy the trips (and try to find something cultural or personally interesting for them — trip to an outlet mall, a rodeo, etc.). However, most of our travel (even to places that most APs consider coveted destinations) involves early mornings, being stuck in a hotel/house due to nap schedules and early nights. If we go out in the evening, AP stays with the kids .

Only once have we not taken an AP on a vacation and left her at home (we have arranged ahead of time that most have taken 1 week of their vacation while we went somewhere else). She had already been to the place we were going, had been sulky the entire time, did not take advantage of time off to see any sights and was not helpful. I did not feel it would enrich her or us to bring her along, and it would cost $1000 (traveling over the holidays — yup, we left her at home alone for that.)

Traveling as an AP with your HF is a lot of work. Hopefully, it is a bit more interesting and broadening than staying at home. It is, by no means, a “vacation.”

Taking a Computer Lunch March 5, 2013 at 9:32 pm

We have loved loved loved most of our APs and wanted them to join us. And to be honest, family members have actually paid for part of our travel plus for several of them to join us, so that DH and I could have a bit of respite from The Camel. All 8 have joined us in some sort of family travel, and 7 have enjoyed destination travel. We have some very great memories of their travel with us. Several took us up on the offer to bring friends along, which was more fun for everyone. (Friends paid for their travel, not us, but we often included them in restaurant outings and sight-seeing.) There are places to which we have gone every other year because we want our APs to experience them. We have done everything from camping to theme parks. The best and most beloved just pitched in, while the ones struggling through their year always behaved like lost lambs and needed more coaching than ever while away from home.

A Host Mom March 6, 2013 at 9:57 am

Au Pair: It sounds like you have a close relationship with your host mom, which is great. While we have good relationships with our au pairs, our relationship is different in that it is more like a really friendly employer/employee relationship. Around the house, when our au pairs are not on duty, we do not ask or rely on her to do anything (and none of them have volunteered to do anything extra). For instance, every au pair has come to the kitchen table to eat and cleans her dish when she is done, but never helps prepare, set the table, clean up, etc. Additionally, when we get home from work, she is off duty and does not do anything further (which, after working all day, we don’t expect her to). We welcome our au pairs to join us on local trips (i.e. Philadelphia, NYC, etc.) and to join us for dinners out, movies, etc. However, when the trip includes air travel, hotel, etc., we don’t take them. Honestly, we would not expect the au pair to ask us to join her on her vacation, so we don’t think she should expect to join us on our vacation. However, we do tend to travel in between au pairs, so it really doesn’t matter. But, on the few occasions when we do, the au pair has time to lounge around the house while still getting her stipend. It has worked for us so far.

Also, stop with the “cheap childcare” comments. Between the $8k we pay up front, plus food, shelter and car usage, as well as the $200/week stipend, it isn’t “cheap,” so please get over yourself. I could have a local mom watch my kids for around $400/week, which is only slightly more than I pay for an au pair, but I don’t because I like the au pair program.

A Host Mom March 6, 2013 at 10:01 am

Another correction: The $400 is only slightly more expensive, when calculating just the upfront fee and the weekly stipend. The 2nd car we lease for the au pair, as well as the higher insurance premium we pay, isn’t factored in.

Host Mom in the City March 6, 2013 at 10:15 am

oooh I missed that comment: “cheaper–> and yes it is, especially if you are not taking them on vacation;),”

Anyone who has seen me respond to this before knows this assumption bugs the heck out of me. It’s actually NOT cheaper for some host families (like us!). It would be significantly cheaper for us to do before/after care (over $1,000 a month cheaper) or somewhat cheaper for us to find a before/after-care sitter as compared to what we pay for our au pair. We do it because we love the program, we prefer the flexibility, and we think it’s worth the extra cost.

But even if you do have kids who are home all day or use all of the hours or whatever, anyone who gets an au pair purely because it’s a few thousand a year cheaper than a nanny is an idiot :) They will find out quickly how much more time and angst an au pair will cost them and realize the actual monetary outlay isn’t worth the savings.

But we’ve been over all this :)

au pair March 6, 2013 at 11:02 am

It sounds like you worked that out with your au pair with travel time etc. and they seem fine with that, which is great. I never said it is cheaper than daycare, I said it is cheaper than a nanny. If you have two or more kids. The reason why I know that, is because my hp and I calculated this, because they want me to sponsor as a student. An au pair costs them $23000 with car,food and electricity. A nanny costs them easily $25000 and up. The nannies also eat there and do not use their own car for child related activities. So yes, an au pair IS cheaper. At least for my family.

Host Mom in the City March 6, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I’m certainly not arguing with you about what is cheaper for your family, just saying that its not true for all families. I’ve done the calculations elsewhere for our personal situation, but we only use before and after school hours, so having an AP is just about the same cost as a nanny for those hours too. As long as your clear that the cost of all childcare options varies considerably for families and don’t imply that APs are always the cheap option, I’m fine.

I agree that for someone who uses all 45 hours for two or more kids, an AP is going to be a few thousand or more a year cheaper than a nanny for those same hours. Remember though that there has to be a “cost” factored into having someone living in your house and into the time it takes to help an AP through the year. We give up a room in our house, share common spaces, and spend TONS of time helping our AP throughout the year. Happy to make those sacrifices because I like the AP program. But anyone could assume that those sacrifices will need to come with a reduction in monetary cost in order to make the program appealing.

It’s not like the AP program is exactly like having a nanny in terms of impact on your home and life except hey save a few thousand bucks!

Momma Gadget March 11, 2013 at 11:09 am

I always bristle at the word “cheap” every time I see it.
Is there even such a thing as cheap child care???

BoysMama March 6, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Yes, good points, AHM. Also there is another double standard here… APs must be treated like family members and taken on expensive vacations… but can’t be treated like family members (the rest of us sleeping 5 to a room to save money) in that they require their own private room and bath as they are working as employees.

Au pair March 6, 2013 at 4:38 pm

A lot of au pairs are willing to share rooms on vacation. I always do, and have no problem with that. At home, yes you must give us a private room, but the bath can be shared, of course!

