How do you pack for two years of your life?

This is the wrong question to ask yourself when packing for Peace Corps - whatever country. Although you’re going away for two years, you don’t need to pack for it.  You could walk onto the plane with a carry-on and be set. Seriously.

Why?  Well, people live where you’re going.  You’re not going to live out in the middle of nowhere, and this is not a camping trip.  You may be living in rough conditions, maybe without light or running water, but never the less people live there and have for generations, and will continue to after you leave. People buy and make clothes, wash themselves, wash their homes, sleep, wash their clothes, make their own food, and do pretty much everything else that you do. It might be a little different but that’s why you signed up, right?


Medicine? You’re covered! PCMOs will mail you almost anything. Seriously – they once mailed me a pouch of Gatorade when I ordered rehydration salts (haven’t gotten lucky again though). They’ve also mailed me sun screen, bug spray, dental floss, aspirin, etc.  It’s great!

Peru is also home to four giant shopping chains – Totus, Wong, Plaza Vea, and Metro (and Vivanda if you live in Lima).  Here you can get your fill on any grocery you may want or need – cream cheese, cereal, coffee, tea, snacks, etc.  So if you get tired of the open air markets, just stop on by!  We also have a variety of clothing stores, so we gotcha covered on that, too.

I guess the point here is – it’s daunting to try to pack for Peace Corps.  It is. I know.  I was there.  You get into a mindset thinking you will be in isolation for two years, that you’ll be living out of your hiking backpack but it’s not the case.  Think of it as taking a start up kit with a few extra supplies.  Because, in the end, you’ll be surprised what you brought with you that you didn’t ever touch.

(Me? Heavy water-proof winter jacket, battery powered iPod speakers, all those hiking socks)

Advice: If you’re insistent on looking up packing lists, make sure the list people post is updated after they get in-country (such as my previous one about two years ago).  Many future PCVs post their packing list before they go to staging, but it’s really no more useful than the packing list you get from Peace Corps.

Pack a some shirts and a few pants, some random gear, and shove it into your hiking backpack, and a duffle bag.  Put your laptop, ipod, book/Kindle/Nook, change of clothes, and TSA approved-quantities of hygiene products in your carry-on, and then go enjoy summer!

Take-home note:

Everything tends to work itself out.  Not in the sense that you’ll be off the plane and everything will be perfect, but know that you’ll adapt and you’ll find whatever resources you need. Accept Peru, Peace Corps as a bit of an unknown.  As much as you try to read and research about what to pack or the life of a volunteer, nothing will ever fully prepare you  or give you the perfectly packed bag with everything you need and nothing you don’t until you arrive in-country and spend some time in site.  Forget about your bags, and whether you’ll need the hiking pants that turn into the shorts or you should buy pants and shorts separately.  Enjoy the last month or so before you leave, go swim, go to the gym, go to your favorite restaurants, hang out with your friends and family and fatten up on your favorite food and drinks!  

Facebook group for Peru 18 (the group of Health, Environment and WATSAN volunteers leaving in September).  There’s a bunch of current PCVs on-hand from all programs and regions to answer any questions you might have, and it’s also a good place to start getting acquainted with other people in your group!


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