Tag Archives: peace corps packing list

Packing for Peace Corps | Rwanda

If you are reading this post, I have at least gotten on the plane to Philadelphia which will lead to Kigali by way of Brussels… Which also means I have gotten through the check-in process at least once.  So there’s that…


Let’s begin with:  I HATE PACKING. AND SHOPPING. And I’ve already done this once when I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar [Read Every.Single.Thing.I packed for Madagascar.] When I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar, there was an above average chance that I’d be living in hot, humid coastal environment where casual clothing rules the day.  So what I had packed for Madagascar was not necessarily appropriate for a mountainous, land-locked, sometimes chilly, appearance conscious Rwanda.

Much like any future PCV, I googled ‘Peace Corps’| Rwanda packing list, and found next to nothing. Very few Peace Corps’ blogs detailing an entire 2 years of service.  Maybe a lot of volunteers got tired of blogging?  Maybe a lot of volunteers didn’t complete their service?  Who knows–it still remains there are very few Rwanda-specific packing lists.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to create a comprehensive packing list. Keep in mind that this is a  Pre-Departure List, and I plan to update it once I’m fully installed at my future site.  The format essentially reads like this:

Item:

Rationale:

Verdict:

Obviously I can’t fill in the verdict part until later…


Let’s begin with:  I HATE PACKING. AND SHOPPING. And I’ve already done this once when I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar [Read Every.Single.Thing.I packed for Madagascar.] When I thought I’d be heading to Madagascar, there was an above average chance that I’d be living in hot, humid coastal environment where casual clothing rules the day.  So what I had packed for Madagascar was not necessarily appropriate for a mountainous, land-locked, sometimes chilly, appearance conscious Rwanda.

Much like any future PCV, I googled ‘Peace Corps’| Rwanda packing list, and found next to nothing. Very few Peace Corps’ blogs detailing an entire 2 years of service.  Maybe a lot of volunteers got tired of blogging?  Maybe a lot of volunteers didn’t complete their service?  Who knows–it still remains there are very few Rwanda-specific packing lists.

With that in mind, I’ve tried to create a comprehensive packing list. Keep in mind that this is a  Pre-Departure List, and I plan to update it once I’m fully installed at my future site.


It has come to my attention that every blog I have read mention that Rwandans essentially have a shoe fetish.  Not in a creepy, sexual fetish way, but more in a ‘fastidious about cleanliness’ way.  Of all the articles of clothing for a country to obsess about, I get stuck with the country who obsesses about shoes. I hate shoes.  I mean I like wearing them, but hiking shoes and Danskos for work are about as fancy as I get.  So when I’m reading blogs about how people are packing 6! pairs of shoes, internally I am saying ‘Kill.Me.Now.‘.  I’d planned on taking two pairs plus shower shoes to Madagascar.

Shoes:

  • Rain boots.  These are mostly not necessary, but the only other time I’ve lived in a ‘wet’ environment [which was the Amazon Rain forest], I had a pair, and I loved being able to splash about, walk through mud puddles with reckless abandon, and generally not give a flip about my feet when it’s raining.  At home in SC, it rarely rains long enough or hard enough to warrant spending  that kind of money on shoes, but I found a cheap pair on Amazon so we’ll see how that works out.
  • Trail-running shoes.  I wear these as my every day shoes [Shoe stylish I am not].
  • Athletic shoes.  Who knows, I might take up running [Laughs uncontrollably at that statement].
  • Casual shoes. For me, these are my brown leather slide-ons [treated with Scotchgard prior to leaving].
  • Keen Sandals I’ve had a pair of these since they first came out and I practically live in them in the summer months in South Carolina.
  • Teva dress sandals This model but in black
  • Flip-flops–generic, slide-ons that I got from Target.

Clothes:

From previous experience, anywhere where clothes have to be hand washed over a long period of time will inevitably not make it back. I thought I was pretty minimalist when it came to outer clothing.  Also, it depresses me to no end that Rwanda puts a huge emphasis on clothing and appearance.  At home I wear scrubs, jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt, or during the summer–khaki shorts and t-shirts.  Nothing fancy.  Nothing stylish. I’m probably going to disappoint a lot of Rwandan mamas.