BoysMama March 6, 2013 at 6:55 pm

And the fact of the matter is that we have always offered to take our APs with us on vacation, they just usually decline (understandably). We don’t offer to take our German APs back to Germany when we do our family trip for two weeks every couple years, that doesn’t make sense financially or culturally.

The point I wanted to make here is on principle – host parents are not bad people who don’t understand “AP as family member” if they choose to spend a little infrequent time alone with their kids.

Au pair March 6, 2013 at 7:28 pm

BoysMama: you are right! You have the right to not look at them as a family member. As someone mentioned above, if you make that clear during matching, that you really value quality time with your kids and husband, then there should not be a problem. Because as I already said, there are lots of au pairs that love that employer-employee relationship, and there is nothing wrong with that. Where I start to have a problem and think it is not fair, is when a family sells themselve as the family who really wants their au pair to be a part of the family and then they don’t hold their “promise”

Taking a Computer Lunch March 6, 2013 at 7:59 pm

In our case, we are a HF who, when things are going well, love having our APs take part in family events, trips, restaurant outings. When things are not going well, we tend to distance ourselves and form an employee/employer relationship. I must say, that when things are going well, more often than not, APs choose to join us on family holidays, and not just because they’re destinations (because several of them have visited DH and my grandmothers over the years, too).

That gets me to wondering if the chemistry between the AP and HF isn’t part of the family trip mix. If the bond isn’t there, then neither side feels like giving time & energy to a family trip. In our case, the APs who stayed home missed out on the extra effort we make for those who joined us – even if we were going to a house in the suburbs – to make the trip a little extra special. Those who didn’t enjoy our company couldn’t imagine spending a week with us in a rural farmhouse on the end of a dirt road, while those who did had a blast.

JJ Host Mom March 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

I think you’re onto something here. We have traveled with au pairs, and sometimes it’s gone well and sometimes it hasn’t, depending on the relationship we had with the au pair. But by the time I account for the time she spends getting there and back, which can be two or more full days to get anywhere by plane, and by the time I pay for another room, her plane ticket, more admissions tickets, and more meals out, the actual hours of childcare we get during the vacation become very, very expensive when you calculate them out. Plus there’s the issue that German au pair brought up – I don’t get much time alone with my family so it’s nice to have that on vacation.

Plus you have to ask yourself the inverse – would the au pair always invite the host family on her vacation, even if they were paying their way? I’d venture to guess that in almost every case, the answer is no.

So sure, in the right circumstances it’s fun and/or useful to have the au pair on vacation, but there are a lot of factors to consider.

German Au-Pair March 6, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Yes! Last point of JJHM is exactly right!
I know many REAL (as in biological) families who do not take their 20-something daughters on vacation with them anymore.

Everyone, even in the closest family realtionship, needs some me- or us-time every now and then. I would not want to take my family (host or real) on every vacation I take. I would not take the same close friend on every vacation I take. Just because you’re close doesn’t mean you glued together.

Communication is key and everyone should TALK to their potential AP and HF before matching and be clear about how things are going to be to avoid hurt feelings.

Host Mom in the City March 7, 2013 at 8:31 am

Great points! This thread has been really interesting.

emmiejane March 6, 2013 at 11:43 am

We try to take au pairs on vacations where it makes sense. There are times when it doesn’t really seem to from our point of view. If we are staying with family somewhere that will be uninteresting to our au pair, and we can’t commit to helping her get around the area. For instance, visiting our in-laws we rarely see for 4 days. It is not so much that I want “alone time.” I am fine with my au pair being at my in-laws with us. However, there is no public transportation, they live in a suburb, which is close to some cool things, but you’d have to have a way to get there. We might be there for a very limited time, and I don’t want the pressure of a bored au pair, who really wants to get out and see the area, while my in-laws want to spend time with us. My in-laws don’t really want to sight see or go to interesting places. IT has nothing to do with me viewing our au pair as only a member of the family in some instances, just the reality of what the trip is going to involve.

We did take our first au pair with us to Williamsburg, VA where my sister-in-law and her 3 kids live. We did drop our au pair off in the historic area and pick her up. We also took her to the beach with us. Most of the rest of the time, all the kids were hanging out in the house playing, enjoying cousin time. I really do not think our au pair enjoyed this trip. She mostly hung out in her room with her computer. She didn’t really complain, but it was very kid-oriented, and I just don’t think it was much of a “vacation” for her. The next time we went down there, she did not want to come. Again, we weren’t looking for alone time away from the au pair, but some of these family visits with lots of kids are not good vacations on which to take au pairs in my opinion.

We do not go on many vacations with just our family to a destination. Most of our travel is oriented around visiting family because we live far from all of our family, and we have limited time and resources. Depending on the location of the family, and how “fun” it would be for an au pair can determine whether or not we invite her. To invite her to visit friends of ours with us who live outside Indianapolis and have 3 kids under the age of 5, just is not something I would do. I barely enjoy that many kids running around like crazy people and feeling like I had to make it enjoyable for the au pair just would be too much for me at this stage in our life with young, young children.

That said, if we are doing a long weekend in one of the local national parks in a cabin with just us, I would be inclined to invite our au pair. She could see the park-I wouldn’t have another family and their expectations to deal with, so I just think it really depends on the situation. For me, this is not as much about “alone time” as not adding another element of stress to a vacation if I feel that it is not somewhere the au pair would enjoy.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 7, 2013 at 8:06 am

It seems to come down to whether you need the AP to assist with a family trip as the OP does, or you don’t. If you do, then don’t sell the trip to the AP as an opportunity to see a new place, rather emphasize how much you need her help – that you can’t manage without her assistance. Don’t apologize – there are just going to be times in the year when your need for child care takes precedent over her plans and this is one of them. Do be sympathetic to her need for down time, especially if she is new to your family. And do ask how she is feeling!

