7 Things I Wish I Had Not Packed for Peace Corps Service

 

It goes without saying that these are merely my opinions, experiences and recommendations. Consult as many people as you can on what they felt was important for them, and also trust your own instincts on what is necessary packing for you.

 

 

  1. 6 Jumbo sized boxes of ziplock bags. Or even one box, for that matter. My thoughts were that I would be living in a hut with no access to a grocery store – that could not have been farther from the truth. I live in a very modern style flat with a grocery store (although modest in selection) 15 minutes walking distance from me. Even my fellow volunteers who do live in huts have access to grocery stores in their shopping town, and many people have laughed and shaken their heads at my mention of the plastic bag conspiracy theory. Save yourself some space, money and ideas in your head that you won’t be able to get them here – you will, and for relatively cheap. If you want things organized immediately, bringing one box is fine. Anything more than that is excessive.
  2. On the topic of excessive, there is absolutely no need to bring a Jumbo sized Ziploc bag full of batteries. Just save yourself the time at the airport where you almost miss your flight to staging because you packed two pocket knives, 4 rolls of Duct tape, your ridiculous amount of batteries and knife sharpener that you strategically placed in your “I’m going to hold this plane hostage” pocket of your suitcase, getting searched and questioned extensively by TSA. Batteries are available most everywhere in the big towns of Namibia, and I have hardly put a dent in the supply that I brought with me. I think the only thing that I use them for are my headlamp and the smoke detector that Peace Corps provides. Bring one or two small packages, if you feel the need, but don’t trouble yourself with the space and weight. Use that space for dried mangos or Reese’s peanut butter cups instead.
  3. 16 tubes of chapstick, 5 tubes of mascara and 7 bottles of sunscreen. I promise I am really good at moderation, y’all.. I’m actually known for being a minimalist, it just doesn’t look like it from this list. Chapstick and sunscreen are provided to you by the Medical Unit and you can always get more when you ask for your medication refills. Looking back, I would bring one tube of chapstick for my travels before I reached the training site of Okahandja and one small bottle of sunscreen for the days before I received my Peace Corps provided medical kit. Otherwise, save your space, time, money and packing weight.
  4. A solar charger. (Side note – This topic has been up for debate as of late, so use your best instincts and judgment calls! But keep in mind that you can purchase anything once you get here, for much cheaper than in the States, and after you have discovered what your specific site needs are.) Namibia is quite modern in its placements of Peace Corps volunteers, and unless you get placed at the Ministry of Youth where the power goes out all the time, you will most likely have electricity at your site. There are only 3 volunteers in our original group of 31 who are living without power, and they live close enough to bigger towns that they are able to escape to the world of electricity when they need to. I brought mine as a backup, but have only used it once during my service. It was a bit pricey to have as just a backup device, and you can always purchase one here if you feel that you need one once you find out your site placement.   There is an awesome company that one of my group mates works for called Elephant Energy that sells solar lamps, which would be a great organization to support if you choose to go solar. Otherwise, your solar charger might be like mine and sit in your green trunk for the duration of your stay in Namibia.
  5. 10 different pairs of shoes. In my mind, I needed my sneakers (called tekkies here) for running, a pair of hiking boots, 2 dress flats for work, 2 dress sandals for work, a pair of casual tekkies to go with jeans, a pair of slip-ons for more casual attire, a pair of Chacos (doesn’t every PCV need them?), a pair of small heels for swearing in and COS conference, and my 8 year old Rainbows. Damn, even looking at that list overwhelms me. As I write this, I am looking at the corner of my flat where all of my shoes are stored and reveling in how ridiculous they all look – 2 years takes a toll on shoes. If I could do it over, I would bring a pair of sneakers, 1 dress flat, 1 dress sandal, my hiking boots and my Chaco’s. Done. This would have given me the opportunity to wear these shoes out faster and purchase shoes in Namibia so that I was cycling through, instead of having 10 pairs of janky shoes that I can’t bring myself to throw out yet. I will just say this – Chaco’s and sneakers go with more outfits than you think.
  6. An excessive amount of tea and coffee. Although I did not bring as much tea as another one of my group members who packed half of her suitcase full, I realized quite early on that there is a decent coffee selection in the bigger towns, and tea is available even in my 5 aisle grocery store. The coffee especially was a bit bulky and took up more space than it should have, and one of my favorite things to get in care packages was bags of beans from loved ones. My friends who work at the Namibian Post Office (NamPost) in my town always call me to tell me I have a box of coffee that is smelling up the office – plus, it was a great reminder of my favorite shops back home as well as people’s new favorites that they discovered and would send to me.
  7. 4 boxes of dryer sheets. I love when I reach into my clothing bureau and pull out a shirt that I have folded (never bothered with hangers) on top of a hidden dryer sheet. It smells like home, makes my clothes a little less “I’ve worn this damn thing for 2 years and it is so clearly obvious” and adds softness to the brittle feeling that hand washing leaves. One box would have been the perfect amount to add some freshness to my life for the duration of my service, but 4 boxes? Get it together, Alex. I now have 3 boxes that I will be leaving in the Peace Corps lounge for those who will be washing their clothes there (the benefits of going to Windhoek for medical – you get to wash your clothes in a REAL live washing machine and even DRY THEM in a dryer. Is that what my body looks like when it isn’t flooded with stretched out apparel?). Apparently they also work well for anti-mosquito repellent, although Peace Corps gives you enough bug spray to last you until Trump’s presidency is over. Too soon?

 

A note of caution in your packing – I think they tell you this in all of the information that they give you prior to Staging, but I remember it being a lot of knowledge to absorb all at once. Pack anything valuable in your carry on. This includes electronics (obviously), jewelry of value (a friend of mine got all of her jewelry stolen at the Johannesburg airport), valuable medications and a change of clothes. Sometimes things get misplaced, and its always good to have a backup if your suitcase will take a few days to get to you. The Jo’burg airport, for whatever reason, is notorious for taking valuables out of suitcases, so just be cautious and strategic about your packing.

 

Otherwise, don’t sweat too much. I know it feels impossible to pack for two years of your life into two suitcases and a carry on, but you will do it and you will probably have WAY more than you ever need. We all do it. Take a personal inventory of what you really feel like you can’t live without and know that you can get almost anything you forget in the big towns when you go for your shopping trips. Your priorities change quite a bit in 27 months and you will realize how little you actually need to survive and thrive.   Enjoy your last few months of home time with family, friends, guacamole and queso.

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4 thoughts on “7 Things I Wish I Had Not Packed for Peace Corps Service

  1. Bear in mind when packing your carry-on that it probably cannot be more than 8kg, or 17.6 pounds. They almost certainly *will* require you to check it through if it’s much more than that. They don’t weigh your ‘personal item’ (purse, small knapsack), so distribute your heaviest valuables across the two bags you can bring onto the plane.

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