What I packed (and wish I packed)

I scoured the internet before I started my service, looking for every blogging PCV in Macedonia and any other packing lists and wiki pages that might help me figure out what to put in my suitcase. I am terrible at packing a reasonable overnight bag when I have an exact itinerary of what I’m doing and what I’ll need to wear. Packing for two years abroad in a previously unknown country was a huge challenge. (Vacuum seal bags helped.)

Hopefully this will help a future PCV struggle a little less. I’ll update throughout my service. Here is the first look after two years in-country.

Glad I Brought:

  • Voltage converter/plug adapter (This is the best. It changes the plug of any electronic, but it also converts voltage for those items that might not automatically do so. For instance, computers do, but my hair straightener might not. Plug adapters were easy to find here, but voltage converters were not as easy. Mine was about $20 at Target and I use it every day.)
  • Small, compact umbrella (I’ve lost about three umbrellas, so thankfully they’re easy to buy here too.)
  • Multiple coats for different weather (I have a long, more professional, warm wool coat that I can wear to school through the winter. I also have my ski jacket and two light jackets. Everything can be layered. — I never actually wore my ski jacket, so I would have been fine with just one heavy coat.)
  • Gloves (I have a heavy pair and a pair for every day.)
  • One month of toiletries (This was mostly because I couldn’t read and understand a lot of labels and I wasn’t sure what stores had what products. It was just one less worry in the beginning.)
  • Multiple boots (Though I wish I had made sure they were water proof. I don’t have hiking boots. I’ve done all my hikes in sneakers and been fine, though hiking boots would have been nice.)
  • One pair of generic heels (I’m not big on heels, but I’ve worn them for a few weddings and formal events. The women here love heels. I don’t get it, but I pretend once in a while.)
  • Reese’s Pieces (This should have been first on the list.)
  • Laptop
  • Iphone (Getting it unlocked before you come is the easiest way to go. Then you can buy a local sim and use it here. If not, Peace Corps helps you buy a reasonable phone here.)
  • My favorite book
  • Kindle (Technically, I bought this from a COSing PCV for $25, but I have been reading everything ever since. So convenient. Make sure your library card is up to date and you can check out English e-books throughout service.)
  • Camera (I love my DSLR. It makes photos of memories so much nicer than my phone can.)
  • Journals (I like to write on real paper sometimes. I keep a gratitude journal of one positive thing about each day of my service. Many of them are food related.)
  • Meds not in the medical kit (The list of provided meds is available here. I brought a few extra things, like vitamins.)
  • Wool socks!! (Winter has been cold. I’m really happy I grabbed a multiple pack at an outdoorsy store right before I left.)
  • Quick drying towel (This was another last-minute purchase at an outdoorsy store, but it’s great. It’s perfect for traveling too.)
  • Giant reusable water bottle. (What’s the easiest way to spot an American? Water bottle and a backpack.)
  • Clothes for all seasons (I wear business casual at school, which at my school means slacks and a nice top or jeans and a nice top. I could have brought less clothing. I wear the same things all the time. The Peace Corps office also has a spot in the Volunteer Lounge where we can discard and pick up used clothes from other volunteers.)
  • A lightweight sleeping bag (I debated whether to bring one or try to buy one from a departing volunteer, and what made up my mind was snagging one at Walmart for about $40. It is the most compact thing I’ve ever seen, and since I use it as a base layer under my blanket mountain on the cold winter nights, it’s been perfect. It’s not hardcore for camping, but it gets the job done and has been really convenient for in country travel and camping.)

Wish I Brought (or bought here):

  • More school supplies, like good sharpies, post its and a few other basic items to get started (You can get school supplies in any city too, so don’t stress.)
  • Printed out pictures (I meant to do this and dropped the ball, but there are print shops here.)
  • Silly/costume stuff (There will be a time, so having a few small silly items would have been great. I’m pretty jealous of the PCV who brought face paint, for instance.)
  • Stocked external hard drive (I brought mine, but should have filled it with DVDs.)
  • Old phone with sim card (My iPhone couldn’t be unlocked, so I had to buy a phone and sim card here. If you have a phone with a sim card, even an old slider or flip one, you can pop in a new sim card and save a few bucks.)
  • Sewing Kit (I hadn’t sewed anything in years before arriving. I have sewed EVERYTHING here. Just bring it. Better to have it and not need it. They’re not that big, though I’m told they can be found here too.)
  • Birthday cards (I wouldn’t fill a bag, but I wish I had brought some nice ones for the special people in my life. They have cards here, but the English language selection is slim. I love cards.)
  • iPhone spare battery (I knew my iPhone wouldn’t work, so I didn’t bother purchasing the spare charge sticks they sell. Even though I don’t use it as a phone, I take photos, blog in notepad, listen to music and still use my iPhone a lot, so an extra charge would be convenient on long days.)
  • Professional school bag (My carry on was my backpack, which I knew I would use for hiking and camping. I hadn’t thought ahead that I would also look like another kid at school with it. I bought a bag here that fits my laptop and a few books for about $10 American.)
  • Two hoodies instead of one (I’m trying this thing called being an adult and not wearing sweatpants all the time. The problem is, I wear sweatpants every day after school in the winter. It’s chilly in my room, especially in winter, so I wear the same sweats all the time. I wish I brought an extra hoodie to lounge in.)
  • More business casual (Sometimes I wish I was a little fancier. My coworkers are way more stylish than me. I mean, that will be true regardless, but I wish I had packed to be a bit more dressed up at school.)
  • Some of the spices I love. I’ve built up my spice cabinet through care packages.
  • A diva cup (Tampons don’t have applicators here, and after a few care packages of American tampons, other volunteers enlightened me to the environmental benefits of going for a cup. Ladies, Google if you haven’t heard of them. I ordered one on Amazon for like $10 and had another volunteer bring it back from a trip to America.)

Wish I had done before I left:

  • Set up What’s App/Viber/etc. (I didn’t set these up before my phone plan ended, and wished I had because even without a plan, I could have used the services over WiFi. I set them up here with my Macedonian number, but it would have been nice to have it taken care of.)
  • Opened an international debit card (I didn’t realize my bank charged international fees. I tried setting up a Charles Schwab account when I got here and they flagged my non-US IP address. They weren’t allowed to set up the account unless I physically spoke to someone at a bank in America because allowing me to confirm over the phone would have violated the Patriot Act. I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing.)

I didn’t need:

  • Flashlight (Peace Corps gives you one.)
  • Power strip (I brought an American power strip, but it turns out I don’t have that many American things to plug in. Judge what you have and decide. Again, better to have and not need than wish you had it.)

Peace Corps also provided:

  • Map of the Balkans
  • Flashlight
  • Smoke Alarm
  • Radio for emergency communication
  • Enough papers and manuals to fill an entire carry-on suitcase. (I wish I was kidding. Save it for scrap paper if you’re a TEFL. Or for starting those fires in the woodstove in the winter.)
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3 thoughts on “What I packed (and wish I packed)

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