However, if you are planning a family trip and you don’t need child care assistance, then either be up front that you cannot afford to take the AP along or (if you can) be up front about what to expect on a family trip. Be honest if you are willing to drop her off to go sightseeing or not (DH and I would do it, but not every family would/could).

Many APs are unaware of the expanse of the U.S. that exists without any form of public transportation at all. When inviting an AP on a family trip, do make it clear to her that inclusion means sticking with the family and how much private space she may anticipate.

Here’s how we handle family trips. If we don’t need the AP and she chooses not to come or use her personal vacation time, then we ask her to do some routine chores associated with the children (cleaning out their rooms, organizing their dressers, switching out their seasonal clothing, sorting through the playroom, etc.). If we don’t want the AP to join us and we don’t invite her, then we just give her extra vacation time and don’t ask her to do child-related duties.

Rocio March 7, 2013 at 6:06 am

It is very nice to understand how host families feel and what’s the best way to treat Au pairs!

Melissa March 7, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I’m coming into this conversation rather late (been keeping up-to-date with all the great posts, but haven’t had time to contribute due to some personal issues last couple weeks). But, here’s how we handle vacations. I think we are in the minority in that we want and expect our AP to come with us on all of our vacations. We find it very helpful to have the extra pair of hands, especially when the kids were very little, and it is always a working trip for the AP. If an AP doesn’t want to go with us, we wouldn’t make her go, however, unless it was absolutely essential (hasn’t happened yet). But, vacations are a fairly big deal for us and discuss it during matching. We only had one instance in 6 years of hosting where an AP didn’t want to go with us and we didn’t force her to. It was a post on this site a couple years back about us taking a cross country trip for a family wedding, which fell on our APs 21st birthday. While she was very nice and did her job well, needless to say she wasn’t one of those APs who we ‘clicked’ with.

On vacation, our APs hours typically consist of the plane/train ride there, a few hours during the daytimes, depending what our plans are. Often, our vacations are also working trips for my husband, so having the AP to help me with the kids, especially when they were at the infant/toddler stage, was helpful. I also ususally schedule her for 1 or 2 evenings during the trip. We always make sure she has some time on her own and we do our best to help her get around, such as helping her plan a tour and dropping her off at the train station. I have to say I am MUCH more apt to want to help our best APs – who are the ones who also try their best to help us – and we’ve done things like sending her to the spa, taking her out to dinner (sans kids), and giving her vacation cash to spend. As TACL mentioned, it all seems to be about the relationship with the AP and how well they ‘click’ with us.

On the topic at hand of taking a very NEW au pair on vacation…. We’ve done it a couple times, although it has been for a long weekend instead of a full week or two. As others have said, clear communication ahead of time is key. I personally stink at being very direct, so I usually approach it by telling our APs about our ‘vacation style’ – what our days usually look like while on vacation, what to expect, and talk about ways in which her help will be needed, and give her specific examples. I do give her a work schedule for the week, but also talk about the need for flexibility on vacation (on both sides) and how that schedule might change. if we are on a longer vacation (week) with lots of activities, I usually schedule her to work for some of the activities, but not all, depending on how involved they are. That way, if she is scheduled, it should be clear that she is working and is reponsible to help with the kids. This has usually worked out well for us, although we had a few APs who I had to nicely remind them that they are ‘working’, saying “I know you might be dying to go on all the thrill rides, but keep in mind that today we’ll be spending most of our time in the kiddie section. I’ll need your help with child X while I take child Y on some rides, or vice versa.”

Even though your AP will be very new, you will probably be able to judge in the first few days how much she’ll be able to wing it and go along with the flow on your upcoming vacation or how much hand holding she’ll need. The more you can talk with her about it beforehand, the better. Particularly if there is family involved. Most of our APs have been South African also, so English was never an issue, and that made a HUGE difference, especially on vacations with extended family, where there was LOTS of conversation. Some of our trips have involved staying with family and while our family is very nice, welcoming and always try to engage with our APs, I have learned to talk specifically with our APs about how to best survive staying with extended family (for most APs, it’s a mix of spending some time alone exploring or in a private space skyping or whatever, and spending some ‘hang out’ time with our extended family).

I think you have a challenge on your hands with taking a new AP on a LONG vacation with 3 young children, but it’s doable. Good luck! Please let us know how it turns out.

AnAuPair March 7, 2013 at 12:39 pm

I am an au pair, and I started out my stay with my family on vacation. They literally picked me up, and we went on holiday for 5 days, before I saw their house/hometown/even met the father. We were in a place that had no internet access or anything like that, and we were also with the grandparents, a cousin, an aunt and an uncle. Honestly, it wasn’t a problem in the slightest bit, and I knew (without being told!) that the family didn’t generally live like this.

In addition, my family ALWAYS takes me on holiday with them, whether it’s going away for a week or a couple days. Like the mother told me once: “you’re part of the family, we go on vacation together.” They also do not count any part of the family vacation as my vacation time, since I’m technically working. But at the same time, I don’t get a written out schedule while we are on holiday, the 6 of us are just all together most of the time, which I actually enjoy.

In terms of the au pair having his/her own room, I would generally say that it’s unnecessary (except in the case of the au pair first arriving, as it would be VERY overwhelming to share a room/bed with the kids/family). We’ve done it both ways. When we’ve stayed with family members, I’ve gotten my own room when there was an extra room available, but when there wasn’t I shared a room (and even a bed–with 2 toddlers!). But, when I’ve shared a bed it’s been for a night or 2, if we are gone longer than that the family makes sure that I have my own bed.

I do know other au pairs who are not invited on holidays with their families, so I guess it’s just a personal preference

It can be hard as a au pair to go on holiday with the family without a schedule, as then he/she never knows when they are expected to be working. For us, it’s just worked not to have a schedule, but I would say that aspect would be very dependent on the kind of au pair you have (does she take initiative? anticipate when she will be needed? etc.) and your needs for the vacation

AnAuPair March 7, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Sorry, forgot one thing!

