15 Peace Corps Volunteers Share Their Best Packing List Tips

Going on a Peace Corps mission will be a life changing experience.

To make sure your mission will be a great experience, it helps a lot to bring everything you need – and at the same time avoid carrying too much stuff.

To improve how we pack our bags, we have talked with 15 experienced Peace Corps volunteers and asked them to share their best advice.

Read on and learn from their best tips and tricks (all the 15 volunteers have lots of experience, so they know what they are talking about!).

Empty Peace Corps volunteer hut

The 15 Peace Corps volunteers


Gabriella Miyares
I’m originally from Florida, went to school in North Carolina, and have lived in NYC since 2009, with a brief break when I served in the Peace Corps in Guyana. Before Peace Corps, I had spent some time traveling in Europe (Great Britain, France, Italy), Argentina, Mexico, Australia, and around the U.S. I now live in Queens, New York. I joined the Peace Corps because I wanted to have a truly in-depth cultural experience and push my own flexibility and perspective as much as possible.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

This may sound odd, but one of the most useful things I brought was a paper craft set (an X-Acto knife, cutting mat, and bone folder). This was absolutely invaluable in my work as an education volunteer where I used it to cut flyers to size quickly and easily, cut and fold school booklets, etc. All of the teachers were envious of my X-Acto!

I also brought some heavy-duty dry bags, which I initially thought I’d use to keep my electronics dry, but I actually ended up using them to protect my food from the ever-present insects! They came in so handy whenever I got treats from home and wanted to make 100% sure no tiny ants would be enjoying them.

The towels I brought were the absolute best — my mom had them for a few years before passing them down to me. They were a lightweight waffle weave that enabled them to dry really quickly, which was so essential in the humid climate, while still being absorbent. When you’re bucket bathing multiple times a day it’s so important to have a dependable towel that still feels somewhat more luxurious than a camping towel!

Someone in my Peace Corps class brought a heavy leather jacket. Guyana is very hot and very humid all the time, so I’m pretty sure that was an instant regret. Someone else brought a bottle of bourbon (not a bad idea) that broke in their bag and soaked all of their clothes right in time for training (OK, maybe not the best idea after all).

How do you bring things with you?

I packed really light — I brought my violin in a small cheap case, a rolling duffel (a very old one from LL Bean) as my checked luggage, and this (also now discontinued) duffel/backpack from Eagle Creek. I packed clothes and things in freezer Ziplocs (which also came in so handy throughout my service for storing clothing, food, etc) and put shoes and other larger loose items in variously sized Baggu collapsible nylon bags. Those Baggu bags were so great for market days and whenever I had to tote large items around!

My everyday bag for school was a small leather saddlebag I bought in Italy (about 8x7x1.5″) or, if I needed more room, I had a cross-body hobo-style bag from Baggalini (sorry, all of my bags are so old I can’t find the models anymore).

I felt like I had a really good assortment to choose from. The most important things for bags were that they were durable, lightweight, secure (had buckles or zip closures), and ideally could be multipurpose/packable (like the green backpack I used). If they were also water resistant, that was the icing on the cake.

I also packed a carry-on-size bag (seen under my life jacket in this photo above) that I later modified into a cat carrier when I adopted a kitten. When I had to take him to the vet (6-8 hours away), I unzipped the outer pocket and replaced the lining with mosquito net mesh so it was breathable. Talk about multi-use bags!

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Pack light and pack practically but don’t forget to bring things that will give you joy. For instance, I packed myself a little kit of quality art supplies, loaded up a Kindle Paperwhite, and even brought my violin! Bring electronics (your link to back home) that are durable, and bring cases for them that keep out water as well as spare chargers/batteries if they are hard to replace from afar. My iPhone 4S and old-model 11″ MacBook Air made it through loads of trips and very humid climates with no issue.

No matter what you pack, you’ll be able to find what you need to survive in your new home. To thrive, you need to connect with those in your community. The best part of my service came after a few months that felt very hard and lonely. I forced myself to keep going out to meet people, and those baby steps turned into life-long friendships. It takes time, patience, flexibility, and an open mind. But it’s so incredibly rewarding. My village gave me so much more than I ever expected, once I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.

Visit Gabriella Miyares’ website


Justin Rickey
I have a Bachelor’s in Anthropology, Bachelor’s in History, and a Master’s in Education. During my Peace Corps service, I served in the Southeast region of Madagascar as an Education Volunteer and then extended for a third year as the Volunteer Leader for the northern half of Madagascar. After finishing my service, I converted my Peace Corps blog into a travel blog and spent the next seven months backpacking across Southeast Asia and now Malta.

I was born and raised south of Houston, Texas until I moved to the DFW area, in north Texas, for university and work.

I currently live in Malta, but I tend to only stay in a country until my visa ends before moving on to the next.

Peace Corps had been on my radar for a while before I actually applied. It is a unique opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps; one in which you don’t truly understand till you’re in it. For me deciding to join came down to three things: a passion to help others, a fascination with other cultures, and a love of travel. Over the years of university and real-life experiences, I have acquired knowledge in array of fields that I wanted to use to be able to share and help others. I have also always had a fascination with other cultures, which eventually lead to me getting my first degree in Anthropology, and in travel. Joining the Peace Corps allowed me to feel all three of these things.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

I took a lot of things that many volunteers don’t usually take, but I think that my top 3 things for me ended up being stick deodorant, a Gerber tool, and a key chain bottle opener. Each of these things have their individual reasons for making it to the top of my list. The stick deodorant is merely because you can not find it in Madagascar and, in my experience of traveling, it is hard to find it in many places around the world. The Gerber tool is a multi-tool and is just great to have for any projects that will undoubtedly come your way during your service. The bottle opener my seem odd to make the top of a list, but it served as a social cue and, when many places didn’t have a bottle opener, allowed me to easily open my beer. I should also add seasonings as an honorary mention to this list. Although I did not bring it myself (I asked for it in a care package later), seasonings are definitely a must bring item. They allow you to change up the food that you are eating and to bring a little home to your far away home.

You can get by without bringing any of these items, many volunteers do, but they did improve my service. Deodorant, of course, needs no explanation. For the Gerber tool, as a multi-tool, came in helpful many times during my service to repair things around the house, once to help rig my bike for single speed after a derailleur malfunction, and, after the community water pump broke, was used to be able to turn on and off the pump. The key chain bottle opener was an oddity in Madagascar. A place where drinking is very much part of the culture, everyone mainly just use whatever they can get their hands on to open their beer; which can be anything from a table top to their teeth. Everyone would think it was funny when I would pull the small bottle opener out of my pocket and it instantly became a conversation piece that helped with integration.

