December 13, 2013 by theloneblonde
When I was getting ready for becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer I searched the Internet for the perfect packing list, and then realized there is really no such thing.
I read every packing list I could get my hands on, I had a lot of time on my hands to think about this. After being here for the initial part of my service I guess I could make a few notes for all of those volunteers getting ready to serve here are my suggestions:
Packing: Pack in bags that you can carry on your own. Potentially, bring one large rolling suitcase, a hiking backpack and a carry on duffle. Don’t bring two backpacks, you will always look dumb, pack a 2nd backpack in your duffle (or In my case I may have packed 3types of backpacks).
Nalgene: Volunteer Staple, make it unique or else you may get it confused with other volunteer’s bottle
Umbrella: a really sturdy one, though even my nice REI one broke my first month but it is still usable
Rain/Snow Boots: I have a pair of boggs and they are worth every penny
Sleeping Bag and a water proof stuff sack: I use my sleeping bag on a daily basis because it is warm and we don’t exactly have heating
Camping Sleeping Pad: you never know when you need to sleep on the floor (I have a therm-a-rest pro lite, it is super compact)
Carry-All Tote/Purse: something that you can carry your laptop, and a bunch of books, notebooks, pens, etc inside. Make sure it is super durable.
Towels: Bring 1-2 large quick dry towels, and maybe a little micro sized one
Posters or Maps: Something small you can fold up and put in that front pocket of your suitcase, it will make your future place a little more homey.
Pictures of your family and friends: People LOVE to look at pictures and ask you to tell about every one of them
2 Sharp Knives: I went with a paring knife and an all-purpose serrated knife, I used them daily
Garlic Press: There is a lot of good garlic which you are going to want to press, not to mention can be used to make a ton of different things!
Multi-Tool: I have a Leatherman, I keep it in my purse, super handy for fixing things in my house or around town.
Baking Powder: If you happen to enjoy baking anything, bring it. You will use a ton of it trying to recreate your favorite recipes. Even if you don’t bake bring it and share it with someone who will bake for you.
Seasonings: if there are a few seasonings you cannot live without, bring them, for me that is taco seasoning, buffalo seasoning, and adobo. Consider bringing cumin, cilantro, masala, nutmeg, apple pie seasoning, anything Asian inspired, the most basic seasonings you can get here, but anything fancy or considerably foreign you will not find.
Vanilla Extract: If you like baking, bring your own vanilla extract, they only have vanilla powder here (it’s just vanilla sugar), also consider brining almond extract if you want to be real crazy.
Peanut Butter: Even if you are not a fan, there will be a point in time where you crave peanut butter. You can find peanut butter here at a price point that you cannot afford during your first few months.Consider brining a jar just to get you started.
Hot Sauce: I’m an addict, I just had my friend bring my over 5 bottles. So if you can manage to bring one of your favorites, or else this may be something that you will request in a care package someday, because albanian food sometimes is missing that kick
Pillow: Bring one of your own, you won’t regret it.
Shampoo/Conditioner: bring enough for 2-3 weeks worth; you can get good products here
Travel Sized Products: bring a few different travel sized items so you can throw them in your bag and go at a moments notice, you can also re-use the travel-sized bottles
Razors: You can find them here, bring a few for the beginning and then you will figure out where to find cheap ones
Tampons: Bring at min. enough for 3 months worth. They have them here, but generally only the OB variety, and only in large cities. You do receive 500 leke a month extra to go and buy them, but they make excellent box suffers from home. Though I will say I was recently gifted a menstrual cup (I would highly recommend it, there is quite a learning curve, but I now plan to be 500 leke richer a month, and it’s great).
Deodorant: All the american deodorant, if you did not know no one else uses deodorant like us, though if you are at a total loss I have found it in 3 stores in Albania, just three. Bring 3 years worth.
Meds: for 3 months at least, and maybe some extra cold medicine because you never know when you will need some.
Make-Up/Perfume: Albanians often dress to the 9s everyday. Though I on the other hand like to show people I work with it is totally acceptable to leave the house without make up on! Though this is somewhat of an abomination.
Do not bring: HAIR DRYERS or HAIR STRAIGHTENERS. Bring 20 bucks to buy new ones here, that work with the voltage, though if you are really lucky maybe someone will leave one for you
Rain Coat, Winter-Ish Coat, Vest: Bring layers
1 Outfit you would only wear at a trendy night club: the more sparkles the better
1 Outfit you would only wear to your cousins wedding (can also be the outfit you would wear to a trendy night club…)
1 business Suit for when you get to hang with the prime minister or the ambassador
Nice Jeans and Slacks: what I wear to work almost everyday
Long Underwear: I would recommend cuddleduds you can find them at a lot of department stores, like kohls. Bring all of the long underwear you can manage to get your hands on. It’s a great base layer. I brought 4 pairs long underwear pants and 3 shirts, and wish I had more.