And, like mentioned before, if your au pair is brand new, she won’t be able to anticipate the needs of your kids, and will probably need a lot more direction than an au pair who has been with your family for awhile. But that’s just the nature of being an au pair, it’s a learning experience :)

Momma Gadget March 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

AP 1 was invited on a family vacation to DC- we booked a separate room for her. A day before we were to leave, she got a better offer from a friend to go to South Beach, Miami- and pretended as if she never accepted our invitation. Fortunately the hotel was reasonable and refunded the 800$ for her room. She was never invited again.

We make many other short trips to my in laws lake house, or to My Mom’s in a famous historic tourist town, or My father’s house near the beach. For these trips,we always invite our au pairs to come or not as they wish. We often also invite them to bring a friend and follow us in the other car so they can take off on their own ( and no one needs to be squished)…I know interesting and fun places are always more so when experienced with a friend. The only vacation we truly expect our APs to come on is our Thanksgiving trip to my Mom’s because of the cultural significance.

This is the first year we had an AP come on our big family vacation which is usually an all American Road trip to Canada. Mostly because our other APs did not have the proper visa to allow it, and because getting child care coverage when our AP is on Vacation is tough for us. (we usually ask our AP’s to take one of their vacation weeks while we are on vacation.) Even though we drove the ridiculous distance and stayed with family for half the the trip, the cost of an added adult was considerable- when you figure in an extra hotel room, or renting a larger ‘chalet’, entrance fees and 3 meals a day for a 3rd adult- it easily added another 1500$ to the cost of our vacation.
We love this AP- It was well worth it to see him and the boys have so much fun and to see him experience a lot of “firsts”: ferry trip, river raft ride, skim boarding (in very cold water!), blueberry pie, lobster etc. Although we didn’t accept it, I really appreciated the fact that he pulled out his wallet and offered to contribute, and had to be forced to accept his stipend for that week. It showed us that he didn’t take this opportunity for granted.
Because of these experiences, We will only invite AP’s who really click with our family on the bigger vacations.
Unless it was promised in the interview process, I don’t think an AP should feel “entitled” to go, or be insulted if they are not invited on vacations. It can be a big expense. I would resent anyone being so cavalier with my hard earned money.

Didis March 8, 2013 at 2:24 am

On the similar topic, I have problem.
I am leaving tomorrow with my wonderful family to Hawaii on a vacation. I am invited as a family, not to work. They offered me to spend all the time with them but I am not obligated.

My question is how to find balance and be with them enough to show how grateful I am and that I do enjoy being with them, but also giving them enough space and time to be family without me. I want to do some things that they can’t with small children, but I dont want to offend them by being too much time away and just coming 2h a day to eat.

what would be good amount of time to spend away/with them?

Taking a Computer Lunch March 8, 2013 at 8:28 am

As a HM who frequently travels with APs, I have loved it when the AP, having completed eating her meal, took over helping a child eat dinner, even if she didn’t have to, so I could finish mine. Give them a break by playing with the kids at the beach for an hour, or taking them for a walk to a playground. Those simple activities, will help express your gratitude at being included in a destinaton vacation.

As far as timing goes. If they are clearly making plans for an activity in which you don’t want to participate, then tell them. “I think I will do something else while you do this.” If you do want to be included, tell them, “That sounds exciting, I’d like to go.”

Finally, what always warms my heart, is a simple and direct thank you when I purchase a restaurant meal, tickets, or fares for my AP.

Host Mom in the City March 8, 2013 at 11:33 am

How nice that you’re being so thoughtful about this. And how generous of your host family! A trip to Hawaii is really really expensive. Obviously they like you a lot and are happy that you’ll be there with them. It will go a long way if you make sure to stay appreciative and make sure they know how generous this is of them.

Some things that would show me (as a host parent) that you’re thankful and appreciative – saying “thank you” when you’ve enjoyed something (dinner, an activity, whatever). Really, if you do nothing else, make sure you say “thank you” after they’ve bought you food or taken you anywhere and at the end of the trip – “thank you, that was delicious” or “thank you – that was so fun!” would be great.

I’d keep an eye out for times you can assist with the kids – if you’re all eating together and your host parents have paid for your meal, you should probably be engaged with the kids and help them cut food or take someone to the bathroom or whatever. Even if you’re not technically working, if you’re around and a host parent is clearly struggling or a child needs some help, it would show me that you’re appreciative if you’d lend a hand. Other things – read a book to a child on the plane, offer to take an older child for a walk while the younger one is napping, sit with a child while a parent goes to change the baby’s diaper – little things like that will go a loooong way.

It would be truly awesome if you could volunteer to sit with the sleeping kids for an evening or two while the host parents went out to dinner.

And in terms of giving them time to themselves and getting time to yourself too, I would suggest asking beforehand what activities they have planned for what days and letting your host parents know approximately what you’d be interested in so they can plan ahead. Also, let them know if there’s something particular you’d like to do ahead of time – “host parent, I’d really like to spend the day checking out ____. Is it ok if I plan to do that on Tuesday?”

Have a wonderful time and best of luck to you.

NoVA Twin Mom March 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

We took one of our au pairs to Hawaii – and part of the reason was to have help in the airports. I don’t know how old your kids are, but ours were about five months old when we went. So in addition to each of our carryons, we had a stroller, carseats, a laptop, powdered formula and “baby” liquids – basically more stuff than I’ve ever taken as carryon in my life.

What our au pair did that we really appreciated (or could have done that would have been appreciated):

Go through security first and “catch” the stuff as it comes through the conveyor belt, and start reassembling. If your kids are older, grab a bunch of stuff – MAKE SURE your host parents know you’re doing this – and a kid or two, and go somewhere close by to start getting shoes and belts back on. If you have a laptop, bring it with and start putting it back into your bag, same with your liquids (remember to package your liquids correctly…) Do this while host mom and host dad are passing through security. Then watch to see if they need you or a big kid to come back and get more stuff.

If your kids are older, once you’re through security, volunteer to take one or more to McDonalds (or whatever) to get a snack.

