The au-pair diaries: travelling on a shoestring budget

Illustrations by Phoebe Flatau

At the end of an exam term of splurging on comfort food and May Balls, the idea of spending the summer holiday abroad starts to look less and less likely. However, with a bit of planning ahead, there are lots of ways to make travelling cheaper, especially if you make the most of your Cambridge connections!

The first way to save money is to ask College for a travel grant. There is a list of named grants on the website, although the College do also consider other applications. I wanted to practice my rusty A- level French, and the College paid for my lessons at a language school in Nice. Language schools are a great excuse to travel, because you improve really quickly with just a few hours of teaching a day, and you often have the afternoons free to explore.

Although Nice is an expensive city, trawling through TripAdvisor allowed me to find great, vegetarian- friendly restaurants that didn’t break the bank. You can also make lots of day trips along the Riviera for €1.50 a bus ticket. Your humble Camcard is an essential, especially with EU concessions for youths under 25 and students.

Travelling alone forces you to become comfortable with your own company, while setting your own schedule of eating, sleeping, resting and sightseeing is much easier when you don't have another person to compromise with. I really learned to savour the moment at my tables for one – a nice chance to get lost in your thoughts without appearing rude.

Another way of travelling on a budget is to au pair. Granted, looking after children isn’t for everyone, but if you can find a family that suits you then it can be a wonderful (and profitable) experience. Normally, you stay in the family’s house and eat for free in exchange for looking after the children, and get a bit of pocket money to spend on things like sightseeing.

In the EU, au pairs are legally entitled to 1.5 days off a week. If you plan carefully, you could manage to see a whole city: all that needs taking care of is the flights! I paid for my flights from the pocket money, so the trip cost me nothing at all. If the family is kind, you can get taken out for meals, taken on day trips or given a nice room. However, from my experience and that of friends, richer families tend to have more technology and fewer rules, which can make for more spoilt and difficult children.

Venture forth at your own risk. I went to stay with a family who were extremely generous, and adamant that I should try all of the expensive seafood that Galicia has to offer. It was great, but until I begged the parents to remove the Playstations, Nintendos and iPhones, I didn’t manage to get the children to do much at all, and my Maria von Trapp dreams of baking and playing charades were quickly shattered.