Every.Single.Thing. I Packed for Madagascar

More than 1500 coherent words on what I packed for two years in Madagascar from the kind of suitcase I had, and everything I put in said suitcase; don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Pre-packing (is that even a thing?)

I found out in July 2017 that I’d been accepted into Peace Corps | Madagascar. That left me with 7 months to pack and clean out my apartment, and seven months to obsess about what to pack. This from someone who hates to pack. And someone who hates to shop. And then I went and bought a house in October 2017. I had already planned vacation for December 2018. So I packed for Madagascar as well as my vacation to Germany/France in December while I was packing up the apartment for the impending move. I scoured other PC blogs’ packing lists–for Madagascar, other African countries, even cold weather Eastern Europe/Asian countries… just to see what I was up against. I drudged through Amazon customer reviews, and wandered up and down REI’s aisles without buying a thing.

Not related at all, but a somewhat ironic tangent: I was once in charge of logistics for planning my college’s fencing team flight from Greenville to Philadelphia and securing lodging while in Philadelphia. 13 college students, flying with sabres, foils, and  epees constantly reminding them not to say ‘weapons’ in an airport even though that is totally what they are called collectively.  Reminding people to pack clothing separately from fencing gear in case bags were confiscated, and yet I forgot socks.

Every. Single. Thing

Packing Premises

Other journeys have similarly been fraught with packing mistakes and my most epic one to date is getting to the airport only to find out I’d brought my recently expired passport instead of the new, active one.  Thankfully it was about 1 in the afternoon, traffic was reasonable, and I lived 20 minutes away instead of an hour away like I do now.Before I start the list, here are the premises I’m working on:

  • Despite popular opinion, this is not a 2 year camping/backpacking trip. I will be living mostly in one place for 2 years. A place that most likely lacks indoor plumbing and electricity.
  • Madagascar is a poor country. No need to have $200 hiking boots when most, if not all, of my neighbors will be barefoot. All the time.
  • I’ll forget something. Hopefully, it won’t be my passport. Or underwear.
A giant duffel bag–with wheels, a hiking backpack, a school backpack x2 and a messenger bag. Not all of these bags are going to Madagascar. At least not at first. One bag has the December vacation clothing in it.

Stress. Personified.

For me packing is one of the most stressful aspects of preparing for service. I think, “how the hell am I going to fit 2 years’ worth of stuff in 2 bags?” Just so you know know, the Peace Corps | Madagascar handbook was useless. So I put together my own list of what I thought would be helpful.

This will hopefully take care of a lot of your potential questions up front, but please feel free to message me or comment if you have a specific question, or if you don’t see something on this list and wonder if you should take it. [Caveat: I am the proud owner of 2 X chromosomes so this is aimed at fellow XX-ers more than guys, but most of these suggestions also apply to men… except, you know, the parts about bringing skirts, bras, and tampons.]

The first thing to keep in mind is that no amount of stuff will make it easy, and no one item will make the difference between having a great experience and a terrible one. The second thing is to keep in mind that even though 2 bags doesn’t sound like a lot, you will still have way more stuff than any of your neighbors have. Having 3 pairs of shoes to carry you for the next 2 years might not sound like a lot, but remember that most people you’ll be living near are lucky if they have one pair of shoes. It is very humbling. Hopefully my suggestions and advice below will help you avoid packing stress as much as possible but help you arrive to Madagascar well-equipped and excited to serve.

So with that being said…

First I’ll need bags…

To get the goods to a location, I’ll need bags. I’m allowed 4; 2 checked and 2 carry-on. The checked bags must weigh less than 50# each. Since I usually pack carry-on only, I bought a large duffel bag. It’s big. It’s sturdy. I know it will get abused. It may fall apart. It may surprise me and last the entire trip and the trip back home. Most likely, it will probably end up as storage.

A hiking backpack. I have my old REI one circa 2010. It’s no longer bright and shiny, but it’s proven itself and has a cover. It can hold a lot of things. An old school-type backpack. Can be stuffed to capacity and carry a weeks’ worth of clothing.

A messenger bag. Good for books, notebooks, official documents, plane snacks, travel pillow.

