Packing for a Year Abroad

On Tuesday afternoon, I begin my trans-Atlantic journey toward my year as an au pair in Austria! It’s been such a long time coming, but now the flights (all five of them) are imminent, and all my last minute preparations are coming together. Mostly, packing. I’m only taking one suitcase and a carry-on, because I know myself–I’m going to accumulate a lot of stuff over the next year. I have visions of flea market finds and German children’s books dancing in my head, so with that motivation, I developed my compact packing list.

I’ve read a lot of packing lists online, and I don’t usually find them very helpful. Clothing choices are so individual. Lots of lists say to bring only one dress, for example, because you’ll be spending so much time watching kids. I wear dresses every day, and they don’t stop me from crawling around on the floor! But to each, his own, right? So, future au pairs out there, this list is not one-size-fits-all, but I hope it will give you somewhere to start.

(Although really, dresses are the best. In summer, they’re a one piece outfit. In winter, you can add tights, leggings, socks, boots, cardigans, jackets, scarves, and a coat on top. You never have to worry about being under-dressed for last minute trips to the theater or invitations to dinner, and you can adjust to various temperatures by adding or removing layers. Dresses are a lifestyle choice. The end.)

Molly’s Packing List

Two weeks worth of clothes. You are going abroad for a whole year–you can do laundry. But, be realistic–you won’t want to. Every two weeks is about as much as I can expect of myself, and it gives me lots of options (although, as I have already mentioned, I’m a dedicated thrift store/flea market shopper, so I know this collection will expand throughout the year). Make sure to include rubber flip flops for hostel showers, a swimsuit, and a really warm coat-and-boots combo (I guess this is climate dependent, but I am moving to Austria!). 



Don’t overpack shoes! They are so heavy, and you can get cheap ones in your destination country. Besides the flip-flops, I’m taking a pair of leather boots for day-to-day wear, a pair of really warm weather-proof boots for snow, and a light-weight pair of oxfords.


Electronic devices. This will vary from person to person, obviously, but the internet is going to be your lifeline to home, so if you have an easy way to access it, your life will be a little less complicated. I’m bringing my little netbook and an e-reader. If you love to read, keep in mind that books in your native language may be harder to find/more expensive wherever you are going. I personally love my Nook, because I can borrow e-books from my local library for free, even when I’m across the world. Of course, I’m also bringing my camera (and an extra battery), so I can share my adventures with all of you!

I’m also bringing a portable Happy Light. If you are moving from a warm, sunny climate to one that tends more towards coldness and dark, this can really help. It’s basically a really bright light that imitates sunlight, and if you use it in the morning for twenty minutes, you feel more awake and less like you will never see sunshine again. Your mileage may vary, but after my time in Northern Ireland, I know how much those short winter days affect my mental health.


Don’t forget to bring plug adapters! The vast majority of chargers for electronics are now dual voltage (check on the plug itself to make sure it says 100-240V). But you still need an adapter so that the prongs will fit into different sockets.

English picture books for Anna Sophie. (See details in this post.)


Important documents. I’ve got all the supporting documents for my au pair visa, plus my contract, and my Austrian permission to work, all in a little file in my carry-on. Then I have photocopies of it all in my checked luggage. This includes a photocopy of every single page of my passport, which will make the replacement much easier in the event it gets lost or stolen. I also have all my train tickets, hostel and flight confirmation emails, and several passport photos (for my visa application and railcard) all in this one file. You’ve got to be organized!


Other. Sample sizes of toiletries to get through my first couple of days (will buy more when I get there). Extra eyeglasses, contacts, and medicine (my doctor wrote me a 365 day prescription. I think most doctors will, if you are going out of the country for an extended time, and it isn’t a controlled substance. My insurance didn’t cover it, but it was worth the money to know that I wouldn’t run out). Small gifts for my host family. A small photo album with pictures of friends and family. A little backpack. Padlock for hostel lockers. Guidebook with emphasis on practical information (I’m bringing Let’s Go Europe, 2010). A couple of needles and a spool of thread (gotta take care of those clothes!). Small notebook. Nifty travel alarm clock/flashlight. Wallet.


That’s pretty much it. I’m not changing money–I have two debit cards for two different bank accounts, so all my money isn’t in one place (I got a checking account with Charles Schwab, just because they refund other banks’ ATM fees at the end of every month!), and ATMs generally give the best exchange rates, so I’ll just withdraw money over there as needed.

I feel good about everything I’m bringing, and I feel prepared. As the trip gets closer, I find my anxieties are mostly lifting away, and while I’m very excited, I feel serene and ready. Also, last week I got a fortune cookie that said, “You will continue to take chances and be glad you did.” So with this go-ahead from the universe–I’m moving to Europe!

One comment

  1. I definitely agree on the dresses! I always thought that adding dresses to my wardrobe would make it more limited, but dresses are so versatile! And often, they don’t take up too much space. This is an awesome list! Maybe I need to go abroad again so I can model mine on it… 😉

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