The 2 Year Journey of a Lifetime: WHAT TO BRING?! (Packing List)

To any future PCVs reading my blog or googling “Peace Corps Packing Lists,” I give you an extremely comprehensive packing list. Peace Corps is home to a lot of over-achievers so I was able to see what other volunteers in Lesotho thought was important to bring/leave at home and compile this 5+ page list. DO NOT let this overwhelm you. Take your first of many deep breathes of relaxation that you will take in the next two years and prepare to get everything together.. and then cut that in half and leave it at home! Please take this advice seriously and save that chelete ($) for travels and things once you are here. You won’t regret it. Additionally, I hope you keep in mind everything below is just a suggestion - bring what makes you YOU. This means your own style, what you need, and things that make your Lesotho rondeval (or ice-box tin roof  concrete square) a home!  

Key: 

√ VERY IMPORTANT 

*Tips!

Holla! Humanitarian discounts! 

I liked the Marmot, Eagle Creek, Goal Zero and Chacos ones best for my needs. 
*From experience, I suggest you order these two months in advance. They do not prioritize these orders and often, it takes over three weeks at minimum to ship.
http://www.peacecorpswiki.org/Volunteer_discounts
 

1. Clothing - You must wear clothing

Naturally, of course, you’ve already donated your entire wardrobe to Goodwill, looked up PC packing lists online..and thought to yourself ‘this really will be a two-year professional camping trip,’ so you’ve pondered taking yourself to your friendly neighborhood store, REI, and considered buying the entire store. 

*STOP everything you’re doing & think about what you already have!*

*While clothes should be durable, ‘wrinkle-free’ and easy to hand-wash, no matter what you buy it will not last entirely well, and you will regret not bringing things from your closet that you already had.

*Bring colors! It’s simply a PC fact…Light colored clothes become permanently dirtier after a few washes. I’m sorry to say this to you now, but you will never stop missing a washer and dryer. Never.

*Don’t forget your sweats or yoga pants. Down time is abundant and the winters get cold. Basotho won’t be outside and therefore, probably neither will you. The question is..how do you want to watch Game of Thrones and drink hot chocolate in your bed all day? 

*’What’s that you say Alicia, it snows in Africa!?’ YEP! Winters are indeed cold and layering is your solution. Bring at least two light sweaters, tights, long underwear, cardigans, fleeces, your down jacket etc. to solve that problem. 

*Speaking of winter..Lesotho and all of it’s beauty has four seasons. The climate is very similar to Colorado. What’s up my Colorado people! All season clothing = rainproof. Get ready for the rain and make the investment in a good rain jacket. 

*Most importantly, dress like YOU. I cannot say this enough..Bring your own stye!

*And lastly, (I wish someone had answered this question for me before I left): 

What does a two-year professional camping trip attire even look like?? 

Well, it looks a little like this:

 

No, I’m just kidding that was our swearing in ceremony and the most “professional fancy” clothing we all own!

This is more like it:

Clothes Cont.

  • *During training and Peace Corps events “professional” clothing is required. However…you still do not need a wardrobe full of these clothes and many outfits can go either way. For instance, a pair of dark jeans with a long sleeve t-shirt, scarf, and hiking boots works. As well as, a skirt (knee-length at least),a t-shirt and a cardigan! Some days, during training some of us even wore jeans. Don’t worry - it’s cool. 
  • Reusable Ponchos 
  • Warm fleece, hoodies or vests √
  • Rain jacket/shell √ √ 
  • Light sweaters 
  • Good quality down jacket..prepare for it to be ruined, but it will keep you warm!
  • Warm lightweight gloves and scarves √
  • Baseball cap
  • Workout clothing (sports bras, long and short sleeves, running tights with shorts over, capris, athletic sweats etc.)
  • Swimsuit
  • Belt
  • Thermal underwear. Don’t judge me. If you have lived in a winter climate, you get it.
  • Beanies– found everywhere here but if you have your favorites, bring them! 
  • Wristwatch – *Make sure it has an alarm. This is valuable especially without electricity. However, unavoidably you will start to warm up to Basotho Time…slowly, but surely. 
  • Warm wool socks (my favorites are Smartwool brand)
  • SHOES – Roads here are mostly dirt and rock, and sometimes mud. 
  • Casual shoes (converse, vans, whatever), dress shoes, running shoes and hiking boots, hiking sandals (like Tevas or Chacos √√ – great for everything and can go professional or with socks - wintery!), sandals/flip-flops.
  • I highly suggest a fashionable pair of knee or ankle high boots for the ladies. You’ll want something to make you look cute in all that conservative winter layering. You can also wear your hiking boots with skirts. And personally, fun winter socks are nice to go with that*
  • Shorts (to the knee), pants/jeans.       **I have one pair of “dressy” pants. More than that is overkill, unless that’s your thing. 
  • *I wear Prana pants all the time. One, because I’m 5’11” and they sell long and two, because they are super durable, waterproof, look like jeans, but are also professional!
  • I know I said cover your shoulders, but bring a tank top or two, you’ll be thankful.
  • Skirts! Skirts! Skirts! (Knee-length at least) √
  • At least two dresses. These are winter easy outfits. 
  • Thick stockings/a pair of tights
  • Undies that will survive harsh soap and a lot of them! **(Sometimes I go a week or two without doing laundry. Fact - The one thing that keeps you clean is your undies!!)

