Au Pair Stay: What to take in my suitcases?

Have you just landed your au pair placement? Leaving, sometimes for the first time, the family cocoon to live an adventure abroad is galvanizing. But when it comes time to pack your suitcases for several months of travel, sometimes you get lost and don’t know what to take with you. To make sure you don’t forget anything and to experience a successful au pair stay, this article helps you to pack your luggage for a successful au pair stay.

Au Pair stay what?

An au pair stay is a good way to combine cultural discovery and language learning. However, this program is not the same as a holiday where laziness and idleness reign! Indeed, the goal for students who take the step is to be immersed in a country while earning money. As part of a host family, the au pair is provided with board and lodging, and often receives remuneration for various tasks to be carried out during their stay, which can vary in months or even years. These may differ. Childcare for young children is often the first thought. Nevertheless, this would reduce the possibilities of the au pair stay. Instead, the student becomes a temporary but full-fledged member of the family and takes care of the household chores required by the daily life of the family. He or she also has a real enriching role to play in the education of the children, sometimes taking over from parents who can be overwhelmed by the daily metro-work-to-sleep routine. The au pair thus becomes a big sister or a big brother for the host family. The experiences of other young people like you show personal growth, limitless open-mindedness and an irrefutable gain in maturity. Like many other stays abroad (internship, job or language stay), the au pair program is a good way to start your working life.

The United States or Great Britain: the top destinations

If you are interested in an au pair adventure, you just have to choose the host country. There is no shortage of destinations and they are all within flying distance, mainly on the European continent. You can do it in Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Germany or the Netherlands. However, Europe is not the only provider of au pairs. There are many countries outside Europe, such as Canada, Australia, China or New Zealand, mainly English-speaking nations. However, the most popular countries are still England and the United States, where you can learn or improve your English. To take part in these programs, it is not necessary to be bilingual as this is the main objective of this exceptional stay. On the other hand, candidates are required to have a correct level of English in order to be able to hold conversations and mundane conversations with the host families. If you feel that you are bad at languages and more precisely at English, you will be surprised how quickly you learn by being in daily contact with English or American babies. Because they too are learning to speak!

Once you have landed your au pair placement, the last step is to pack your suitcases. Going abroad for several months requires preparation and rigour so that you don’t forget anything in your luggage. The volume and weight of the suitcases, the clothes or the fetish objects that you are taking everywhere, the choice is often not easy. Here is an overview of tips to take into account to travel light-heartedly.

What size suitcase is best?

Accustomed to leaving for just a few days or two weeks, you may find yourself packing for at least six months if you’re going to England and at least twelve months if you’re flying to the United States. This is the main advice: the bigger your luggage, the better. However, airlines often limit the size and weight of suitcases. The average maximum weight is around 30 kilos (10 kilos for hand luggage in the cabin and 20 kilos for checked luggage). Otherwise, you will have to pay an extra charge, sometimes expensive, of around 50 euros per piece of luggage. The other big risk you’ll take is to fill them up and not be able to close them. This is a big mistake because you will need space to return it. And yes, you will certainly have to bring back souvenirs for your family or your loved ones! The same goes for your host family: to get your au pair’s stay off to a good start, you can bring back some typical products from your region to help you discover them. Avoid smelly cheeses, tripe or pig’s trotters which could repel your hosts.

Administrative papers as a priority

Before packing your suitcase and rolling it onto the forecourt of the Paris or Marseille-Provence airport, the traveller should think about all the papers he or she will need at the airport and on site. A piece of advice: remember to list them and tick them off once they are placed in your hand luggage, preferably a backpack. Among the many documents you should not forget:

  • A valid identity card;
  • The valid passport with the visa stuck on it according to the destination (United States for example);
  • The reservation for the flight;
  • The health insurance card: check with your insurance company to find out what is covered abroad;
  • The international booklet of vaccination not compulsory but recommended according to the destination;
  • Driver’s license if necessary on site.

