Packing for Peace Corps

When packing for Peace Corps,  you can only take:

two suitcases, 23 kg (50 lb) each

one carry-on

one personal item

Geez. Guess I’ll be leaving my library at home!

A few months ago, I wrote a post touting the benefits of packing light. I’m a big believer in traveling light so that you aren’t weighed down (pun intended) by your own possessions. But lately I’ve just become so gosh darn possessive!

Going into the Peace Corps is a giant leap of faith. Sure, this can be very exciting and appealing to someone who has nothing to lose, but it makes for a frustrating packing experience. As a kind friend recently pointed out,  packing my bags is literally the only thing I can control about my experience right now. So I suppose it’s natural to want to pack up my entire life and take it with me across the world to Madagascar.

There’s a great quote originally from Matthew 6:21 (new testament) that says,

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

For a few weeks now, my treasure has evidently become economy-sized Dove shampoo.

How am I possibly going to decide what to pack??


It is impossible to know what to expect (and I should say that the Peace Corps staff for Madagascar has been ridiculously communicative through the pre-departure process, for which I am incredibly grateful! But even so, I’m nervous.) I suppose this is my first lesson as a volunteer: let things go.

In The Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook (which I highly recommend to anyone considering applying for service), the author says the following:

You may have an urge to pack 500 Q-tips and industrial size shampoos, but don’t. Give your new host country’s people credit; they have cool stuff of their own. [And besides], Being able to shake hands and give high fives [when stepping off the plane] is another great reason to pack light. (29, 32)

I did try and pack 500 Q-tips, though…and I don’t even use Q-tips!

I truly had to keep cutting back (and I’ve already packed a box full of non-essentials that I might request my dad to send to me a few months from now). In the end, the Q-tips, giant shampoo and fancy tea didn’t make it in my luggage…I might regret that later on. But I definitely don’t want to arrive with my hands so full that I can’t give a proper greeting to my new family.

I’m just going to have to trust. And if you think about it, people used to travel and with far less stuff. Have you seen the tiny closets that are in old houses? I think we’ve collectively, as a culture, become bogged down by our possessions and can easily find ourselves wrapped up in them, feeling like an extension of our things and not a human person. I’m guilty number one.

But this is okay. I’m learning. And now my friends in Memphis won’t have to buy shampoo for a very, very long time.


Author: melbell51

Aspiring travel writer and slow nomad.

4 thoughts on “Packing for Peace Corps”

  1. You should find out from a PCV already serving in Madagascar how many “American” or “European” products are available in shopping towns. No one told my group before going to Swaziland that you can buy almost anything you could want here.


    1. Ellie, I think most things are available except for ziplock bags, Q-tips and Mediterranean spices like basil and oregano. But even so, there is something weirdly comforting about bringing my “own” products. I think it’s a desire to control the situation that I’m trying to let go of! I would love to hear about your time in Swaziland too.


      1. Ziplock bags are definitely necessary. And I definitely understand your feelings. I’ve had a hard time shopping for clothes here when I know that I have exactly what I want in the US. Saying let it go really becomes a mantra. There’s so many little things that can annoy you that are usually no more than an inconvenience. They don’t really matter so let it go. The other thing I will say is that it really has taken a year to get things rolling at my site, so stick with it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much!! That’s really encouraging. I’ve heard similar things from other volunteers, so I’m trying to adopt that attitude from the get go. Easier said than done!


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