Help Your New Au Pair Pack: 5 things to bring, 5 things to leave behind

by cv harquail on July 9, 2010

West Coast Mom suggests that we pool our collective wisdom to generate a packing list for our incoming au pairs.  This list would not include the basics (they’ll all think to pack underwear). Instead, this list would cover wht an au pair needs to bring to support her or his adventure.

What we pack reflects our expectations


What we pack for a trip reflects what we’re expecting will happen, what we’re expecting we’ll do, and what we’re expecting we’ll need– but it’s not just about the “things” we pack, it’s about the meaning of these “things”.

I suspect that if we were to randomly open the luggage of 5 incoming au pairs, we’d get a tour of many of their hopes and dreams for the year ahead.

Since we host parents have seen more than a few adventure years, and seen what kinds of things surprise au pairs, we might have ideas for “what to pack” that could help them out. So, off the top of my head, here are:

5 Things an Au Pair Should Bring

  1. A modest bathing suit:  One that covers your whole behind, please. One that you can wear at the town pool.
  2. Your favorite children’s book, in your own language, to share with your host kids
  3. Medications like Birth Control Pills: Many medicines are more expensive here than they are in your home country. If you are on a prescription medication, and/or if you have favorite remedies for ailments common to you, bring them along.
  4. Space in your luggage: You can buy a lot of things here (and you probably will).
  5. A List of your Goals for the year: Thinking explicitly about what you want to get out of your year, and having this written down, is a way to remind you what it’s all about when you feel homesick, when you feel lost, and when you’re offered opportunities you might not have considered.

On the other hand,

It’s also important to think about what not to bring.

The stuff I have seen come out of au pair luggage has boggled my mind sometimes, when I think of how heavy it was and how much room it took up. You don’t need to bring your own Rollerblades here– we can find you a pair. Really.

5 Things an Au Pair Should Not Bring


  1. Towels, sheets and pillows: We have these in the US! And, we have them here in our houses for you to use. Use the extra space in your luggage for something more fun.
  2. Hot Wax Melter & Waxing Supplies: There are lots of options for depilatation that aren’t electric, that aren’t heavy and that are effective.
  3. A musical instrument larger than a clarinet: It may not be in perfect condition, but we can find you a second hand guitar to use while you’re here. And, there are inexpensive accordions on eBay all the time.
  4. More than 3 stuffed animals: Your Host Kids will be happy to share some of theirs with you, I promise.
  5. Precious and rare Hello Kitty items: Sanrio has outlets here, and the Hello Kitty stuff you can buy here will be rare back home.


  • Parents, what things would you recommend an au  pair bring, to support his or her adventure?
  • What’s best left behind?
  • And, (we all want to know) what crazy items have been brought to the States by your au pairs?

See Also:

The “Before You Leave Home” E-mail
Getting her stuff back home: Is there a cheap way to ship things?

Tip: Save those Ice Skates! (about providing seasonal & one-off items for your au pair)


Taking a Computer Lunch July 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

I’ve never actually watched my APs unpack – ours arrive about 9:30 on a Thursday night, exhausted from a three-day orientation and then a long train ride to our city. I give them Friday morning off to unpack, call their parents, and to get settled, before I have them watch me feed The Camel lunch, change her diaper, etc.

I do tell them not to waste precious luggage space with bedding and towels. For those from tropical or subtropical climates, I tell them not to bother bringing a winter coat, because it won’t be warm enough and used clothing stores have them cheaply enough here (we actually keep an AP cast-off down coat for APs to use). I warn the European APs that summer is sweltering. And all APs I warn to bring old clothing, because The Camel spits when she eats, plus nice clothing to go out with friends. I think many APs think about all the things they are going to do, and bringing clothes appropriate for play with children sometimes get left out of the picture.

Bring a good paperback dictionary – especially if you speak a language that is not commonly learned in the US – bring one good enough to look up names of foods, words associated with children.