Every volunteer brings a few things that they think that they will need and end up never using. Most of the things people needless take to country are things they think they will not be able to get in country, but can actually buy at least at a grocery store in the Capitol. I actually brought quite a few myself, but I think the most useless thing I took was a box of envelops. I had planned to have them to be able to send letters home (ended up just using Facebook Messenger), but after a few days of being in the elements all of the envelops sealed shut and ended up just being useless. Other things that I have seen volunteers bring were cycling shoes or a bag of pennies (as gifts).

How do you bring things with you?

When traveling to your country of service with the Peace Corps you are allowed two checked bags, one carry-on, and a personal item. I used all of these when traveling to Madagascar and maxed them out. For my checked bags I used a Kelty Lakota 65 multi-day backpack, which I later used while traveling around Madagascar during my service, and a wheel-less duffel bag, which sat under my bed holding all of the other needless stuff I had brought in it. My checked bag was a Sierra Designs Discovery 30 day-pack that I later used for short trips to my banking town. Lastly, my personal item was a messenger bag style laptop case, which I used to carry most of my electronics to Madagascar but then never used again. This bag would have been used as a bus bag, but I just used my day pack until I got a smaller backpack.

In packing my bags, I put most of my electronics in my personal item bag to keep them close to me and safe. Personal item bags are usually never weighed, as long as they look within the size limit, so having most of my heavy electronics stored in it saved me weight in my other bags. In my carry-on I packed mostly clothes; rolling each article of clothing to maximize the packing efficiency. The checked bags included the rest of my clothes and all of the other random things that I had packed. When packing my bags, I try to pack the bigger items first, then work towards the smaller items so that I can use them to fill in the spots left by the bigger items. In the end I feel like I had more than enough room for all of things I needed/wanted to pack.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Packing in general can be a stressful event, but doing it for two years of unknown can seem like a nightmare. In the end, what you need to bring comes down mainly to personal preferences. There are some things that are important to take (like electronics, that can be hard to find or expensive in a lot of Peace Corps countries), but there is no one thing that will make or break your service. Remember that we now live in a global world and that, at least in the capitol, you will be able to buy most things you think you will need. Another tip I would have is to buy packs that have multiple access points (i.e. the Kelty pack that I use has a top, side, and bottom entry to the main area) so that it makes it easy to get to your things without having to take everything out of you bag to find an article of clothing you put at the bottom.

I will admit that I did not pack light when packing for the Peace Corps. When your allowed two checked bags and a carry-on for two years of service it’s hard not to use the full amount and not pack light. If you have never packed light before, you will definitely learn the skill during your Peace Corps service. One of the main keys to packing light is to realize that you don’t need as many clothes as you think you do, since you can always wash your clothes along the way. The main benefit of packing light is that it gives you the ability to be able to travel far easier. You can easily just jump into a bus or car and go. And it is easier to get from place to place with a backpack, rather than a duffel bag or suitcase. You can throw it on your back and it becomes part of you, allowing you to easily make it through the crowds of people that are often in transportation stations. The biggest mistake I think that I have seen some Peace Corps volunteers make is trying to use a roller suitcase or duffy to travel.

I know first hand how hard it is to just leave everything behind and go. Leaving a good job, a life you know/understand, and your family and friends is a hard step to take. I wish I could say there was an easy way of doing it or that I had some grand recommendation for how to, but to be completely honest, there isn’t. You just simply have to do it. You have to take that first step and then your feet will follow. I can say, without a doubt, that it is worth it. You will live a life that you would never have imagined and will become greater for it. You will You will will change the life of others, meet people that will change your life, become part of a network of people that look after their own, and learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine.

Visit Justin Rickey’s website


Janae Werdlow
I’m an army brat, so I’m a local of many places. I’m not from anywhere really. I’m in Winston Salem, NC now. I became a PCV same way as everyone else – I applied and I got in. My why is probably similar as well. I wanted to help people. Originally, I wanted to be a doctor but when I realized how long it would take me to get to the people and actually make a difference, I changed my major and applied to the Peace Corps.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

  • Favorite seasoning. There’s nothing like the taste of home and you’ll be surprised how often you’ll want to make a dish for memories sake but can’t because the seasonings just aren’t right.
  • A bottle of mace. As a woman, keychain mace gave me more security to be on my own and explore.
  • Bag locks for any suitcase and backpacks. People steal and unfortunately, impoverished people tend to steal more. Locking your bags while traveling, locking your bags when you leave them at your hosts home and locking them when you’re leaving for only a few minutes will do more good than harm.

Bonus pack: a suitcase weigher because nothing is more embarrassing than trying to repack all your things in an airport because it’s too heavy and you can’t afford the $150+ additional charge.

How do you bring things with you?

I had two suitcases and a backpack. No special brand although some volunteers only came with one backpack! Suitcase cubbies, ziplock bags and rolling things made packing a breeze. I packed everything on the recommended list they gave us and I felt prepared.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

My top tips are these:

  • Don’t worry. This experience is going to be like nothing you’ve ever done before BUT at the end of the day if you hate it, it’s not the armed forces. You can come home whenever you want.
  • Be flexible. This job is not like any other job you’ve ever had or will ever have so you’ve got to roll with the punches. Don’t be a quitter too early. It doesn’t really get good until you’ve put in some work.
  • Be sensitive to the culture. You’re not in America. Don’t expect everything to be like America for you. That’s rude and selfish. It does you a disservice because learning something new can open your eyes and mind to things you’ve never considered.
  • Talk to the locals and really make an effort to see the country where you’re placed. Wherever you’ll be placed won’t be wherever you were living so make an effort to really see the place. Not just the attractive touristy places either. See that country and the reason why the locals love it.
  • Your service is what you make it. Literally. It’s one of the only jobs in the world that you can do pretty much whatever you want to do. So take advantage of that. Don’t complain and be negative about everything. If you’re not having fun, change your mindset and your perspective. You can have as many side projects as you want. Go to the beach every weekend. Volunteer in a hospital. Learn how to play the guitar or build a house. Pursue whatever you want because 9 times out of 10 they’ll be a local there who knows how and is willing to teach you.

