Hello future PCVs and congrats on your invitation to the wonderful Peace Corps community. When I initially was invited back in July 2012 for Albania in March 2013 I was so excited, but also extremely overwhelmed. One of the first questions that plagued me was,
“HOW AM I GOING TO PACK MY LIFE FOR 27 MONTHS IN TWO 50LB BAGS AND A CARRY-ON?!?!?!”
Don’t worry (mos u merzit). Even though it IS overwhelming and difficult, it IS possible. Here is a comprehensive list of things that I think would be good to pack for your service, especially if you are serving in Eastern Europe like I am. This list is based off of my opinions and my service thus far, but it’s important to remember, “Every volunteer’s experience is different.” And without further adieu – the ultimate peace corps packing list!
- Your laptop
- You will need your laptop to do A LOT of work over here – lesson planning, Peace Corps handouts, blogging, etc.
- Small portable speaker
- iPod or iPhone
- I personally brought both and find that I use my iPhone more than my iPod. If you are looking to use your iPhone, instead of your old-school Peace Corps issued phone, I would make sure that you get it unlocked before you leave America. My iPhone is through Verizon and I was unable to ever unlock it, so I only use it for wifi when available.
- Kindle fire
- Don’t bring books, they are bulky and take up too much valuable space. Peace Corps has a library you can use; however, many books are old-school or random strange self-help books.
- European plug adapter
- Something like this would work great. You would use this with electronics that have a built in surge protector. I was using a EuroSurge, which I would not recommend because it took out the power on several different occasions.
- Surge protector/power strip
- Having a power strip is great and I would recommend this one because you can plug in American plugs, as well as European plugs.
- Digital camera (your iPhone/smart phone could work too)
- At least 1 – 1TB Hard Drive
- Bring a hard drive for media. Copy right laws are a little different in Albania and downloads are easily available. This is also great for media-exchange with other volunteers. I wish that I had two hard-drives because I have already completely filled my first one.
- Rechargable batteries
- A projector (don’t go out of your way to buy one of these, but as a side-note could be really helpful in giving health presentations, holding movie fundraisers, etc)
- A warm winter coat
- A fleece jacket (I pretty much live in mine 24/7)
- A waterproof rain jacket
- Wool socks (5-7 pair)
- Long-underwear or thick leggings (at least 2)
- Underarmor-type shirts for the winter (1-2)
- Waterproof boots that are stylish
- Style is important and looking good is very important to Albanians. You can also buy stylish boots here, but they will probably not be warm/waterproof. I would not suggest bringing snow-boots.
- A zip-up hoodie
- A warm sweater
- Note: you also have a wide-variety of second-hand sweaters that are widely available to purchase here during the fall/winter.
- Long-sleeve shirts (2-3)
- Stylish scarves (a couple of your favs)
- I brought like 20 scarves and it was a complete waste of space in my bag because you can buy plenty of cute and cheap scarves here at the markets.
- Beanies/warm hats (2-3)
- Warm slippers
- Leg warmers (1-2 pairs)
- Skinny jeans/colored jeans (2-4 pairs)
- I brought like 6 pairs of skinny jeans in different colors and it was unnecessary. Skinny jeans are nice and stylish for work and fun (plus they are better for the occasional Turkish toilet).
- Thin gloves/fingerless gloves
- I brought a pair of snow gloves and they are not needed.
- Tank tops (3-4)
- Short sleeve shirts (3-4)
- Summer dresses (2-3)
- Cute sandals (2-4 pair)
- I brought 2 pairs and both of them are completely trashed after my first Albanian summer. I am going to have to get more sent to me in a care-package. If you can find cute/durable sandals that would be best.
- Skirts (2-5)
- Skirts are great because they can be worn in all seasons with the right layering and they can be dressed up/down depending on the occasion.
- A bikini/bathing-suit
- Most Albanians, despite body-size, wear bikinis at the beach. Work comes to a halt during the summer and many people spend their time near some sort of body of water (sea, lake, river, etc), so bring that bikini and have no shame!
- A blazer
- Dress skirt/pants (1 pair)
- Button-down shirt (1-2)
- Albanian women LOVE to wear heels – the higher and more flashy, the better. Never thought I would go to a Peace Corps country where wearing heels is the norm.
- I only brought toms and this was a mistake. Bring some professional flats for when you don’t feel like wearing the heels.
- Belts, jewelry, etc. Can be great for when you want to make your outfits look a bit different.
- Work-out clothing
- Tights (1-2 pair black) (1-4 fun colors)
- Underwear and socks (at least 2 weeks worth)
- Bras (2-4)
- An old prom dress
- I am somewhat joking, but if you wore an old-prom dress to any Albanian function you would fit in great.
