Raw, honest travel blog.
Not everything went to plan, but Travel Savvy certainly made one.
Before I get into the story of my experience, I feel I must mention that I had not used Travel Savvy until my trip home (thank you father for bringing Jen into my life!). After my experience with Travel Savvy I would be forever linked to their brand at heart. Not all heroes wear capes. This is how I would go onto to see them as a company.
After a year of being home, where I worked for another wonderful company that built me up, I joined the Travel Savvy team, and my daily giggling and generally happy disposition would return to my family. Mom, Dad, it’s annoying, I know.
And so, the story goes…
I was a few months out of high school when I packed up to go abroad for one year to aupair. It’s brilliant. Earn while you travel. Accommodation, covered. Food, covered. A family to fill the possible loneliness, covered. Come home with enough money to begin my tertiary education, having had the opportunity to see the world already under my belt. Utopia!
I love the opportunity that aupairing provides to both the candidates and families. I am actually undergoing the process of going abroad to aupair again — because with Travel Savvy I know that, should anything go south again, I am in safe hands.
My experience, in a nutshell…
I aupaired for a family of two young boys. The parents were MIA way too often. The youngest child gave me troubles. A lot of troubles. He was troubled. The eldest child was the sweetest child in America, “Yo-yo, Mr O.” He loved that greeting.
After 6 months of aupairing for this family, where from day one, starting with a black eye, I was covered head-to-toe with bruises, scratches and bites marks — everyday. Having my hair pulled, being punched, slapped, kicked, spat at and having things thrown at me. You know, all that wonderful stuff. Where the parents were at odds with one another, dragging me into the middle of it as their counsellor — when they were around and not hiding from their children. Where the parents were at odds with each other’s parental ideology — with one parent telling me to discipline the children, and the other telling me to ignore the behavior, to not use the word “No” and borderline threatening calling it abuse should I reject her ideology.
Tyleene, you have to leave…
Three weeks into my stay with the family, I had an incident with this child that has left his everlasting fingernail scars on my wrist. It’s a tough one to explain to people who either don’t understand the level of compassion I felt toward these kids and the family, or don’t understand the full experience I went through, but if I wasn’t within range to be this kid’s punching bag, he would be hurting other people, doing something dangerous, and the most heartbreaking of them all to see, he would be hurting himself — standing in a breathless, weakening sob, screaming and crying, whacking his fists at his head or face. Often this behavior would explode from nothing. Out of the blue. Never ending. It NEVER ended. The only way to calm him down was to hold him and tell him it was okay, but of course being in his space meant getting hurt.
So, three weeks in I told my host mother — who conveniently never noticed any injuries on me when the rest of the town did — what had happened. She broke down crying, begging me not to leave them as this child — who I was growing to love as my own — needed me. That he was improving so much with me being there. That he loved me. That I was the only one who could save him.
Heartstrings, you manipulative things…
So, I stuck around for the next 5 months. Really, I tried to stick it out for the year. I loved these kids, and knew they wouldn’t be getting the same love and attention if I were to leave. Leaving them behind when I came home was the most sickening and traumatic thing I have had to do. Yes, I sought out a psychologist for help. I feel an indescribable sadness for that family. As cruel and toxic as they were, there was this air of deep sorrow that filled that house. A family condemned by their despair. I can’t help but break for them. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
The behavior continued everyday over my 6 months journey with them. Yes, it definitely improved, but my host parents became the issue toward the end. They were always away. They became harsh in their approach to me. My work load increased — beyond normal circumstance. They grew draining, manipulative, offensive and guilt tripping. They would knock me down when they knew I was about to speak up and insult me, then praise me like I was the light of the world, and beg me to extend my stay to 2 years.
Eventually, exhausted and beaten, having worked through two rounds of pneumonia, keeping up with the fast paced days that were thrown at me, I decided to come home. No, this conversation did not go down well. I was told that if I left, the kids would be abused by the next aupair, because, why wouldn’t you say this? That if I left the kids would kill themselves, because, why wouldn’t you threaten this? If I left, the youngest would be given up for adoption. It was a lot of inner turmoil to fight coming home. I loved these kids as my own. They loved me. We had secret handshakes, and dance routines and personalized lullabies. We had never-ending bedtime stories and dinner art — shaping their favourite characters in their meals. We had matching bracelets and dress up parties for our Jurassic Park afternoons, running away from dinosaurs roaming the living room, hiding under tables and freezing like trees to trick them.