Visit Janae Werdlow’s website


Christine Bedenis
I grew up outside of Detroit, but have lived in a number of places around the United States. I am currently living in Malawi, though I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand. I became a Peace Corps volunteer because I wanted to learn deeply about a place and culture that was entirely different from my life experiences. I wanted to know more about how other people lived and interacted in the world and society.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

A commitment to making some kind of recording of each day was crucial for me. For my first year of Peace Corps, I wrote just one sentence in a journal that summed up the day, and my second year I attempted to record one second of video every day, and then compile it into a longer video using an app. So much can get lost in your memories and it can be really easy to get caught up in the more stressful things, so having something that I could look back on to remember each day and allowed me to refocus on the highlights was really helpful.

A small stash of Ziploc bags was probably one of the more practical things I had. I ended up needing to put a lot of my dried goods in some kind of protection to keep the ants out and the freezer Ziploc bags really came in handy for that.

Some of the more useless things I brought were clothes that I didn’t feel great about wearing. There were certainly clothes that were within cultural norms that I would have felt better about wearing, but I took the packing list and guidelines a bit too strictly. Also, weather and climate appropriate clothes. Rainy season is a real bummer for laundry times, so getting things that can dry quickly can be pretty crucial. Though I would say that being someone who wears plus-size clothes, it wasn’t realistic for me to rely on buying clothes in country.

How do you bring things with you?

I have an Osprey Meridian 75L and an REI brand rolling duffel. I probably brought too much stuff with me, and I had just the right amount of space for that too much stuff. When I finished my service, I did not have enough space for all the things I wanted to bring back and ended up sending a couple of boxes home.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Look at the clothes you’re bringing and then get rid of half. If that seems like too much, that at least a third of them. You really do not need that many clothes, truly. Bring things that make you smile, whether it’s a card or painting to put on your wall, some kind of make-up, a shirt, or whatever. Remember that regular people live regular lives where you are going, and you can live just like them. There is no real need to bring all of your American comforts with you, and doing so can create some barriers between you and your community. Go with the intention to learn more than teach, listen more than speak and receive more than you give.

Visit Christine Bedenis’ website


Tommy Schultz
I’m from Winchester, VA, but I’m a photographer and writer based in Bali, Indonesia. When I finished the Peace Corps, I never really moved back to the US!

I joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in the Philippines in the Sustainable Island Development program. I had been working as a fundraiser for environmental causes with the Trout Unlimited organization. After seeing the significant environmental challenges facing the future of the planet, I decided I wanted to get out and try to make a difference in person.

I worked in the Silliman University Marine Lab in the Philippines helping with environmental education, coral reef surveys, and livelihood projects for fishing communities.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

  • A sarong – can use it as a sheet, towel, padding for camera equipment, or even going into a temple (many places require sarongs for visitors)
  • Water filter straw – the most common ailments Peace Corps volunteers get are from bacteria in water (and often food). Avoid getting sick by using one of the new water filter straws that give you clean drinking water.
  • Portable speaker – nice to hear some tunes from home whenever you get homesick. Also a good thing to have to start an impromptu party, playing music is one of the best cross-cultural bridges there is!

How do you bring things with you?

I’ve been a Patagonia pro for almost 20 years, and their gear is all I use for travel.

My main bag is a Patagonia Black Hole Rolling duffel (100L), backed up with a second Patagonia Black Hole duffel (100L) that folds down into its own pouch for easy transport.

My carry-on is a Patagonia Paxat Pack (32L) – fits my underwater camera housing, drone, laptop, lenses, portable hard drives, and cables.

Camera bag is a Patagonia Orbiter (discontinued unfortunately). I love it because it doesn’t actually look like a camera bag – blends in and doesn’t draw the attention of thieves.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Biggest advice to pack light is to be sure your gear is sturdy and can be used in multiple different situations. Of course, the classic advice about layering applies, bring multiple lightweight layers that can be added and removed rather than heavy stuff. I basically live in surf board shorts because they are comfortable, dry quickly, and can be used either on a boat or in semi-casual situations. I do tend to bring more gear than most because I’m a photographer, but my core clothing selection is very simple – a few tshirts, board shorts, a lightweight rain jacket / outer layer, a lightweight insulating shirt (like a capilene) for cold airplane or bus trips, and an umbrella rather than a really heavy raincoat.

For most, the biggest challenge is just getting started out the door, so don’t underestimate those first steps. Once you’ve built up a bit of momentum, living in another country / culture starts to feel natural and normal and you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it before!

To see more about my Peace Corps experience, please visit this link.

Visit Tommy Schultz’s website


Tilyian Morrin
Hi! My name is Tily and I’m a RPCV that served in the community economic development sector in Costa Rica. I’m originally from Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I studied Community & Nonprofit Leadership. During college I served as an Americorps Jumpstart Volunteer for four years and absolutely loved it! It felt great to get involved in my community outside of campus and I loved working with children and a tight-knit team of volunteers.

When my older brother (he’s two years older than me) started his application for the Peace Corps I was immediately intrigued. It just seemed like such an incredible opportunity to challenge myself, grow as a person, travel the world, and give back to the global community. He served in Madagascar and I could just see the way the experience shaped him and really set the stage for his future career and life. Once I was in my final year of college I applied and moved out to Lake Tahoe, California to be a ski bum for a little bit while my application process. Turns out northern California is beautiful and by the time I received my invitation I wasn’t ready to leave. Three years later I applied again and it was well worth the wait. I spent time after college working with a great nonprofit that provided me with great skills to be a successful Peace Corps volunteer. Plus, the work experience allowed me to apply for the sector that I actually wanted to do – community economic development.

I finished my service in April 2018 and currently live in Denver, Colorado. Of course, I miss Costa Rica and my host family but I am happy to be back in the states. I’m working with a terrific nonprofit organization called Accion and specialize in doing business loans for under-served entrepreneurs in my community.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

I think the most important things to consider bringing are: new hobbies, your favorite foods, and fun stuff for children/gifts for host country nationals. It’s no secret that Peace Corps volunteers – at some point or another – will have a lot of downtime. Bringing a ukulele, painting supplies, and books were all things that helped me fill this time and furthermore, appreciate the alone time I had. Before leaving I had never played the ukulele so it was a fun thing to challenge myself with! I was also happy I brought some trinkets and gifts for my host families, since it was a fun way to share my culture with them and express my gratitude! Lastly, bring some of your favorite non-perishable foods since a lot of items are difficult to find abroad. Peanut butter, nuts, and nutritional yeast (weird, yet delicious) were all things I stocked up on before leaving.

The most useless things I saw people bringing were tons of clothes (guilty myself!). All volunteers end up wearing the same thing over and over again so please do not bring your favorite clothing with you! Chances are it will get ruined or moldy if you go somewhere hot.

