WHEN I WAS ACCEPTED to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, the organization mailed me a packing list straight from the 80s. Suggestions included blank tapes, conservative clothing, and stamps. I scoured the internet for updated advice but ended up having to track down returned volunteers to get some real suggestions on what to bring for the two year commitment.
Here is my list:
1. A decent pillow and blanket.
Pillows and blankets are not counted as carry-ons on airplanes so take advantage of the loophole and invest in something soft and cozy that will help you sleep.
Chances are, once in country, your mattress will not be super comfortable. A good night’s sleep is ultra important, especially when you have to be awake with the roosters.
2. One sexy outfit
There will be nights when you will go out and want to look your best. You will probably even date other volunteers and locals. Women, especially, are encouraged to dress ultra modestly in site. And while it’s important to be culturally appropriate, you will be happy you have the option to feel like a modern woman occasionally.
3. A weekend bag
Most of your time will be spent in your site, but you will visit other volunteers and occasionally travel out of the country on vacation. Bring something you can carry that’s light and fits a few changes of clothes and toiletries.
4. Yoga Mat
Perfect both for exercise and when you have to crash on someone else’ s floor.
Pads are what the rest of the world is using. Unless you want to join that club, bring two years worth of your preferred tampon brand (or an alternative feminine product).
6. Contact Solution
Again, not readily available and definitely expensive in most parts of the world. Peace Corps will discourage you from wearing contacts at all, but lets get real. Bring enough for two years.
7. Photos from home
Your new neighbors will want to see pictures of your family. And it’s good to have lots of smiling, familiar faces if you get homesick.
8. A new hobby
Have you always wanted to learn the guitar? Or knit? Or learn calligraphy? Now is the perfect time.
9. Language Dictionary
Peace Corps will eventually supply you with language materials, but if you’ re not yet fluent in your new country’ s native tongue, you’ ll be happy you brought your own.
I spent my first week in Paraguay passing a Spanish dictionary to my host mom. Without it, she and I would still be trying to figure out if I wanted to take a shower. Which brings me to another essential item…
10. Solar Shower
Pouring a bucket of water over yourself in cold weather is not pleasant.
Remember that you will not be backpacking for two years. You will have a house to live in. Though it may feel more like you’re camping with outdoor toilets and lack of running water or electricity.
11. Art Supplies
Coloring books and crayons go a long way in making friends with neighbor children. Also good for projects with schools and youth groups.
Check out more essential packing lists for different travel situations under Matador’s Focus on Packing page.