Peace Corps Packing List

 

Packing for two years away in Madagascar at the time felt like the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. I remember thinking “How will I be able to fit everything I will need for two years in just three bags?” Packing in general can be a stressful event but doing it for two years of the unknown can seem like a nightmare! 

 

When I was packing, I spent hours searching for and pouring over packing list online trying to find a list that told me exactly what I needed and did not need. In the end what you need to bring comes down to personal preferences. I know your probably thinking that you have to get the right things to take; I know I did. Yes, there are some things that are important to take (the electronics section), but, in the end, there is no one thing that will make or break your service. Also, most of the stuff that you need/want can be bought in country or shipped to you later. 

 

When ordering gear, clothing, shoes, ext. there are a lot of businesses that give discounts to PCV’s. You may want to take a look at this link for some of the discounts; you can e-mail companies to ask about a Peace Corps discount as well. I know many shoe companies do give discounts and are not on that link. What follows is a list of what I brought to country and italicized notes on items where I felt they were needed. Feel free to message me if you have any questions about anything on this list or not on this list. I hope this helps! 

 

Luggage

 

You probably already know that you get two checked bags (50 lbs each) and one carry-on bag and one personal item. I highly recommend one of your checked bags being a multi-day hiking backpack; it will be very useful when you travel around the country on vacation or training. Your second checked bag I recommend being a rolling duffel bag. I brought a duffel bag without wheels, which was fine, but it was a pain to carry with all my other bags. It is also best if the bag is collapsible, because once you get to site you will probably never use it again until you leave and will want it to be easily storable, out of the way, under your bed. Do not spend a lot of money, or any, if possible, on the duffel bag. 

 

My recommendation for your carry-on bag is that it be a hiking day pack. This is great for weekend trips to your banking town or regional meetings. Your personal item I suggest being a small backpack/bag that can fit your computer. This is great for carrying electronics, water, and snacks on the bus so that they aren’t stored on top of the car. Your multi-day pack and your day pack are the most important bags you will have because they will get a lot of use and abuse. So, spend your money on them. I recommend emailing backcountry.com for their pro deal web address (the e-mail address can be found on the link mentioned above). Here you can get good bags for a great price. 

 

·    Multi-day pack: Kelty Lakota 65 (checked): I use this pack when I go into Tana or on longer vacations. When I choose this pack, I tried to find the largest one that fit inside the size restrictions. I also made sure that it was hydration compatible (which I have not used with this pack) and that it had an integrated rain cover. If you buy a pack that does not have a rain cover, I suggest buying a separate one so that you can cover your bag when it is on top of the brousse or raining. 

·    Medium sized duffel bag (checked): This is only to get your stuff to country/site. Once there you will never use it again, except maybe as a storage container for all the stuff you thought you needed but come to realize you will never use at site. Hard suitcases are hard to store and are heavier, so I don’t recommend them unless that is what you have. I had a duffel bag that fell just under the remaining size restrictions when added to the multi-day pack, so that is what I brought.

·    Day Pack: Sierra Designs Discovery 30 (carry on): This is by far the most important bag that you will be bringing to country. You will be using it the most and it will be receiving the most abuse, so get a good one. I used this pack during PST to carry my books to and from tech sessions and to transport “beverages” back to the training center. I use it now every time I go on any trip (vacation, VAC, etc.) and as a cycling pack. You want to get one that is as close to the size restrictions as possible. I also made sure to get one that had an integrated rain cover (if not buy one because it rains a lot) and was hydration compatible (I brought a 3 lt BCG hydration pack that I use when I go cycling). 

·    Messenger/Computer bag (personal item): I used this to get my electronics to country but have never used it since. You could use a messenger bag or smaller backpack as a “brousse bag,” but I just use my day pack. You do want to buy a bag, either day pack or messenger bag that you fill comfortable holding in your lap on the brousse to carry the things you will be using (ipod, kindle, food, water) on the brousse and that you do not want thrown on top of the brousse.