  • one pair jeans, darker wash
  • one pair hiking pants [gray, Patagonia]
  • one pair brown pants
  • one pair khakis
  • one pair scrub pants–for those days I can’t be bothered with real pants
  • three button-up shirts [one  long sleeved, one 3/4 sleeved, and one short sleeved]. The thing with button up shirts is they never quite look like they are supposed to if you are female with above average sized breasts.  Hence when I do wear button-up shirts, they always have another layer under them and I usually wear them more to keep the chill off during the evening than for actual shirts.
  • six colored t-shirts
  • one long sleeved t-shirt
  • one flannel shirt
  • one hoodie
  • three skirts [all knee length or longer]
  • one pair knee length athletic shorts
  • one pair yoga pants
  • about 42 pair of underwear [not all at once though]
  • about 20 pair of socks [5 wool, 5 casual dress, 10 athletic–or there abouts–also not all at once]
  • bras [3 sport, 2 regular]

Sleep:

  • Down blanket
  • Sheets–I brought a twin set and an extra full fitted sheet
  • Sleeping bag–something similar to this one, but I bought mine in 2010 and it’s orange.
  • Pillow–just one of the many [so many] pillows I have at home.  Last item in the suitcase.

Shower:

  • Quick-drying Towel 
  • 2-1 shampoo/conditioner–either of these are my favorites
  • Dry shampoo–for in between washes.
  • Bar[s] of soap
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste [I have brand favorites so I brought them]

Tech:

  • Kindle — for books, music, movies, photos, ect.
  • External Hard Drive – for movies, music, TV shows, podcasts, actual work documents
  • Laptop–yes it’s heavy and huge, but watching movies on it is awesome.
  • Camera– what can I say–I love my camera, and will physically hurt anyone who tries to take it

Kitchen:

  • Spices – whatever you like, but definitely salt and pepper.  I also brought cinnamon. And taco seasoning mix.
  • Drink Mixes–as many as you can find
  • Knives, vegetable peeler, cutting board, measuring spoons/cups
  • Can opener
  • Ziploc bags/storage containers--Illegal in Rwanda so I’ve got Quart, Sandwich, and Snack + sandwich sized plastic containers [stuffed with goodies on the plane ride over. Technically, they could get confiscated]
  • Enamel mug/Stainless steel mug
  • Water bottle 

All ‘kitchen’ things I won’t need until I am actually on my own so I packed a box and mailed it to myself.

A Good Backpack – When you are traveling somewhere and you plan to stay overnight, it is unlikely that you are going to want to bring one of your suitcases along. Bring a backpack that is comfortable to wear and big enough to hold essential items for staying somewhere overnight (extra clothes, toothbrush, laptop, towel, etc.). If you can attach your sleeping bag to it, even better.

Swiss Army Knife – Or a good old fashioned pocket knife.

Headlamp – It comes in handy when you need both of your hands at night.

Multi Vitamins – These might be your only source of nutrients when you are eating rice, beans, and potatoes.

Music – It is the only thing that keeps me sane some days. Sometimes you need to shut the door, put in your ear buds, close your eyes and listen to music. I also brought a speaker that is great for when I want extra volume or don’t want to be constricted by my ear buds.

Nail Clippers and polish–self explanatory


Everything else is non-essential.

Money

If you’re planning on bringing some money for vacations, bring hundred dollar bills that are 2006 or more current. Large bills, which most places define as hundreds only, get the best exchange rate. Money changers and banks will sometimes refuse bills older than 2006 and will often give you a bad exchange rate if they do accept them. Peace Corps recommends $300-500 and I think that’s a pretty good number, considering you can save some of your living allowance every month.

A credit card is a good idea if you think you’ll want to buy plane tickets.

