Peace Corps Packing Starter Guide
Intended location: Central Africa
Anticipated weather: humid, mostly sun and rain, 60~90F / 18C-32C expected
This is a list intended on helping you to START your packing list. My goal is to give you tools and concepts on how to pack for the Peace Corps in an organized and easy-to-digest way. By the end of using this guide, hopefully you will have a good start on what you need to bring according to your stay, perceived living conditions, weather, and your personal tastes.
Starting is the most difficult part. After that, packing will be a breeze 🙂
Packing. It’s pretty f*cking stressful.
Packing is a subject not exclusive to this Peace Corps trip, but rather any trip that you would be taking. Veteran traveler or first-timer abroad, this packing list is an attempt to:
- Avoid packing unnecessary bulk
- Reminding you of the necessities
- Peace of mind packing
- Compile various sources of anecdotal reference from other PCV and RPCV
This packing list is NOT:
- An exhaustive list of every possibility and combination of items you might want to bring
- The only packing list you need. I encourage you to read other’s lists! Broaden your perspective on what makes a good packing list, and then come back to the one that you feel aligns with your tastes the best
I have travelled quite a few times, solo, a bit around the United States and East Asia. I’ve been through a few predicaments, you could say, of the inconveniences you might face in travelling. From getting sick to forgetting the most important documents, I’ve pulled a few of those stunts but managed to find a way through.
There were times I wanted to argue with my taxi, felt the dangers of a foreign society and being ostracized as the “foreign” one. I’ve also been welcomed like a king, treated with the utmost respect, and been in a few too-good-to-be-true scenarios that almost felt like a movie.
I’m confident I can help you get started packing in a way that suits your needs and prepare you for the Peace Corps or any type of mission you want to embark.
These are principles I’ve dialed down when it comes to travelling. It has saved me money and the headache of packing that I think most people can live without.
Principle 1: Don’t buy for the sake of traveling.
Needs first, wants second.
A couple weeks ago, I was very keen on buying a new Pakt One duffel/split-pack bag for roughly $325, not including tax, inspired by The Minimalists YouTube video on What’s in a Minimalist’s Travel Bag? I wanted to buy all sorts gadgets like kitchen knives, technical watches, wool shirts, and all of these things I can’t really afford.
On another note, my current laptop is from 2013, and… it’s got some pretty good signs of age. I’ve gotten a good amount of use with it when I was in college, but knowing that my work will depend on having a reliable work computer, I started to budget for a new laptop.
Do I buy the bag or a new laptop?
I was already planning on getting a replacement laptop, because frankly it was actually dying. A bad battery, a cracked screen, and a soon to fail motherboard is enough reason to refresh my workstation. Currently, I have been taking home my work computer to fulfill my tasks at home, but when I’m gone, I’m pretty sure they won’t let me take that laptop with me haha.
Buy with intention, not with your feelings.
Traveling is not only about buying new things, it’s centered on exploration and being smart with what you have. Really consider why you’re buying these things. If you’ve never owned a hydroflask and find that departing on your Peace Corps adventure highly recommends it because it is a reliable container, then it’s something worth considering.
Principle 1.5: If you REALLY want to buy something? Put a delay on it.
As an extension on buying new things, go ahead and add those mechanical watches to your cart! See that wonderful 16-in-1 utility tool, take that too! Add everything you want to your cart, but don’t press checkout.
Instead, leave the items in your cart and come back to it the next day. When you come back, ask yourself, do I still really need it?
Separate the emotion of buying with the action of buying. Generally if what I’m buying is ~$50, I’ll step back from my computer for a bit before purchasing. Thirty dollars here, fifteen dollars there. The numbers can add up pretty quickly when you’re shopping. The point of the story, be mindful of what you’re buying.
Principle 2: Pack Yourself. Not Someone Else.
Did you know? Packing someone else might also be considered “kidnapping.” So don’t do it.
Let’s begin by immersing our thoughts in the mind a potential volunteer:
Everyone’s recommending those Chaco sandals for Peace Corps! Maybe I should get a pair too… But I already have a pair of sandals at home! And everyone has a Kindle! But I, like, don’t read THAT often, will I really be that bored?!
-An anxious Peace Corps Volunteer
If you’ve got your own tastes, then so be it. No one should have the same pack, we all have some degree of taste. Pack things that you will actually use.
Are you a writer? Artist? Businessperson? Do you like the wild and brilliant light outdoors or prefer the quiet life indoors? Pack your fancy pens. Take your financial calculator. And don’t forget your $80 premium yoga mat you use every single day. At the end of the day, your personal belongings matter.