 

Clothing

 

This has to be the hardest category to prepare when packing for Madagascar. I spent countless hours scanning Peace Corps packing lists and Madagascar PCV blogs trying to figure out dress codes, weather, etc. What makes it harder is that you will not find out where in the country your site will be until a month or so into being in country. The temperature difference between the highlands and the coast are fairly significant. I am in the Sudest (coastal) and it gets really hot here, but my training when I first got to country was in Mantasoa (highlands) which was really cold. In the end, I would suggest packing more warm weather clothes than anything else and then just putting on layers if it is cold. I despise the cold, but I only came with a hoody, coat, and a pair of thermals and was fine. 

 

Dirty clothes take on a different meaning here in Madagascar. If it looks clean and passes the smell test, then it is clean. You will be surprised how many days you will wear a shirt before you decide it is dirty. When packing you also need to keep in mind how easy it will be to wash any certain item in a basin by hand. When packing, I packed everything besides my clothes and then just packed clothes till I ran out of room. If you do need something, you can always ‘frip’ it for really cheap.  Frip is similar to a resale shop but it is on the street or in the market and it is huge here in Madagascar.  Word of warning for taller people, it will be hard for you to frip here.  I am 5’11” and I am pretty tall in Madagascar.  You probably also don’t want to wear secondhand underwear, so…you know, pack those.

 

This clothing list is for guys, more exactly education stages, but I think it gives an idea overall for everyone. Education stages will have to “dress up” a little bit more than other stages because we are in the classroom. The dress code is very relative to your region; the coastal regions are very chill when it comes to dress code. In class I wear my quick dry pants and polo. Do not worry about not having enough clothes or shoes when you are packing; I do not even wear half of the ones I brought. When you get to country you will probably have far more clothes and shoes than most of the people at your site. 

 

·    4 Haggar Cool 18 Polo shirts: For teaching and events at site. These are fairly cool in the hot weather, and they dry fast…a necessity.

·    1 polo shirt: Never wore.

·    2 Magellan shirts: Never wore.

·    3 nice button-up shirts: For swearing in and going to church/cultural events.

·    6 t-shirts: I suggest the thin cotton ones. They are easier to rinse the soap out of and dry faster.

·    3 tank tops: To wear around the house/workout/cycle in.

·    3 pair of dress pants (1 khaki, 2 slacks): For swearing in/teaching/anytime you might need to dress up. You can get away with one if you keep them clean.

·    2 Magellan quick dry pants: I wear these more than any other item. They are awesome. Comfortable, cool, quick-dry, and they have a lot of pockets which is handy here.

·    1 pair of blue jeans: I despise these and refuse to wear them in country anymore. They are incredibly hard to clean by hand and take forever to dry.

·    4 pair of shorts: If you are not teaching then you will probably be wearing shorts; especially on the coast.

·    3 basketball/running shorts: I wore them around the house or when sleeping at the Meva or when sharing hotel rooms. Did not need three.

·    1 pair of cycling shorts: Sudest volunteers cycle everywhere, and I do a lot of cycling in general.

·    2 pair of swimsuits: It’s an island and there are beaches. But not a red one (depending one where you get placed).

·    1 pair of thermals: I only used the shirt half of these a few times during training.

·    1 tie: For swearing in.

·    A lot of boxers: You don’t want to frip these.

·    6 pair cycling socks, 1 dress, a bunch of regular: I wore the dress socks during swearing in. I only ever use the cycling socks, if I wear shoes, but flip-flops are where it is at. But you also probably don’t want to frip these either.

·    1 hoody: I think it gets cold in the Highlands, but I also do not like the cold.

·    1 coat: I don’t like the cold.

·    2 rain jackets: A must need. Or an umbrella, but a rain jacket is nice to keep your hands free.

·    2 belts (1 dress belt, 1 regular belt): You will gain/lose weight when you get here.

·    3 bandanas: I wore one once because I hadn’t cut my hair…, use one as a potholder, and one as a rag…

·    3 pair of sunglasses: I broke all of them during service and bought more in country.

·    2 hats (1 ballcap, 1 wide brimmed): I’m not a hat person, but I wore the ballcap for a month instead of cutting my hair. The wide brimmed was a waist of space.

