Packing Advice

*Warning: This post is primarily for future PCSA training groups*

Having been here nearly a year, and experienced all the seasons of this beautiful country, I want to pass on some packing advice to future PCSA groups, so they can potentially avoid some of the mistakes I made. 🙂 I wrote this for groups arriving in winter (July), so if you arrive in summer (January), swap the weather-related advice.

First off, you will arrive in the dead of winter, and may not be able to shop for a few weeks. You need to bring a warm hat, gloves, a scarf, a heavy fleece sweater, and long sleeves. It is a good idea to pack a few pairs of wool socks or knee socks, and a few sets of long johns. You will use them a lot over the next two years.

Pants: I packed 1 pair of jeans and two pairs of dress pants: gray ad brown. Do not pack blank pants-the dirt shows too much on these. One pair of jeans was sufficient for PST, as you are not supposed to dress casual to sessions. I have since bought another pair here and wear them often. Jeans are cheap here, so bringing only one pair is fine. Khakis….I didn’t bring any, and they get dirty easily. You make the call.

Skirts/dresses: I brought 3 skirts, but could have packed one or two more. Don’t bring skirts that go above the knee-they are not totally appropriate (may depend in your village, but at PST they will harass you about this). Bring 1-2 heavy skirts for winter, and 1-2 lighter skirts, for when it starts to warm up in spring. I brought 2 pairs of thick leggings, which served well during winter and spring. Tights are good too. I did not bring a dress, but have bought one for R40 (5 bucks or so). You will need to dress “nicely” for swear-in, but a skirt and nice top works fine. Don’t stress that-I did, and that was ridiculous. Don’t overpack on skirts and dresses though, as you can find beautiful ones here for very little money.

Shoes: Bring 1 pair of sneakers, a pair of nicer dress shoes (not black-again, the dirt/sand), and sandals that are sturdy. Also consider a pair of slip-ons or flip-flops for around the house. You can buy shoes here, but they are often low quality or extremely expenses. If you have bigger feet, you may struggle to find your size. I did not purchase a pair of Keens/Chacos/etc, but wish I had. It would be worth the investment because you will wear them a lot in the summer. I got lucky and bought a pair of $3 Kmart sandals at Goodwill that happened to be pretty nice. The main thing is that you can walk a lot in all your shoes.

Tops: The packing list says pack dark colours-ignore this. They fade drying in the sun and show stains/dirt easily. And it’s hot in the summer, and you don’t want to wear black shirts all the time. Plain, colourful tshirts are good because you can wear them with a skirt and look quite nice and be comfy. Button-down tops look professional and you will get lots of compliments when you wear them, but they usually have to be ironed, which is not fun. Wearing wrinkles clothes is not ok here, fyi. Pack a few long-sleeve shirts you can layer with during winter. Polos are good and look very nice. I brought only one, and several button-down shirts, and wish I had done the opposite. You can buy shirts here relatively cheaply, but I have found that the quality sucks and they look like trash in a few months, where my American ones hold up much better.

Electronics: Bring ‘em. You will most likely have electricity at home, if not at school. I have a netbook, which is nice to travel with. I have a kindle, which is one of the most important things I brought. I bought a blackberry here, which is golden as I can get cheap internet and BBM other PCVs. You can buy one here or bring one and buy a SIM card. I brought a cheap digital camera, because that was all I had. It works most of the time (it’s 5+ years old) and if it gets stolen or broken, ga gona mathata-no problem. Ignore the ridiculous packing list when it says to bring a 35mm camera and film. We are not in the 90s anymore. I also have an ipod, and use it a lot. Rechargeable batteries are good, but make sure the voltage converts to 240, which is the charge here. Same for all electronics. If they all say 50-240 (something like that), you do not need to bring a converter. You will need an adapter-for the different outlet shape. You can buy one for about $8USD during training, so if you want to wait until then, that’s ok. I did, and was fine as I locked up my electronics with PC during PST. But it may be a few weeks until they make the order. Just be aware that anything you bring may well get stolen or broken. Bring an external hard drive. 500gb minimum. It will be worth the investment!

Random: You will need to bring at least one towel for PST. A money belt is good to prevent theft and to travel with….but I no longer use mine. Don’t bring any kitchen utensils, as you can buy them here when you swear in. A sleeping bag is a worthy investment, as you can use it to survive winter, and to host PCVs or visit other PCV’s sites. You could buy one here, but I suspect the quality is poor and it will be pricy. Bring a Nalgene or other nice, durable water bottle. A sewing kit is useful, though you could buy it here.