How do you bring things with you?

Here are the bags that I brought with me:

  • 1 North Face 36” Rolling Thunder – 48 lbs: This bag is huge. The 30” or a smaller option would have been perfect. Highly recommend the rolling duffel-bag style
  • 1 55-liter backpacking bag – 46 lbs
  • 1 carry-on bag (a Marmot Granite backpack)
  • 1 personal item – ukulele

I felt like this backing style was perfect and manageable to carry all by myself. A rolling duffel-bag was perfect and a backpacking bag was great when I wanted to do weekend trips or had to travel back to the capitol for something.

I used travel cubes to organize a lot of my things and it helped a lot! My advise is to use all your space and pounds. If you have extra space pack extra toiletries (shampoo, conditioner) as it can be expensive in a lot of other countries.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Don’t wait until the night before to pack. Make some space in your room and lay everything out a week before so you can go back and pull out the things you maybe might not need. Skirts, dresses, and leggings are great for gals and khakis are great for guys. If you’re going somewhere hot basic t-shirts/quick dry t-shirts are always great. Stick to the basics so you can wear things over and over again. I’m telling you – less is more!

Before you leave make sure you can carry all your stuff by yourself. I once saw a volunteer with four rolling suitcases and it did not go well. You will be in charge of your luggage so don’t overdo it. A lot of people feel like they need to pack a lot of nice clothing for the first three months during training and you really don’t. Bring something nice for the swearing-in ceremony and keep the rest pretty casual. Chances are if you find yourself needing something else you’ll be able to find it in your host country.

Good luck!

Visit Tilyian Morrin’s website


Alicia Carter

Hello, I’m Alicia. I’m from Los Angeles, California. In 2014, I earned my BA in International Health and Development with a minor in Photography from the University of Denver. After graduation, I worked as a photographer for the Anderson Ranch Arts Center followed by two years of service in the Peace Corps as a Healthy Youth Advisor in Lesotho. Most recently, I worked as the Marketing Manager for Thanda, a non-profit in South Africa focused on creative education. In pursuing my dreams, I created Lilac Stories, a small media company advocating for social issues and celebrating interconnectedness by working with non-profit organizations and small businesses on their visual storytelling and marketing strategies. I am currently living in South Africa and plan to return to the United States soon to pursue my master’s in Media and Journalism.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

First and foremost, to stay sane during Peace Corps…be who YOU are. So, bring your clothing. You don’t need to go out and buy a bunch of new items unless you’re missing a warm jacket or something essential for your country. In reality, you’ll probably inherit clothes from other volunteers and you can always buy clothes in country. Second, invest in those Eagle Creek travel packing organizers (electronic and for clothes). Four years later, I still use these things! Last, an external hard drive and a couple USBs are your besties. You’ll want these to backup your computer, photos, etc., but also to share books and movies with other volunteers.

How do you bring things with you?

As a photographer, I really love the Thule Aspect DSLR bag. It holds my laptop, DSLR, cables and a night of clothing all in one. For larger bags, I use an Eagle Creek rolling duffle and have an Osprey 65L backpack. Like I said above, I love my packing cubes! If I have too much space in any of these bags, I just stuff them with yogi tea, chocolate and Justin’s PB. If you have too little space, get rid of non-essentials!

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

From my experience, one of the biggest challenges for PCVs is the isolated environment, both physically and emotionally. It is something that I never could have prepared for or packed in a bag, but having healthy coping mechanisms is important. In times where I felt down or unmotivated, I would get myself out for a run or draw with the children who lived next door. It’s also important to bring a lot of self-motivation and be prepared to immediately step out of your comfort zone with an open mind.

There are very few other organizations where you can become as close to a community or people in the way you do in Peace Corps. It’s incredibly special and the relationships I had formed my favorite memories. So my best advice is to bring an open mind, your laptop to connect with support back home, your camera to document the wonder around you and a journal to remember it all. In the meantime, relax and enjoy your last few months with friends and family eating burritos and drinking good beer. Two years is a long time, but it does go by fast so appreciate every moment…the good and the bad. They all build a stronger you.

Visit Alicia Carter’s website


Frances Withrow
I served in the Philippines ’14-’16. I grew up in Amarillo, TX and now I work in Washington DC as a scientist at a non-profit. I became a Peace Corps volunteer as a Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) student. The program no longer exists, but it combined your Masters work and Peace Corps service. It looked different for everyone, but for me it meant I completed most of my Masters work before I left the country. I am drawn to challenges and tend to be opportunistic. I read about PCMI and simply decided that I had to try it out and then things slowly fell into place.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

I know all volunteers bring clothes, but investing in high quality outdoor gear tops was a game changer for me. Hand-washing and constant use really destroyed many of my clothes, but my Columbia fishing shirts lasted my whole service. I brought printed photos of my friends and family which turned out to be a must have – there were places to print, but the photo quality wasn’t great and the available photo paper faded very quickly in the climate. I brought a high quality hiking backpack (in my favorite color – plum) that I STILL have that made all the difference during and right after service as well. I didn’t end up bringing anything odd or particularly interesting that helped – it was more about investing in high quality items that I knew would be used often and roughly like the collared fishing shirts and hiking backpack OR things that were simply hard to find like cotton underwear that were my size.

People bring WAY too many hygiene products and low quality clothes. These types of things you can get in country. If you are an odd size or have a particularly niche hygiene need, then your products/clothes are an exception. It is worth doing research ahead of time by finding returned volunteers from your specific country of service – what is functional? what can and cannot be found easily? Don’t waste your bag space on stuff that is easy to get at a later time.

How do you bring things with you?

I had one large suitcase (which I put a smaller carry on size suitcase into), a hiking backpack (40L), and a regular backpack. I don’t recall the brands of the suitcases – but they were relatively standard sizes. My hiking backpack was 40L and REI brand. My regular backpack was a Jansport.

I used those vacuum backs to organize my clothes. Even though you are supposed to use an actual vacuum, you can also squeeze out the air by hand. It was a nice tool both for packing and also during my service – I lived in a tropical place and having protective plastic bags came in handy at times. I had a perfect amount of space. Don’t get me wrong – I jam packed my bags, but I knew even while I was packing that I wouldn’t end up needing some of this stuff…I just didn’t know what stuff was helpful or not yet!

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Packing is something most volunteers fret over. Don’t get me wrong, you need to do your research and read what everyone else is doing, but ultimately YOU have to know what is important to YOU and pack accordingly. Not only do you need to know what is important to you, but you need to remember why you are joining the Peace Corps. Don’t let other people’s priorities distract you or make you try to be someone you are not. You should definitely always strive to pack less, but it is ok if you aren’t someone who can live with only two shirts (those people are mad anyways!)

