A Spain Travel Guide: Au Pairing & Solo-Travelling

Sunday, October 16, 2016
It's been 4 months since I left to be an au pair in Spain but I decided it would be worthwhile talking about my experience as an au pair, with some pointers and tips for those that want to try it themselves. Further on I've wrote about my week solo travelling and my experience staying in hostels... I hope you find some of this information useful.

- Madrid -
Tips from my experience as an au pair

So, the basics: back in February this year I decided to apply to be an au pair through Au pairs in Spain - the process all went pretty smoothly and I would recommend the agency - it was straightforward with just some forms to be signed, letters to be written and so on. I was offered a family who were interested in me, made a Skype call and knew instantly they were the perfect family to go with. 2nd year of university finished and I flew over to Madrid in June and stayed till mid August. 

I was very lucky because I got on so well with my family, didn't have any major difficulties with the children and I was overall very happy. I'd heard some stories from other au pairs I met there, and read about online, that had experiences not so good but I think this really depends on you and your family. It was my first time doing this but I think it's possible for anyone to try, child experience or not. I was accommodated, fed and paid as an au pair and stayed with a Spanish family with two kids - boy and girl.

My tips & advice:

- Find other au pairs on Facebook/through your agency before going. I created a group chat and the majority I spoke to, I ended up meeting irl when I arrived. It was a great way to establish who was going, for how long, if they were living nearby and to organise meet ups.

- Choose your family well. Where do they live? Near the center? Countryside? Do they speak any English at all? How many children? How old are the children? I didn't think toooo deeply into all these things but they are important factors to consider - if you get along better with girls/boys, a certain age etc. I decided a balance of a boy and a girl would be ideal, they were aged 9 and 5, and they were adorable!

- Make sure your family is the right one for you. I had a gut instinct that I'd found a great family but if you feel uncertain, maybe Skype them a few times before going to make sure they're the right match.

- Patience, things take time and keep as busy as possible to avoid homesickness! I was lucky in that, I didn't feel sad, homesick or dislike my family so settling in was easy. The initial meeting for the first time was nerve-wracking but that disappeared very quickly and I was happy to be there.

- Go to au pair meetings and network. If you go with an agency, like mine, they will organise meetings for you. I went to the first one during my stay and met loads of other au pair girls. It gave me helpful info about the next 2 months ahead of me and I made some new contacts to hang out with during my stay.

- Find fun ways to teach the kids English. Board games, word games, films with subtitles. Cycling/swimming/arts & crafts/toys - are all winners.

- Use your free time wisely. I worked Mon-Fri 9am-3pm and the rest of the time was my own (and some nights I babysitted). The family offered me to hang out with them or do my own thing. Looking back I think I made the best use of my time and saw every inch of Madrid I wanted to see, as well as in the surrounding cities like Toledo and Avila. You can go out during the week but don't be tired or hungover, the kids have a lot of energy so be prepared! Go out on weekends, see as much as possible but also spend time with your family in your spare time too. You are with them for a long time and it's important to build a good relationship with them - and don't just spend time with the kids in your working hours.

- Skype home occasionally. See as many places as possible. Take photos. Enjoy living life like a kid again. Ice breaker: buy the kids some toys from the UK. Have patience and if all else fails play hide and seek because it makes everyone laugh. Help around the house. Don't pack jackets when it will be 37c in Madrid. Learn Spanish. Enjoy it.

Me and some of the lovely au pairs I met in Madrid!

Overall, I had the best time, with a few ups and downs which is only natural. My family made me feel at home and included me in their life. They would even ask if I wanted anything I like from the supermarket, they didn't make me feel like a part-time worker, but a member of the family, were helpful, welcoming and made the BEST food. Make sure your family ticks those boxes too, although it is not totally necessary that they buy you avocados on their food shop - but it's a bonus.

- Valencia -
Travelling solo, getting lost, getting burnt & partying on a 'party bus'...

On my last day as an au pair (so many tears) I got the bus (would recommend Alza & Avanza) from Madrid to Valencia. With the money I earnt and saved from working I had enough to do some travelling. Other au pairs I met had longer contracts/had already left etc. so I decided to go it alone. I knew it wasn't forever so if it was horrible then I knew I could cope!

Where I stayed: the River Hostel in Valencia - cheap, good location, modern, helpful, ideal for backpackers and students, breakfast was £3 and there were lockers in the bedrooms. There were communal showers and bathrooms and I shared with 6 other girls. Now, I know for most, and for me, the first thing to cross my mind was, will I have to sleep with my phone under my pillow each night?! Are hostels thatttt safe? I think this all depends on the place - look at reviews on the hostel first, decide on how many you will share with in a room, mixed or same gendered etc., use the provided lockers and you will be fine!

The good thing about hostels is that it's really relaxed so if you want some time to yourself then do that or if you want to socialise then you can talk to literally anyone. If you're shy, this could definitely help with your confidence by chatting with strangers and if it's awkward, just talk to someone else! There is always someone nice with an interesting story to tell. Hostels are really friendly places and there are a lot of other people backpacking alone. Another thing to remember is that, people are coming and going all the time. For example, I met some nice New Zealanders who I had paella with on my first night, they left the next day and then I went on to meet more new people. 