A survival guide for the language

Landing in a foreign country, the au pair applicant should remember to bring a conversation guide in the local language. It will accompany him/her throughout his/her stay and will allow him/her to hold conversations with the host family or friends. Before you become a fluently bilingual, this little booklet will be very useful when the inevitable blanks that you will have to face are revealed. The conversation guide can be completed with a translated dictionary. For these (very) useful books, the pocket size is recommended so that they can be easily stored in a backpack.

Clothing adapted to the climate

“What clothes will I wear during my au pair stay? ยป. You’re bound to ask yourself that question! Before putting on clothes in a hurry and having to take them off because they do not suit you, make sure you know the climate and the season of the country you are going to visit. It may seem like a trivial remark, but it is easy to be surprised by the sub-zero temperatures in Scandinavia, the arid climate in certain American regions or the infamous London rain. Gloves, hat, scarf, raincoat, sunglasses or bathing suit will become essential. The host family who receives the au pair usually offers to wash his or her clothes, which is a considerable plus when it comes to choosing what to wear. Do not focus too much on this. If clothes take up the most important place in your luggage, it is not advisable to pack a whole suitcase with them. Choose comfortable clothes that you are comfortable with. And don’t hesitate to vary the styles: casual (jeans, t-shirts or polo shirts), sporty (shorts and trainers) or formal (shirts or dresses) so that you don’t miss out on anything whatever the situation.

Occupying your free time

The great strength of the au pair trip is also and above all to be able to discover the visited country. Alone or in the company of friends just met, the au pair must make the most of his or her free time to discover what surrounds him or her. Museums, sports or even festivals, there is no lack of opportunities. And, for the moments spent with the host family, it is the opportunity to bring back French card or board games. Or share a passion with your hosts such as photography, drawing, reading or music. Travelling means adopting the way of life of others but also bringing back a little bit of yourself to share it.

Immortalize your memories

Unless you’re planning an international career or want to start your own travel blog, it’s not every day that you’ll have the opportunity to embark on such an adventure over several months abroad. Memories kept deep in the corner of your head unfortunately have their limits. A reflex or bridge camera is ideal to capture the best moments of your trip and thus discover a passion for photography. Otherwise, with a limited budget, a smartphone will do the trick. Whatever happens, think about taking a hard drive or a USB key with your computer to store the best selfies and the best videos of your stay.

A watchword: the bare essentials

Whether it’s clothing, cosmetics or digital objects, just stick to what you need. That way you’ll keep your back and your wallet safe. As an aspiring future traveller, you should also know how to do without the superfluous. Like food, for example! Since the host family will provide you with food during your stay, only plan meals during your transport. A sandwich and a few snacks in your hand luggage will suffice. And if you don’t like the salty English breakfast, you can also buy it on the spot if you are homesick.

Unusual objects not to be forgotten

We have thought of everything and have put together a list of ten unusual things to take with you when you are an au pair in Great Britain or the United States:

  • An English plug adaptor that differs from French plugs. This tip applies to the USA as well.
  • A cowboy hat to show off your skills at the Madison dance in the evening.
  • The seven Harry Potter books to prepare for a visit to the famous wizard’s museum in north-west London.
  • An ultra-waterproof umbrella to protect against falling cats and dogs. Because yes, in England, the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” turns into “it is raining cats and dogs”! The umbrella will also be useful if you decide to visit Niagara Falls on the Canadian-American border.
  • Your hiking boots to walk across the vast plains of Nevada or slalom between the geysers of Yellowstone Park.
  • Coffee beans or ground coffee when you are permanently intolerant to tea time.
  • Your flower necklace offered by your friends for your eighteenth birthday to go unnoticed in Hawaii.
  • The full set of the rock band The Beatles to listen to loudly when you land in Liverpool.
  • The complete American television series “Une nounou d’enfer” to avoid reproducing the same behaviour with the children you will have to look after!
  • A portrait of the Queen of England to hang above your bed: this will make it much easier for you to integrate into your royalist English host family.
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