Technology

My take on technology in Peace Corps is that 2 years is almost long enough for your gadgets to become obsolete, so if you’ve already got something useful, bring it. Having something like a laptop is great because it allows you to communicate with friends and family easily. You probably won’t be able to skype on a portable connection, but just to be able to send and receive e-mails is really nice. Electricity is widely available throughout Rwanda and even if you don’t have it in your home, you can usually charge up somewhere in town.

Other than a laptop and camera, I am bringing:

  • An external hard drive – To share music and movies with other volunteers.
  • A portable USB flash drive – makes swapping files a lot easier
  • Antivirus software for the laptop

The Peace Corps packing list recommends a transformer or voltage converter. Unless you are bringing small appliances, such as a blow dryer, you probably don’t need a voltage converter. Many camera and laptop cords have a black box on them which regulates voltage and says the range that they are capable of handling. Rwanda is 230V. Check your electronics and appliances to see if they’ll be compatible and if you don’t need a converter, don’t get one.

What not to bring

Peace Corps will also provide a mosquito net and a water filter. For those who are not going to Rwanda with Peace Corps, you’ll want to look into these things based on the length of your stay and where you’re going. Pharmacies in most countries carry a lot of medicines; all hotels have mosquito nets, and bottled water, soft drinks, and beer are available pretty much anywhere.


Luggage:  I need containers to get my stuff from here to there

  • Items:
    • 1 obnoxiously large, sturdily-constructed rolling duffel bag [ebags mother lode 29″].  If you bring a bag this big, just know that it’s easy to go overweight quickly. My first attempt had this bag weighing in at 75#… ooops
    • 8 year old 65L hiking backpack that has already seen half the world.
    • School-sized backpack that will serve as a carry-on:  I’ll carry my camera, laptop, kindle, chargers, one change of clothes, sleeping on the plane kit, ect
    • A tote bag–also a carry-on–In it, I’ll carry a book and assorted small odds and ends.
  • Rationale:  I need a way to get stuff from here to there.
  • Verdict:  I’m glad I have all the bags.  I hate all the bags while in transit, but I love having all the bags.

Clothing:

  • Item:  Fleece pull-over x1.  
  • Rationale:  Some areas get cool; some not so much. I won’t know until a few weeks in if I’m going to be in one of those areas
  • Verdict:  haven’t needed it yet, but if I head to the north, it will come in handy
  • Item:  Lightweight rain coat
    Rationale: It rains. I won’t have a car so I’ll be walking in the rain.  Being dry is preferable to being wet
    Verdict: I’m glad I have it.  I have already used it once [and it’s technically the dry season]
  • Item:  Cardigan x2.  One black; one colorful
  • Rationale:  It can get cool. These can spiffy up t-shirts and make me look more professional
  • Verdict:  I haven’t used them yet, but I suspect I will when I need to be fancy.
  • Item:  Blouses x3.  I never wear these at home.  Button-up shirts and bustiness don’t mix
  • Rationale:  I may need something nicer than T-shirts
  • Verdict:  I’ve only worn one of these
  • Item:  T-shirts x7.  Plain, colorful
  • Rationale:  I wear these all the time.  Even to work.
  • Verdict:  I love that I have these
  • Item: Long-sleeve T-shirt X2
  • Rationale:  Sometimes my elbows get cold
  • Verdict:  I usually sleep in these so  I’m glad I have them
  • Item: Pants x4.  Dark brown, dark grey, khaki, and black.  Also known as hiking pants.  Also scrub pants x2.
  • Rationale:  I need something to cover my butt
  • Verdict:  I’m glad I have the scrubs, and I’ve already sent for more.
  • Item: Skirts  x2–one mid-calf brown skirt and one slightly below the knee blue.
  • Rationale:  Sometimes skirts are more comfortable than pants
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Scarves X3.  One teal, one burgundy, and one gray with owls on it
  • Rationale:  They can spiff up an outfit nicely
  • Verdict:  I ended up leaving these at home, and I wish I had at least one
  • Item:  Socks and underwear x a lot
  • Rationale:  The amount of socks and underwear I take on any given adventure is directly proportional to the amount of time I have until I need to do laundry.  I also have at least 10 pairs of each reserved for use starting at the midway point of service.
  • Verdict:  I have 6 pairs for training and the rest for the rest of my service
  • Item:  Shoes—OMG, shoes.  Apparently shoes are a big deal in Rwanda so I’m trying to go with shoes that are easy to clean and durable.  To that end, I have one pair of Keen leather shoes, Salamon trail running shoes [I plan on running exactly zero trails], Keen sandals, [which are technically ‘hiking sandals’], Teva dress sandals, rubber flip flops to use in shower, and my Salamon hiking boots.
  • Rationale:  While I could be happy rotating two pairs in and out, I don’t really care about cleanliness.  But Rwandas do. And I’m trying to be culturally appropriate.
  • Verdict:  I still hate shoes, but I’m glad I have all the ones I have
  • Item: Pajamas X1
  • Rationale:  I’m not picky, but I brought a T-shirt I was gifted and a pair of fuzzy pajama pants.
  • Verdict: These didn’t make the cut
  • Item: Additional clothing:  Yoga pants x1, mesh basketball shorts x1
  • Rationale: It may get hot. I may not feel like leaving the house. I want to be comfortable
  • Verdict:  I sleep in the shorts and wear the yoga pants when I do yoga.
  • Item:  Swimsuit
  • Rationale:  I may get to go to a large body of water at some point.  Or a fancy hotel with a swimming pool.
  • Verdict:  I haven’t used it yet