2. Travel

ADVICE FOR THE AIRPORT: 
*If you’d like to picture my Peace Corps airport and travel experience I had two rolling duffles, my larger backpack behind and my bigger in front.
*Stay within your bag limits! (100 lbs I believe) It is not worth it to overpack. Trust me, you will realize quickly you didn’t need all that stuff. Sometimes, especially on the flight between Joberg and Maseru they will make you check your carry on simply because it is too heavy and the plane is small. So keep that lighter if you don’t want to avoid the pain of switching things around or having to move your valuables.
  • Day pack (45L). Additionally, small packable bags or totes are great. √
  • Eagle Creek 95L rolling duffle bag! **Get one that rolls, if not two.
  • Backpacking pack (65-85L) *I’ve had my Osprey for a few years now. I still can’t believe how much can fit in that thing. How do you pick your best friend? This backpack is it!
  • *I am a die hard advocate for the over the shoulder small money satchel. Whenever I travel it keeps my keys, money, cards, etc. right there on my side. For training and in the midst of moving around, it is my savior. Maybe once I am settled I’ll get rid of the touristy sucker…But maybe not, I love it too much. 
  • Eagle Creek travel organizers people!  *Love those darn things..Call me a neat freak but squeezing your pants into one, shirts into another, etc…keeps everything really organized
  • Eagle Creek electronic organizer. √√
  • A lock or two (TSA approved if you care)
  • Bag identifier (colorful string, luggage tag, whatever)
  • Backpack rain covers *It rains a lot here and you are often traveling
  • Two additional passport pictures for visas to other countries. If you are planning to travel extensively, bring more. 
  • Sunglasses
  • Earplugs for loud music in taxis or for drowning out the sounds of dogs and roosters. Trust me, they will coo and bark at 1am..Lord knows why. Consider bringing back-up pairs. √
  • Multi tool √
  • Personal passport and driver’s license 
  • Copies of immunizations, cards, etc. 
  • Travel board games, playing cards

3. Personal Health/ Hygiene 

**Peace Corps provides the health essentials
*Your PCMO will give you first aid and health supplies, like band-aids, Neosporin, ibuprofen, bug spray, sunscreen, condoms, floss, etc.
*Don’t pack for two years, pack for training!
*Plenty can be found locally!
  • Deodorant
  • Floss
  • EmergenC 
  • Hair clippers
  • Hair ties
  • Soap holder 
  • LADIES- GET that Diva Cup and wear it proud! (*Available at Whole Foods around $35) √
  • Bring OB Tampons to get you by for a while 
  • Vitamins √
  • High quality razor
  • Face wash that you like
  • Travel toothbrushes/toothbrush travel case *(Steri Pods are great)

4. Misc.

  • Duct tape
  • Gorilla glue!
  • Good scissors
  • Caribeaners (I use these to clip my water bottle, sleeping bag etc. onto my backpack)
  • Paracord *Nice to hang clothes up when a line isn’t available, make curtains..etc. Rope here isn’t very strong
  • Envelopes and post cards (I grabbed this awesome coloring book stationary that I could color with kids and write notes to send back home)

5. THE KITCHEN & THE BEDROOM, 

because let’s be real it’s all done in the same room here.