Do you use this item more than 5x a week? Consider it as a priority item, it’ll make the decision-making process of what to bring a little easier. That’s how I approach it at least.
Principle 3: Gather all your things and cut down a third
Gather all of the items you are going to potentially bring, and take out about a third. You’re not packing your life away. You won’t be air-dropped dead in the middle of the wilderness, and you won’t be stranded out in the middle-of-nowhere.
Just carry less stuff. You’ll have more room to pack when you come back home anyways. You will be buying more things there! You will be bringing back some things that you never thought you would have brought back home. In my experience, I brought just happened to bring back a full ceramic tea set on my most recent trip, in your case, who knows Bring your tools.
I’m planning on ONLY bringing one luggage for sake of packing less. In all of my travels, I have been able to forego a lot of my belongings because I realized that I can find other ways to compensate for the things I don’t have. Things like toiletries, basic clothes and home cleaning supplies are mostly available throughout the world. While this is a bit of a different trip because it is through the Peace Corps, I am prepared with some specialty items for my safety (and sanity too, probably.)
Principle 4: Pick Your Values. And Pack them Too.
How do you drink from a beer bottle?
Start from the top. You want to start with your top priorities in what you really value. This is what makes you, you. Your keyboard. Your favorite pen. Your favorite dress. Anything.
You want to feel comfortable with what you’re bringing. If someone claims that these barefoot, vegan, no lace shoes are going to change your life, but you have never used barefoot shoes in your life, maybe it’s not the best fit for you.
Pack what works for you. If you really value keyboards, your gaming mouse, and all this tech gear, prioritize those things. However, if you value fitness, health, and your herbal essence, feel free to pack your essential oils and resistance bands for your trip.
This is your trip and if you decide to bring extra books that were handmade by your friends, even though it’s like 3-pounds, or a pet rock that you’ve kept since you were 4; take it.
Principle 5: White clothes. Don’t.
What did the white t-shirt say to the dirt?
Bleach, you guessed it. Except, we probably won’t have access to bleach on our Peace Corps adventure… and no washing machines. Ever hand washed with bleach? Don’t do it.
As a reminder, this is NOT an exhaustive list. Feel free to adjust, more or less depending on your situation. This is just a guideline for the minimum amounts. This section will focus on the MAJOR aspects of packing that we would need to figure out. This way, at least you can have a solid foundation before going wild.
Peace Corps Provides
Things like a bed net, anti-malarial prescriptions, and other basic medical supplies will be given to you. Expect that you will be given the necessities to live. This means, you will have access to clean water and first aid. It may not be the most convenient, but it gets the job done.
Also, I might as well plug in my thoughts on solar panels and chargers. My current opinion says that it’s more of a luxury than a necessity. As much as we would love to have our phones, and absolutely need our laptops to report on VCF, I think careful planning and consideration for your work environment and would allow you to work just fine.
Packing your electronics will quickly build up your luggage limit, and your bank, if you’re not careful. Be mindful of what you’re packing. New tech isn’t always best tech. We just need things that work.
|Cords and Cables||☐||USB-C, USB-B, lightning cables and the sort|
|Digital Camera||☐||Documentation and other means to record my life, probably bringing only one lens|
|Earphones||☐||2-3 sets, backups never hurt|
|External Hard Drive||☐||1-2TB, recommended to encrypt
For saving pictures, lots of my music, movies, and important files (taxes and other information)
Backup of your computer (in case of a crash or accident)
|Lights||☐||Handheld flashlight, rechargeable
|Laptop Computer||☐||Windows or Mac, sorry Linux 🙁 VCF isn’t friendly here.
Personal recommendations: i5 Processor or AMD Ryzen 5, 7+ hour battery life, 8GB RAM, 128GB+ SSD storage
|MP3 Player||☐||Smartphone also works as an MP3 player|
|Power Strip||☐||Extend the amount of plugs I can use for recharging, also protects your AC adapters in case of a shortage.|
|Power Adapters||☐||Uganda uses the Type G plug. US uses the Type A plug.
Bring 2-3 adapters.
|Power Bank||☐||In case things run out of juice at an inconvenient time. A solar one would be recommended if you’re in the market for one. Recommended: ≥6000mAh (good for about 3 phone charges.)|
|Speakers||☐||For the times you want to wild out in my own world.|
|Smartphone*||☐||The main point is communication. You should have a way to contact your family and friends. Despite the fact that you are in the Peace Corps, it does not mean that you are in complete isolation.
