What should I pack?
I know other PCVs have also posted about this, but everyone has some new tips and things to add so I thought I’d throw in my $0.02. I think there are some pretty crucial things on my list that may not have been mentioned by others (e.g. a long-reach lighter, notecards, a smaller belt for men, etc.).
- Comfortable, good-quality shoes…no thin or unsupported soles. The walking here is long and a lot of it is mud or unpaved pebbles. As everyone has said, a pair of waterproof black winter boots that still look work-appropriate will serve you well. Durable, airy walking sandals are a must for summer.
- Different weights of long underwear (one light, one heavy). You don’t know where in the country you will end up yet, and they will be good for different seasons and layering anyway.
- Ties and collared shirts for guys, nice blouses, button-ups and sweaters for girls. Fewer jeans, more slacks (or black jeans instead of blue). At PST at least there is only about one day a week where you can MAYBE dress in jeans and a T-shirt…the rest of the time you’re in nice clothes. You almost never wear flip-flops; it’s considered a faux pas except at the pool or in the house. People here dress nicely. Even more so if you’re a teacher.
- Clothes that you like. Often times volunteers think that just because it’s Peace Corps, you need to dress down or bring only “practical” things that look boring and school-marmy. This is a huge mistake. Ladies, bring your jewelry and makeup as well as clothes in styles and colors that show your personality – trust me, you will be grateful down the line. The only slight modification is that I would choose more things that can serve as layers, and pack fewer strapless tops or short shorts/skirts (long dresses, knee-length skirts, short-sleeved or even sleeveless shirts of light material but otherwise modest are better for summer to stave off the heat but stay professional). Gals, I would also bring a shawl/pashmena or two as they’re good head coverings for mosque/church visits and also good wraps for chilly nights even in summer, when daytime and nighttime temps can differ drastically.
- Boys, bring a belt that is a couple sizes smaller than the one you use now or has extra notches. Trust us on this. Several guy volunteers have had to get whole new wardrobes here because they shrink so quickly that nothing they brought with them fits. Girls, sorry – you will probably not have this problem. 😛
- Lots of underwear and socks. These are the key things that prevent you from putting off laundry as much as possible.
- A long-reach click lighter!!! This is so crucial. When you get your own place (or even at your host fam’s) and want to cook or light the hot water heater, you won’t have to burn your fingers on crumbling matches.
- Mace or pepper spray. See if they sell it in your state. I feel so much safer walking alone with it in hand.
- A good quality umbrella. The ones here are not great.
- One or even two Nalgene/metal water bottles. Big ones. It is hot and dry here and you will want to drink a LOT without always reusing dirty plastic water bottles. You fill up your 1 or 2 Nalgenes with water from your Peace Corps distiller and that has to be enough to last you the whole day, unless you want to spend your precious little walk-around allowance on expensive bottled water.
- A towel, hand towel and washcloth of good quality. The ones here are scratchy, small and tough…you will love yourself if you bring your own.
- A backpack as a carry-on. Everyone has them, you will need to carry your books, materials and pack lunch to and from training every day. Not a ginormous hiking backpack though (unless it compresses into a normal-looking one).
- Some baby wipes and pocket tissues to tide you over until you find a store that sells them (they are available in many pharmacies), esp. for girls. There is no toilet paper in almost any bathroom here. Along the same lines, LOTS of hand sanitizer. At least 3 large bottles…you will need it a lot as I haven’t found it yet here.
- Many packets of Emergen-C. There is no time to get sick here, plus it also gives you an energy boost and is way better for you than coffee or red bull…PST is tiring!
- A deck of cards. People here love cards and it’s good to bide the time, but the one game they always play is Durak (“Fool”), which only uses the cards 6 through Ace. They sell special “Durak” decks so if you want to play other games, bring your own full deck. Other games are also good for hanging with other volunteers (Taboo, Scrabble, etc.)
- A Kindle/e-Reader. Good for long winters, good for saving you LOTS of space/weight, good for letting you upload blog/news content when you have internet and then reading it later on your own time. Books are heavy and also already widely circulated within volunteer and Peace Corps libraries.
- Hot sauce, barbecue sauce, ranch sauce, spices…whatever tastes you will miss, as the foods here can be pretty bland.
- USB keys. At least two. You will need these for writing and transfering small files, updating your blog, getting photos from other volunteers, getting necessary docs from your teachers. We use them every day here.
- One or two large (space-wise) external hard drives. Volunteers collect media like crazy here and one or two trading sessions can get you 500 gigs. On these bring a good stash of your favorite movies, TV shows, music and/or games.
- A sewing kit (with an extra spool of dark thread), shoe glue, waterproofing spray, poster gum, and Febreeze.
- Nice office/school supplies, including flash cards for language. You will definitely need these. Most notebooks here are flimsy and have graph paper grids instead of lines, which drives me crazy. Pens are also not of great quality, especially if you like ink and not ball-point. I have not found notecards anywhere.
- If you are a teacher, teaching supplies from America such as maps, visual aids, good markers, stickers, ESL materials, etc. Even if you’re YIP (Youth Initiative Program), these may be good as you’ll still be working with youth and may need materials.
- Your own pillow case and favorite stuffed animal (if it’s small enough to pack). They’re enough to make your bed feel like home.
- Gifts for your host family. Chocolate is always a safe bet, but I would also recommend little American trinkets (keychain or magnet from your hometown, something with Obama on it, etc.)
- Swiss Army Knife…you will need one sometimes to open things, pare fruit you bought at the market to share with friends, etc.
- A sleeping bag or at least the liner; it often comes in handy when you’re traveling and sleeping on the floor of yet undetermined places (often another PCV’s apartment). Can also be useful for the cold.
- A small baggy of plastic spoons/forks, for when you’re out or on the train and the utensils available are dirty.
- Photos from home (or a photo slideshow on your computer works well too). Good for ice breaking with the host family and local friends/coworkers later on.
Packing tip: put all similar things in large ziplock plastic baggies (the durable kind with the little zipper, not the kind you press together). You will use the baggies later and it will keep everything oh-so-organized in your luggage. It’s also clear so customs can see through it if they check. I put all my office supplies in one bag (envelopes, pens, pencils, glue stick, markers), all my toiletries in another bag, my contact lens materials in another bag (yes I brought contacts. Hope I don’t get pink-eye…sorry Dr. Victor!), my random life supplies in another bag (sewing materials, shoe glue, shower cap, poster putty, waterproofing spray, febreeze, etc.), etc. etc. Worked like a charm and it’s super easy to find everything now; I just look for the appropriate “baggie.”