Bring a book or two in your language, because unless you speak and read Spanish, books in your language will be expensive and hard to find. You’ll need a break from the constant English in your first few weeks.

Don’t bring anything electric, because the US operates on its own system: hair dryers, curling irons, etc. may be purchased cheaply enough. If you bring a laptop, then be prepared to spend a couple of days hunting down an alternative cord (it can be done and some computer stores will just give them to you).

Don’t assume your HF has the latest and greatest in technology. My last AP brought an external hard drive. Trouble was, my 8-year-old PC couldn’t connect to it. Boy was she disappointed when she couldn’t download all her photographs off her expensive camera. Ask what system (if any) will be made available to you to make sure any equipment you bring is compliant.

JBLV July 12, 2010 at 1:47 am

Old clothing. Excellent idea.

PA AP mom July 9, 2010 at 11:32 am

I advise the AP that she doesn’t need sheets, towels, etc because we will take her to Target to buy them when she arrives. We donate the previous AP’s stuff to the local animal shelter for bedding that is much appreciated.

We also review the do not bother with your hairdryer, flat iron, etc because they won’t work with our electrical system. Both have brought them anyway and then ended up using the ones we keep in “their” bathroom.

I advise bringing a few of their favorite books in their language. I also advise bringing a camera, or buying a disposable, before going on the NYC trip at training school.

Gianna July 9, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Bring a cookbook from your country. We would love to cook some of your favorite meals as a family dinner and maybe you will want to cook some of your favorite foods for our kids – learning about new foods is a great part of the program.

PA AP mom July 9, 2010 at 1:11 pm

This is a great idea!

DarthaStewart July 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm

But if you come from a country that we’ve hosted several au-pairs from, we DO have several of your country’s cookbooks!

Should be working July 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

My favorite travel advice ever, albeit not quite right for APs: “Take half as much stuff as you think you need, and twice as much money.”

franzi July 9, 2010 at 5:56 pm

haha, very true!

MommyMia July 9, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Or, how about for the return trip: “Buy half as much as you think you want, and save twice as much money!”

Jan July 9, 2010 at 10:03 pm

I love it!

2boys2girls July 9, 2010 at 9:15 pm

One of our APs brought an entire suitcase filled with large, framed pictures of her family. While this was very sweet (and she was very sweet!), these pictures were HUGE (they were the same dimensions of her large suitcase and she had seven of them stacked flat one on top of another). The suitcase weighed well over a hundred pounds. When she arrived she found her sunny window-filled room did not have a single wall she could hang these portraits on that did not obstruct a window or closet…We wound up “hosting” her family portraits on the long wall leading to the upstairs for the year.

Jan July 9, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Imagine our surprise when we picked up an au pair at the airport, and she arrived with one carry-on. She said she took me seriously when I told her she would end up buying more than she needed. She left with three over-stuffed bags and probably no money!

zurial July 10, 2010 at 2:07 am

One of my au pairs showed up with the typical amount of clothing and personal items but then began to pull out shoe after shoe after shoe. I think she ended up bringing about 20 pairs of shoes in her suitcase. She had more shoes than my entire family owned. I don’t think there was anything behind this. I think she just really liked shoes. I couldn’t keep track of how many more she bought while in the US but it was a lot. She was a really nice au pair that we now privately and affectionately refer to as Imelda.