While I was packing my clothes, I focused on their functionality. Of course I like dressing up and going out to have fun, but the things I brought with me were focused on what would be helpful and appropriate for my job. I knew I could get more cute or fun things later. I researched things about the culture – I went somewhere that gift giving is normal when going to a home so I made sure to bring gifts with me to share with my new host families.

Don’t let fear stop you. Exciting opportunities are always scary and the bigger the opportunity, the scarier it is. Just fill out the forms, read the blogs, and take things one step at a time. You will be in country before you know it!

Visit Frances Withrow’s website


Heather Mangan
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, from 2010-2011, and in Lesotho, from 2011-2013. I decided to go into the Peace Corps because I wanted to experience a world outside of the one I grew up in rural South Dakota and do something for the good of humanity. Peace Corps was one of the single best experiences of my life, and it lead to what I am currently doing, which is living in Chicago and pursing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Heath Counseling.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

What you should bring to Peace Corps really depends on where you serve. If you are going to a country with tropical weather, you’ll want light, breathable clothing. If you will experience colder temps, you will need high-quality winter gear. Outside of clothing, this is what I often suggest people should bring:

  • Batteries. In my experience, batteries in more developing countries tend to be cheap, and because many volunteers will live in places without electricity, you’ll need batteries for radios, headlamps, etc.
  • Pictures and mementos from home. You will want to make your home in Peace Corps feel like home, and the best way to do that is to decorate it with things that make you smile. For me, that included pictures of my families, a pennant from university, and inspiring quotes and phrases.
  • Journal. I wrote in my journal every day while I was in the Peace Corps, and now I have this in-depth record of my service that I can pass down to my kids and grandkids.

The most uesless things I’ve seen people bring is toiletries, which you will be able to get wherever you serve. Also, super expensive gear, like fancy cameras and camping equipment. That stuff marks your for thieves, and it’s not super helpful.

How do you bring things with you?

Most people end up bringing two big suitcases with them. For me, an Osprey a rucksack was absolutely essential, specifically for traveling around throughout my service. I also had a basic Jansport backpack that was helpful for daily commuting. Also, smaller bags for cords and makeups were also good. And, my bags are always stuffed to the gills. For many people, though, Peace Corps really helps them learn to pack less when traveling, since you end up having to carry it all on your back.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Before I went to the Peace Corps, a friend told me to only pack things you are comfortable with loosing. Things get lost, broken, or stolen, so if there is something you really love, like my mother’s ring she gave me, leave it at home. Also, wherever you go as a volunteer you should carry three essential things with you: a water bottle (hydration is important), a book (you will likely have free time), and a notebook (you want to always have the ability to take notes).

Visit Heather Mangan’s website


Mark Jahnke
I’m originally from Ketchikan, Alaska, but grew up for a time in Geneva, Switzerland as well. I think that’s probably where I got the first seeds of interest in the world of international development. As I continued on to high school in Seattle, my teachers and my family instilled in me a commitment to service that ultimately led me to study the equivalent of Modern Middle Eastern Studies and Global Health and Health Policy at Harvard University for my undergraduate degree.

I ended up in the Peace Corps by chance. In undergraduate I wrote my dissertation on Iran’s program to address HIV in injecting drug using populations, a program which has been enormously successful and which has been recognised as a WHO best-practice model for more than a decade. As it turns out, Central Asia faces similar challenges in that the HIV epidemic there is also especially concentrated in injecting drug users, so when I found out that there was an opportunity to apply that experience in Kyrgyzstan working with the public health system and NGO’s, I immediately applied.

Since then, I went on to become a Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom, where I received a Master of Science with Merit in Development Studies specialising in Central Asia, and now I am completing a Master in Public Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson school on a full scholarship. In the future, I’m hoping to continue working to bring investment and economic opportunity to the entire Central Asian region, which is often overlooked in major development initiatives.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

I packed pretty deliberately for the Peace Corps, but I think there’s a few things that stand out:

  • A VERY warm winter coat: Kyrgyzstan has summer temperatures that can exceed 100F/40C, and winter temperatures that can drop to as cold as -40 in the most remote mountain villages. Warm clothing is absolutely essential, but luckily is also readily available there. One of my favourite souvenirs is a giant fur hat that kept me warm even in the frigid temperatures throughout the winter there.
  • Ice Skates: I used to be a professional figure skater, so I brought my skates with me so that I could go to the local ice rinks to have a bit of fun when I had some free time. I didn’t go often, but it was really great to have them. One time, I went to the training centre in the capital where their Olympic-tier figure skaters train, and everyone stopped to watch and asked me where in Russia I was from. Integration accomplished!
  • My stuffed pterodactyl and octopus: I wanted to make sure my room felt like home to me, so I brought some of my favourite decorations and wall hangings, but none as important to me as my two favourite stuffed animals from my childhood to keep me company. Perhaps it was kitschy, but the more you can make your space feel like a home, the happier you will be!

A bonus item that you can usually buy in country: a power bank! Power goes out frequently, and at the same time, the mobile networks in many countries often force smartphones to use a high-power mode in order to get service. As a result, most days my smartphone would go through an entire battery by the early afternoon. With a power bank, I never had to worry about that. Since Kyrgyzstan’s Peace Corps office requires you to have prior approval if you’re going to be out of cell coverage for more than a half-day or so, this kept me from worrying about whether or not they’d be able to get in touch with me if there was an emergency. But you know who appreciated that even more? My mom!

As for “useless things,” I think a lot of people pack and prepare for the Peace Corps like they’re going to be camping for two years. Now don’t get me wrong – I definitely brought backpacking gear, a sleeping bag, and plenty of hiking clothes. But we also had plenty of occasions where we needed to wear business attire, and I got the impression that a lot of people didn’t always take that into account. Appearances matter even more in Kyrgyzstan than the US, so anything you can bring to help you look your best will also help you be taken seriously in your work, while also helping you feel like you really look the part. Additionally, the less you stand out on the street, the less risk you face of becoming the victim of petty crime.

You can see my full packing list for Kyrgyzstan, including the things I needed, the things I didn’t need, and the things I wish I had.

How do you bring things with you?

I think a lot of people bring too much stuff with them. I brought with me five bags (some packed inside each other for the trip over. Note that Kyrgyzstan, unlike many countries, allows two pieces of 50lb/23kg luggage for volunteers. In my experience, you probably only actually need 50-70% of that capacity.