Bring entertainment for yourself on the plane too. You might not get a chance to use it, but be prepared. Our au pair didn’t bring a book or magazine or ANYTHING for the plane – counting on the screen in the back of the seat in front of her to keep her entertained. Those don’t always work – hers didn’t. She pouted (!) during takeoff because she’d be bored. I switched seats with her after takeoff so she’d stop pouting. In her defense, after a while she took one of our twins on her lap and put on a cartoon “for the baby to watch.” We allow some TV, so that was OK (the five month old enjoyed the pretty colors), but the whole pouting thing still kills me.

So, if things go wrong, don’t pout. :)

Do a little research about what part of Hawaii you’ll be in, and what kinds of things there are to do. DON’T skip a luau if one is offered. At the same time, those things are expensive, so look like you’re having a good time (and, as others have said, say thank you!) If the dancers pull you up on stage – GO! And leave your camera where HM and HD – or total strangers at your table – can reach it and take video. That’s one of our au pair’s favorite memories – and because we wound up having to leave with the babies (the luau was at our hotel and we’d been previously, so we left her at the luau) the strangers at our table took video on her camera. The research in advance advice is so, if you DO find yourself with a “free” afternoon/evening, you can get started with what you want to do rather than having to figure out what to do.

If you’re flying with lap infants, take a turn holding the baby :) Even if you’re not technically working.

Think about looking up au pairs either based in Hawaii (there are a few) or there on vacation while you’re there (apparently quite a few) so you’ll have friends to hang out with while you’re there.

I love the suggestion to finish feeding a kid while the parent gets to eat. And the “VOLUNTEER to watch the kids while your host parents go out to eat” suggestion. Even for lunch if that’s when you have the opportunity.

If you volunteer to read the map while your HM is driving, pay attention. If you can’t read a map, admit it – holding the map as the car is whizzing down the H1 is not the time to learn.

Take lots of pictures of your whole host family and share them. Maybe make a Shutterfly/Snapfish book about the trip when you get home. The host parents don’t always have a chance to get pictures with both of them in it, so try to make sure you get a few good ones.

Have fun, make it LOOK like you’re having fun, and say thank you a lot! :)

German Au-Pair March 8, 2013 at 8:20 am

Sounds to me like your family is very generous. So TALK to them. Tell them you would like to do things on your own that are not enjoyable with little kids and tell them you understand that they’ll want some alone-time without you to and to feel free to suggest when you should do something different.
Your family will appreciate that you were thinking about being polite and about their needs as well.
At the same time, don’t overthink the matter. When we were on vacation they would sometimes ask me to babysit in the evening but when I siad “I really want to go to XY” they just said “then go, have fun”. I had absolutely no schedule written out, we just played it by ear.

JJ Host Mom March 8, 2013 at 1:07 pm

We took our au pair to Hawaii and one thing she did that I’ll always remember is take a picture of our family at the beach, with “Hawaii 2011” drawn into the sand in front of us. It’s a great photo and one that I never would have thought to compose. So that’s one thing – whenever you see a photo op, volunteer to take a photo of the family. It’s a small thing but it’s hard for families to get everyone together in the same photo. Make sure you get people to take photos of you with them as well!

HostMom2013 March 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm

We took our Au Pair on vacation right away and I would never do this again. I think it helped her develop the expectation that her time here would be about us wining and dining her. We didn’t make her work at all because there was really no need. If I were to do it over, I would have made her work at least some of the time so we set that understanding from the very beginning, that her time in the US wasn’t just about fun, but also about work. We are first time host parents, so have learned a lot, but the relationship never was where we expected it to be and I attribute some of that to giving her such a treat early on.

NoVA Twin Mom March 8, 2013 at 9:53 pm

We had a choice this cycle of having our au pair arrive while we were ON vacation (so have her fly from orientation to my parents’ hometown in the Midwest instead of to DC) or have a few weeks without an au pair, scrambling for coverage, and have her arrive a bit later. We chose to have the new au pair arrive a few weeks later, even with the resulting childcare scramble.

Due to rematch, our current au pair arrived about two weeks before our last trip to the Midwest to visit my parents. In addition to the less strenuous nature of visiting my family – who, since they see my kids only a couple of times a year, really want to spend as much time with the kids as possible – it felt like we were “on display” while we were getting to know each other, complete with what turned out to be a major language issue. My family would ask if the au pair would want something or want to do something, and not only did we not know the likely answer (if she had been with us for a few months instead of a few weeks, I might have known her eating preferences better, for instance) but we’d have trouble explaining the question.

We wound up hunting down the nearest AT&T store (two cities away) so we could add a data plan to her new iPad so she could skype home and to her friends. (I warned her there would be no wifi, but I don’t think she believed me).

Plus, my family is VERY friendly – what may have seemed like overfriendliness when they were actually very curious and just wanted to get to know our au pair. So she probably felt put on the spot somewhat when no one meant it that way.

Another weird aspect of taking an au pair on vacation shortly after they arrive is that you have to buy plane tickets for them to accompany you on vacation before they arrive in the US. It felt strange to spend hundreds of dollars on plane tickets for someone not yet here – what if she had arrived at orientation only to decide to go home immediately?

Anyway, the experience was so uncomfortable that we decided not to do it again. I think it’s one of those things that should be avoided if at all possible, but can work out if necessary. I do agree with all of the comments so far, though – make sure the au pair knows that these are unusual circumstances, to schedule her to work at least a few hours, and to try to explain as much as possible in advance what is going to happen. Especially if there’s a language issue. And be sure to be clear about the availability of wifi at your vacation destination :)

cv harquail March 10, 2013 at 1:35 pm

NoVaTM- I appreciate that perspective about being ‘on display’. I think of all the weird parts of being a host parent, that’s the one that grates on me the most. And to have it emphasized on vacation would dampen my vacation buzz, for sure.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 8, 2013 at 11:19 pm

I know this has been a post about bringing an AP in the first month, but I want to say something about taking an AP in the last month (when DH and I traditionally go on holiday, although maybe not this year).

