Saturday, March 12, 2016

Packing Tips

As I sit here in my tropical home, there are about 30 Peace Corps applicants who were recently selected to be the next “class” of volunteers for the four islands in the Eastern Caribbean. This time last year I was proud to have been selected, but was also wondering what exactly had I got myself into? What did I need to know? What did I need to bring? How is this all going to work out?

I've now completed about a third of my term, and now is probably a good time to reflect on these same questions that those new recruits are probably pondering. Some of them are already reading my blog, which hopefully helps to answer some of their concerns. However, this blog post (partially based on some of the questions that they have asked me) will delve deeper into some of the details about their upcoming adventure and how to plan for it. Obviously, I don't claim to have all the answers, but I can share my personal observations based on my unique situation. Hopefully, this story isn't too boring for the rest of you.

I don't remember exactly what I packed, but I remember seeing some suggested packing lists and made sure to bring as much as I could without exceeding the weight limit. If I had it to do over again, I would have left all my sunscreen, bug repellant, and over-the-counter medications at home. The Peace Corps provides us with a great medical kit (shown below), as well as sunscreen and bug repellant (plus a mosquito net).

I made the decision not to bring any new IT devices with me, figuring it would be less disappointing if they broke or got stolen. I have a laptop that is about five years old and still going strong (except for a few minor problems, such as the letter “k” not working on the keyboard—so I must copy it and then paste it into whatever I'm writing). I bought a used iPad from my nephew, which has proven to be very handy.

I also had an iPhone 4S, which I kept using as my main phone until shortly before I boarded my international flight at Miami last June. My final call was to cancel my phone contract, and then it was not used again until August when I was assigned to Dominica. I paid to have it unlocked by an outfit here, and it served me well until I got salt water in it. [I decided not to purchase a new phone, but instead had a reconditioned iPhone 4S mailed to me, which I am now using (after swapping the SIM card). This way I didn't have to learn a new phone.]

I did purchase a universal power strip (pictured above) that has the three blade plug design that is used here, so that my American style rechargers could be plugged into it. Below is a photo of the wall outlets used here (note the rocker switches which should be used when plugging or unplugging devices). You can purchase these down here, but I am glad I brought one with me.
You can also purchase kitchen devices here, but I'm glad I brought these from my home (see photo below). The can openers, vegetable peelers, knives, scissors, etc., that can be purchased here seem to be lower quality compared to what we have in the USA. [I realize that some of you might not consider a Leatherman tool to be a kitchen device, but that is where I keep mine while I'm down here.]
The Leatherman tool was part of my “MacGyver” stash—items I packed that might be useful for fixing stuff. It turns out that I have not needed as many bungee cords, zip ties, or rolls of different types of tape as I brought, but a few have come in handy so far.

I don't remember how much American money I brought with me (and I didn't bother with travelers checks), but the Peace Corps has been pretty good about providing with enough money to live on—although I am probably one of the most frugal in my class (friends that know me well are not surprised to hear this). Before I left, I got a new credit card that didn't have any foreign transaction fees and included an embedded chip for extra security. However, I have yet to use it for purchasing anything.

I'm glad I brought a wide-brimmed hat, a LifeStraw water filter, a snorkle, a kite, and my old hammock, but none of them are necessities. I brought a few books, but the Peace Corps has a long tradition of providing books at their offices for volunteers, and I've read several good ones from there, so I could have cut down on the number of books I packed.

I brought some watercolor supplies to fill all the spare time I assumed I might have, because I hoped this would be a perfect opportunity to revive this former hobby. However, I haven't had a problem with boredom—there is just not enough hours in the day to get everything done that I'd like to do, so the paints have not been used yet.

The shoes I brought included one pair each of brown Rockport shoes, Brooks running shoes, Teva sandals, and flip-flops (none of which were new). I have since had another pair of Teva sandals, Rockport dress shoes, and running shoes delivered to me by a friend. The weather as well as the constant wear and tear on the “previously used” shoes I originally brought down nearly destroyed them, so I was glad to get some new ones. Perhaps I should have started with newer shoes rather than bringing older ones.

I brought a variety of work shirts, casual shirts, work pants, shorts, etc. However, you will get soon get accustomed to seeing folks wearing the same clothes over and over—“fashion wardrobes” are simply not as large as they are in America. All your Peace Corps colleagues are in the same boat, and we quickly got used to seeing each other in a limited number of outfits. Needless to say, the local population on the islands don't have many different clothes, either.

I brought one pair of jeans, and twice a month our school has “jeans day,” where you don't need to dress up in the usual school clothing if you donate a dollar to the school. I did bring a jacket with me (which I had to wear during my travels, because it would have made my suitcase overweight). So far, I've only worn it a couple of times—most notably for our swearing in ceremony and for meeting with the U.S. Ambassador (plus Freaky Friday). It was a pain to transport down here, but I suppose I'm glad I did.

I did bring a lightweight windbreaker with me, but winter is about over and I never used it once. However, I will admit it was contemplated a time or two. If you get cold easily, be sure to bring something more than just short sleeve t-shirts. I also brought a compact umbrella with me, which has been put to good use on numerous occasions.

If you are one of those who were fortunate to be selected for next year's class, I hope this information is beneficial. Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions. You are about to embark on a wonderful adventure! If you enjoy it half as much as I do, then you are going to have a great time!


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I am one of the 30 new Volunteers scheduled to arrive in June and had no idea what to bring lol. I'll be keeping this article in mind now :)

  2. Thank you!!! We are leaving tomorrow and it sounds like we have everything we need. We have been enjoying your blog. I love the one you just posted about the bat cave. Looking forward to meeting you soon.