The Obligatory Packing List

In the months before my departure, I spent many hours seeking packing guidance from blogs of current Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), conversations with Returned PCVs, Reddit, and other sources so I could best use my 100 pounds and 107 inches of combined suitcase dimensions.  It’s cool to realize that now I’m here and I can impart the advice that I was seeking six months ago.

Rather than providing a list of everything I packed (if you really want to know how many pairs of underwear I brought, let me know), I thought it might be more useful to share a list of the Things I’m Really Happy I Packed, or Wish I Had Packed, with the hope that it will help Peace Corps Invitees who have stumbled across this blog.

  • A French press (http://www.gsioutdoors.com/30-fl-oz-javapress.html)
    • (They’re sold in Botswana, but they’re glass, and mine is Lexar and I can throw it in my bag and take it to work and have fresh brewed coffee during tea time, and that is a wonderful thing. And when I go camping, I can take it along. And I wrote to GSI and told them I was taking my French press to Botswana and asked if I could get a second filter, and they sent me one for free!
  • A robe (https://www.amazon.com/PackTowl-6533-Parent-Packtowl-RobeTowl-Towel/dp/B00HZ09R1G )
    • I love sitting on my porch in my robe, drinking coffee, doing a NY Times crossword puzzle, and watching the sun come up (which happens around 5:30 am). This one is light, absorbs twice its weight, is very easy to wash, and has a hood.  It was especially welcome on a chilly winter’s morn to throw on after a bucket bath.
  • Slippers and flipflops (https://www.sierratradingpost.com/exped-camp-slippers-insulated-for-men-and-women~p~212nf/?filterString=s~slippers%2F)
    • It’s essential that you wear something on your feet when you’re in your house, lest you step on a camel spider. Warm slippers are nice for winter.  I bought these and they have a sturdy sole and roll up and pack easily.  Wish I’d packed two pairs of Teva flipflops, since I’m sure I’ll need a second pair before I leave.  You can buy flipflops here, but I’m not sure of the quality…
  • Photos printed on banners
    • This was one of my good ideas…VistaPrint offers 2’ X 4’ banners for cheap, and I had some pictures of my family printed on them and then rolled them up in the Thermarest I brought, and now they adorn my walls. While I was at it, I designed and ordered a banner that I took to my going away parties so that people could sign it, and now it’s on my kitchen wall and it brings me smiles every day.
  • Personal Postcards
    • I think this was the best idea I had, and one I borrowed from a Rotary Group Study Exchange trip to France that I led, where we made and passed out team brochures about ourselves. I had VistaPrint do these, too, and 100 of them were around $60, and it was well worth it.  I’ve passed these out to my host families, dikgosi (chiefs), and other important people, and they love them.

