This list has been compiled by Volunteers serving in-country and is based on their experience. Use it as an informal guide in making your own list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect list! You obviously cannot bring everything on the list, so consider those items that make the most sense to you personally and professionally. You can always have things sent to you later, although it is expensive to send packages from the USA. It may take up to three months for packages to arrive and sometimes they can lost in shipment. As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on baggage. Also, you can get almost everything you need in-country, although it might not be the brand or quality you are looking for.
Baggage and weight limit: The Peace Corps (PC) limits the size and weight of baggage, and will not pay to transport baggage that exceeds these limits. The allowance is two checked pieces of luggage not to exceed 100 pounds total, a maximum weight of 50 pounds per bag. Check with the airline regarding the specific dimensions for your luggage, and the weight limit for your carry-on bags.
Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers.
Items with an asterisk (*) are available in The Gambia; however, they may be low-quality, or not your preferred brand. Additionally, during your first six months in country there will not be many opportunities to shop outside your village communities.
Most volunteers say they brought too much clothing and shoes, especially too much nice clothing. Nevertheless, you will need to dress appropriately for meetings with government officials and for an occasional ceremony. But day to day, you will probably be living and working in a rural village, in hot and dusty environment.
Notes for everyone on clothing
- Light-colored clothes are hard to keep clean. Dark clothes make you hot, so you have to find a good balance. Printed fabrics are great because it will hide the stains.
- Breathable fabrics such as cotton, rayon, and linen are more comfortable that synthetic fabrics like polyester.
- Secondhand clothes are available in country, and there are tailors to sew outfits from local fabrics.
- Lightweight waterproof rain coat, although nothing will keep you completely dry during the torrential rain storms. Umbrellas* are available everywhere in country and are what the locals use for protection from both the sun and rain.
- Hats: Although a hat may make you look like a toubab (foreigner) they are a nice sunshade.
- The clothes you wear for staging should be clothes you will wear in-country. In other words, don't bring specific clothes just for staging.
- The Gambia is a conservative Muslim country. Many women cover most of their body, most wear headscarves (hijab) and some ethnic groups still cover their faces and necks.
- Dressing in what Americans would consider warm weather clothing, may not be culturally appropriate and can be considered provocative by many Gambians, thus inviting unwanted attention.
- The basic rule is to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. Once you are living at your permanent site, you will be able to decide how conservatively you need to dress.
- Flowing dresses provide great ventilation, and can be worn over leggings or pants. Three-quarter-length pants (capris) are better than long pants that drag in the dirt and get caught in the spokes of your bike. If you don't wear skirts or dresses at home, then you will probably won't enjoy wearing them in-country. Appropriate pants are OK to wear anytime.
- Pants with belt loops, wrap tops, or anything with forgiving styles to accommodate possible fluctuations in weight are a good choice. Some PCVs lose and gain weight throughout their service. Your diet may vary from season to season.
- There are tailors everywhere to custom-make your clothes, and fun fabrics can be found in the larger towns and Kombo. The most accomplished tailors are in the Kombo area, and they can copy clothes brought from home, from patterns or from pictures you provide. A dress may cost about $15 USD for tailoring and fabric.
- Sweatshirt or a light fleece jacket for cold season mornings and evenings, but even during "cold season" it will be hot during the day.
- It's advisable is to pack minimal and versatile items, and then supplement your wardrobe in country, after receiving your assignment.
Kombo (city) clothing
- Bring a couple of outfits for dressing up because there are opportunities to go places where it's fun to wear western clothes.
- Jeans and nice tops can be kept in your locker at the transit house with other items not needed at your work site.
- Swimsuits (bikinis can be appropriate, but only at some of the tourist hotels), but a one-piece swimsuit will be more culturally appropriate.
- The degree of conservative clothing standards may vary between regions or villages.
- The village women almost always wear skirts (usually a wrap skirt) or dresses, but many PCVs find pants more practical for gardening and bike riding.
- Bring lots of undergarments because you probably won't be able to buy your preferred style in-country.
- Sports bras made with quick-drying, breathable material in dark colors are best. Bring enough to last your two years of service.
- Workout clothes and sleeveless shirts may be appropriate in some areas, so bring your tank tops.
- Clothes that cover your knees are a must at all times in public, but shorts can be worn as pajamas or in your own home.
- It can get very hot, so comfortable, breathable clothes are best, and loose-fitting pants are generally cooler than jeans.
- A couple of button-up dress shirts, but you will also be able to have professional shirts tailored in country.
- Colored T-shirts* and prints are good - white shirts will not stay white for long.
- Long, lightweight pants because jeans can be hot in this climate. Jogging or cargo pants that have elastic cuffs can be practical for working in the garden or riding your bike.
- Several pairs of short pants that cover the knees.
- Underwear*: Bring enough to last the two years of service because you may not be able to get your preferred style in country.
- Sweatshirt or a light fleece jacket for cold season mornings and evenings, although even during "cold season" it will be hot during mid-day.