After an hour of guilt-tripping, accusations, insults and frustration from them, I walked away. On my way out the door, my host father — a very proud man who never admitted to being wrong — clasped his hands together and begged me to stay. “Please stay. I didn’t mean anything I said. You go above and beyond. You are so good with them. They love you. They need you. Please go have a cup of coffee up the road and come back. Please.” I said goodbye, and that was the last I spoke to him.
Tyleene, you’re coming home…
My mother handled the arrangements to get me home.
I found a checklist that had been left under my door, listing everything that needed to be cleaned before I left, and everything that still needed to be in the room – including the batteries in the TV remote. I was appalled by the unravelling of their attitude toward me after everything I had done for them. I was up all night packing, as I had just received a call from my agent at 7pm telling me I had to be out the house after my last day of work the next day. I was exhausted. I had my soft, material laundry basket of clothes to sort piling next to me. I was running out of steam. I looked at the pile of clothes, and looked at the list my host mother had left for me. It didn’t mention the laundry basket needing to remain. I picked up the laundry basket and dumped it in my suitcase. Yes, I stole their laundry basket. Not my finest moment, but I was fed up and running out of time.
Introducing Travel Savvy. The heroes of my story.
Time to go home…
I was completely on my own the moment my friends, my incredible friends, dropped me off at the airport. I had handed my working cell phone back to my host parents, stuck with my phone that didn’t work internationally and refused to link to any WiFi spots. ‘That’s okay, my parents know when I’ll arrive at King Shaka airport to collect me.’
I sat at my gate waiting for my plane. A message came through from my host mother, ‘accidentally to the wrong person.’ “Hey, we cannot wait to see you. The boys are so excited. We will fetch you from the airport at 4pm. Ahhh, I’ve got stories for you. We’ll have a good laugh.” Followed by, ‘Not for you, disregard.’ That was the last time I heard from her.
Did I mention how lovely my host mother seemed when we met? Yeah, that was fun.
About 30 minutes before we would board the plane, a blizzard hit Boston and the flight was cancelled. I was stunned. I had no money on me to buy another ticket, let alone food. I would be stuck in the airport for 36 hours — without food, money or my luggage — but worst of all, I couldn’t communicate with my parents to let them know I wouldn’t be at the arrival gate when they were meant to fetch me the next day from King Shaka airport. That I actually hadn’t left Boston. That I had no money or knowledge on how to book another flight. I felt trapped. After a few hours of sneaking into closed restaurants to find comfort sleeping on their chairs, only for about 10mins before I would be told to leave by security, and hours of fighting to fall asleep on the floor of the airport, my phone had a momentary connection to the WiFi, and a stream of messages came through. A WhatsApp group had been created by Jen, at Travel Savvy, entitled “Tyleene, Homeward Bound”. I read through the messages. She had been up at all hours over the time it took me to get home, easing my parents on my whereabouts.
Jen, writing this, with all those feeling resurfacing, I have to just thank you again. Seriously, what an incredible human being you are. I see you through the work day, now being part of the team, and how you are non-stop for your clients, and I cannot picture the exhaustion of being awake to comfort my family over my journey home, on top of your usual work day. No request for praise. No mention at all of any of your efforts. The only tell being the automatic time tracker of WhatsApp messages that came through on that group. The level of care, sympathy, empathy and attention you provide is astounding. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You are truly amazing.
It is difficult to express how grateful I am. Most people who have been through worse would find this story quite soft, but for the person I was then, it was the most terrifying situation I had to deal with. My closest allies were across the Atlantic, and I wasn’t sure if that family would be out to get me.
Among those messages of comfort to my family and guidance to me were messages along the line of;
“She didn’t board the plane. She is still in the airport. There is a blizzard that hit Boston. She is safe.”
“Tyleene, you can either board the next flight to Washington, then come home directly from there. If you do, the plane will stop in Ghana to refuel, don’t get off the plane here. Or you can wait out the storm until the next direct flight to Durban opens up. I would recommend getting on the flight to Washington.”
I took her advice, thank goodness, because my friends messaged me when I was back on South African soil checking if I had made it home, because they heard that flights had been cancelled. Turned out, the blizzard had hit for a week and the flights weren’t going out.
It really is all because of Travel Savvy, that I am signing up to aupair again. I know — and although very unlikely that I will end up in the same situation, as it was a very unique case — if things go sour they would make sure I get home safe.
They go above and beyond for their clients. They offer 24hour assistance. The fine attention to detail they give to each and every client is remarkable.
Why I recommend Travel Savvy, the golden company.