 

Shoes

 

There is a reason for every shoe, but you most likely will just end up wearing flip-flops most of the time. That is what the locals wear, if they wear anything, and that is what is easy to find in country. So, a good pair of flip flops, like Reef for example, are indispensable. If you are in the Highlands, you will probably wear shoes more often than in the coastal regions. I wear them to teach in…sometimes. 

 

·      1 pair of casual dress shoes: I wore these for swearing in and then never again.

·      1 pair of hiking shoes: Waterproof; it makes a huge difference. I wear these for teaching and hikes. 

·      1 pair of sturdy sandals (Chacos): These are great for when it is muddy or long treks when you just don’t want to wear shoes, but I actually rarely ever wear them. Some of my Stagemates wear them all the time though, so it’s all a personal preference. 

·      1 pair of flip flops: These get far more use than anything else.

·      1 pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes: I have only worn these once at PST, but I like them, and everyone needs their feel-good shoes. (note: I never wore them because they drew too much attention…)

 

Toiletries

 

When you arrive in country, Peace Corps will give you a med kit with a bunch of stuff that is all refillable when needed (Medical Kit Contents), as well as fun stuff like malaria test and a needle to remove Parasy. So, you will not need to bring any of the stuff on that list. After PST, you will have an opportunity to go to the supermarket and buy any other stuff you need refills on before you go to site. When packing your toiletries, I recommend packing at least 3 months’ worth of items to get you through training.

 

·      Deodorant: If you like the stick deodorant you should bring a lot or have people mail you some from the States, because there is not a very big selection of that here.

·      Shampoo (regular and travel size): I brought regular and rinse free shampoo. The rinse free is nice while at PST because bucket baths are cold.

·      Body wash (regular and travel size): I brought regular and rinse free body wash, but Peace Corps gives you a bar of soap.

·      Toothpaste: You can buy some in Mantasoa during training.

·      Mouthwash: I used until I ran out, then never again.

·      Extra toothbrushes: Maybe one extra in case you drop it in to Po or something, but you can buy them in Mantasoa.

·      Floss: PC will give you this in your med kit.

·      Hand sanitizer: For hand cleaning on the road.

·      Daily vitamins: I took them until I ran out and then never again.

·      Manicure set: Take care of yourself.

·      Lip balm: PC will give you this in your med kit.

·      Lotion: For after the inevitable sunburns.

 

Electronics

 

Madagascar is the place electronics go to die. During training alone, I broke my smartphone, 3 of my stagemates fried their laptops, and one broke his external hard drive. Humidity, rain, theft, power surges, and gravity all have it out for the electronics, so do what you can to prevent these as well as possible. Clements Insurance has a special for PCV’s and it is fairly cheap, so I highly recommend looking into that. If something does break or get stolen, you can always have a new one sent to you. Some people have had electronics shipped to them, but it is not advisable. There are always people going to and from the States so you can ask them to bring something back with them. You can also buy electronics in country, but they are very expensive.

 

·      Toshiba Laptop with power plug: You will need a laptop to submit your PC reports during your service. Not to mention you will probably want it to do some writing/watching movies/listen to music. Suggested downloads before you come: PC VRF program (a must for filing your reports; you can get this from PC), Calibre (for converting ebooks), and VLC media player.

·      Unlocked smartphone: You can have PC get you a (very) non-smart phone during PST (highly recommended for use when in Tana/other big towns), but having a smartphone for the apps and listen to music while on a brousse is very nice.  Peace Corps may now be requiring Volunteers to use Android phones to post data on projects.

·      Kindle Paperwhite: There is a huge e-book library that gets passed around by PCV’s. Real books are great, and there are some PC libraries in country, but they are heavy to lug around, and you can’t carry enough to cover the time you will spend reading (200 Book Challenge?). Seriously, you will read more than you think.

·      Ipod: For listening to music, but you can just use your smartphone.

·      Digital camera, charger, memory cards, and case: Because you will want to take 1000’s of pictures to remember your time here.

·      GoPro, memory card, 2 batteries, charger, and head strap: If you like taking video. Also great for taking pics when swimming with the whale sharks and sea turtles!