Kitchen/household:

  • Item:  Knives/cutting board
  • Rationale:  Apparently good kitchen knives are hard to come by in Rwanda. I’m bringing a knife set, one small, a small plastic cutting board, measuring spoons, 2 measuring cups [1/2c and 1/3c]
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Grater
  • Rationale:  I can’t tell you the last time I grated anything but apparently I will want this; it’s a light, flat, handheld one that doesn’t take up much space
    Verdict: 
  • Item:  Can opener
  • Rationale:  Opening cans without it is super hard
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Vegetable peeler
  • Rationale:  While I rarely peel vegetables at home, the water here must be treated, filtered, boiled, and you must prepare a sacrifice in order to use it.  I’ll just peel the damn vegetables.
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Spices
  • Rationale:  Rwandan food is bland.  I’m no iron chef or anything, but I did bring salt/pepper, cinnamon, Greek seasoning, Italian seasoning, and taco seasoning.
  • Verdict
  • Item: Zip-lok bags
  • Rationale:  They are illegal in Rwanda and I’m a rebel.  Also I use these nearly everyday
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Seeds
  • Rationale:  I need food.  Hopefully the climate is conducive to growing them. They don’t take up much space
  • Verdict

All these items are in my box that is currently in transit.


  • Item:  Sheets
  • Rationale:  Why such an essential item is not provided by PC is beyond me, but nonetheless, no sheets provided.  I brought a gray pair that Christopher the Cat put a shred mark in.  I’ll send for more when I know what size bed I’m going to get in my house.  Options include a full sized bed or two singles.  I guess if you are tiny [not me], one single would suffice.
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Towels
  • Rationale:  I brought a beach towel and a quick dry towel and an absorbent head wrap for wet hair.  I threw in a couple of wash clothes because they are small and lightweight.
  • Verdict: I ended up leaving the towel at home, but bought one when I got here
  • Item:  Swiss Army Knife
  • Rationale: When is this not a good idea?
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Sleeping bag
  • Rationale:  It may solve the sheet problem.  I may need to visit others.
  • Verdict: I also left this at home
  • Item:  Down blanket
  • Rationale:  It gets cold and this one packs up small
  • Verdict:  I haven’t used it yet, but i plan to when I get to my own space

Office/school supplies:

