I’m sure we all get the desire to escape from real life; it’s part of the growing up process. There’s a need to flee the nest in such a way that says a gentle “fuck you” to your parents, making your friends jealous in the process — assuming you have friends.
Of course, you can never fully escape your life. You can run away for a few months, maybe even a few years, but there will always be a part of your mind that crawls home just before you fall asleep at night, wherever you are in the world.
Travelling is a wonderful way to gain a sense of independence while you’re young and foolish. If nothing else, travelling makes you appreciate home and all of its comfortable chaos.
I’ve found that many of my friends talk about and plan amazing trips they never actually take! What the fuck, people? Take some time off school, work to save some money, then get on the goddamn plane. You’re not going to walk the cobblestone streets of Europe with arthritic knees when you’re old and grey.
If you have that palpable desire to travel but can’t count on your flighty friends, or you want an experience different from partying your way through a foreign country, I have a suggestion: become an au pair.
An au pair, by the way, is essentially a domestic assistant and often a nanny or caregiver from a foreign country.
Two years ago I found myself craving something different. I had heard about the au pair experience from a friend of a friend and it got me thinking: can guys au pair?
Yes! The answer is yes — assuming you aren’t, you know, a creep or something, which is also true for ladies looking into the job.
I made a profile on a website and found a family.
Well, I actually found many families. In fact, I found so many families who wanted a male au pair that I had trouble deciding where I should spend my summer. Switzerland? Germany? Italy? The possibilities were endless.
In the end, I spent the summer of 2011 in Genova, Italy with the Raviola family.
I’m a paranoid traveller and I generally obsess over every detail, and I didn’t treat this experience any differently. I stayed in constant contact with my host family before I left Canada. I Googled the family’s name — just to make sure the dad was actually a doctor. I also requested pictures of every room in their $1 million home to comfort my nerves.
As it turns out, the family was real and the experience was rewarding on many levels.
I know living with another family may not be for everyone, but there are definite benefits to the au pair experience that you’ll never get from hostels or group tours.
As a student, cost was a very important factor for me. For my four-month trip, I only had to use my own money for my roundtrip airfare. I received 80 euros a week, which adds up fast when you don’t have to pay for accommodation or meals. My host mother was the best Italian cook — pasta galore!
During a typical week, I had mornings off to explore the city, and I also had every weekend free to venture to the pastel-coloured, gelato-producing, vine-covered, absolutely breathtaking cities and villages of Italy. Rome, Venice, Turin, Milan, Florence, Pisa and the villages along the Cinque-de-terre — I saw it all. I couldn’t have asked for a better or cheaper way to see the country.
Country, landscape and food aside, living with a family offered a full cultural experience. I picked up a bit of the language and truly saw how Italians live.
The boys I lived with were 11 and 16 at the time. We had our disputes here and there, but we certainly had a lot of fun.
On my last night as I said my goodbyes to the kids, Chicco, the 11-year-old, made my heart melt. This kid was a little shit sometimes, but when I asked him if he would miss me he said, “Of course-a Treyveese” and gave me the best hug. (Two weeks earlier he told me to “fuck off,” so this was a nice change.)
That’s when I knew the whole experience was worth it. Not only did I gain confidence and independence during this adventure, but I also had an effect on the family I lived with.
Being an au pair made me realize that every family and relationship has its problems, no matter where you run to. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true! I had this fantastical idea in my head that the Raviola family was going to be perfect in every way — there’s the Mary Poppins reference you were all waiting for — but they weren’t. They fought and yelled and cried just like the rest of us.
Basically, I think travelling, in whatever form you choose, is the best way to learn about yourself. Do it while your responsibilities are minimal. Life’s probably not going to get any easier.
And for the love of all that is good and holy, if you plan a trip and hype it up to your friends, make sure you actually get on the plane.
Illustration: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf