I’ve packed up my belongings and moved multiple times. I’ve put four months’ worth of clothes, books, makeup, you-name-it into one checked bag that weighed 48 pounds at the airport. I often packed for weekends in a tiny backpack while studying abroad, and relish that feeling of traveling light. So when I say this, it is not a joke. Packing for Peace Corps was the hardest thing I have ever done. That’s the whole reason this Peace Corps packing list post was born.
The few weeks before my staging date were the most stressful I had encountered until that point, and I never, ever want to go through that kind of packing again. That being said, I know I was so hard on myself looking back. I was pressuring myself to have everything figured out about an experience like Peace Corps that holds so much unknown in and of itself.
Don’t Let Packing Take Over Your Life
My number one piece of advice for packing is this: do not let packing take over your life. I remember feeling so stressed about what to take and what to leave behind, but don’t forget that you’re not going on vacation. You’re moving. You’re moving away for two years, and most people get a U-Haul when they pack up their life. Chances are, Peace Corps is paying for you to get two suitcases, 50 pounds each. That alone is incredible.
Pack for Training, Not Service
My second piece of advice is to pack for three months, not two years. My disclaimer to this is that my country of service, Ukraine, had many goods and services available, but not necessarily at the Peace Corps budget. If you would rather save suitcase space, there may be options to buy in-country depending on where you serve.
I highly recommend connecting to current volunteers in your country of service through Facebook groups or other social media. They will have tons of insight about what to bring and what you can wait to buy after arrival. If you do opt to buy items instead of bringing them, you should probably have some money saved and withdraw it in local currency to buy those instead of relying on your Peace Corps stipend to cover the costs.
Without further ado, here is the list of items I took with me to Ukraine when I departed on August 11, 2018:
(Note: This packing list contains affiliate links. If you purchase any of these items from the links below, I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend items I have bought and loved!)
Checked Luggage: SwissGear 27″ suitcase (my specific one isn’t available, but there are substitutes) and North Face Terra 55L Backpack
Carry-On Luggage: Nicole Miller 20″ suitcase
As my personal item, I also took a little backpack by TekGear. While the specific backpack I have is no longer available, there should be plenty that are similar!
clothes + shoes
5-6 blouses (some from Kohl’s, others from H&M)
2 pencil skirts, one black and one plum
1 business formal dress
4 pairs of capris, some printed and others solid colors
1 pair of warm slacks, charcoal grey
Intimates (undies, bras, you get the gist)
1 pair of black tights
5 pair socks, 3 pair fluffy socks
4 night gowns
1 pair warm pajamas
1 pair of shorts
2 pairs of yoga leggings
3 pairs of jeggings (medium wash, dark wash, and black)
1 pair of jeans
2 pairs of gloves
Nike running shoes
Booties with a short heel
Black heels for work
Sperry duck boots for winter
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Contacts and solution
Some hair products
work and personal tech
other + happy things
Nut milk bag
Small crossbody purse
Medium top-handle purse
Large laptop purse for work
Host family gifts
American cash, debit, and credit cards
Student loan paperwork for staging
Passport (my personal one)
Things that make me happy:
Pictures of family, friends, my dog, and past travels
2 mugs from my coffee mug collection
Yogi Honey Lavender stress relief tea (my fave!)
Lavender essential oils
What I Shouldn’t Have Taken
Needless to say, I took a LOT of stuff. Looking back, I didn’t need any heel-type shoes or dressy business outfits for the office. I was placed in a village, and my coworkers wore jeans most days. However, there’s no way I could have known that before leaving the States. It is common in Ukrainian culture for women to wear dressy clothes, heels, and makeup everywhere. I tried my best to pack for that expectation, but ultimately didn’t wear those clothes often at all. I also could have gotten by with less plug converters. It was nice to have plenty, but I could have saved space, weight, and money by getting less of those.
What I Needed and Didn’t Bring
My #1 regret with packing is that I didn’t bring enough warm sweaters. The sweaters I had were better for fall, but in winter they were almost useless. I needed more warm layers, a coat that fit me better, warmer gloves, and a scarf. My Sperrys did pretty well considering the solid block of ice I walked over (or tried to, anyway) on my morning commute, but I would have definitely benefitted from Yaktrax.
Receiving Care Packages
If your loved ones back home plan to send you a care package, this may or may not be an option. It really depends on your country of service, and your post will have more information about shipping. In Ukraine, it is (supposedly) relatively easy to get packages sent and delivered. That was not my experience. When my family tried to send me Christmas and birthday presents, it was an absolute nightmare. The package never even made it to my location because it was detained by customs (who asked me for a bribe to receive it, which I did not pay).
We requested to have it sent back to my U.S. home address when we realized it just wasn’t going to work. Aside from the issues with customs, the shipping company was not helpful at all. Unfortunately, I know of similar stories from other volunteers. However, I also know plenty of volunteers that had no problems sending or receiving items overseas. Moral of the story: just because shipping is available, does not mean it’s reliable!
Packing for Peace Corps service is a tall order. You’re expected to pack your entire life into two checked bags, fly to a country you’ve probably never been to before, and build a life there. Each Peace Corps country is unique, with its own cultural expectations for how Volunteers should dress. Within each country is also varying levels of development, and climates that change greatly from season to season.
All of the unknown in this journey makes it so much more difficult to prepare, but it’s going to be okay. You’ve got this. No packing list is perfect. You will look back and realize you brought too much stuff, and still managed to not bring everything you would eventually need. Most of Peace Corps is rolling with the punches, and figuring things out as you go. Take a deep breath. You’re almost there. And it’s going to be amazing.