ONE MONTH BEFORE TRAVELLING. Unlock your phone to be international.
I will only be covering male clothing. I can’t say what females would wear/need.
The most difficult thing about traveling is always trying to figure out what clothes to pack. But more often than not, I’ve always had the issue of packing too much, regardless of length of stay. Two weeks or two months, know what you are going to actually need for work. Make room for some comfort clothes and the rest can stay at home.
|Top||☐||3-5||Collared, dress shirts.
Vary between long and short sleeves. Navy, black, and other dark colors would be good.
|Bottom||☐||2-3||Good slacks will last if you take care. Navy and black welcome.|
|Belt||☐||1||A reversible belt with black and brown would go well. Get one that will be adjustable ±3 from your current size. Men, match your belt and shoes. Don’t be whack.|
|Socks||☐||4 pairs||Professional, long dark socks. Patterns for finesse points.|
|Footwear||☐||1 pair||Business shoes/boots. Black or brown.|
|Tie||☐||1-2||Appropriate colors according to your service destination.|
|Hat||☐||1||Casual outdoor hat to shade your beautiful eyes.|
|Top||☐||6||3 nice clean shirts. 3 workout, home shirts.|
|Bottoms||☐||3||1 pair of sweatpants.
2 pairs of home shorts, basketball or denims
1 pair of outgoing shorts
|Belt||☐||1||The go-to, everyday belt.|
|Socks||☐||4 pairs||Your length and color of choice.|
|Footwear||☐||2 pairs||1 active pair. 1 casual pair. Make it comfortable, and make it last.|
|Swim||☐||2 pairs||Boardshorts, surf shorts. There’s water around! Or if anything, you’ll be able to travel to a place with water.|
Adjust according to your destination
|Sweater or hoodie||☐||1||Uganda dips in the 60s, so it’s similar to weather in Hawai’i, hoodies are mostly for comfort at night.|
|Rain jacket||☐||1||For the occasional rainy day. Style points for a reversable one.|
|Underwear||☐||5-8||Nice and comfy, even when it’s stuffy. *Recommend to pack 2 pairs of NEW undewear. Seal it in a plastic bag as a 1-year gift to yourself.|
|Sunglasses||☐||1||Recommended to be polarized with UV protection to preserve your immaculate irises.|
|Slippers/Flip-flops/Sandals||☐||1||Whatever you call them, a pair of open-toed footwear is always nice.|
This section covers general gear that you will be using througout your service. During work, on vacation, or at home, you’ll find a use for these items in almost any circumstance.
|Hydroflask or other insulated bottle||☐||I have had my Zojirushi flask for a while now, mostly cause I brew tea in it. Highly recommended for your own personal water container, or whatever you want to put inside. 20oz/600mL and up.
Discount? Contact Hydro Flask customer support for a PC discount, may be available.
|Lights||☐||Handheld flashlight, rechargeable
Solar lantern recommended if you don’t have a lantern already. LuminaAid offers a 10% off any $30+ purchase, last verified 2/1/19. Code LUMINAIDPEACECORPS
|Scissors||☐||Loose threads, packages, and many other applications. A good pair makes a healthy man, and a pair of scissors makes it even better.|
|Mirror||☐||A reasonably-sized personal mirror. You’ll be glad you packed one.|
Personal Hygiene and Toiletries
My general rule with toiletries is that they will generally be accessible anywhere you go. You can always buy more of them in the city, bring the things that are speciality items, and buy the rest.
We want to be clean and healthy volunteers. If you show up with some stank and untidy, that’s more than your image your bringing down, but the image of the average American. Be presentable.
|Toothbrush and Case||☐||1||Basic toothbrush. Buy one more upon landing.|
|Toothpaste||☐||1 or 2 samples||Small tube like from the dentist preferred.|
|Body soap||☐||1||Bring your favorite bar.|
|Shampoo and Conditioner||☐||1 each||DEPENDS. If you have to care for your hair in a specific way, then by all means. Otherwise, your shampoo and conditioner of choice. I’m planning for ~1 year supply, since I have short hair I don’t need too much.|
|Nail Cutter||☐||1||Please, cut them. Bonus points if it has a metal file.|
|Q-Tips||☐||Travel pack||Clear your mind, and clean your ears.