If your relationship with your AP is strong, it can be a magical experience. However, understand, your AP is getting ready to say goodbye to a bunch of friends. If you are able to book your holiday so that she still has a couple of weeks left before her travel month/flight home, then do. She needs goodbye time.

We have done several remote vacations – house in the woods, no wifi, canoes/hiking/fresh country air, with APs at the end of their stay, and when they have truly connected with us it has been magical! Everyone has enjoyed the down time to swim, canoe, read, play board games, cook, eat, and most of all, sleep! I cannot imagine being trapped in a such a house with an AP with whom our family has not clicked.

However, I would never demand that an end-of-year AP join us. Once, when we made such a trek, we took 2 cars. I had a deadline, and our AP had a lot of friends to whom she wanted to say goodbye. She and I made a beeline back to our city, while DH and the kids meandered back (with an incoming AP). It was a nice connecting moment for the two of us (not so much for DH and the new AP). She appreciated my understanding that while she very much wanted to have that vacation with us, she also wanted to say goodbye to her friends.

BoysMama March 9, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Im sorry CV but TACL I simply MUST know where you are taking those vacations! HAVE to take a trip like that. With our AP ;)

Taking a Computer Lunch March 10, 2013 at 12:29 am

Vermont. It’s a great place – in the summer. (Okay, I used to live there in the winter, too, but unless you ski it’s not the same.)

Boys Mama March 10, 2013 at 4:40 pm

;) next summer it is

oranje_mama March 22, 2013 at 11:16 am

Coming really late to this post – any words of advice for when you’ve allowed your AP to invite a friend on vacation?

We will be going on spring break with our AP. She is expected to work a max of 10 hours during the week (including one night). It was completely at her option whether to come or not. We decided to let her invite a friend – figuring that this would be more comfortable for all of us.

For those who’ve had AP friends join, any words of advice?

BTW, on the original topic, I would agree with avoiding early vacations if possible. I feel like the first 2-3 months need to be spent getting to know each other/establishing a routine. I think it’s awkward both to bring an the AP and for her to do her own thing during that time period!

HRHM April 15, 2013 at 11:11 am

I have an unusual issue in that our incoming AP (to arrive this summer) has invited HERSELF on our family vacation. Apparently she knew from her contact with our current AP that last fall AP had come with us to Disney. When I recently contacted her by email to ask a few incoming questions (do you drink coffee, what do you like for breakfast…) I mentioned that we would be away for the specific week and that she should plan on that being her first vacation week. In her reply, unsolicited, she stated that she’d go with us on vacation! Now what?
I was really looking forward to having that week alone with my kids and DH and as I’ve previously said here, I don’t need or want help during that week. In addition, I’m leaving my current job in July and don’t actually have a new one yet, so an extra 1100 dollars may not be feasible in our budget.

I don’t want to make her feel unwelcome before she even gets here…any advice?

Host Mom in the City April 15, 2013 at 11:19 am

Yikes, HRHM. I don’t know that you can do anything other than apologize profusely for the confusion, and explain that although you’d very much like to, this is a trip that you will need to take without her. The earlier the better. I wouldn’t say anything about it being “family only” (the message is – you are excluded) or that you were really looking forward to a week alone with the kids (again, the message is – and not you). Simply that you aren’t able to take her on this one and you hope she’ll take the opportunity to make a fun plan for the week you are gone.

Will you take her on any other trips or activities? You could mention those, if so. “Although we can’t bring you on this one, we’re really looking forward to sharing X with you.”

Good practice for being clear and upfront, I guess :(

Emerald City HM April 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

We have in our handbook that if we are taking a vacation where we do not need to au pair to come along, she does have a choice on staying home or coming with us, but that she may have to pay her own way and that the costs would be discussed prior to booking. Would you be annoyed if she came with you and booked her own tickets / hotel room? Some hotels have a pre-pay option so you could require she did that instead of being stuck at the last minute with an au pair that doesn’t have a place to stay.

CA Host Mom April 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I agree, sticky situation. This seems like a miscommunication (more specifically, her misunderstanding) but I would do as HMitC suggests and apologize and explain that you can’t bring her with you. And then clarify that you meant that she is to schedule and take her vacation during that week while you are away. But I can see how her excitement and optimism about all things AP and the fact that English is likely her second language (and we can’t always trust Google Translate) how she could have misunderstood you. Her reaction to your clarification, however, may reveal something different.
Good luck!

Host Mom in the City April 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I would definitely treat this as a miscommunication. I can completely see how “we are going on vacation, we will ask you to go on vacation that week too” could be, to a non-native speaker, an invitation on the vacation. So tread lightly and apologize profusely for the confusion.

HRHM April 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I think the major breakdown in communication may have been our current AP. When they spoke, she indicated that SHE went with us and had a great time. I asked her what she said about the cost and she “couldn’t remember” which I think is code for “I told her it was a super-expensive trip that I only had to pay for a plane ticket – great deal!!!”
I suppose that I could allow her to come along at her own expense but by my calculations it would be around 1100 without meals. And realistically, meals at Disney run around 50-100 per day per person depending on how big an eater you are, so I’m not excited about offering to pay for those either.

I think I’m going into a holding pattern for a week or so and see what happens on the job hunting front. Worst-case scenerio, I’ll offer to let her come at her own expense. Who knows, maybe she’s an awesome saver and is coming over with a big wad of cash to spend on travel!

Host Mom in the City April 16, 2013 at 10:14 am

HRHM – If you’re not going to take her, don’t wait on this. You do not have to take her and you do not have to feel badly about it. You had this planned, adding another $1,100+ is a LOT of money, you did not mean to invite her. Easily resolved with a “I’m so sorry that it wasn’t clear, but we’re not going to be able to bring you with us on this trip. You’ll have that week off as an extra vacation week, and we can definitely help you find something else fun to do that week. We’re really looking forward to some other activities with you this year!” End of story.