Bags: Bring 2 checked bags. You are allowed to, and will not likely have to haul them far by yourself. Use the space. I brought a rolling suitcase, a rolling duffle, a messenger bag (carry on) and a daypack (carry on). In hindsight, I wish I had brought a rolling suitcase, a hiking (large) backpack, a messenger bag and a small backpack (inside one of the other bags). The hiking backpack would be really nice for longer trips, and I’m bringing one back after I visit America this June.

How to pack: For your checked bags: PC will ask you to store one bag during PST. They call this your non-essentials. Pack things you will use mostly in summer or at site. Pack most of your winter clothes and some spring/summer clothes in your essentials bag to use during PST. It’s like Christmas when you get to open your non-essentials bag after going to site.

Men: Sorry, I’m a girl. But from what I have heard, ties are a little extravagant here, so maybe only pack one. I think some male PCVs use a suitcoat, but rarely. Bring nice dress shoes though-it’s a cultural thing.

In general: the dirt/sand here is mostly red or pale white/brown. So black is bad all over. Gray is awesome, so pack grey pants, shirts, and shoes. Then you have to wash less often. As you will be hand-washing, that is a good thing. Many men and women will shave their heads during PST (I did), so if you are considering this, do it stateside or pack an extra hat/scarf to wrap your head in on the cold days. If you know how to cut hair, bring some good scissors because you’ll be in high demand. You can buy almost anything here after PST, but maybe not in your shopping town, maybe not of good quality, and maybe for a lot of money. So, take this with a grain of salt. Also, this is not really the place for short skirts, cleavage, etc.

PC tells you to dress very nicely and that jeans are not allowed, but nearly everyday there are educators (principal too) wearing jeans, tracksuits, and tshirts to school. Some schools are more formal, but mine is not.

If you have questions, email me. Also, look at posts on here from before I left to see what I packed, photos and all.

That was long…

On My Way

In about 12 hours I will be heading into the Des Moines airport to begin my Peace Corps journey.  I fly to DC for 2 days of staging, and then leave on the 7th for South Africa.  Wow!  It still seems surreal, but I thinks it’s actually going to happen! 🙂

Of course I am nervous and excite, second guessing all my packing decisions.   Seems about normal.  It’s odd to be in my bedroom because all of my possessions are pretty much either in totes in my closet, or in a bag to take with me.  I realized today how much stuff I have given away in the past several months-almost all of my possessions are stowed away in an old toybox, 5 totes, and a few boxes.  I feel great to have gotten rid of so much stuff that I don’t really need-hopefully I’ll still feel this way when I come back in two years.  At any rate-it’ll be fun to unpack it all!

I was able to watch our town’s fireworks display tonight-so beautiful and reminded me of how great life is in a free country.  It’s fitting that Independence Day is my last holiday here-a last hurrah as this American heads into the unknown.  And it was great to watch the fireworks with my sister-a good tradition.

I’m not sure how much internet access I’ll have during staging and training, so it could be awhile before you hear from me again.  I’ve set my Mom up as an author though, so she’ll be able to post when I can’t.  So long for now, and I’ll be back!


Packing, Part 3

Today I finally gathered 95% of what I am taking and unpacked what I had packed, and repacked it….pretty much in the way it will be taken to SA.  I took pictures too!

Here’s everything (except a few clothing items and possibly random other things).  Obviously, the dog in the picture isn’t going, and neither is her blanket.  Princess just didn’t feel like moving when I began organizing around her.









Below is a picture of mainly the clothes I shall be taking.  I know you can’t see it that well, but I’ve got a bit of everything that I need.









Here’s some of the little gadgets and whatnot that i am taking, and my shoes.









Here’s Princess.  She kinda got stuck in the middle of it, but didn’t mind too much. 🙂









And here is the after picture.  3 bags-the big duffle is pretty full, but the carry-on duffle is half empty and the backpack has almost nothing in it.  It will carry snacks and entertainment for the plane though.  And staging papers.  Notice, Princess didn’t move a bit.

Jaxson felt left out, so I snapped a picture of him, laying in the chair, on the heating pad, with a blanket.  Lazy dogs.


Staging Update!