Carry-on:

Gregory Z40 Backpack – 40L is about the largest you can get away with as a carry-on bag, and is plenty big for some pretty big trips, whether it’s to Europe or around your country, or even a cheeky backpacking trip. Backpacks fit differently on different people, so I’d recommend visiting an REI or outdoor store to get fitted properly for one. A lot of people really like Osprey brand bags as well.

Collapsible Reusable Shopping Bag – These are great to have, both in case you have too much stuff with you but also later on when going to the market or wandering town. My bag was a little overweight when I checked in, so this also allowed me to pull some stuff out and avoid an excess baggage fee.

Kenneth Cole Reporter Bag – This bag is the exact size of my 11″ laptop and also fits full-size paper notebooks and an iPad perfectly. Because it’s so small, people don’t think you’re carrying much of value in it, which makes it great for a day-to-day bag. There are also plenty of similar options like Timbuk2 that serve this purpose well. I later switched to a tote bag, but I personally recommend against any type of bag that does not zip closed securely due to the risk of pickpocketing.

Hold luggage:

Eagle Creek Gear Warrior Rolling Duffel – Eagle Creek is one of my absolute favourite brands because it’s durable, affordable, and has a lifetime warranty. In fact, I STILL use the two bags I took with me to Kyrgyzstan on a regular basis and they still look nearly-new. The last thing you want is a bag to break while you’re somewhere and can’t get it fixed, and these guys are indestructible. I recommend the 32-inch size because it’s very difficult to exceed 50lbs with that size.

Eagle Creek “No Matter What” Collapsible Duffel With Wheels (Extra Large Size) – This collapsible duffel is a great bag for moving lots of stuff from place to place. It has wheels and straps for carrying options, and because it collapses completely, it’s very easy to store when you’re not using it. I have used it for 4 transoceanic moves and 2 transcontinental moves and it still looks new. One word of caution – I use the Extra Large size, but it’s VERY easy to overpack that one if you’re not carrying light but bulky things. The Large size is a bit smaller and easier to keep underneath a 50lb limit.

When packing, I distributed items between all 3 major bags (backpack and two duffels). That’s because usually one or both pieces of hold luggage will go missing en route and arrive days late. So, always have a couple of changes of clothes in your carry-on bag and the essentials just in case! And be sure to weigh them all so you don’t encounter any surprises at the airport. In particular, try to keep your carry-on lightweight if possible.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

I think packing light can be a wonderful thing (I now routinely fly back and forth across the Atlantic with only a 22lb carry-on bag and nothing else), but at the same time, two years is long enough that you want to be sure you can feel at home. Bring your favourite shirt, some clothes to go out in, some great-looking work clothes. There’s no need to go buy out half of REI to get ready – the things that work in the US also work abroad (except for maybe short-shorts and tank tops on all genders).

I think my biggest tip to PCVs is to not treat it like two years away, but treat it like you’re moving somewhere for a job. I think the people who got the most out of their experience are people who approached it as a job, and who embraced Kyrgyzstan as home in their hearts. This helped me invest emotionally in the work I was doing and also hold myself to the same professional standards I held myself to when working in New York and Washington DC. It’s exciting, it’s an adventure, but you should also embrace it as a professional opportunity to learn and grow, and yes, trip and fall flat on your face in a mud puddle after the worst day of your life.

The hardest part? Getting on the plane on that very first day. That’s the biggest leap of faith, and once you’ve done it, it still is hard, but you’ve taken the first step, and that’s so important.

Visit Mark Jahnke’s website


Michelle
Hi, I served in China from 2016-2018. After COS, I returned to my hometown in California, utilized my NCE and recently started a new job!

Before becoming a PCV, I never dreamed I would go to China or ever live there. Peace Corps was not a childhood dream either however in 2015 when I applied, I was ready personally and professionally to commit to serve anywhere and to do anything. Prior to Peace Corps, I had earned my MSW, worked in public child welfare and advertising in addition to volunteering as a School on Wheels tutor for students experiencing homelessness.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

  • Specific product(s) that may not be found in your country of service – I packed almost two years worth of a specific type of deodorant that I use (and could not buy in China).
  • International personal property insurance – I went with Clements and the cost was worth it when my (first ever) iphone disappeared during a long-distance bus trip to a language refresher. Filing a claim from China was painless and the customer service was good.
  • Luggage straps – One of my two 50lb pieces of luggage broke at staging in San Francisco. Luckily my staging was short and I went to Target afterwards hoping to buy another suitcase. In the end I did not find the right suitcase but bought several more luggage straps which were lifesavers. The next morning before departing for China, I had my broken suitcase wearing several luggage straps at once, wrapped in plastic at the airport. Thankfully my luggage arrived just fine in China and later my host sister helped me buy a new suitcase on Taobao.

How do you bring things with you?

Going to China I took a:

  • Nike backpack
  • Samsonite carryon spinner
  • Samsonite wheeled duffel
  • Samsonite hardside spinner
  • Several luggage straps
  • Samsonite add a bag strap – This is another lifesaver. When traveling with all my luggage I could condense things by straping my carryon to the top of my hardside suitcase.

I chose to take luggage with wheels because I knew I didn’t have the best core and back strength. I also shopped for sales at the Samsonite Outlet.

Inside my luggage, I organized with:

  • Compression bags
  • a small Patagonia daypack

Traveling in China:

  • I usually just took either my regular size backpack and/or a Chinese brand hikers backpack along with my carryon.
  • Just in case I carried a lightweight foldable duffle that packed small in my backpack pocket.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Packing for two years is tough and I do tend to overpack. I read blogs and packing lists and yet a lot depends on you and where you are going. For myself, in hindsight I didn’t need to bring as much shampoo and conditioner as I did since I used Chinese brands. I also wished I had more pants with belt loops and that I brought a belt.

As far as packing light(er), I definitely got better over time. As I adjusted to life in China, I became aware of the forms of transportation I would most commonly use (local bus, long-distance bus, slow train and sometimes airplane) and how easy or challenging they were to navigate with luggage. Something to also consider is that after Pre-Service Training, Peace Corps may send a volunteer off to their site with additional items that add to your luggage. For myself, there was training materials and books, medical kit and a water filter.

My message to future PCVs is to not give up if serving is your goal! Right before I applied I had writers block and couldn’t figure out how to express why Peace Corps was something I wanted to do and how I thought I could make a difference, although I felt strongly that I could. As a result, I missed an application deadline. So when I did finally complete the application, I was invited to become a Peace Corps, China TEFL volunteer and I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience!