Honestly, the day I left and the first full day in Valencia, I was feeling homesick - for Madrid! I felt all of a sudden anxious because I didn't have a family that were looking after me anymore, but I got my adult on and tried to get on with it! I had no desire in Valencia to do anything touristy, I was tired and maybe just emotionally exhausted (lol) so I just decided to spend a day on the beach - the best decision I made. Except I forgot my sunscreen and turned pink - moving on...

I got lost my first evening walking round Valencia - luckily kind taxi drivers exist, who drove me to my hostel for free, I didn't have enough change on me, turns out I'd walked past my hostel by about a minute - but I would recommend saving numbers of your hostel, people you've just met, your hostel address, don't stay out till late alone, bring change on you always - the kind of things I should have known before going. I was so relieved to re-find my hostel, I went straight to the bar and chatted to the first people I saw...personally, I don't like being alone too long!

People are so helpful therefore don't be afraid to ask - a kind South African girl offered me a gel compressant for my sore back (am I even 21) and I gave her a mini tour guide about Madrid, the next destination of her travels. Two Dutch girls gave me aftersun when they saw how burnt I was and it reminded me that people can be so friendly. The final night I decided to join a pub crawl organised through my hostel - 20 euros for a 'party bus' (as tacky as it sounds), a tour round 3-4 night clubs on the beach and shots (sorry mom) in each night club. It was such a fun way to meet people and I ended up hanging with a group of 20+ girls from an Australian football team who were so fun, friendly and up for a good time.

 All in all, my first few nights travelling alone weren't so scary after all!

- Barcelona -
 Hostel life continued, seeing the Sagrada, partying on the beach & navigating the city

I got a bus from Valencia to Barelcona early in the morning and booked 2 days there. 

Where I stayed: the 360 hostel - great place to stay right in the center, reasonably priced, communal kitchen and showers, private lockers in rooms and social nights organised by the hostel. They also sent me my phone which I left in my room the day I left (yes I am that stupid sometimes) - so a big thanks to them! This time I shared with 1 other person, a lovely woman from Turkey who again, was so friendly, helpful and kind. There was a slight language barrier but we managed. I know for some it may seem odd to share with a complete stranger - and I don't know if I trust people too easily but there really wasn't anything to worry about and I felt very comfortable and safe. She also offered me a light shirt for my ongoing sunburn, bless her...yes I was pretty burnt btw.

My first day I explored Park Guëll and the Sagrada familia - note: book in advance! I did both of these alone and was very happy to. I met another au pair I found on Facebook and spent some time with her - it felt good to speak to someone, and in French which helped me refresh my language skills. The first night my hostel put on a free tapas night - delicious and a great way to socialise with other travelers. Barcelona wasn't the easiest to navigate mainly because I'd got to know Madrid so well, therefore getting to know another big city was tricky. But don't feel afraid to bombard your hostel with questions and ask for advice - that's what they're there for! Mine gave me maps, directions, recommendations and were always there to help.

My final day I went out in hope of seeing the famous market la Boqueria but sadly it was closed (holidays in Spain) so I made a quick decision to not waste my day and bought an open top bus ticket. It was the ideal way to see the city. Barcelona is huuuge so this allowed me to see all of it and parts I would never have known about such as the Port Vella and the gothic area. The last night I decided to go on a night out on Playa de la Barceloneta - where I joined an au pair I met in Madrid. The nightlife is crazy, with clubs on the beach, people laying on the beach till sunrise and just a great atmosphere. 

The final night, my hostel organised a paella night which was again amazing, and allowed me to speak to other travellers from Brazil to Chile and my homeland UK. 

I discovered a beautiful rooftop bar on top of a hotel in Barcelona called the Yurbban terrace - which was open to anyone, with amazing views, a small pool and served amazing cocktails. Currently deciding when to go back...

My time in Barcelona wasn't perfect but it was lovely and an important learning curve for myself. I'm not the most independent of people, I am in some ways, but when travelling I am prone to rely on other people/friends/family, so this trip put me on the spot and forced me to go about things alone. Would I travel alone again? Sure, I think now that I know what to expect, there isn't really anything to fear. However, I think travelling with someone is fun too because you can share the experiences. But honestly, whenever I was alone, I was extremely content and relaxed so I think both travelling alone and together has it's benefits.

I hope this helps any future au pairs and gives you some advice, or to future backpackers ready to take that plunge and travel alone. You won't regret it! SOOO cheesy but that is why travelling is so important to do because you gain so many new amazing, fulfilling experiences and memories that you won't find just staying at home. I can hand-on-heart say that deciding, quite spontaneously, to go and be an au pair in Spain, was one of the best experiences of my life. I discovered a new country, a new language, met people from all over the world, ate delicious food, had so much fun and met a loads of lovely new people.