The most important Peace Corps packing list ever

Allison Adams is a Volunteer in Ethiopia.
By Allison Adams
April 9, 2015

Dear Future Volunteers,

I present you with the only packing list you’ll ever need. It doesn’t matter where you’re going – Paraguay, Zambia, Kosovo – this is the list that will get you through 27 months of any conditions the Peace Corps throws your way.

Love,
Allison

CLOTHING:
Naturally, you’re going to want clothes built for traveling. Donate your entire wardrobe to Goodwill and take yourself – and your entire bank account – down to REI and stock up on wrinkle-free, quick-drying everything.

Cargo pants – The pockets will be nice to hold your compass and hunting knife.
Button-down shirts – Business casual and conservative. Ideally, get seven colors for the seven days of the week.
Underwear – Spring for the $20 pairs to ensure they last all two years.
Hiking socks – Extra-thick for comfort and protection.

ACCESSORIES:
You’ll be outside all day, every day, and really you only need two types of shoes:

Hiking boots – Above-the-ankle, waterproof and heavy duty. Spring for steel-toed boots if you can afford it.
Chacos – These will be your best friends even if you think they’re ugly and talk bad about them behind their back.

TOILETRIES:
Stock up on two years’ worth of everything: toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, razors, hand sanitizer, on and on and on.

Allison Adams is a Volunteer in Ethiopia.
Allison Adams is a Volunteer in Ethiopia.

Did you write all that down? Did you?! Good… now throw it all away.

The reality of packing for the Peace Corps is that you’re not going to find the perfect packing list. You will search for it – I did. I You’ll spend weeks trying to pinpoint it. You’ll read through every blog out there for your country and find about 100 variations of “Here’s What To Bring.” The Peace Corps also includes a packing list in your country welcome book and while some of it will be helpful, some of it won’t.

So, how do you know what to pack for two years in the Peace Corps? You don’t, really. Until you get there, you won’t know what your site will be like. It could be extremely rural with no electricity, in the middle of the desert, in the center of a major town or down the street from a shopping center. There’s no surefire way to prepare.

Rather than a list of things you should bring, here are some packing strategies that should be helpful in any country in which you are preparing to serve:

  • Take others’ packing lists as suggestions. If the list was written after the Volunteer has already been serving for a while, it could be a valuable resource. These types of lists often include items that you can and can’t find around that person’s site – and they sometimes state if items can be found in the capital or bigger cities.
  • Don’t pack as if you’re going camping for two years. Take a look at pictures of natives in the capital city. Are they decked out in cargo pants and wrinkle-resistant shirts? Probably not. If they can live day-to-day without these items, so can you. While Chacos and cargo pants can be useful, you should also bring the types of clothes you’d wear back home. That said…
  • Research local culture and traditions. It’s very possible you’re going to a country with cultural clothing norms. If it’s not acceptable to show too much skin, bring long pants for public and shorts for the comfort of your home. Respecting local culture is an extremely important part of integration.
  • Consider climate and environment. Know whether the climate is generally warm or cold, rainy or dry, dusty or clear. You should pack for a variety of conditions, but cater to the one that is most extreme. Be prepared to layer.
  • Pack for yourself, not others. While suggestions are great, ultimately bring things that you think will be valuable. If you don’t enjoy hiking, don’t go out and buy bulky, expensive hiking boots. If you like to wear makeup, bring some for days you feel you need a pick-me-up. You have two bags to fill for two years’ worth of living – use that space for things you will actually use and want.
  • “You can always have things sent to you later” is a phrase many Volunteers will tell you. Sending packages is expensive but it can be done. If you get to your site and decide you need something, have someone send it to you. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few items at home already packaged and ready to go if you have a feeling you might want them. And if you’re really concerned about the price of sending packages, leave some money to cover the cost for the sender.
Allison Adams

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