Visit Michelle’s website


Bri
I’m a fun loving, adventure seeking, bibliophile in her 20s who is originally from New Jersey but went to college/university in North Carolina.

Currently, I’m in my 17th month of service in Ukraine as a Secondary Education English teacher.

I decided to be a Volunteer because I felt like I was at a good time in my life to give back and push myself out of my comfort zone. As someone who values personal growth and resilience, I figured this experience would enrich me in both, and it has done both in spades.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

My top three things are:

  • Gorilla Tape- It literally helps me keep my life together. I’ve used it for repairing everything from shoes and bags to household appliances!
  • Resistance Bands- As someone who used to lift often in the States, these have been great for making my home workouts more challenging and just overall help me relieve stress and frustration.
  • Portable Bluetooth speaker- This has been awesome for clubs that I do with my students. It’s portable and never fails to excite the kids when they see it.

Most useless:

An abundant amount of clothes- In my country of service specifically, it has been particularly useless because there are a bunch of second-hand stores that sell quality (and often new clothes) for cheap (usually overstock from the UK and US) that are more aligned to the country’s fashion. I honestly wish I saved the space for something else, like snacks that remind me of home or brown sugar.

How do you bring things with you?

The best advice for bags that I can give would be to make sure you have a decent sized and durable backpack (like a Jansport or Nike basketball backpack) and a small/medium duffel bag. While every country’s forms of transportation are different, in Ukraine specifically, the most popular are buses and trains. For buses, it’s ideal to have these bags because they’re relatively small and can fit comfortably on your lap, in the occasional overhead compartment, or under your chair, allowing you to maximize the small amount of space that you do have. When it comes to trains, though they offer more space for luggage, sometimes you have to heft them into compartments that are higher up, so smaller and lighter are better as well.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Always keep a charged battery pack with you and have important phone numbers and addresses written down and on your person! Both of these things have been incredibly handy when I was in a pinch and helped me navigate situations that would have otherwise been stressful without them.

Bring something small that you love with you wherever you go. Whether it’s a picture, a journal, or even a trinket, hard times can hit you randomly, but if you have something that centers you with you when it happens, it helps a ton.

Visit Bri’s website


Kristine Posada
I was a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Volunteer in Peru from 2016-2018. I joined the Peace Corps with a desire to live a life in a new culture. I believe there is so much we can learn from one another as human beings and when you immerse yourself in a new life, out of your comfort zone there is so much to be discovered. A Cleveland, OH native where I earned my BA in International Studies and I am going to obtain my Masters in Social Work in August of 2019 in the Sunshine State.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

One of the most useful things I brought with me to the Peruvian mountains was some sturdy duct tape. Seriously, this stuff came in handy in situations I would never believe that I would be in before leaving for the Peace Corps. My outdoor toilet was a pour-flush so our containers we used at my host families house would wear and tear after time and the duct tape would make it good as new! Also, if your Chacos or any pair of shoes fail out on you, you can count on your heavy-duty duct tape to get you to your next destination till your next trip to the regional capital. My host family equally loved the usefulness of it so I always kept a spare in the kitchen.

I also was told by someone to bring large zip lock bags and that was probably one of the best pieces of advice I could have been given packing wise! Storage space in my room was quite limited so the zip lock bags were used for literally everything. Another plus was it kept the food that I would keep in my room fresh and bug free! I would use them to keep my teaching supplies in an organized matter and I could just throw it in my backpack every morning before I would head out to teach my English classes. They were also super useful when I would make long trips and would have to travel on the bus for hours on end. As Volunteers we tend to throw everything in our big travel backpacks and it takes time to sift to the bottom of the bag just to grab that charger or pair of headphones, so the bags kept some of the sanity on those long trips.

One of my best packing treasures was my little portable Bluetooth speaker. Cost me maybe $15 at BestBuy. It was tiny and had a suction on the bottom where I could stick anywhere and made the outdoor showers not so cold. It was also water resistant so that was a plus! I could take this with me on trips and I relied on this heavily during my teaching sessions. I didn’t really enjoy carrying my computer everywhere, especially during the intense rainy seasons. So, if there was an audio I wanted to incorporate during my sessions or classes I could always whip out my mini speaker and the students LOVED it! They thought it was the coolest thing. So that was a fun thing to have with me at all times while traveling and while in site.

How do you bring things with you?

I’ll be frank… I came to Peru with too much stuff. Too many clothes, too many shoes, too many books (hello, kindle) and I look back and wish my future self would tell me that I would not need 70% of that stuff.

As a water, sanitation and hygiene volunteer living in the rural mountains of Peru, I really didn’t need much. But I came with two suitcases and my Redwing Kelty travel backpack. I gave away the suitcases before leaving Peru and heading to Ecuador and I left with just the Kelty backpack, which was my travel buddy throughout my time in Peru. Super sturdy and durable zippers and comfy shoulder straps that I really enjoyed. Traveling in country with suitcases is just annoying and time consuming. Being able to travel with just a travel backpack and maybe a smaller bookbag if needed on your front is all you need and easy to chase after the bus if need be!

My everyday work bag consisted of just an average black backpack which I just grabbed from home before I left for the airport. It had multiple zippers and it came in handy when walking to near communities for the day or if I had to do house visits and needed to carry my materials, snacks and water. Always always kept some of the Ziplock bags inside in case a rainstorm hit, because rainy season is seriously no joke. Just make sure you keep some backup supplies in your everyday backpack because you never know what turn of events could happen as a Volunteer in your host country or where you will end up.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Packing wise, no need to over do it. I know the weeks before you leave you worry about all the things that you feel like you are missing on your packing list, and trust me you can find a lot of it in your capital. Pack the essentials, because you will soon realize you no longer need the things you used to rely on back in US.

If you have the room, then bring your host family a little something from where you are from. It will be a nice ice breaker and it gives them the opportunity to see a little bit into your life which can be pretty cool.

Be open to changing. This is a very unique experience that not many have the opportunity to live and there may be moments where your foundation is changed and that’s not always a bad thing.

Bring a condiment or a snack from home that you really love and share it with your host family. I brought a lot of BBQ sauce and it turns out my host mom was just as obsessed with it as me.