A few nice dresses: either sundresses or work-like dresses
A skirt or two: sometimes you need to dress up to work
Shorts: Welcome to a Peace Corps Country where shorts are totally acceptable
Belts: Some of you will gain weight and others will lose a bunch of it, either way you are going to want a belt or 3
Swimsuits: bring 1-2, all Albanians wear bikinis no mater body type, and then question your sanity if you are in a 1-piece. If you are a swimmer, chances are you will never use your training suit, swimming laps is not a thing, so don’t bother.
Bras and Underwear: You will not find any bras or underwear that you like here in Albania, and if you do 99% chance you cannot afford it. Bring all the bras you own and all the underwear you own, pack it in your carry on, this is valuable stuff! Men, you don’t need to worry about this, you can bring 3 pairs of underwear and be fine, albania is full of men’s underwear even used men’s underwear if you want to be super cheap.
Wool Socks: I never knew how amazing wool socks were before coming to Albania they keep your feet warm and dry, invest in some nice ones you will regret nothing.
Shirts/Sweaters/Sweatshirts: bring what you can pack into your suitcase, pack them in compression bags, though you can find all these things in Albania for cheap at our “gabi” (re-sale markets).
Scarfs/Hats/Gloves- Albanians like to tell you that if you neck/head/hands are cold you are going to get sick, if you happen to own these before hand it will be great for PST and you can always stock up at site
During PST, you will asked to be business professional, use your best judgement as to what this is, honestly it’s up to you. Professional wear is less professional then nice offices in the USA, though you area always expected to look “nice.” Yet you can wear the same thing multiple days in a row, that is not only acceptable but encouraged.
Also remember that you are not going on a 27 month camping trip, you are going to be working as a (somewhat) well-respected government employee. Dressing to Impress is important though don’t bring anything too nice or sentimental because by the end of two years it chances are will not be something you will want to bring back with you.
These are the essentials you can find shoes in Albania but they will be used, or they will be low quality if they are new. It was very hard to make such decisions about this, but you cannot bring all the shoes.
Laptop- do you use your computer everyday, bring it. If you are thinking about not brining it, that is dumb, TAKE IT WITH YOU. I do all of my work from mine and I pray everyday that it will last me the next two years but my computer and I will make it through the ups and downs together.
Phone: Alright so if you have a smartphone, or even a not so smart phone, and it is unlocked (meaning it was not sold in the USA) bring it. You will get a peace corps phone which is the cheapest, and I brought my unlocked smart phone from the USA (i ordered it on amazon and then ran it with AT&T for 6 months before coming to peace corps) my plan in Albania for data, texting, and calls is only 1000 leke (10 dollars) a month, which is the same you pay with the Peace Corps Phone, so it’s like you get free data. If you have questions about unlocking phones talk to me, I know it all (or like to think I do).
Camera and an Extra Battery for the camera
Assortment of Adaptor Plugs: Albania uses a two-prong plug like most of Europe
3 Pairs Headphones: Albania happens to be a place where headphones go to die
External Computer Powered Speaker: Ended up having this shipped over, it is super helpful (http://www.amazon.com/AYL-GUARANTEE-Rechargeable-Expandable-Smartphones/dp/B007OYAVLI/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1386931672&sr=8-8&keywords=portable+speaker)
Americana things: stickers, socks, headbands, facepaint, flags
Gifts for Host Family: I went to target and hit up the dollar bins along with the sale racks for random things. This went over really well, even though they have all the things I brought for them (such as nail polish, toothbrushes, scarfs, crayons, coloring books, cards), the novelty of them coming from America was such an amazing sensation they refused to take anything out of the package and then went around town telling EVERYONE what the American had brought them from America! I also brought an UNO game for the family, and if you do bring a game it will be a big hit however, you will be asked to play it nothing short of 3000 times, so you better like the game. Other suggested family gifts that would go over well would be a backgammon bored, chess set, dominos. Though they have this in Albania, seriously the novelty of it coming from the USA is pretty significant.
Do not bring: Books Don’t bring books for you host family; this is not something with value in host families. Even coffee table or picture books, many volunteers were sad to know that their books ended up being used as expensive fire starters, or scrap paper.
Books for yourself: they are heavy, put them in your carry on… it’s up to you… I brought a few technical books for myself, they now are home in my fridge turned bookshelf. Peace Corps has an entire office of literature for your viewing pleasure, though I would bring along maybe one or two where you can keep yourself busy during training.
External HardDrive: This is very important in which you can back up your computer in case it comes to Albania and decides to become a very depressed electronic item. Also a great place to store some media that peace corps volunteers have collected over time.
This is what I have for now, there are many things that you should consider brining and not brining and that is up to you. The best test is to think how many times you use such an item in a day and then chances are you will use it twice as much in Albania (will it hold up?). With the exception of the speaker I was able to fit this all into 100 pounds and two bags, it takes some expert packing skills but you can do it, think of it as your first peace corps challenge! Best of Luck and Albania is waiting for you!