Travel packs usually have 30-50, depending on how big it is.
|Razor, single blade||☐||1||I’d recommend a blade razor. Clean shave everytime without having to worry about bad razors.|
|Wet wipes||☐||1 travel package||You’ll love ’em.|
|Spray bottle||☐||1||A small 8oz. bottle for cleaning, making your favorite scent with essential oils, or whatever your heart desires.|
|Lotion or Petroleum Jelly||☐||8oz||Moisturize you’re dusty, ashy legs.|
|Sunscreen||☐||8oz||Peace Corps provides.. but bring your own if you want something more sensitive to your skin. SPF 30+ recommended.|
|Luggage lock||☐||2||TSA approved locks.|
Goes in to Target for a lightbulb, comes out with a 3-tier drawer.
When you’re not at work, you’ll be home. Hungry and tired, I would want you guys to come prepared with the essentials for cooking, cleaning to make your day a hell of a lot easier. The last thing we need to is make things more difficult.Kitchen
Ain’t no fast food here. Clean up your diet and save some money by cooking at home.
|Chef knife||☐||8-10” chef knife. Santoku (Japanese style) knives are my go-to.|
|Spatula||☐||Core cooking tool|
|Tongs||☐||Core cooking tool|
|Sharpening Stone||☐||General sharpening. 600-1000 grit.|
|Sea Salt and other spices||☐||Spices from home, for me, can’t beat Hawaiian sea salt. Bring them in plastic zip top bags|
|Can opener||☐||A good can opener won’t hurt you or the bank.|
|Vegetable peeler||☐||Have you ever peeled an apple or a potato by hand? Not that fun.|
|Coffee or tea brewer of choice||☐||Recommendations:
French press, moka pot, grinder, ball tea strainer
|Cleaning supplies||☐||Things to clean your special stuff. Think bottle brush and snake, if you fancy.|
Home and Lifestyle
Bring supplies that will allow you to personalize and create a workspace at home for whatever you need.
|Stationery||☐||Sharpies, pens, pencils, notebooks, rubber bands, paper clips and the like. Pack enough to last a year. You can always buy more if necessary.|
|Quick-dry towels||☐||If you’re on the go, quick dry towels are there to save the day. Bonus if it has its own loop to hang it up.|
|Hand towels||☐||For the bathroom. A nice comforting addition. 3-4.|
|Pillow + pillow case||☐||Like an extra shot of espresso. Most people should only take one, mostly for comfort.|
|Sheets||☐||One set of flat sheets to suit most beds when you need to do a wash.|
|Superglue||☐||For the occasional repair|
|Sewing kit||☐||Patch up the wear and tear on your clothes.|
|Command Hooks||☐||Organize your space. For little hand tools, cables, towels or other organization needs.|
|Reusable containers||☐||Tupperware, the universal plastic tool endorsed by all moms, including mine. Thanks mom. Bonus points for utensils.|
|Zip top Bags||☐||Snack, sandwich, gallon-sized bags|
|Fitness equipment||☐||De-stress with some physical activity, if you’re the active type. This would include bands, specialty products and other things important to you.|
Don’t forget to thank your teachers and hosts!
Gifts have been a recommendation said by quite a few RPCV. I plan to bring little mini-books/albums to share and make some postcards on my own. It’s nice to share something this is unique to you and representative of your home life in America.
- Photos or postcards from home
- Trinkets and other peculiar objects
- Handwritten cards
All right skippy, I’ve got my foundation.
Righty-o, yellow fin.
From here, start adjusting your pack. Do you think you need more shirts, pants, electronics? Is your service leaning towards wet or dry climate?
Will you be bringing treats from home? What about other hobbies that you are planning to continue there like drawing or playing music? This is a 27-month service. Most likely, you will not be returning home. It’s in your best interest to bring things that make you happy. Your old friends and family won’t be there to cheer you up all the time, find a way to keep yourself in good health. Mentally and physically.
Take a few more days double-checking and making sure that you’ve got what you need. Next, account for your wants. Finally, prepare for departure.
Packing for the Peace Corps is challenging. It’s not the easiest thing to figure out what you’ll need for two years being so far away from home and not knowing what you’ll actually need and use. But through this guide, I hope you’re able to put some pieces together and get a solid foundation of what your luggage will look like.
I’m packing as well! So if you’re interested in what’s my pack I will be updating this to link to my personal packing list as well!
*Looking for light and comfortable shoes that’ll last? Vivobarefoot shoes are pretty good. If you’re in the market for some shoes, personally I’d recommend checking out Vivo. This IS an affiliate link, so I will benefit from your purchase as well. Get $30 off at Vivobarefoot by clicking on this link here