·      2 extra memory cards (camera or GoPro): When you want to be able to take all of the pictures, but don’t know when you will have electricity again to download them.

·      2 Tb external hard drive (USB powered): You can easily fill this up with media either from stagemates or other PCV’s. Mine currently only has 1 GB free.

·      3 thumb drives (varying sizes): Good for sharing small files or carrying your favorite karaoke songs. Karaoke is big in Mada.

·      Goal Zero Nomad 7 solar charger with accompanying battery charger: My electricity is out a lot, so I use it for that or when camping. Education Volunteers will usually have electricity (3 people in my ED stage don’t have electricity), but if you find a good deal on one it might be worth it. Ag and Health volunteers are more likely to not have electricity.

·      Set of 4 AA and AAA rechargeable batteries: For use with my flashlight, but you can also buy non-rechargeable ones (not great quality) at site.

·      2 rechargeable battery pack (different capacities): Nice to have on long brousse rides or when you are visiting places with no electricity. One higher capacity would be enough; I just had two smaller ones.

·      3 sets of headphones: You want headphones to listen to music while on the brousse or just help block out the loud music on the brousse. They also inevitably break or get lost.

·      Travel plug converter: Great to help against power surges.

·      Set of 10 U.S to E.U. plug converters:They were cheap and in case I lose some. You will lose some.

·      Rechargeable razor: Because I’m fancy like that, I guess. You can buy razors in country.

·      1 rechargeable headlamp: Because it gets dark and sometimes you need your hands free.

·      2 rechargeable (crank) and 1 regular flashlight: I use the crank flashlight a lot around the house, but it is not necessary.

·      1 solar light (Luminaid): This was a nice buy. I use it for the house after the electricity goes out and in my shower room if I shower at night.

·      Rechargeable speaker: I highly recommend bringing one of these. You will want to listen to music from your phone/watch movies louder than your devices will get.

·      A lot of extra cables: You can find cables in country for most things, but it could be harder for some item than others. Android is king in Mada, so finding cables for them will be fairly easy, but if you have more, then bring them.

 

Other Stuff

 

There is a lot of random items that you think you might need/want during your two years of service, and it is hard to decide what is really needed. Nothing that fits within this category will make or break your service by any means, but only make things easier, more enjoyable, or just help. This is the category though that I also found that I brought a lot of things that ended up just stored in a bag under my bed for the duration of my service.

 

·      Malagasy/English dictionary: This is a really good one and is what most people bring. I highly recommend it. PC gives you one in country, but they aren’t that good.

·      2 notebooks and 1 pocket sized notebook: PC gives you a notebook at PST and they are cheap to buy here. I now have an abundance of them. No need to bring them.

·      Sewing kit with extra thread: You will probably tear your clothing at some point. You can pay someone to fix it, or you can learn a new skill. You can but this in country though.

·      Gerber tool: These just come in handy. Use mine all of the time.

·      Pocket knife: These just come in handy. Also use this all of the time.

·      Key chain bottle opener: A must need. Even if you don’t drink beer, you will get use out of it.

·      3 water bottles (1 Lt, 24 oz, and 20 oz): You use a liter bottle to measure drinking water for purification. The others I used on my bike, but PC will give you bike bottles.

·      3 Lt BCG water bladder: You will most likely be doing a lot of cycling here in Mada and having a camel pack is great for that.

·      1 deck of cards

·      Ear plugs: Chickens, geese, and children are loud.

·      Binoculars: Never use. I thought I would use them at the national parks, but I never remember to take them and don’t think I would even if I remembered.

·      Solar shower: These are really cheap on Amazon, and I suggest getting one.  It is really too hot in the Sudest for me to use it as an actually solar shower (the cold bucket showers feel great after a hot day), but it’s nice to have “running water” to shower with.

·      Zippo lighter (empty), BIC lighter: I use the BIC to light my gas stove, but you can buy those here. You can buy fuel for the Zippo but it is expensive here. Didn’t need to bring either.

·      8 ct of sharpies (varying colors): Sat in my bag till I gave them away.

·      24 ct of colored pencils: For the neighborhood kids to draw with. This was actually really nice.

