Before I became a Peace Corps Volunteer, I scoured the blogs of currently serving PCVs to help me figure out what I should pack with me on my trip to Rwanda. It can be difficult to know what to pack for living in a foreign country for two years, so I wanted to make a list of the things that I think are helpful in the Peace Corps journey in order to help those who are going through the application process and have accepted a Peace Corps invitation. And, of course, the list is also here for the enjoyment of all my stalkers out there.
The packing list will vary, of course, if you are planning to go to a different country than Rwanda, but it is good to get ideas for packing nonetheless.
Things that I am glad that I packed:
Several pairs of shoes - It rains a lot here and your shoes will get muddy. Rwandans are crazy about keeping their shoes clean, and if you are staying with a host family they will take your shoes and wash them. It sometimes takes a couple days for shoes to dry, so having another pair might save your feet from walking around in soggy shoes.
More specifically, I brought: one black pair of dress shoes, one brown pair of dress shoes, running shoes, hiking shoes, casual shoes, and flip flops. It may seem like a lot, but I have found it to be well worth the space in my bags. Stuff all of your shoes with a few pairs of socks. It utilizes the space well for packing and helps keep the shape in your shoes. And bring lots of socks! Put half of them aside and you will be glad to have them in three months when all of your other socks are stretched out from washing them.
Pillow - This is by far the best thing that I brought. Pack a down pillow last in one of your suitcases and it squishes down quite nicely. I also brought a down blanket which is very comforting to have.
Quick-drying Towel - Bring two! You won't want to have to borrow a towel (they aren't that great here) and having an extra is good for when you wash one and it hasn't quite dried all the way yet.
Plain Clothes - Don't bring clothes that you care dearly about. Clothes come here to die. I brought mostly plain T-shirts and long sleeve button-down shirts that can be layered. Dark slacks and nice jeans are ideal for pants. Khaki slacks are versatile, but they get dirty very fast (almost as soon as you step out the door). Rwandans like to dress nice, so bring button-down shirts and polos. Clothes can also be bought here (most of it is nice designer clothes too) so don't worry about packing your entire wardrobe. Pack more underwear and socks than anything else.
Kindle - I was never interested in the idea of e-books until I started traveling. I still enjoy reading paper books, but the Kindle allows me to carry hundreds of books in a device that weighs ounces and takes up almost no space.
External Hard Drive - I brought one, but it is too small. My parents sent me a TB one for Christmas. Bring at least 500 GB, 1 TB if possible. There are lots of electronic files floating around among PCVs: TV series, movies, books, documentaries, games.
Spices - Rwandan food is terribly bland. Bring a shaker of your favorite spice. You might find yourself even whipping it out in restaurants. Hot sauce is also a good option.
Laptop - You will use it and abuse it, so don't bring something super expensive that you would be sad to see break, but make sure that it is of good quality.
Soap and Deodorant - Of course soap is available here, but I have brand preferences. If you don't have a preference, then save the space. I don't care about shampoo, so I used the extra space to bring lots of bars of my favorite soap.
Fitted Bed Sheets - This is another thing that you should bring two of if you can. There are sheets available here, but they are weird sizes and not fitted.
Sleeping Bag - Because sometimes you don't know where you are going to sleep.
A Good Backpack - When you are traveling somewhere and you plan to stay overnight, you are unlikely going to bring one of your suitcases along. Travel in Rwanda is done on what we call "squeeze" buses. Bring a backpack that is comfortable to wear and big enough to hold essential items for staying somewhere overnight (extra clothes, toothbrush, laptop, towel, etc.). If you can attach your sleeping bag to it, even better.
Leatherman - Or a good old fashioned pocket knife. Mine flips out into pliers and has an LED light on it. Extra lights are always nice to have.
Headlamp - It comes in handy when you need both of your hands at night. Also bring a slim LED flashlight that you can slip into your pocket.
Drink Mix - It will take you a while to get used to the taste of the water, so having powdered drink mixes makes it go down easier.
Multi Vitamins - These might be your only source of nutrients when you are eating over-cooked rice, beans, and potatoes.
Music - It is the only thing that keeps me sane some days. Sometimes you need to shut the door, put in your ear buds, close your eyes and listen to music. I also brought a speaker that is great for when I want extra volume or don't want to be constricted by my ear buds.
Compact Camera - I bought a really nice camera before coming to Rwanda, but it is too large to lug around and not discreet at all. Compact is better, and the quality should be just fine for what you will most likely be using the photos for: blogging.
Nail Clippers - Unless you like cutting your nails with razor blades or filing them with rocks.
Zip-Loc Bags They are forbidden here, so you're not going to find them. They come in handy.
Everything else is non-essential. Fill any extra space with things that will bring you comfort, like your favorite candy or pictures from home. I wish I had packed less clothing and more of the essential items listed above.