A lot of young women – and men – are taking the plunge and moving overseas to become an au pair. I’ve written articles before on what an au pair is and how to go about ensuring your safety, but recently I’ve been getting a few requests to do a post about what to pack.
Obviously, what items you’ll need to bring with you will vary greatly depending on what country you find yourself moving to, and every au pair will have different wants and needs about what they should bring. However, I believe there are a few general rules that all au pairs can follow.
1) Bring lots of kid-friendly clothes.
I feel like this might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many au pairs I spoke to that had to go out and buy some plain t-shirts once they realized their sheer blouses were inappropriate.
- Lots of plain shirts/pants that you wouldn’t mind getting spilled on, ripped, or stretched out (those little hands will grab onto anything!)
- Comfortable closed-toed shoes for those times you’ll need to run after a child through a grassy park.
- A nice, appropriate outfit (like a dress) for family birthday parties or holiday events which you will likely be attending at some point.
- A waterproof jacket for the days you’re playing outside with the kids and its rainy and cold.
As a general rule, any clothes you’re wearing in front of your host family should run on the conservative side. Not only is it inappropriate for the children to see you in revealing clothes, it’s also awkward for the parents to look at you too! If your host family has a pool or lives near the beach, bring a full-piece bathing suit in addition to your usual suit.
My typical au pair outfit was something like; a long cotton shirt, yoga pants/jeans/leggings, converse shoes, and my hair up in a pony.
In addition to your kid-friendly clothes, you’ll also want to bring your usual clothes for hanging out with friends or going out to a bar – heels, skirts, skinny jeans, blouses, “bar clothes”, etc.
2) Bring your own toiletries/make up from home.
Some cites tell you not to bring toiletries from home, since you can usually find the same or similar ones in whatever country you’re travelling to. I tend to take the opposite approach however. I like to bring my own toiletries from home because, a) I can guarantee the use of all my favourite products, and b) As soon as I arrive at my destination I have all my comforts of home at my fingertips, and I don’t have to make a trip to the store (or several, if you can’t find what you’re looking for) as soon as I get off the plane.
I found I wore minimal make-up while working as an au pair (as most au pairs do). And since I tend not to wear a ton of make-up when I go out anyway, I just brought a small bag with some basic things like mascara, blush, bronzer, etc. inside (and I brought extras of them, as I’ll explain later).
As well, bring your usual toiletries (face wash, moisturizer, tooth paste, shampoo/conditioner, tampons, etc.), but here’s the catch, depending on where you’re going, you might want to bring double of everything.
Why? When I travelled from Canada to Australia to be an au pair, one of the initial observations I had of Australia was how much more expensive everything is compared to Canada. For example, my usual bottle of shampoo I buy at home runs me around $11. The exact same bottle of shampoo sells for $20 in Australia. That’s a HUGE difference in price. The bottle of perfume I use at home cost me $100, but it’s $130 in Australia. This is true pretty much across the board, with everything from toiletries and make-up to food and alcohol to clothes and shoes costing more there.
Americans will find this even more of a shock, as I know Americans pay even less for most things than Canadians do. Europeans will also find this beneficial, as they generally pay less than Australians do as well.
A typical bottle of vodka in America will run around $10, while the same bottle will cost Canadians $25. Furthermore, that same bottle of vodka will then cost $45 in Australia. Big difference. Get used to drinking wine pretty quickly in Australia because that’s the only type of alcohol that’s priced reasonably.
This is why when I travelled to Australia for (originally) six months to be an au pair (though I ended up staying for ten), I packed half of my suitcase with extra toiletries/make up – taking doubles of everything. It was a big expense to bare at first, having to stock up on everything all at once, but it ended up saving me more money in the long-run as I never had to pay those outrageous prices for basic toiletries.
Plus this meant that on my way home, after using all those toiletries, I had half my bag of luggage empty and free to pack the new things I acquired while in Australia (like clothes, souvenirs and gifts) for the trip home.
However, any Aussies or Kiwis travelling overseas to au pair should probably leave most of their toiletries at home and buy them at their new destination, as it will likely save you money to purchase them abroad.
3) Pack some basic medicine with you.
Chances are whatever country you’re travelling to won’t have the same brands you’re used to at home. This means you end up having to play a game of trial and error with different kinds of medicine to figure out what works best for you. Trust me on this one, when you’re sick and just want to feel better, experimenting with different brands of medicine is not what you want to be doing. When I got a bad cold in Australia, I ended up shelling out $16 to buy cold medicine that didn’t even end up working for me. I wish I had just brought my usual cold medicine from home.
This time when I travelled to Australia, I brought medicine for; pain, upset stomach, cough/cold, flu, and muscle relaxers. Buying smaller sizes and taking them out of the packaging before you leave will help cut down on space in your luggage as well.
4) Bring your own medications from home and make sure you have enough to cover your whole trip.
This includes prescriptions like contact lenses and glasses, too. And this is also true for birth control, ladies, as you don’t want to have to switch brands while you’re away (and then have to switch again when you come home).
Not only that, but doctors appointments can be costly in foreign countries where you don’t have health insurance (and even if you have health insurance doctors appointments are sometimes not covered in your plan). It’s best to just avoid having to see the doctor to get your prescriptions renewed altogether.
5) A small gift for your host family.
It’s nice to bring a small gift for your new au pair family to give to them when you first arrive, and a lot of the au pairs I talked to seemed to do this. I gave my host family some children’s books by a well-known Canadian author. My family appreciated the gesture and the children really loved the books.
In summary, your packing list should look something like this…
- Double your usual amount of toiletries
- Double your make up products
- Basic medicine from home
- Enough of your prescription medications to cover the length of your trip
- Lots of kid-friendly, conservative, and durable clothes
- Comfortable closed-toed shoes
- A nice, dressy, appropriate outfit for family events
- A weather-proof jacket for playing outside
- A small gift for your host family
As well as whatever you feel you’d like to bring. Some girls also liked to bring their own pillow or photos from home to decorate their new room and make it feel more homey.
Things like towels, bedding, toilet paper, hand soap, etc. are generally all provided by your host family, but you should check with them to make sure. Sometimes appliances like hair dryers/straighteners etc. are also provided by the host family or left by a previous au pair, so it might not be necessary to bring those either.
I also found it useful to bring all of this in several different bags – I brought one large rolling suitcase, one small carry-on sized rolling suitcase, and one smaller duffel bag/backpack.
The large rolling suitcase will only be used to bring things to and from your home country (so it will largely be left in storage at your host families house), whereas you will need the small carry-on sized suitcase and duffel bag/backpack to bring with you on weekend trips or sleepovers you have while you’re abroad. If your host family decides to take you on a week’s vacation with them, you will need the two bags (carry-on suitcase and duffel/backpack) for that as well.
Hopefully this list helped you, but please feel free to add any other ideas and suggestions on what else to pack in the comment section below if you feel like I’ve forgotten something. As well, if you have any questions about au pairing please just ask!