Deb Schwarz July 10, 2010 at 8:38 am

This is somewhat related…..I always tell my host families about the “airport test” – insight into how your year is going to be. When you pick up your au pair, watch your au pair when their luggage comes down the carousel (or off the bus). If they pick everything up and insist that you not pick up one piece – then you have a good one. If they stand and watch you hoist it all, and don’t touch a thing, take them upstairs and book the next plane ticket home – LOL! It sounds funny, but it really is a good first test of how self-sufficient and hardworking they are. I recently had a family with an au pair that wasn’t working out (they told me she was clueless). I went over to mediate (ended up doing an exit interview) – and two weeks later I went to pick her up, and she greeted me at the door and told me her luggage was upstairs. I nearly died! She actually expected me to go pick up her luggage and hoist it into my car. Oh my……

SotaGal July 12, 2010 at 11:25 am

I love it! I wish I would have realized this sooner… Our last au pair (who left after 3 months) made us figure out where her luggage was. The girl who told us she was super confident, friendly and outgoing didn’t want to ask the airline rep if they had her cases. She had arrived during the snow storms a while ago and flight got rescheduled after her bags had been checked. And it wasn’t a communication thing – she has nearly perfect english – she just didn’t want to do it. It went downhill from there…

Jeana July 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

As time has progressed with our aupairs, and I become aware of WHAT they chose to bring with them, it was a confirmation of many things that I came to know about them. Our first aupair came with every type of healthy remedy that a she might need during the year. She was wise and responsible. Aupairs that came with socks or scarves their family made, valued the input their family offered. Aupairs that came with a boatload of shoes and pretty, fancy, shiny boots, despite my pleas for warm, ugly, functional boots for our Chicago winters didn’t do well with our family. They also had cold, wet feet.

BLJ Host Mom July 10, 2010 at 4:22 pm

If they come in the summer months…A WINTER COAT. My AP was the only one of all of her July arrival friends who brought one and on the first cold day in October she didn’t have to run out and pay a weeks stipend on a coat.

What not to bring, your own hair dryer…for $15 I’ll buy one at target that has an outlet that matches mine (and my mom’s and my uncle’s and…). I realize this leaves you with wet hair at AP school, but I promise you can borrow from someone!

OnceAnAuPair July 12, 2010 at 2:38 am

You should always remind your new au pair to bring books in her own language! Reading in English is good for her, but maybe her skills aren’t good enough to enjoy a book in English as much as her own language. While I was au pairing in Europe, I was always buying books in the English bookstore for nearly 2x the price that I’d pay in the US :(.
Also, maybe suggest a Kindle, if she has one to bring it. I wouldn’t suggest telling her to buy one as I think they’re more expensive to buy off Amazon in other parts of the world than the US. I have one now with me in Switzerland and it’s so great! English books in an instant and so much cheaper!!

Tell her to bring photos of family and friends, but maybe not framed ones. I brought some little photo albums (not bulky).

Weather-appropriate clothes, so make sure to tell her the weather really is. A modest swim suit.

Always pack less than you think you need, everything in the USA is so much cheaper than Europe (if your au pair is european). Even though everything here is so much more expensive, I ended up buying tons. If I hadn’t ended up staying and living here, I would have had boxes to ship home.

Back up money. Maybe $100-$200 to keep in safe place and not to use. Just in case.

Something to remind them of their country. I brought a little american flag. It was nice to able to show the kids it and tell them something about the US.

As for what not to bring?
I hope the host family is providing towels, sheets, pillows, etc so don’t bring that!
A winter coat, it’s bulky and annoying to pack. You can buy a cheap one at Target, or maybe the host family can provide one.

I think it’s also good of the host family to think ahead of things that might be bulky (winter coats, ski pants, etc..) and remember that most airlines today only allow one suitcase to be checked. It would be really awesome of the HF to maybe offer to pick up a winter coat or ski pants from a 2nd hand store or borrow some from a friend or maybe an old pair from a past au pair. My host family never provided this and I ended up lugging my huge winter coat, ski pants, winter boots, plus all my huge winter sweaters all the way to switzerland!

JBLV July 13, 2010 at 11:49 am

This post is very timely for me. I just emailed our future au pair most of the tips here. Thanks everyone.

some Au Pair July 15, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Tell your Au Pair that he/she should try to arrive in the USA with only ONE suitcase. She/He is going to buy lots of stuff during the year. (Maybe you could offer the second suitcase as a goodbye present or something.)

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