  • Kitchen Knives – Specifically, one GREAT knife. The quality of local knives is low. √
  • Knife sharpener **(Also a great host family gift)
  • Solid pocket knife (**Kershaw alllll the way! Best bang for your buck. Found on Amazon cheap)

Bed/Kitchen Cont.

  • Herbal and specialty teas 
  • Spices (*You can find most in the capitol, however, bring one or two of your favorite mixed herb, cayenne or whatever to start with…Then sometimes once you go to site and another volunteer leaves you’ll inherit their spices, like I did:))
  • Good travel mug or winter canteen
  • Chia seeds, cacao nibs, bars, flax…*These were a must for me
  • Reliable hand operated can opener
  • Vegetable peeler (**Also make a great gift to your training host-family) √
  • Wine/bottle opener! (Duh.)
  • Ziplock bags 
  • 2 (at least 1L) sturdy plastic water bottles √√
  • Plastic snap-shut containers (**The quality of these here are very low and nice ones are pricey..Pack inside of them to conserve space!)
  • Favorite recipes, but…
  • Peace Corps gives you a cook book with a lot of great recipes that have been created by PCVs over the years. And if you’re not already a cook. Out of survival instincts be prepared to become one!
  • Now…if you’re a real good cook already, can’t wait for you to get here, but also consider bringing a pan. The quality of all non-stick pans here are bad, and there’s no such thing as a cast-iron pan or plate…TORTILLAS people!!  
  • Sheets (available here but low quality) * If you don’t mind having too big of a sheets (assume full or queen), because you wont know your bed size immediately, bring them. You can always get them sent in a care package once you do!
  • 2 Microfiber awesome travel towels - face and body √√
  • Lightweight sleeping pad – when traveling to other volunteers’ houses or having guests these are wonderful √
  • Sleep sack/Liner – prevents bed bugs at hostels and in village, also can add warmth, silk or cotton, don’t stress on that. √
  • Bed bug spray!! **I had some sent to me recently, but if you have space it’s a good precaution.
  • Warm, synthetic down sleeping bag with compression sack! √√
  • Decorations – pictures, posters, world maps, flags, etc. (great for showing people) 
  • I brought a big world map from Nat Geo and some post cards from my hometown to show locals √√
  • Velcro sticky hooks to hang things on the wall! Nails are not a rondevals friend.
  • Bring your own pillow case! *I found this really valuable during training
  • Pillow *If you prefer a down/memory pillow, bring it. I wish I traveled with mine in hand on the plane. Pillows are…well, they are crap here.

