What kind of Peace Corps blog doesn’t have a packing list? I read through dozens upon dozens of lists and no two are the same. What you pack obviously depends on your host country, your work, and your personal preferences.
I am packing everything in a 70-L Osprey backpack (bought this off a friend in Korea and it’s endured 3+ years of backpacking and is still in great shape. Highly recommend Osprey!), a carry-on size suitcase, and a daypack. Peace Corps allows two check-in bags weighing 100 pounds total. Current volunteers recommend to not go overboard with packing because most things we can find in country, so they recommended bringing good quality outdoor gear, footwear, foodstuff, and things that make us happy (for me, that’s coffee. Well, it doesn’t just make me happy, it makes me me).
This is my list before going to Zambia, so I cannot say which I was glad to bring and which I regretted. Also, since Adam and I are going as a couple, we can share and split some things, like solar powered lights. I will write an update about what I’m glad I brought and what I regretted when the time comes. So don’t pack using my list because it might be crap!
I went on an Amazon shopping spree just before departing. I usually prefer to buy second hand, but I was only in the states for a short time and didn’t have the means to run around. I have included links to some products I bought. I did thorough research before making decisions, so I hope these recommendations help someone sift through the sea of choices.
*EDIT: Update after six months in Zambia
Now that I’ve been in country for a while, I have better advice as far as packing. Basic clothes (especially a rain jacket) are the only necessary items. Plus you can buy clothes here. Everything else is extra to make you happy or life a little more convenient/comfortable but you can survive without all the extras. So don’t fret when it comes to packing. You can find a lot here!
- Rain jacket – I got this breathable, lightweight rain jacket. Tested it out and it certainly repels water! Great for the price. *A rain jacket is crucial!
- Uniqlo ultralight down jacket – People warned that it does get chilly in Zambia. I am an absolute wuss about the cold. I already had this jacket from Japan and it’s kept me snuggly warm during this Jersey winter. It packs down into a small bag and barely takes any space. *Grateful I brought this. I was freezing in Lusaka in July.
- 2 skirts (below the knees)
- 1 button-up shirt
- 4 t-shirts
- 1 pair of hiking zip-off pants – I tried out a few, but this was the most comfortable and versatile.
- 1 pair of capris
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 pair of business casual pants for orientation and professional events? *Never wore these.
- Black leggings – I did so much research and asking around which leggings are best for hot weather. In Zambia, women should not expose legs below the knees, so leggings will come in handy. These LMB yoga leggings are incredibly soft and are magically one size fits all.
- 1 one-piece bathing suit
- 1 cardigan
- 1 simple dress
- Quick drying underwear – I got these from Amazon. They’re super comfortable and cute
- A few pairs of socks * I rarely wear socks
- 2 sports bras
- 1 regular bra
- Hat – wide brimmed hat! If you hate the sun on your face like me, bring this.
- Keens Whisper Sandals – I always travel with these!
- Hiking boots – Never wear these but I will when traveling after
- Running shoes
- Flip flops
- Flats for when we have to look presentable *Sometimes wear these in the village like at the school and church, but not necessary
Phone not in picture because I used it to take this photo! Plus messy cords.
- Laptop – I bought a cheap lightweight Lenovo in Korea when my computer suddenly died in Bali. It’s not great, but it’s bearable for basics. I wouldn’t be sad if it doesn’t last two years of service. *Laptop is useful for reporting but not a necessity for me personally.
- Smart phone – I love my Moto G5! Bought it unlocked, so hopefully it will be compatible with SIM cards in Zambia. *This phone works well here! Glad it has dual SIM.
- Kindle Paperwhite *very happy to have it but there are also lots of books to borrow from the provincial house!
- Portable solar charger – Several volunteers recommended to wait until we’re in country to get a solar setup. This one is basically a battery pack that charges from the wall as well as from the sun, so it will come in handy as a boost. *This doesn’t do a great job charging in the sun but useful for a backup battery after being charged from the wall.
- Battery pack
- Universal adapter – I used to buy a plug adapter in every country, but now I just travel with this one thing. This saved my life! I’m still not clear on what the plugs look like in Zambia, but according to this website, there are three kinds. *This is very useful
- Diva cup – I switched over to menstrual cups over 10 years ago and never looked back. Every menstruating woman should try it out.
- Skincare (I am particular with my Korean & Japanese skincare products) *Wish I brought more face sunscreen
- The usual shampoo, soap, toothbrush, etc. Don’t waste too much space on this as you can get it in country. Have enough to last for the three months of PST.
My zero waste kit I keep with me all the time anyway! Read other tips on how to reduce waste when traveling.
- Klean Kanteen – My all-time favorite water bottle.
- LifeStraw bottle and Sawyer water filtration system. I wouldn’t have gotten these myself, but if you know Adam, he loves water, so he wanted to make sure we have clean water wherever we go. Peace Corps provides water filter systems at our sites (though we will have to go fetch it ourselves!) *Not really necessary yet but I’ll probably use them when traveling
- Stainless steel vacuum seal mug – I take this with me everywhere as I sip tea all day.
- Stainless steel food containers – I prefer to eat from these instead of plastic. I will stuff things inside so they don’t take up much space.
- Vegetable peelers (supposedly this is a good gift!)
- 3 Dry bags – I hear the humidity can ruin some electronics, so I plan to store such items in these bags. Also will be useful at Victoria Falls! *I use the 20L one but not the others really
- 12-in-1 Multi-tool
- Sleeping bag – *Useful when traveling and visiting sites but you can always borrow from the prov house
- Rechargeable headlamp *Highly recommend
- Bedsheet *Bring a fitted sheet if you care about that. Double or queen size if you plan on buying a larger mattress than a twin.
- Passport photos
- Photos of friends and family
- Postcards from New York (close enough to where I grew up). *I write notes and give these as gifts to friends in the community
- Bicycle panniers and rain cover *Panniers are so helpful. Definitely recommend it
- Mini sewing kit – *you can buy in country
- Wire combination locks *Not necessary
- USD – Cash can always come in handy when it comes to visas and border crossing
- Blank checks – Old school, but I know I’m going to have to renew my passport before 2020 and that will require a check to the U.S. Embassy.
- Deck of cards
- Earplugs and eye mask – Essentials for me on long flights and bus rides
- Ear buds *Wish I brought good quality headphones. Even the expensive ones here break easily
- Spices – *not necessary. You can buy in country
- Hot sauce *not necessary unless you have a particular brand you like, like Sriracha
- Chia seeds (okay, a luxury, but I really love them) *can buy in Lusaka
- Coffee (I NEED a supply for 3 months of pre-service training)
- Pourover coffee filter
- Loose leaf tea & tea strainer (also a green tea addict)
Volunteers are already giving up 27 months of salary and a few dollars goes a long way in most of the countries where we are serving. I always try to find savings when I can.
- Check out the Peace Corps discounts page. These are constantly being updated.
- I personally bought most things on Amazon. I saved 5% on each shopping trip with my Amazon credit card (don’t worry, I always pay my debt in full so I never pay interest) PLUS 3% cashback by clicking the link through Swagbucks or eBates. It isn’t much, but it does add up. I got six pounds of chia seeds and two bags of coffee for free from a deal I found on Swagbucks.
- Buy from eBay. I regret buying a refurbished Kindle on there (I ended up buying a new one on Amazon), but I did get some good deals from eBay plus cash back from eBates.
Some cash back from online shopping
Well, there you have it! Hope I’m not forgetting anything and that you find this useful. I will update this after being in Zambia for a while and reflect on this list.