This morning started out by me receiving my staging email-YAY!  Now, I leave in just over 3 weeks (woah) and it’s kind of getting down to the wire for travel arrangements in my opinion.  However, with the invitation packet from PC I was told that we would hear about staging 3-4 weeks in advance.  Thus I wasn’t too worried, yet.  I was fiddling around on Facebook this morning, when an update to the PC SA group told me that staging emails had arrived.  So, officially staging is in DC (which I unofficially knew) starting July 6th.  I made a call to SATO travel, PC’s travel agency, and scheduled my flight.  I’ll be flying out of DSM on the 5th, arriving in the evening in DC. I know some other SA24-ers will be getting there that evening too.  Can you say “dinner out”?  🙂

I am soooooo excited to go to DC again!  After spending last semester there, and getting inspired to apply to PC while there, it seems fitting that I should go there for staging.  Makes me less nervous because DC already feels home-y to me.

Anyways, I also found out flight info for my flight to SA.  I will fly out on the 7th, after getting pricked in the arm who knows how many times for vaccinations, and arrive in Jo-burg on the 8th.  It feels “more real” having my arrangements made now.  After finding this all out I went on a shopping spree to Walmart and Target to get some things-particularly luggage.  I have a nice JEEP brand rolling duffel-not too big, not too small.  I chose this over a suitcase because it is easier to move around and I can sling it over my shoulder if I need too.  I will have my regular backpack for my carry-on, and a smaller carry-on size suitcase.  Ahhh….I feel much more prepared now.

I had my graduation/going-away party over the weekend.  It was a sunny day-the only one recently.  And it wasn’t too hot or cold, which is a miracle for Iowa right now.  In other words, the weather behaved and I got to see lots of family and friends.  A nice start to all the goodbye-ing that’s coming.  And Dad got a Sno Cone machine for the party, which was fun.  I think he ate about 10 of them. 🙂


Packing, Part 2

So, in an attempt to write things down and organize my life/packing list, I’m gonna post it!

Lightweight wool coat

Fleece jacket

Waterproot jacket

3 sets long underwear


sun hat


1 belt

2 pairs dress pants

1 pair dress shorts-knee length

4 skirts

1 nice dress

7 button down shirts

4 t-shirts

3 tank tops

2 pairs casual pants-jeans, etc

Tights x2

Bras and undies

Cotton half slips (knee length)

2 pairs dress shoes

Tennis shoes


Two pairs of glasses, and 1 pair of sunglasses

Prescription drugs (bring a three-month supply to last until the Peace Corps can reorder them)

Two towels (to have during training)

1 set of sheets-flat/queen

Sleeping bag liner


Stationery and envelopes to last during the 8 to 10 weeks of pre-service training


Reliable alarm clock

Money belt that fits under your clothes

Small sewing kit

Shortwave radio

Digital camera

Swiss army knife and 3 inch blade

Rechargeable batteries

Water bottle Pictures of hometown, family, and friends

U.S. stamps (letters can often be mailed by people traveling back home)

Maps of the United States, world, and Iowa

Hand crank flashlight

2 books, plus kindle


Decks of cards and card games

Work gloves

Screw driver


Duck tape

Hair straightener


Nail clippers




Tooth stuff

Feminine items

Minimal toiletries (I refuse to haul around the world those things I can easily buy in SA)



USB drives

Seeds: Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Rosemary, Chives, and Oregano


I still have to get a few things, and my luggage, but I’ve gotten most of my stuff so far!  With special thanks to my Dad, Mom, and Sister for their contributions!

I still think I will only use my backpack as my carryon, and an upright suitcase with a smallish duffel.  I’m trying not to overpack, but I’m sure some stuff will be added to the list, as I am forgetful.  And I need to make sure it all fits in my luggage, though it’s looking pretty good! 🙂

I’m also attempting to download my language guide materials onto my kindle, so I can read/listen to it more easily.  And hopefully learn something about the language prior to going.  Hopefully!



I’ve started setting aside what I want to bring, and figuring out what type of luggage I am taking.  I think I have that part figured out.  I’m going to buy a large upright suitcase, with nice spinner wheels.  🙂  Then I’m going to have duffel (non-wheeled, nice shoulder strap) and my backpack.  I thought I would need two suitcases, but after testing out the packing method you can watch below, I think I will have plenty of room in my stuff.  I had my suitcase I took to Mexico about 80% filled, and managed to fit it all into a small 18 inch duffel using this method.  Easily.  Check it out:

So….I’m definitely packing more clothes.