As I personally have never worked as an au pair, we’ve recruited Emily Stocking to prepare some packing list tips for the au pair. See all our packing list posts here.
Compared with the endeavor of deciding on a host family and obtaining a visa, packing for your au pair trip is actually fairly simple. In fact, in some ways I think it’s easier than packing for a long backpacking trip because you don’t have to worry about carrying it all on your back. Unlike a study abroad trip, you’re living with a family who is most likely happy to share with you. You should of course talk with your host family, but while I was abroad I ended up borrowing things like towels, an umbrella, a hair dryer, a picnic blanket, a picnic basket, a laundry bag and flu medicine. Here are a few ways things to keep in mind while packing.
There’s really no need to bring a huge backpack unless you find it easier than a suitcase with wheels. A weekend bag which is big enough for a change of clothes and toiletries, but small enough to look like a purse and can be comfortably carried around all day is very handy, since most of your trips will be over the weekend. Another great piece of luggage is a foldable duffle bag, keep it packed on the way there, and then use it on the way home for souvenirs and gifts.
You will probably end up buying clothes while you’re abroad. If you live somewhere for an entire year, it’s inevitable. With that in mind, bring some of your older clothes. That way, when it comes time to pack your bags to go back home, you can drop off some at a donation center without regret. It’s also important to bring older clothes because for at least part of your day you’ll be with kids and whether it’s feeding an infant, painting with a preschooler or playing soccer with preteens, it’s nice to have clothes you don’t care about. Check with your host family to see if there is anything they keep for au pairs. Often times families in cold areas will have a few extra coats they keep for their au pairs, and that can spare you a lot of luggage room.
Theres no need to bring a lot of toiletries with you, the only exception is if you have a certain product that you absolutely love and are unsure if it’s sold in the country you’re moving to. You should bring enough to get you through the first week, but part of the fun of living someone new is going shopping. Maybe you’ll discover some new favorites. Curling irons, straighteners, and blow dryers should be left at home, too. They’re heavy, take up a lot of room, and have different electrical plugs and voltage. Often times the past au pair will leave hers.
Unlike a 2 week backpacking trip, you’ll have some down time, and want to enjoy the things you did back home. That’s why I suggest that everyone who au pairs brings at least one hobby from home with them. Whether it’s your paints and paintbrushes or your rock climbing shoes, bring along something you love to do at home, especially if it involves equipment that can’t be bought cheaply.
If you have a laptop, I would recommend bringing it. Even if the family does have a computer you can use, it is nice to be able to have the privacy to skype in your own bedroom or not have to worry about who’s turn it is next to use the computer. Also, e-readers are a great resource, especially if you’re living in a smaller city that may not have as many English language books. It’s a great way to fend off homesickness and maybe even bond with your new family.
It’s nice to bring some items to make your new bedroom feel like home. I printed out a photo of my family before I left that I kept on my mirror and I loved looking at it every morning when I woke up. Photos are nice because they’re lightweight and pack easily. It’s also nice if you’re host children are curious about your friends or family. You may also want to bring some photos to share of the city you’re from or points of interest nearby, especially if you’re from an area that is not very well known globally.
It’s always nice to bring a gift to your host family. It might be hard to decide on something for the parents, but children are generally easy to buy for. If they are learning English, you can bring them an English book (if you know their level), or a game that involves reading or writing or speaking English, or you can bring them a souvenir from your hometown. It’s also nice to bring along some recipes that you can share with the family, and perhaps they can teach you how to make some of their favorite dishes as well.
Au pairing is fun, challenging, exciting, and at times frustrating, but the most important things you can bring along with you are an open mind and a giving heart.
About the author: Emily is a California native who has au paired in both Rome and London, and though her au pair days are over, her travel days have just begun. She currently resides two adorable kitties in New York City where she gets to meet people from all over the world and plan her next adventure.