I use packing cubes to organize the contents of my bags.

Outfits and other stuff

Outfits:

10 tops + 10 bottoms + 1 cold weather base layer

  • 1 nice outfit: 1 nice top + 1 skirt (mainly to be worn ‘out’ or for important events like swearing in)
  • 2 cardigan/blazer things to be worn over regular T-shirts when the occasion calls for it
  • 2 work outfits: 4 T-shirts + 2 skirts
  • 2 casual outfits: 1 T-shirt + 1 pair of casual pants, 1 long-sleeve shirt + 1 pair of yoga pants
  • 2 pairs of scrub pants
  • 3 pairs of capri pants/knee length shorts

Additional Clothing

  • Jackets: 1 rain jacket, 1 fleece jacket
  • Bras: 3 sports bras, 3 regular bra
  • Underwear: as many as I can fit into one packing cube [estimated 20-30 pairs] May be overkill, but I can handle a lot when I have clean underwear
  • Socks: 6 pairs cotton, 6 pair lightweight wool
  • 2 pairs of leggings

Accessories

  • 1 belt: a few years ago I bough a durable leather belt from the men’s section of REI. I’ve never gone back.
  • 1 baseball cap
  • 1 bathing suit:
  • 2 pairs of sunglasses

Shoes

  • 1 pair of Tevas sandals–these are fancy dress-up Tevas
  • 1 pair of Keen sandals
  • 1 pair of hiking shoes
  • 1 pair of flip-flops for showering and around the house

Sleeping Kit

  • Sleeping bag: It’s down, but lightweight REI brand.
  • Sleeping liner: really just a large king sized sheet sewed together to be used when it’s too hot for the bag or in sketchy travel hotels
  • Regular, full-sized pillow. People will think I’m crazy, but I know me
  • Quilt- medium weight bought from Target

Home

  • Cookbook
  • 2 water bottles: a 1L Nalgene and a 24oz stainless steel one’2 water bottles: a 1L Nalgene and a 24oz stainless steel one
  • Wall hangings USA map, SC flag, and UT flag
  • Umbrella
  • Clothesline. Braided rubber from REI.
  • Housewares: measuring cups, cutting board, knives, vegetable peelers, bottle opener, can opener, ect
  • Drink packets / spices
  • Mug + stainless steel water bottle
  • ziploc bags, plastic storage containers
  • Towels: 1 large quick-dry, 1 small quick-dry
  • flat sheets
  • Gorilla tape roll

Tech

  • Kindle, USB cord, and case
  • Phone, USB cord, and case
  • Mini speaker, USB cord
  • 2 headlamps, one to stay at home; one to stay in the bag
  • USB hub, for all the above
  • Laptop, charger, and case
  • 2 sets of headphones* (nothing fancy, not blue tooth)
  • 2 flash drive
  • Shortwave radio
  • Travel alarm clock
  • Rechargeable AA and AAA batteries.  Not sure if I’ll need D or not so I’m waiting before I purchase them
  • A non- electronic alarm clock

Travel, Study & Fun

  • 4 packs of blank index cards
  • 2 decks of playing cards
  • 2 shopping tote bags
  • Travel purse
  • Pens and pencils
  • Notebooks
  • Blank journals
  • Photo albums of friends and family
  • Snacks
  • small umbrella
  • sunglasses
  • canvas tote bags
  • cards

Toiletries

  • Small bottle of perfume
  • Hand wipes/hand sanitizer
  • Multivitamins
  • Makeup: eye shadow, lipstick, face wipes, face lotion
  • Hair: comb + brush, shampoo + conditioner, bobby pins, hair ties, scissors, dry shampoo
  • Tools: tweezers, nail clippers, razor + blades, make-up brush, Q-tips
  • Dental: toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
  • Body: bar soap, lotion, razor + blades, pumice stone, deodorant, menstrual cup + tampons
  • Eyedrops
  • Mini first aid kit

And that’s it.

Note: At training I’ll be provided with a Peace Corps’ first aid kit. Again, this is my pre-service packing list. Overall I feel pretty good about it, but that’ll change: Things will break; I’ll send things home, and hopefully I will have some awesome friends who will send me things while I’m here.

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