Figuring out what belongs on your au pair packing list can be daunting. You want to make sure you have everything you’ll need, but you don’t want to overpack either.
The key to packing for au pairing is versatility – an au pair packing list should be versatile above all else. (Comfort and style are close seconds.)
If your wardrobe is versatile, you’ll be able to dress for all seasons and situations without overpacking. It will make your life so much easier, especially when you have to cram everything back into your suitcase!
This skirt is the ultimate chameleon. I wear it with a sleeveless top when it’s hot, and with black tights and a sweater when it’s cold.
Questions to ask before you pack:
If you’re struck with packing indecision (which I am, pretty much every single time I pack a bag large or small) ask yourself these questions:
What can I wear this with?
And actually lay out your clothes, match them into outfits, and even try them on. That way, you’ll know for sure. (Haven’t you ever envisioned a cute outfit, and then discovered it didn’t work once you actually put it on?)
When will I wear this?
If you can’t think of a specific occasion to wear it, you probably shouldn’t pack it.
Do I like wearing this? Is it comfortable?
If you don’t, or if it isn’t, you won’t wear it! So leave it at home.
Need some ideas for looking stylish in Europe while working as an au pair? These are my must-haves.
What belongs on your au pair packing list:
A pretty scarf
The cliché is true: throwing on a scarf makes you look instantly more chic. It pulls your outfit together, and keeps you warm when there’s a chill in the air.
Flat ankle boots
Ankle boots are my holy shoe grail for so many reasons. They’re comfortable but stylish, and you can easily dress them up and down. Wear them with jeans and a t-shirt during the day, and with a dress and black tights for a night out. I live in mine from October to May!
You know that rumor that Europeans don’t wear sneakers? Totally false. You won’t see many people in dingy old running shoes, but with cute streamlined sneakers like adidas, Converse, and Keds, you’ll be comfortable and trendy.
Chic (but durable) ballet flats
Another essential on your au pair packing list is ballet flats. Why? Because you’ll be walking a lot in Europe.
Just make sure they’re comfortable – I personally love these ones for both comfort and style.
I adore floaty summer dresses, but what I love even more is a dress that you can wear year round. The key is color and weight: for the ultimate dress to accompany you through the seasons, you should be able to pair it with sandals in warm weather and tights, ankle boots (holy shoe grail), and a cardigan in cooler weather.
Mix and match casual neutrals
Classic European style is built on casual neutrals, with accents of color (like your scarf!) (In France, for example, being told that your outfit is “colorful” is not usually a compliment.) You can’t go wrong with slim black pants, dark wash skinny jeans, loose t-shirts and tops, and cozy sweaters.
You don’t need to leave all your colorful clothes at home, but think about how they will mix and match together. You don’t want to haul a cute outfit all the way to Europe and only wear it once because it doesn’t go with anything else!
A jacket and a winter coat
If you’re going somewhere where the winters are chilly, I recommend you bring your winter coat with you to avoid the expense of buying one when temperatures drop. Wear it on the plane over, no matter the season, to save space in your suitcase.
For the rest of the year, I like a medium weight jacket that I can wear alone when the weather is mildly brisk, and layer with a warm sweater underneath when a little more insulation is required. This way, you avoid loading your suitcase down with excess outerwear. You don’t need five coats!
What not to bring
What doesn’t belong on your au pair packing list? Tons of luggage.
Don’t bring more than one carry-on and one checked suitcase. First of all, schlepping more than that on and off the metro will be awful. Secondly, you can buy clothes while you’re living in Europe. So there’s no need to overpack!
Other things to keep in mind
How will you be spending most of your time? Probably watching the kids and going to school, right? So balance your wardrobe accordingly – more casual chic, less fancy schmancy. That means no high heels! (Okay, one pair.)
Honestly, you’ll probably have few occasions to wear them, even on nights out, and they just take up space. Besides, with all the cobblestone streets, heels are a hazard!
How high maintenance are you clothes? Can you wash them in the machine or the sink and hang them to dry, or are they of the dry-clean only variety?
Since you won’t be living out of a suitcase you don’t have to worry about fabrics that crumple and crease, but do yourself a favor and don’t bring too many clothes that are delicate or require special care.
Do you need all those accessories? Bring your favorites that you know you’ll wear, but don’t bring your entire jewelry collection.
First of all, the whole minimalist packing thing, and second of all, accessories make great souvenirs! Give yourself an excuse to shop a little.
This picture is from my first month in France in 2012, and I think I’ve only worn this dress once since! I love it, but between the fabric and the pleats it’s as high maintenance as Kanye West, and I can only wear it a few months out of the year. Bad packing move!
Other useful posts about au pairing:
So over to you- What was essential on your au pair packing list?
About the author: CatherineRose is a California native living in France. She likes buttery croissants and sundress weather. When she’s not ranting about punctuation to French university students, she wanders around Europe looking for the best food. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, or her blog, where she writes about travel and expat life in France.