6. Entertainment & Technology

  • Solar stuff √√√
  • LUCI or Luminaid solar lights (2 or 3) chargers, battery packs, etc.. Common sources of lighting in Lesotho are paraffin lamps and candles (available for cheap).
  • Solar charger brands that current PCV’s use - Goal Zero (30% discount through promotive), Another is Voltaic (discount too!)
  • **We recently participated in the Get Light, Give Light program through Luminaid. An awesome company created to give sustainable light solutions to areas of the world that need it most! Consider doing this program with multiple PCVs (We gifted these lights to our host training families)
  • When in country, you have the option to buy a solar set up to charge electronics, but not until after training. 
  • Rechargeable batteries that can work in a solar charger (like Goal Zero).
  • Hard drive + back up hard drive of 1TB each. **Someone already had theirs break. I was feeling pretty clever I brought a back up. Then LOAD that sucker with media (music, movies, shows, podcasts, workout videos, audiobooks and ebooks PLZ!) Volunteers love to share! √√
  • **FORMAT YOUR HARD DRIVE SO YOU CAN TRANSFER FROM MACS TO PC’S. I made this mistake..
  • Unlocked smart phone √√ or Blackberry phone (unlimited data options here)
  • Extra small thumb drives to share photos or carry with you
  • External battery to charge my electronics while traveling! **I have electricity, but this is great when my phone is dying on a taxi ride/overnight trip 
  • Laptop computer is NECESSARY √√
  • Assignments will be given throughout service and public internet cafes are typically inconvenient.
  • Camera ** I am very happy I brought my DSLR!! & stuff like a tripod, extra memory cards, etc. So if that’s your thing, do it!
  • *I also have a great camera/hiking bag from Lowerpro. If you are a photographer consider this. It keeps your camera incredibly safe and opens from the side facing your back without obnoxiously looking like a camera bag
  • Backup cords and chargers! **Sometimes you can find them here, but I’d suggest getting the ones that do not fray. There are some awesome new stylish ones out there these days. 
  • Cases to protect expensive items √
  • Portable speaker **GOAL zero has a great speaker that’s a real PCV hit here (charged via USB)
  • Headlamp **Great for cooking and latrine visits
  • Electrical adapters **Check the voltage on all your electronics. Lesotho uses 220-240 V. Make sure that your adapters are for 110V-240V. Plug adapters and voltage converters can be bought in country but are expensive. Buy adapters that work for South Africa. This is an M plug.
  • iPod and Shuffle iPod (I use my shuffle to run and it’s easy to conceal for less flashiness)
  • Extra Headphones!!
  • Good ink pens! *Good pens are a hot commodity here √
  • Kindle case **simple, cheap, go get one now!
  • **Ditch the travel books and heavy paperbacks. We will get Kindles as PCVs and there is a volunteer resource center full of these at the PC office that you can take!
  • Markers, colored pencils, a coloring book to do with kids at training
  • Hobby things (knitting, crochet, musical instruments, artwork/drawing)
  • Think about your favorite hobbies and what you need. Don’t assume you will pick up all these new hobbies and bring a guitar if you don’t already play. Many things are available here, but not always easy to find. Volunteers share a lot of skills and items.
  • Address book
  • JOURNAL *I love taking the time to write at the end of the day. It helps me collect my thought, when everything feels a bit chaotic and completely unfamiliar. 
  • Things to do with the kids! **Girls love nail painting parties. Often, for their participation in an activity a fun reward is painting your nails together. 
  • Soccer ball/volleyball and a pump (Can be found here, but fun to immediately do with the kids!)
  • Nerf football/frisbee…etc. 
  • Yoga mat. *If you’ve run out of space these can be found here, too. I got mine from a past PCV
  • Light exercise equipment, such as resistance bands

Now that I’ve spent nearly a month living in the capital I have a pretty decent idea of what can be found in country and the results are surprising!  Almost all districts also have a camptown with a Shop rite (grocery store) and/or PEP (clothing store) that have plenty!

Conclusions:

  • Spices (cinnamon, ginger, parsley, pepper, garlic, mixed/Italian herbs, coriander (cilantro), cumin, curry, oregano, thyme, etc.)
  • Coconut/vanilla and almond extract
  • Coconut milk
  • Soy milk
  • Olive oil
  • Hiking boots/thick socks
  • Sporting equipment
  • Coloring books/games
  • Trail mixes/nuts
  • Dark chocolate 
  • Brown rice/pastas
  • CUTE clothing (including warm durable stuff)
  • Local hot sauces (peri peri - also your new bestie)
  • Oatmeal/Granola
  • Veggies like butternut, eggplant, green onions, cucumber
  • Avocados! (A good avocado is few and far between, but they exist!)
  • Various cereals
  • Seeds for gardening
  • Curry and soy sauces
  • Green, rooibos, and black teas 
  • Sunscreen (in your medical kit)
  • Peanut butter, lots of it..but unfortunately it’s all hydrogenated oils. If you don’t like that..well you’ll get over it. 
  • Batteries 
  • Toiletries (toothpaste, shampoos, razors, lotions, Vaseline, Q-tips)
  • Rain boots, converse, slippers, shoes (Lots of em!)
  • Cheap sunglasses *I’ve seen some great Ray Ban knock offs on the streets of Maseru
  • Tools/hardware materials 

If nothing else, make sure you bring a laptop, external hard drive, and camera to share your experience and remember it all twenty years from now.  Get ready for the high abundance of coffee, tea and cookies in your life during training. But, for now do us all a favor and go and enjoy your last months in America - hug your family, drink a wonderful craft beer with your friends, and eat Chipotle, eat a lot of Chipotle. See you somewhere :) 

 

Happy Packing!