If you don’t mind her coming, but you won’t have her work and therefore would expect her to pay – “I’m so sorry that I wasn’t clear, but we won’t need you to work that week. If you’d like to come with us as a vacation for youself, we will cover your meals, but we’ll ask you to cover your plane ticket and hotel. If that’s going to be more than you’d like to spend, please feel free to take that as an extra week of vacation and we can help you plan something else to do…blah blah blah.”

If you feel like you can bring her, then sure, go ahead. But if you’re going to feel resentful of the money and her presence, then don’t. But don’t wait over a week to tell her that, especially if you speak with her again during that time – a whole week where she’s planning her trip in her head isn’t fair.

CAmom22 April 16, 2013 at 11:25 am

HRHM – please remember what you stated above (that you were really looking forward to spending time alone with the family) before making changes to the plans as a result of a miscommunication. I really think HMitC gave some really good advice on how to break the bad news and I don’t think that would create any bad blood. At least for my family I think it is really really important to maintain some strictly family time to reconnect in ways that we don’t do when we have an AP with us. So we take some vacations with APs and others without. To me, they are very different experiences and I think both are important in my relationships. On vacations with AP I do spend much time making sure that my AP is having fun (we don’t bring along for work) instead of doing some really important connecting with my kids and husband. So if you were hoping for that really important “just family” time, please make sure before making a decision that you are not feeling pressured to bring her along (even if she pays) if that’s not what you really want.

Tristatemom April 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

Wow, that is borderline rude! Can she really be this obtuse?
Since this is a new relationship, I would treat it is as “your mistake” but this would be a major red flag for me (but I am really on edge right now if you saw my other post).

Taking a Computer Lunch April 15, 2013 at 7:34 pm

I don’t think it’s appropriate to blame the candidate. She heard something from the outgoing AP, who joined the family on a similar vacation, heard plans for the upcoming one, and jumped to conclusions.

When we matched with AP #8 we were up front in our HF letter, that we were planning a special family trip and could not afford to take her. Our reward to her was an extra week of paid vacation and the opportunity to either invite friends to the US or to travel herself.

If you state your plans for the year up front, either in your introductory email or your HF letter, then you save yourself a lot of heartache. Now, you’re caught in a difficult space, I understand that. There are going to be hurt feelings either way. “I’m sorry, we weren’t planning on including you in the trip, but if you’d like to pay your way and join us…” doesn’t come off any easier than taking a deep breath and paying her way.

One question to you. Are you taking this trip before the AP arrives, within a month of her arrival, and more than 3 months after she arrives? In any scenario, it’s not perfect, but my ultimate advice will vary.

Tristatemom April 16, 2013 at 9:43 am

But when you read the OP’s posting and focus on words like “unsolicited” it did sound to me that the AP was doing something that was not perceived as innocent. I was wondering if the old AP went on the trip with the family? That would make it a bit harder to sell to the new AP that she is not coming without causing hurt.

Tristatemom April 16, 2013 at 9:45 am

Sorry, must be tired this morning, my question was actually answered already.

HRHM April 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm

The trip is 2 months after she arrives and 5 months from now. The only reason we are talking about it now is that most of my APs started planning vacations WHILE they were at school in NY when they met friends there.

MomOf3Sweeties April 15, 2013 at 7:58 pm

Hey y’all! Is it okay to impose vacation days or blackout times? For example, if I go on vacation and have no need for childcare, can I ask my au pair to have her vacation on that time too?

CA Host Mom April 15, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I am curious to hear other people comment on your question, MomOf3Sweeties. I know that I have heard (thru APs in our cluster, as well as on this blog) of a lot of host families do that. Personally, we haven’t done it that way – but I have been tempted. And I haven’t yet been faced with a situation where I have had to deny a vacation request, but I am sure that the day will come.

I am curious to know if it is reasonable or not in the eyes of the wise HPs and APs that read and comment here.

Dorsi April 16, 2013 at 12:46 am

Many people on here have a one week your choice, one week our choice policy. I have done that with 2 APs, when I knew I would be on trips that they would not want to go on (or be invited). I don’t think it is unreasonable with adequate notice. I don’t know that we will have a trip this year that we won’t include AP on, so I will probably just work around whatever she wants, within reason.

(I am going abroad in the fall and taking just DH and one child. AP will stay at home with 2 children and my mom — and stay within the rules of the program. That is an absolute blackout date for her vacation).

Emerald City HM April 16, 2013 at 12:49 am

We put in our handbook that 1 week should be taken at the end of the year (it is when we get most of our holiday’s for the year), but we also say “if possible”. So far that has been okay with both of our au pairs. Then we have let

our au pairs choose their second week sometime in the second half of the year, we just ask they give us 60 days notice.

So far that has worked for us. Our LCC seems to like the idea of one week our choice, one week hers. I imagine if we ran into problems we coul ask the LCC to mediate.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 16, 2013 at 6:59 am

Absolutely, it is okay to impose blackout times. I am “twinned” with a colleague at work – one of us is expected to be at work 90% of the time (boss does make exceptions). Those dates become blackout dates for the AP, unless DH agrees to cover 100% of the needed time.

In addition, our handbook states that vacation is to be taken during the children’s school year (less time off for DH and I since it’s a couple of hours at either end of the day) because a couple of years I spent a fortune arranging for a driver for child #2 to camp – no more!

Both kids usually go away for one week in the year – to camps or grandparents, and we tell the AP that is her time off – it is usually 4 or 5 days. We ask for 6 weeks notice for the other days off, although sometimes we can accommodate a last-minute request.

In past years, when The Camel underwent major surgery and subsequent hospitalization (she doesn’t bounce back well), the AP was blocked out for the entire time she remained in hospital.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 16, 2013 at 7:05 am

I should add, that when the AP chooses not to join us on a family trip AND doesn’t want to use her vacation time, then I follow advice of other HMs here, and have her do some thorough cleaning of the kids’ rooms, tidy the drawers, and check for clothing that is ripped beyond appropriate wear. I tried to have an AP do a seasonal switch-out, and it didn’t work very well. I also have her thoroughly clean and tidy up the playroom. I give a list of tasks and my estimation of how long each would take (cushioning for the fact that it will take her longer to do some things than I). It never adds up to the amount of hours she would have spend caregiving had she been at home – it is closer to the number of hours she would have worked on a family trip.