Live life day by day and never compare your service to another Volunteer’s. This was advice that was given to me and it really struck a chord. No Volunteer’s experience is going to be the exactly the same as the others. This is an experience being shared by two cultures, so soak in as much knowledge and culture as you possibly can. Enjoy the adventure. 😊

Visit Kristine Posada’s website


Caron Sinnenberg
I am from Richmond, Virginia and I am still living in Peru with my husband. I always dreamed of doing Peace Corps. The idea of living in a different country, learning a new language, and experiencing a new culture sounded incredible to me. I got to the point in my life where it was now or never, so I took the leap and served in Peace Corps Peru from 2016 to 2018.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

One of the best things I brought to Peru was a portable projector. I used it all of the time. It made presenting in rural communities easy and also gave me a good Friday night movie screen.

I also found my SteriPEN to be super helpful when boiling water wasn’t an option.

Lastly, I would say that a backup computer charger would be a great thing to bring as I had difficulties finding one in country when mine stopped working.

Overall, don’t stress too much about packing and bring less than you think you will need.

How do you bring things with you?

I brought an Osprey hiking backpack and a big rolling suitcase. Both were super useful for me.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Pack light, have fun, and be open minded. Don’t worry about packing perfectly. Everything will work out. 🙂

Visit Caron Sinnenberg’s website


Julia Plotkin
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas and attended the University of Texas at Austin where I earned a B.S in Marine and Freshwater Biology. I am currently serving as a Coastal Resource Management Volunteer in the Philippines! Service has always been a big part of my life, even while in college I joined a philanthropy organization where I held a leadership position. Further, while I had always wanted to travel it was expensive, and I usually spent my summer and winter breaks working. That’s why post graduation I found myself seeking a position that combined travel and service while allowing me to stay in my field. I first worked a short term environmental conservation job for AmeriCorps before hearing that the Peace Corps also had an environmental sector. I discovered the CRM opening, reached out to my university’s recruiter and had my application in by the end of the week! I was beyond excited.


What top 3 things do you bring besides the common stuff all Peace Corp volunteers bring?

  • My portable speaker! It’s compact, has a great battery life, and is fairly rugged. I’ve used it for video presentations at work, watching movies with my host siblings, afternoons at the beach, and personal jam sessions when I just need to release some endorphins.
  • Dry bags! I brought several sizes of dry bags and use them all the time. When I’m in the field they protect my electronics and valuables, at work I use them for my packed lunch, and at home I put whatever I don’t want the ants/mice/critters to get to in them. The different sizes are key. I use the small one for back up batteries or snacks and can easily fit it in my backpack. Then, the large one can serve as a backpack itself if you add a carrying strap to it. This is best when staying overnight in more remote locations such as an island. Between hopping on and off boats, unpredictable weather, and tent camping having your belongings in a dry bag is the best way to keep them safe and humidity-proof!
  • Coffee and a compressible pour over! Filipinos are a big fan of instant coffee, I am not. While there are places to find local coffee in the Philippines they are generally up north in the mountains where it is colder while I am located much more South. Being the coffee addicted millennial that I am, I brought four bags of my favorite grounds from home and a compressible pour over I scored at REI. If I knew I’d be traveling for a training or a weekend away, it’s easy to compress the pour over and pack some extra grounds in a small reusable jar. Having fresh coffee every morning is such a mood booster for me, and my host family loves the way it makes the kitchen smell!

Useless things I’ve seen people bring would probably be excess makeup, toiletries, and other products – myself included! I quickly learned traveling is all about simplifying your routine! It’s way too hot here to be wearing makeup and there are alternatives to everything. I now stick to three main items – baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil. Between the three I have a toner, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, face mask, digestive aid, deodorant, toothpaste, and an all-purpose cleaner. Not to mention these items don’t harm the environment through runoff in the ways chemical-containing products do. This is especially important in areas like the Philippines where there are no water treatment plants and everything I send down the drain goes straight to the ocean. Point is, my batchmates and I did NOT need all the skin, hair, and body, and other products we brought along.

How do you bring things with you?

Peace Corps allowed us two large checked bags around 50 pounds each, a carry-on, and a personal item. I checked a large hard case suitcase by Dockers and my Gregory Deva XS 65L. I put bulkier items in the suitcase such as shoes, toiletries, work materials, and field gear before stuffing in the cracks with softer items. I put mostly soft items like clothing in my 65L pack. I like to pack to the shape of the bag, for example, setting the base and frame of my 65L with tougher items like jeans before moving upward with soften tees and blouses that can be easily compressed when I’m zipping up the sides and pulling in the straps.

My everyday pack is the Robin Commuter Backpack by Timbuk2. Designed as a biking backpack, I love it because it’s compact and favors my small upper body frame while still boasting a large capacity. Traveling in the Philippines often includes being cramped in a van or jeepney, and this pack is the perfect size to keep on my lap for extended hours if I need to haha. Additionally, it has an inner velcro pouch for my laptop and its very rectangular shape works well for the journals and papers that I might be bringing to work. I also bought it because it is water resistant and comes with a built-in waterproof cover that I can quickly whip out if I’m caught biking in the rain – which happens quite often in the Philippines.

I feel my bags are sufficient for my capacity needs and travel needs because of the variety of bags I brought. For weekends I’ll take my daypack, for a week vacationing around the islands I’ll take my 65L and then for a two week formal Peace Corps training in the Capital, I’ll take the suitcase.

What are your top tips for other Peace Corp volunteers?

Drop half of your packed clothing, do it now! This was a major “whoops” for me and others in my batch. Follow the rule of 2’s! 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of clothes, etc. Your clothes are bound to wear out from the sun or handwashing, so it’s good to have a backup… but not 5 backups. Additionally, only packing items you know you will use/wear twice or more. Have a really nice dress that maaaaybe you’ll wear again during your service besides swearing in ceremony? Forget it. Bring a simpler dress that you can dress up with some jewelry for a special occasion and then dress down for the office, a birthday party, etc. Versatility is key, pack items with multiple uses!

When traveling, have things like your ticket, passport, wallet, and a battery pack/charger close to you if not on you. This way you won’t be that guy holding up the line to find something at the bottom of their bag or you’ll have the extra phone charge when you become stuck somewhere for hours because of some sort of delay.

While some of my batchmates have been set on Peace Corps their whole life, I had very little knowledge of the Peace Corps when I discovered the CRM opening. As my application moved through and I received my invitation I figured if not now, then when? I’ve put all this work into this application I’ve done all this research I’ve been seeking an opportunity like this for so long!

I think the key to getting out the door is dropping all your expectations. While this might seem daunting, it’s important when traveling to keep an open mind and understand not everything will be as glamorous as you may have imagined – but hey! You’re out there and you’re living it! And THAT is a very beautiful thing.

Visit Julia Plotkin’s website



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