Kombo (city) clothing
- Nice shirts and slacks will come in handy for going out, or attending official functions. It is always cooler in Kombo than upcountry, so western attire can be appropriate.
- Swimsuits or shorts to wear at the beach.
- The basic rule is that pants should cover your knees, and shirts should have sleeves. However, if you teach in a school, work at a health clinic, or other professional organization, you may need to dress more formally.
- T-shirts and casual pants are usually appropriate for day-to-day village work.
- Once you are integrated into your community, you will be able to determine how formal or conservative you need to dress.
- Flip-flops* and cheap sandals* are available everywhere. Sandals are the most common everyday footwear for PCVs and host country nationals (HCNs).
- Sturdy high-quality shoes and sandals may be more comfortable, but no shoe is very durable in this climate.
- Athletic shoes for your exercise program, but new athletic shoes* are available in Kombo.
- Most Volunteers bring too many shoes and you will rarely wear closed toed shoes or boots because they are too hot.
- Socks* are valuable when you need to protect your feet or apply medication. Your feet will get very dirty, and a fair amount of abuse, so be prepared to give them the necessary attention to keep them healthy.
Personal hygiene and toiletry items
- Six-month supply of any medications to have enough to last through pre-service training and your integration period at your permanent site. Bring a copy of your prescriptions
- If you wear glasses, bring two or three pairs. Contact lens are not recommended due the hot dusty air and may cause eye infections. Regular sunglasses* are available in country, but prescription sunglasses can be nice in the constant sunshine.
- Scissors* are available in country, but high-quality scissors can be hard to find.
- Tweezers*, nail clippers*, emery boards*, are available in country but not great quality.
- Scrub brush* for your fingernails and feet. Your hands and feet will need constant care to stay healthy.
- Good razor - disposable razors* are readily available everywhere.
- Mirror* - bring a mirror because you will be surprised how few mirrors are hanging on walls here.
- Band aids*, small band aids are available from PC medical office, but large band aids are hard to find in-country, and are very handy for keeping cuts clean.
- Skin lotion*, but if you have a preferred brand bring it with you, because it may not be available in-country.
- Favorite brands of shampoo, shaving cream*, toothpaste*, deodorant* - although these items are available in Kombo.
- Favorite lip balm or lipstick, although the PC medical kit includes lip balm*.
- Bring your favorite skin care products such as face wash or astringents, because your preferred brand may not be available in country.
- Talcum powder* or products for heat rash.
- Sunscreen* and bug spray* are available from the PC medical office, but may not be the brand you like.
- Hand-sanitizer* is provided by the PC medical office.
- Tampons* and feminine hygiene* products are available at the PC medical office, but bring two Diva Cups if that's your preference.
- Sewing kit* and safety pins for repairing your clothes.
- Good quality clothes pins, poor quality clothespins* available in country.
- Atlas or maps: There are not good maps in country. You will be asked by your families and co-workers where you are from in America, and most HCNs are not very educated about geography.
- Planner* or wall calendar: Volunteers are required to submit reports to their program manager twice a year, so it's important to record all of your work activities.
- Folders with pockets*: Large folders with zippers are a great place to keep important papers clean and organized.
- Flash (USB) drives*: Bring several because flash drives in country do not have much storage.
- Good quality pens: Poor quality pens* are available in country.
- Good quality journal if desired: Poor quality notebooks are available in country.
- Stationary and envelopes if you are a letter writer.
- US forever stamps: The most reliable way to mail letters is to give them to someone going back to the US, Gambian postage is expensive.
- Art supplies: Paints, brushes, markers, paper, colored pencils and sharpener*.
- 3 x 5 note cards* and sticky note pads*.
- Teacher kit: Rubber bands, stapler, markers, Sharpies, push pins, paper clips, pens, pencils, glue, single hole punch, and folders. Inflatable globes, maps, electronic copies of lesson plans on a flash drive, favorite teaching books, calculator, children's books.
- There are stationary stores in Kombo and near larger schools, but the quality and selection can be limited. Remember as a PCV you should be promoting sustainability, using local resources whenever possible.
- Coffee*: Ground coffee is only available in Kombo and coffee beans are not available in country. If making coffee is important for, then bring what you need for at least the first six months until you are settled at your permanent site. The most available drink here is instant Nescafe.
- Coffee making equipment: French press* or one cup funnels and filters. Bring a hand grinder if you will have your own beans.
- Multivitamins* and fiber supplements* are available from the PC medical office, but may not be the brand or quality you prefer.
- Packaged mixes: Gatorade, flavor drink mixes, powder soup mixes, salad dressing mixes, instant coffee drinks, and specialty teas*
- Favorite spices: Ground pepper*, curry, chili, or Mexican spice mixes. A limited variety of spices* will be available in village, with a large selection Kombo.
- Favorite utensils: If you plan to cook, then some of kitchen tools can make it more enjoyable. Cooking* and eating* utensils are available in country, but only in the larger towns and cities.
- Spork: Gambians mostly eat with their hands, having a spork can give you eating options.