Host Mom in the City April 16, 2013 at 9:06 am

We’ve struggled with this. We actually have in our handbook that one week is the AP’s choice (with at least a month notice) and one week is our choice. But the problem is we only take off one week a year for a trip that we bring our APs on. So there isn’t a week that would be “good” for us – they are all pretty much equally inconvenient :) So for both of our APs, they’ve just picked their own two weeks and we make it work.

We’ve had questions about how you “count” the vacation days because both of our APs have wanted to take one of the weeks as a day or two here and there rather than a week at a time. “Two weeks” vacation – does that mean 14 total days? 14 total days that you would otherwise have them scheduled? A week’s worth of total days that you would otherwise have them scheduled (so for us, we usually have our AP working M-F, so that’s only 5 days in a week – so 10 total days?). I have no idea and our LCC wasn’t clear on it either. We’ve just said that any week broken up is 6 days off taken one at a time since we have to give her 1.5 days off per week anyway – 6 is the max she would be working in a week ever. And if she asks for a particular weekend off (which she does frequently), we don’t count that as a vacation even if we had hoped to have her work (assuming we didn’t have something specifically planned – the school days are the ones that are a real struggle). So really it ends up being more than 6 days anyway.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

It’s 10 weekdays, unless you regularly give your AP a weekday off in order to have her work a long day at the weekend.

When our APs have taken a full 5 days off in a row (rarely do – it’s hard for them to find friends willing and able to come on an adventure that long), we have generally given them the weekend at either side. My APs who have wanted a week in a row either have family or friends visiting from home.

Usually what happens is that the AP only wants Mondays or Fridays, in order to have a series of long weekends. As long as these get spaced out over the course of the year, it’s not a problem for me. Often what happens is that the AP wants to bunch them up in May and June when the weather is warm.

If you ask that the AP give you 1-2 months notice, then you have time to plan for the inconvenience of not having an AP. We have put kids into daycare/aftercare, hired babysitters, asked family members, or just taken time off ourselves.

Melissa April 16, 2013 at 11:14 am

I view it the same as most typical jobs, mine included – when you hear “two weeks vacation”, it means 10 work days. When we’ve had APs who want to break it out into days here and there — which is fine and works well for us, and I have to figure out how much vacation time to count and how to schedule the rest of the week, I just count a weeks vacation as a 45 hour week (9 hrs/day). So if they take two days vacation during the week, I figure I have up to 27 hours to schedule her for the rest of the week.

Host Mom in the City April 16, 2013 at 11:16 am

Thanks to you both – that’s actually what it ends up being, but I like how clean that makes it. Appreciate it.

Dorsi April 16, 2013 at 11:43 am

One thing one LCC told our AP is that you earn 1 day per month, starting in your 3rd month. I haven’t heard anyone else put it that way, but it makes sense to me. I have not held my AP to that, but it would give one a good rationale for denying vacation early on in the year — it wasn’t “earned” yet.
(Also, that works out to 10 days vacation, not 14.)

Host Mom in the City April 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

Hm, I don’t think that would for us. It would take her 8 months to earn a week off! Then she’d be taking both weeks really late in the year and close to each other.

Host Mom in the City April 16, 2013 at 11:55 am

that would *WORK* – sorry.

Taking a Computer Lunch April 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

I want to second what Melissa said. When calculating my AP’s vacation time, especially if it’s a day here or there, I don’t load up her schedule for the rest of the week to maximize her hours. I usually subtract 8 or 9 hours, even though my AP typically works 4.5-5.5 hours a day. Unless we’ve already scheduled an evening event for that week, we would not ask her to work a longer shift than usual to compensate for time off.

Host Mom in the City April 16, 2013 at 1:44 pm

We don’t either. Actually it hasn’t occurred to me to even consider doing that, but I guess it’s because we set the schedule pretty far ahead of time, so it’s not like if she asked for vacation, we’d then significantly change the rest of the week. I agree that vacation time shouldn’t be counted as time totally off and should not then mean they make the hours up later in the week.

Busy Mom April 16, 2013 at 6:33 pm

We impose vacation days and ask our APs to take vacation at the same time we do. We take several family vacations/year and do not travel with our APs. Since we impose the dates, we do offer a bonus two Fridays off (HD and I both have sufficient flexibility to be able to work at home with advance notice) and provide rules around when they can be taken (e.g., after 3rd month, with at least 3 weeks notice). We are EXTREMELY clear about this during matching (we send handbook and discuss verbally) because AP1 simply didn’t understand even though it was in handbook. (She wanted to plan a vacation with a friend and gave her friend’s HM first choice of week b/c that HM was a single mom…I pointed to handbook and said No.)

AP’s 2-5 have had no issue with this approach to vacation time and have always found ways to enjoy their time off (family visits/can find another AP with same week). Our weeks tend to be around Christmas, spring break, summer, so usually they can find someone to hang out with.

HRHM April 17, 2013 at 3:10 pm

we too impose our vacations on the the AP. They are stated in matching (always the same months every year) and spaced well (six months apart, not at the start or end of their year). So far so good.

Lilliput September 28, 2013 at 4:34 am

Although I have never been an Au Pair in America, i Have been twice an Au Apair, once in Spain and once in England.
Enmgland has been lovely, no problems at all, it has probably been the best year of my life.
Spain was more problematic. I arrived when the family was already on holiday and had all their family around, about twenty people, all being happy so see each other and the children busy with playing with friends. I had no contact to my family or friends for four weeks, always shared a room with the children and was basically 24/7 on duty. Everything was relaxed,the parents said, when the children were disobedient: Don’t wory we are on vacation.. . But then school time started and out of a sudden the children had to listen to me, I wasn’t the fun au pair any more…It did not work out at the end and I had to rematch…

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