- A nice dress to wear for your Swearing-In Ceremony
- Tennis shoes (1 pair)
- I brought shoes for trail running/hiking and found them to be a waste of space. I barely use them. While there is some hiking here, tennis shoes would do the trick – hiking boots are unnecessary.
IDEAS FOR HOST FAMILY GIFTS
- Inflatable soccer ball for host-brother/s
- Party jewelry for host-sister/s
- Anything that is gaudy, glittery, or bright would be great
- Post-cards of your home-town/state/America in general
- A picture book of your state to give to the entire family
- Quality knives for your host-mom
- Stickers, small trinkets with American flags on it for younger children (or for your students if you’re a TEFL volunteer)
- Albanians LOVE America. Bring lots of stuff with the American flag and they will love it!
- Coloring books/supplies for children
- Playing cards with your home-state on them
- A nice frame or two
- Albanians tend to love photos
- Actual pictures of your family, your house is America, your friends
- These pictures will be great to show your family during those awkward initial moments when you can barely speak a word of Shqip.
- If you or someone else in your family knits/crafts/etc, you can bring something handmade
PERSONAL HYGIENE ITEMS
- Plenty of American deodorant
- The deodorant here doesn’t work quite as well…
- 3 month supply of any prescription medication
- Any specific over the counter medication you may want
- Make-up (especially if you have a skin-color not seen here often)
- If you are specific about shampoo/conditioner – bring it
- I personally use shampoo/conditioner that I buy here
- Nail-polish remover (they use straight acetone here)
- Base coat & a few fun nail polish colors
- Travel-size items (can be reused for traveling in country throughout your service)
- Bringing a bunch of tampons is annoying. This has personally been very helpful for me. It was a bit scary to use at first, but now I am used to it and I probably won’t ever buy tampons again (even after I return to America). It can be difficult to use if you have a Turkish toilet like I do though.
- Lotion (the lotion here doesn’t work that well)
- Hair straightener that is compatible with the voltage here
- I use this travel size straightener and it has been great!
DAT RANDOM STUFF
- A backpacking backpack (can be doubled as your carry-on)
- A large suitcase (or 2 if you want to use your backpacking backpack as a carry-on) with wheels
- A sleeping bag (MUST HAVE: it is useful to sleep inside during the winter)
- Quick dry towel
- Comfortable travel pillow/blanket
- Swiss army knife
- A tent (if you plan on camping a lot)
- A hammock
- A school-type backpack or messenger bag
- To carry around school work and labtop during PST
- Items to decorate your apartment – I brought tapestries, pictures from home, etc.
- Maps of your state, America, etc. (can be used for decorations or gifts)
- Mini sewing-kit
- Duct tape
- Heating pad
- I don’t have a heater in my house and I personally love cuddling up under the blankets with my heating pad. It has made the world of a difference.
- A French press (although you can have that sent over in a care-package after PST)
- Reusable bags to use while shopping at the market
- Measuring cups
- Reusable portable coffee cup
- Water bottle (Nalgene would work great)
- A nice knife or two
- Hot-sauce (to help spice up host-family food)
- Seasoning (can be sent in care-packages later)
- Cumin, chili pepper, curry, ginger, coco powder, garlic salt
- Instant coffee for those initial months of PST
VETEM PER QEF (ONLY FOR FUN)
- School supplies (for PST and beyond)
- White-erase markers – can be used to write on the tile of your apartment and study Shqip
- Yoga mat
- Art supplies
- Sharpies, highlights, markers, crayons
- Any items you need for your own personal hobbies
- Cards, dominos, Cards against Humanity
- Hair dryer
- I personally didn’t bring a hair dryer and almost feel it would be better for you to buy one in country or maybe you’ll get lucky and receive a hand-me-down from a COSing volunteer.
- A bijillion razors
- You can buy them here. For some reason I brought enough razors to last my entire 2-years of service. Dumb.
- I brought my entire DVD collection. I didn’t realize it would be so easy to get media here.
- A sleeping pad
- Can be useful, especially if you plan on doing a lot of camping, but I have barely used the one that I brought.
I personally brought WAYYYYYY TOO MANY clothes! If you’re worried about buying cute clothes here – don’t. I would suggest bringing less clothes, but bring high-quality items that will last. Bring the basics and just remember all of the things you need to live and survive in Albania you can buy here.
You can check out my “Care-Package Wish List” post for other ideas of things you might want to bring!
Good luck (paç fat) with your packing and future Peace Corps endeavors!