One of my top, all-time posts from this blog was a packing list I made two years ago. It got the most hits, mostly by other Peace Corps Volunteers who, like me, were preparing to leave and wanted advice on what to (and not to) bring. I’ve got several blogs up-and-coming (a few top ten lists – one on change and one on things I loved and one on things I hated; a post-Ramadan update, etc.), but before I dug into those other blog posts, I wanted to offer a redaction of the original packing list to help future volunteers sort through what they really do need. Granted, this is my personal opinion, but it’s my opinion after having been abroad two years, so it’s based on some level of experience. Here goes:
Three things first – 1) I originally suggested listening to the Smashing Pumpkins while you pack. This is not a bad suggestion. I love the Pumpkins, and they’re great – I mean great – packing music. But just for “funsies,” have a listen to a few things a little more packing appropriate: William Fitzsimmons’ “So This is Goodbye” or Eels “Packing Blankets.” 2) Peace Corps asks all its volunteers to show up to staging (the city you fly out of as a group) dressed “professionally.” I recommend against this, unless you’re just looking to absolutely destroy a nice blazer. Look – wear a nice pair of khakis, a good belt, and a dress shirt (if you’re a dude) that you’d actually wear again in your host country. Leave the blazer and the tie at home. You’re going to a place that is likely sweltering hot, dusty and dirty, and probably a little smelly. You are unlikely to return to America with even half of the clothes you are taking abroad. Don’t waste a good blazer on Peace Corps telling you to “be professional” for one day out of eight hundred fifty. 3) The items listed below was based on weather ranging from 130 in the summer to below freezing in the winter, so I was aiming for all extremes.
Anyhow, without further ado, here is the Official Packing List REDUX as it now stands, with commentary bolded:
One Larger Camping Pack:
LOWER COMPARTMENT (items not immediately needed) –
Windbreaker WoolDown coat
- Coat Shell
- Thermal Underwear (depending on country, lots or little)
- Hoodie, sweatshirt
Two Small TowelsOne quick-dry towel SwimsuitBring athletic shorts and plan to just swim in those; saves you room and still does the job
- New Balances, or some version of a really, really good pair of shoes. Or even two pair. I have gone through at least seven pairs of shoes in this country. I’m not even joking. I went through two pairs of Keens. After destroying the first pair, I complained to Keens, and they credited me $90 bucks, so I bought a second pair, because I like the design of their shoes, but the second pair were destroyed in less than four months. Despite being made specifically for hiking and adventure sports, they’re not well-made shoes, or at least, they couldn’t handle the dust and rocky desert. My New Balances lasted me almost a full year in this country, my Adidas six or seven months, and the Keens four months each. Don’t be surprised if I buy a new pair of shoes in the friggin’ airport in Miami. I’m desperate. I’m trying to make my shoes now last me for just one more month, but I’ll be shocked if it happens without duct tape. If I can find duct tape. Pack duct tape. Lots of it.
- Socks & boxers (close to top) If you’re a dude, expect to lose some weight. Might not be a terrible idea to packet one pair of something one size too small.
MIDDLE COMPARTMENT –
- Separated Hammock/Straps Go to Eagle’s Nest Outfitters. Buy yourself a hammock, even if you’re not in the Peace Corps. Do it now. You will not ever regret this decision. (No, no ad companies are paying me to do this, but they should – *wink*).
- Athletic Shorts
- Duct Tape
- Freezer bags Get something zip-lock with some fancy tight-zip technology. Get a bunch of them. The bigger the better. What you don’t use, you can give away to families. It’s really a great gift.
- Trousers (including cargo, lightweight,
- Dress Shirt
- Shirts (
Polos, Tees, and long-sleeve) I don’t really wear polyester, Under Armor type clothing in America, but during my service, on a hot Ramadan morning… dude, you can’t go wrong with that. It’s also great when you want to pack six days of clothes in a small backpack.
- Standard Toiletry Items (near top)
- Burt’s Bees …it’s small, so you can’t really bring too much of this.
- Extra Pair of Glasses & Sunglasses
STRAPPED TO OUTSIDE –
Sleeping PadUnless you’re going to go out of your way to purchase some unbelievably awesome sleeping pad that’s like $300 bucks, don’t waste the packing space. There’ll always be either a bed, a blanket, or some hay that’s just as comfortable as that sleeping pad.
- North Face Sleeping bag I brought a light-weight sleeping bag, and I think this was smart, but I didn’t use it a whole lot, and I probably could’ve gotten by two years without it, though I would’ve wished for it maybe ten times in my service.
- Socks & Boxers
- Assortment of extra shirts and trousers …yeah, I didn’t include a number on these, because I think that’s personal preference, but the fewer you bring, the more often you are going to have to do laundry… by hand. Keep that in mind. My suggestion: buy some of those huge air-tight zip-locks that lets you suck all the oxygen out of the bag and pack as many clothes as you can in that, and if you’re packing lots of polyester, that’s even more you can fit in those air-tight zips. Those were one of the smartest purchases I made.
NetbookLaptop with Plug — The netbook is dead. Don’t do it. Mine died halfway through my service, and while the size was incredibly convenient, it’s not designed to do what a laptop does… but because it looks like a laptop, you use it like it is designed for more than it’s capable of doing. Just pay $100 extra bucks and buy the full monty. Laptops are cheap these days, anyhow.
- Zune Plugs
- USB Drive
Rechargeable or Solar Powered Batteries/Charger
- 220V Converter
- Nikon Camera
- Empty Nalgene, although, yes, I did break my Nalgene bottle during my service by dropping it. That’s right. I destroyed the infamously indestructible Nalgene during my life in the desert. It can be done. Life wasn’t that much different without it.
- Classic novel (suggestions, anyone?) Feel free to bring something small for the airplane, but honestly, I have too many books at this point, and getting them all back to Rabat is going to be a headache-and-a-half. Peace Corps has a good library, so use that.
Bible/Dictionary/ThesaurusIt’s called, the internet. Of course, you may not be lucky enough to have that, but then, you will have the Peace Corps library.
- Pop’s Patches/paraphernalia
- Pictures of friends and family and I’d add maps to this. You’re a Peace Corps Volunteer. Bring a big map of America and of the world for your wall. You love traveling, and nothing will feed your wanderlust like staring at a map for eight hours straight. Ha. You think I’m joking. Cute.
- Sticky tack
- Padres Cap
- An oven mit. You’ll thank me later.
So there it is.