  • Item:  Notebook [composition book x2], travel journal x2, and planner
  • Rationale:  I like to write things and the illusion of being organized makes me happy
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Pens
  • Rationale:  I am a pen-whore and needed to downsize.  Also I like to color code things.
  • Verdict
  • Item: Zip-lok bags
  • Rationale:  They are illegal in Rwanda and I’m a rebel.  Also I use these nearly everyday
  • Verdict
  • Item:  Medical equipment–pulse ox, stethoscope, blood pressure cuff
  • Rationale:  These are probably mostly unnecessary, but if I’m going to be in a health center, I’d like to have my own tools.
  • Verdict:

Electronics:

  • Item:  laptop
  • Rationale:  I use it everyday at home
  • Verdict:  I’m glad I have it even though I only use it on weekends
  • Item: external  hard drive x2. One is a 1TB drive, and the other is a 2 TB.
  • Rationale:  I take a lot of pictures and watch a lot of movies.  Also there’s no such thing as ‘too much storage’
  • Verdict:
  • Item: Kindle
    Rationale: E-reading is not my favorite thing, but weight restrictions prevent me from bringing an entire physical library.
    Verdict:

  • Item:  Camera 
  • Rationale:  I rarely go anywhere without it so of course, it was coming with me.
  • Verdict:
  • Items:  Flash drives x2 16GB each
  • Rationale: I’ve been told I’ll need them.
    Verdict:
  • Item: iphone
  • Rationale:  It doesn’t work as a phone but with 64G of songs/podcast and the ability to face-time certain people, it’s a no-brainer.
  • Item:  External speaker
  • Rationale: My laptop speakers are wretched. REchargeable speakers are the solution
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Headphones
  • Rationale:  Sometime you just need to chill
  • Verdict:
  • Item: USB charger
  • Rationale:  Electronics need to charge
  • Verdict:
  • Item:  Flashlight and headlamp
  • Rationale  Electricity is sporadic at times
  • Verdict: Late night walks home and electricity outages have already made these practical. The headlamp is especially useful if I have to cook in the dark when the electricity is out.
  • Item: Rechargeable batteries
  • Rationale:  Apparently there’s no great way to dispose of batteries in Rwanda, so I have rechargeable ones for my headlamp and flashlight.
    Verdict: I haven’t needed to replace any batteries yet, but I expect to.
  • Item: Outlet adapters
    Rationale: For my items that have to plug into the wall, I’ve got a handful of light, simple adapters.
    Verditct:

Toiletries:

  • Makeup
    I’m not hugely into make-up, but I have an eye shadow palette, plus 1 lipstick, seemed like a good idea for any dressy events
  • Deodorant
    Apparently stick deodorant is not a thing I can get here.
  • Shampoo/conditioner I’m sure I can find shampoo here if I look, but I won’t have to for a while because I have a giant bottle of coconut-scented-shampoo, and it makes cold bucket baths nicer.
  • Soap 
    Nice bar soap has been wonderful. I’m not a fan of bucket baths still, but I’m a fan of my soap

  • Chapstick
    My lips are always dry. Burt’s Bees is magical.
  • Travel bottles
    At the suggestion of a current PCV who was surviving trips with shampoo in baggies, I packed a set of empty travel-size bottles.

Personal/miscellaneous:

  • 6 passport photos
    The Peace Corps said to, so I did
  • Journals
  • Purse and wallet
    Necessitites, of course. I picked up a small wallet (which I haven’t carried yet because I’ve been keeping my lunch money in my backpack, but which has been nice for storing the bulk of my cash so I’m not walking around with all my money) and a cross-body purse that folds over, snaps, and zips before you can get it open. Hopefully this minimizes the chances of anyone reaching into it, although I guess they could still slice it… but there’s not much I can do about that. 
  • Playing cards
    Because when does a deck of cards not come in handy?
  • Tide-to-go pens
    I’ll be honest; I’ve never used these. However, they’ve been highly recommended and seem like a good option. They’re cheap, they’re light, I doubt I’ll regret it. This has saved my life (or at least my shirt) multiple times.

There it is, my complete packing list for Rwanda.  I am also creating a list of things I didn’t bring that I want to get when I go back home in February/March.