·      5 light calibers and 1 heavy duty screw caliber: So many uses (ex: to hold up the opening to your mosquito net, attach things to pack, etc.).

·      Hammock, rope, and DIY hammock mosquito net: Awesome for just hanging out or when it gets too hot to sleep in a bed.

·      Sleeping bag: I use this as a blanket or as a pad to lay on when camping.

·      2 sturdy combination locks: To lock your gate, etc. I have locks on all of my stuff, so these just sit in a box under my bed, but better safe than sorry. You can buy locks here, but they rust easily.

·      Pillow: Pillows here are just pillow casing stuffed with cubes of foam. I attached mine to my carry-on.

·      2 full sized sheets: You can buy these here.

·      2 light weight camping towels and 1 rag: You need at least one of these towels; I just had the extras.

·      1 pair of work gloves: For gardening? Thougth I would need them, but I never used them, even for gardening.

·      Duct tape: Because you can fix anything with it.

·      Multiple bungee cords: To tie things down to your bike rack. But you can also get rubber tube strips in country, which is what everyone here uses.

·      3 dry sacks (7.9 Lt, 4.1 Lt, 2.1 Lt): For your electronics and med kit.

·      Envelopes and stamps: Don’t buy the lick and stick ones because the humidity in Mantasoa will make them all seal before you get to use them…I know.  Besides, I have never had a reason to use them.

·      Beer cozy: I never use these because the bottles are either bigger or are just not cold to begin with.

·      World, US, and Texas maps: I put these on the wall of my house and friends love to look at them and see where I lived.

·      Watch

·      Paracord rope bracelet

 

Things that are not on my list of ‘Other Items,’ but I think should be considered:

 

·      Hobby: Whatever your hobby is, bring that. You will have a lot of time on your hands (a lot!) to do your hobby or learn a new one. I bought a guitar in country to try to learn.

·      Something that reminds you of home: Having something from home to put on your wall (pics, etc.) is a great way to help make your space feel closer to home. If you are prone to home sickness this is more important.

·      Seasonings: I am a foody and good food is where my heart is at. You can buy some spices at the grocery stores in Tana before you go to site, but I recommend bringing specialty items (Tony’s seasoned salt, oregano, taco seasoning, etc.) with you. I didn’t realize that at site I would only be able to get salt, pepper, and low quality curry, so the 1st few months at site were hard in that respect.

 

Kitchenware

 

All of this stuff you can buy at Jumbo or Shopright before you go to site. It is a little expensive for our income but is about equal to U.S. prices. So, if you have them already, and have room, then bring them, if not then you can just buy it here.

 

·      Measuring spoons and cups

·      3 sizes of kitchen knife

·      Spatula

·      Peeler

·      Thin planed cutting board

·      3 Tupperware

·      Box of 20 Ziploc bags

 

Host Home Gifts

 

It is hard to know what to buy as a host family gift before you get to Madagascar because you don’t know who your family is going to be or the make-up of the family. I bought gifts for younger kids and everyone in my family ended up being adults. That being said, if there is something from your home state that is unique you can bring that. Printing pictures that you take of you with the family are also always appreciated. Anything that you bring that doesn’t work for the host family can be taken to site and given there also.

 

·      Package of temporary tattoos: Kids at site liked them.

·      Small photo album: You can take pictures and have them printed here and then give it as a gift at the Host Family Thank You Celebration at the end of training.

·      Soccer ball: Took this to site for the kids to play with.

·      *I bought a knife sharpener in country as a host family gift.

 

List of Packing Importance

 

1.     Electronics

2.     A few days’ clothes, something to keep you warm, and a month of toiletries

3.     Shoes

4.     Important ‘other stuff’

5.     Whatever else on your list you can fit (‘other stuff,’ clothes, gifts, toiletries, food stuffs)

 

Remember you can buy most things here in country and you can always have your family/friends send you things in the mail.  

Some links are linked to my Amazon Affiliate account.

 

2 comments:

  1. Love this list! I just wanted to see if you did not go over the weight limit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! Glad it is helpful for you. All of this actually came in under the weight limit.

      Delete

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