Becoming an au pair is a challenge and packing your bags is one of them. Fitting your whole life in a suitcase just seems impossible. I have been an au pair twice, so I feel your struggle. Even though you probably want me to write you a packing list, I can’t, simply because you know best what you really, really need.
All I wanna hand out are some thoughts, opinions and advice’.
I did some kind of ‘research’ and found a lot of au pair hauls on Youtube, for example. To be honest I was quite shocked what some people recommend ‘going to be’ au pairs to buy and get. Some hauls actually reminded me of panic buying à la ‘the end is near’. I really don’t wanna offend any Vloggers out there, but these ‘here is what I bought’ videos usually give me a good laugh. First of all everyone basically buys the same stuff, ergo every video is the same and second of all, future au pairs should probably rather take the advise from someone who has been an au pair already and therefore knows what you ‘really’ need. I don’t even wanna know how much money these au pairs spent on their panic purchases.
Let me tell you one important thing: Space is not your problem, weight is!
I am certain that everything will fit in your bag (even without vacuum/space bags) but your bag will just be too heavy as you are probably only allowed to take 23kg to 30kg with you.
That’s why I decided to give you some well-intentioned au pair expert advice here.
7 packing mistakes I made:
Books and stationery
Think twice if you really wanna bring a lot of books and stationery with you. First of all they are usually very heavy and chances that they make it back home with you are quite low. Ask yourself if you really have to take that book, album, dictionary, manual or magazine with you. It’s the same with calendars and notebooks. It’s the 21st century, people! You won’t need that stuff! Trust me on that one.
Don’t get me wrong: Reading is awesome and really important, but in that case I recommend an E-Reader or/and a library card (which you can get fairly easy anywhere). Do you really need a cook book? Because there are recipes online. Do you really need a guidebook and maps? Because plenty of travel advice can be found online (+ travel Apps). Do you really need 3 photo albums of your family and friends? Because you probably have tons of pictures of them on your camera. Do you really need a dictionary? Because there is something called dict.cc. And believe me that you also won’t need a calendar.
I made the huge mistake of bringing a full bottle of shampoo, a bottle of conditioner, a bottle of soap, a bottle of lotion etc. Don’t do it! You are probably not going to au pair in the middle of nowhere. You can buy these things anywhere in the world! First of all you are going to live with a host family and they are more than happy to help you out at the beginning, and second of all you earn money. Believe me, within one week your host family will show you where all the shops are. No need to sell out DM, Mueller, The Body Shop and all these other cosmetic and drug stores. And even if the country you are heading to doesn’t have the exact same products and brands, be open and give them a try (but chances are quite high that you get your favorite brand anywhere in the world). Just bring the stuff you really, really love and know that you can get it in your home country only.
Clothes and Shoes
Besides the fact that you will probably do plenty of shopping during your au pair time lets not forget, that even though you’re going to live abroad for a year, doesn’t mean you have to pack clothes for a year. It’s not like you won’t have access to a washing machine, for example. I recommend not to pack clothes for all 4 seasons. Your style will probably change and au pairs are very likely to gain some extra weight during their time. Only pack the clothes you really love and already wear. No need to pack a pair of tight jeans because you hope that they are going to fit anytime soon again, for example. I also made the mistake of packing some of my fancy office clothes when I came to France. My bad! As a childcare provider I didn’t even wear it once as working with children and running errands was my main duty. Same with shoes. I didn’t wear my high heels once as I usually did a lot of sightseeing in my free time. Whenever I worked as an au pair I stopped dressing up, wearing a lot of make-up and jewelry as it’s not really practical for the job. In my opinion some underwear and socks, 5 pairs of pants/skirts, 1 dress, 8 of your favorite shirts, 3 pairs of comfortable shoes, 2 PJ’s, one gear of sportswear, a jacket and a cosy sweater plus sweat pants is more than enough. Only bring your absolute favorites. Au pairs need comfortable clothes.
Fare well gifts
You will get many cute and thoughtful goodbye gifts, but also here you should think twice if you really need them, if you really wanna carry them with you and if you really will be able to bring them back home with you after your au pair time.
I know, we are the Millennials. Electronic devices are very important to us and a big part in our life: Smartphone, Laptop, Camera, GoPro, Selfie Stick, Power Bank, Luggage Scale, E-Book, Tablet, chargers, headphones, battery, adapter, … Is it just me or does that sound like too much? (Fun fact: I didn’t wanna bring my heavy laptop to France (as I have my IPhone anyway) so I asked my host family if they have a computer or a laptop I could use. Violà! No problem at all. I got their old Macbook.) Think twice if you wanna bring your reflex camera. They are big and heavy. You won’t use it as often as you might think.
Ok, let’s narrow it down: How many hours are you really going to fly? 7 hours? 10 hours? And after that you will stay in a hotel and then live at your host families fancy place, right? Do you really need to buy a neck cushion, sleep mask, blanket and earplugs when some of that is even provided by your airline? You are an au pair. Not a backpacker.
There is no need to take a big apothecary cabinet with you. First of all things like disinfection, band-aids, eye drops, nose drops, headache pills etc. one can get literally anywhere. Second, countries like America make buying these things fairly easy. Their pharmacies work like usual drug stores. Third, you are going to live with a host family. If you are sick they will have something to help you out. Chill people and only bring the meds you really need!
Don’t buy stuff you ‘might’ need. If you are not sure whether you need this goody or not, don’t buy it. You will have the chance to get it in a different country too. No need to do panic buying. (Examples: Space bags, Bobble water bottle, luggage scale)
Don’t take stuff with you your host family provides. Please don’t tell me you pack towels, a pillow, cups, an umbrella, a hairdryer etc.!?
Remember: Many a little makes a mickle. Kleinvieh macht auch Mist. Les petits ruisseaux font les grandes riviers. Goccia dopo goccia nasce un fiume. Alle dagen een draadje is een hemdsmouw in het jaar.
Don’t act like you don’t earn money at all. So many au pairs say things like: “I bought it because I heard it’s much cheaper here than it is there.” Come on guys! About how much are we talking here? A 2 Euro/Dollar difference? How much did you spent on your panic shopping, again? If you need something you just buy it there. End of story!
Basically what I wanna say is: Don’t let others tell you what you have to buy and only pack your favorites and things you really, really need.
I totally get that this list is not helpful for each and every au pair out there. Anyway, less is in this case definitely more and don’t waste tons of money on panic buying!