  • Bluetooth speaker
    • Chances are you probably already have thought to bring this, but I will alert you that you should bring an audio cord, like this one (http://www.ugospeakers.com/store/products/ProductDetail.php?ProductID=96) so that you can plug your Peace Corps phone into it and have radio in the morning. You can find a cord here, but they fall apart quickly.  Listening to the radio connects you to your countrymen, improves your Setswana, keeps you apprised of Botswana news, and entertains you with some pretty great music…lots of local artists.  I’m a fan of GABZ-FM. 
  • Kobo or other hard-to-break e-reader
    • Most people turn in really early here, and it’s nice to have something to read in bed. And bring as many downloaded books as you can.  There are lots of free ones available on the web…like at Guttenberg Project.  I’d never read The Fountainhead, and that kept me entertained for the first few weeks after crawling in bed at 7:30.  Also, bring a little rechargeable booklight, so you don’t have to wear a headlamp in bed.
  • External Hard Drive
    • I’ll leave it to others to talk about how important this is. It hasn’t been so for me, since I’ve not watched a movie since I’ve been here (other than The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with my host families, which they loved, and hooking the host family kids up with Disney movies while we waited for cookies to bake).  My oldest son loaded up my drive with a bunch of movies he thought I’d like, and I’ve been able to share them with other PCVs, who are much more interested in media swapping.  However, I will add that you should invest in one of the non-breakable ones, because some of my fellow PCVs dropped theirs on their concrete floors and now they’re dead.
  • Sturdy travel umbrella (https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-umbrella/)
    • So far, I’ve used it more for the sun than the rain. I never thought I’d use an umbrella for the sun, but it makes a huge difference in keeping you cool when it’s 100 degrees.  You can buy them in Bots, but I’m not sure how sturdy they are.  If you bring one, make sure it stands up to gale force winds.
  • Surge protector
    • Don’t be the poor PCV whose MacBook Air got fried during Pre-Service Training when it was plugged in during a storm. You can buy them here, but they’re expensive and you might not be able to find one during Pre-Service Training.  I wish I’d brought one, since I had to buy mine here.  It was 300 pula ($30) and I found it in Gaborone.  I’m not sure of the quality though…  Just bring one with you.
  • Tupperware
    • You’re probably scratching your head at this one, but you will need a leak-proof container to bring your lunch to Pre-Service Training and to work when you get to site. Your host family will have containers for you to use, but they will be of questionable quality, and your lunch will probably leak all over your backpack.  So, if you have room, bring a leak-proof container or two from home.  If you don’t have room, go to Spar during the first week of training and bite the bullet and spend far too much money (like 50 or 60 pula) to buy one of the Spar-brand leak-proof containers.  Don’t do like I did and go for the 20 pula containers, because you will be disappointed.
  • Adapters
    • You need two different kinds. They’re available in Bots, but you should have a couple of each for when you first get here.  Here’s a buying guide that tells you all about it:  http://www.botswanatraveler.com/2009/08/12/power-adapter-buying-guide/.  Something I wish I had brought is a US adapter that converts a three-prong plug to a two-prong plug, since one of my adapters allows you to plug in two things at the same time, but the 2nd plug is for two-pronged only.
  • Really good quality can opener
    • I spent 60 pula on a can opener ($6) and I can tell already that I’m gonna be buying another one in a few months.
  • Croakies, or something to hold your sunglasses on your head
    • The sun is intense, and I wear my sunglasses when I’m out walking around (and while carrying my umbrella), but you don’t see a lot of Batswana in sunglasses, so if I get on a khombi (minibus), I like to take off my sunglasses so I can look people in the eyes when I’m talking to them, and I’ve almost left my prescription sunglasses on the khombi a couple of times. I made my own holder out of an old jumprope and electrical tape, but it’s not holding up well.  Someone is sending me a pair of Croakies from home, along with a 2nd pair of sunglasses, because I was a dunce and only brought one pair.
  • Photo album
    • This is something I didn’t bring and wish I had. Your host families will want to see pictures from back home, and it’s just not the same to share them on your phone or laptop.  Print out some of your favorites and stick them in a sturdy album.  Or get one of those cool Shutterfly books made.
  • Games and other things to pass the time
    • Whatever you like to play in America, try to bring it with you. I made room for my travel Scrabble game and I haven’t regretted it.  And I am a crossword and Ken Ken addict, so I brought along enough books of NY Times crosswords and Ken Ken to get me through two years.  And believe me, I am glad I did.
  • A decent sewing kit
  • Seeds of unusual things you’d like to grow here.
    • There are seeds available, and I FINALLY found arugula, but if there’s something you’d like to have, like artichokes, bring some seeds.
  • A good knife
    • You’ll be cooking your own meals at site, and you’ll probably be slicing lots of vegetables.  You can buy good knives in Gaborone, but they’re expensive.  So, if you have a favorite good knife, bring it.  Also, bring a small sharpening stone or a good knife sharpener.
  •  Spices
    • Again, there are spices here, but they’re kinda pricy and of questionable quality, and you can’t find a good selection. My friend Sara and I were convinced that there was an embargo on cinnamon…it was sold out wherever we went, but we finally found some.  And I finally found cumin, after searching for three months.  So, if there’s something you regularly use and can’t live without, bring some with you.
  • Snacks for PST (and beyond)
    • I brought a whole bunch of wasabi almonds and chocolate-covered espresso beans and I did not regret it. And the Trainees with whom I shared them were happy as clams.  You can buy things like peanuts and chocolate bars here, but if there’s something unusual that you crave, bring as much of it as you can.
  • Hydroflask (https://www.hydroflask.com/)
    • They’re expensive and heavy and take up a lot of room, but they keep your hot things really hot and your cold things really cold.
  • Vapur bottles (http://vapur.us/active/)
    • I love these, because I can toss a couple of really cold ones (or you can even freeze them) in my bag in the morning and have water all day, and then they roll up, meaning I have more room to put groceries on my way home.
  • (At least) two of everything electronic
    • Laptops are expensive here, so if you can’t live without one, bring a spare.  Same for smartphones (make sure yours is unlocked).   And I brought at least two of every cord that I need.
  • Shawls and scarves (and a few comments on clothes)
    • This is for the women. I received this recommendation before I left, and I did not heed it, and I regret it.  Shawls and scarves keep you warm, dress up a casual outfit, cover parts of you to make you more presentable if you find yourself at the kgotla or someplace where you should look nice, and add variety to your wardrobe (which you will long for after a few months of wearing the same clothes).  You can buy scarfs and shawls here, but you’ll have lots more selection in America, and they probably will hold up better.  And on the subject of clothes, bring quick-dry stuff.  Don’t worry about long-sleeved stuff…you won’t wear it.  Bring one or two nice hoodies/jackets for warmth (I lived in this one:  https://www.amazon.com/Smartwool-Womens-NTS-Hoodie-Sport/dp/B017MGHILI?th=1).  And I brought a packable down jacket and appreciated it on a half-dozen winter mornings.  Don’t forget a beanie and gloves.  I brought WAY too many socks.  Two pairs of smartwool calf-length socks would have been enough.  And I brought too many pants (I think one pair would have been enough…I brought two pairs of zip-off hiking pants and one pair of yogaish athletic pants, and so far I’ve only worn them on “Casual Friday” at Pre-Service Training, and I’m hoping to wear them when I go hiking).  I also wish I’d brought more leggings to wear with skirts when it’s cold.  I brought tights, but sometimes leggings and socks would have been better.  I’m sure I can buy leggings and tights here, but it would have been nice to have my favorites from home.  (UPDATE:  I converted my tights to leggings by cutting off the toes.  And I found nice leggins for 40 pula at PEP.)

I hope this helps.  As I said, shoot me an email (amylopermcbride@gmail.com) or leave a comment if you have a question or something to add.  Good luck!

2 Replies to “The Obligatory Packing List”

    1. Dumela, Mma! Thank you for the very kind offer! I am a giantess and wear a size 12 (women’s) in Teva flipflops. I have emailed my mailing address to you. I was just thinking on Saturday that I hoped my flipflops would endure my two years of service. Ke a leboga.

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