- Plastic food containers*: Variety of sizes to keep food mouse free or personal items clean.
- Zip-close storage bags in many different sizes are handy for food and to organize personal items.
- Specialty foods: For example, parmesan cheese (grated and packaged) because it's very expensive or unavailable here.
- Dried fruit, raisins*, dried cranberries or pineapples: Specialty fruits or nuts are not available in country.
- Peanuts* and cashews* are grown in The Gambia and available everywhere.
- Almonds*, walnuts*, pistachios*, sunflower seeds* are available in Kombo.
- Granola bars, protein bars and energy bars are not easily found in country and are great to have when you can't get enough nutrients in village.
- Tuna*, chicken, salmon packets and freeze-dried foods.
- Vegetable peeler*, can openers, cheese graters*, cutting boards* are available in Kombo.
- Knives* - good quality knives and a sharpener are hard to find in country.
- BPA free water bottles - bring several different sizes and consider insulated varieties.
- Fly swatter.
- Battery-operated personal fan or a fan that has a USB plug to use with a solar charger. Large fans that use electricity are available in-country, but the small-battery or USB fans are not and Amazon has many choices. Don't leave home without one, a fan is a real lifesaver as you are adjusting to the hot weather.
- Portable solar-power battery chargers are great if you are placed at a site without electricity. There are many solar charging options, and since you won't know before you arrive if your site will have electricity, it can be a difficult decision. VOLTAIC offers a PC discount and if you bring a solar system and don't need it, you will probably be able to sell it to another PCV. Whatever you decide, do your research and bring all of the necessary accessories with you. Solar systems* can also be purchased in-country that are powerful enough for all of your electrical needs, because many portable solar systems can not charge a laptop successfully.
- Small portable battery packs* for charging your cell phone, fan, or e-reader. Many battery packs that have solar chargers are not as efficient as advertise, so bring several.
- Unlocked smartphone that can have a local Sim card installed. Smart phones are available here but they may not be the latest model or the brand you like. PC gives every volunteer a basic phone that allows you to talk for free to other volunteers and staff.
- Extra good quality charging cables for your electronic devices, because the charging cables* in country cables are poor quality.
- Computers are available for use at the PC office, but bring your laptop with extra hard drives. PCVs who didn’t bring a personal laptop or tablet usually wish they had.
- E-reader or tablet for reading or watching movies. PC has digital books available for download.
- If you have an iPad, bring the convertible flash (UBS) drives for sharing documents.
- Earphones* and jogging earphones: HCNs use earphones constantly to talk on their phones or listen to music.
- Protective cases for everything, the dust and heat will kill your electronics if it's not protected.
- Converter for plugs* that comes with all of the options. The Gambia uses the British-type three-pronged plug. *
- Surge protectors*, extension cords*: Until you are placed at your permanent site, you won't know if you have electricity available. Surge protectors* bought in country have multiple plug-in options.
- Solar-powered lights and consider bringing several, they are more practical than flashlights. Flashlights are generally unnecessary, because your phone has a flash light.
- Pillows and lightweight fleece blanket for winter nights or use in the air-conditioned transit house.
- Fitted sheets in dark colors or prints made of 100 percent cotton will be the coolest, and most PCVs get double size beds.
- Things to pass the time: Art supplies, knitting supplies (yarn* is available in country), books, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, or nail polish and remover.
- Music: iPod, speakers*, or your preferred internet radio already downloaded on your smartphone because there are some apps you can't download The Gambia.
- Camera: Most PCVs use their smartphones, but bring your digital cameras and extra memory cards if photography is your hobby.
- Binoculars if bird watching is of interest to you because there are 500 +/- birds living or migrating throughout The Gambia.
- Yoga mat and yoga clothes and download your sequences on your tablet or smartphone.
- Volleyball or football with a pump, baseball gloves. Soccer balls* are available in country.
- Medium-size day packs* without frames are essential for shopping or traveling. Drawstring bags or book bags* in various sizes, and are great for storing things in to keep out the dust.
- Comfortable bike seat or your favorite bike accessories: PC provides you with a bike, a helmet and repair kit. Your bike will be your primary mode of transportation and make sure you are comfortable on a bike before you come.
- Hammock with mosquito net cover, small tent or mosquito net tents*, sleeping pad.
- Bungee cords*, zip ties in various sizes, rope*, clothesline*.
- PC provides all trainees with a bank account where your allowance is deposited monthly, but when a bank is not available US dollars in ones and fives, can be easily exchanged for dalasis in most villages, although the exchange rate is best in Kombo.
- If you plan to travel to other countries for vacation, you may want to bring extra money to suit your travel plans. Debit or credit cards are preferable to cash. There are ATMs in the cities where you can access your US bank account. You can also have your US family send you money with Western Union.
- Small gifts ($10 or less): Small plastic toys, playing cards, UNO, stickers, postcards, extra pictures of your American family, coloring books, crayons, markers, or pencils. You do not have to buy anything in the U.S. Before going to your permanent site, PC will take you shopping to get gifts for your new host family.