Packing list tips

Supplemental packing list for Peace Corps Zambia invitees

Packing lists are like opinions: everyone’s got one, and they’re all different. This is especially true when packing for the Peace Corps. If it’s true that no two Peace Corps services are the same (it’s true), then it makes sense that there can be no one-size-fits all packing list either. However, as a current Peace Corps Zambia volunteer who remembers voraciously reading every packing list he could find in the months leading up to staging, I wanted to throw in my two cents. Note that this is not at all a comprehensive packing list, and these are only things that I wish I hadn’t brought or had after compiling my packing list from all of the other lists that I was provided by the PCZ desk and from current volunteers.

Don’t bring (or limit quantity)


My buddy during a late fall backpacking trip near Lake Tahoe in 2007 — a slightly different climate from Zambia in any season


The informal clothing market is huge here and you’ll be given enough walking-around allowance to shop extensively during training (that is, if you don’t drink extensively). New and second-hand clothes can all be had for inexpensive prices; ironically, the used clothes and shoes usually cost more than the new stuff because they come from developed countries and are made with better materials/higher quality than the cheap inventory which is shipped in from Southeast Asia and of poor quality. Plus, you’ll quickly start wearing the same clothes over and over again due to the effort and time expended in washing them, or not wearing certain items at all. I’ve worn one pair of socks in the past two weeks. (Not one pair of socks for the past two weeks – that’s gross.)

Peanut butter

Yes, this is one of those quintessentially American foods you’ll crave. No, you don’t have to cram it into your already bulging luggage and arrange for your parents to send you more once you arrive. Peanut butter is available in all of the major bomas in the country, and while it’s not American brand name stuff I can’t taste a difference. Beware of current PCVs playing mostly harmless practical jokes who advise to bring peanut butter during your pre-Staging conference call. If you get this advice and find one of these individuals later on, feel free to punch them for me.

A voltage converter

They’re relatively expensive, relatively heavy, and I’ve used mine absolutely never since arriving here. Your electrical device has to be ancient for it not to have a voltage converter already built into the plug.

Addendum: I did in fact start using my voltage converter when plugging my laptop in at the provincial house. I still wouldn’t bring it if I could re-do my packing list, but this may have played a role in my laptop not experiencing problems due to the higher voltage in Zambia while other volunteers’ laptops did act up.

Do bring

If you journal a lot, you’ll go through a bunch of pens. And these are the kinds of small things that people have big opinions and preferences about. If you like the way a certain brand/type of pen rolls on the paper, it would be a good idea to stock up. Pens are small and light; bring a bunch from home.


Especially if you only use a certain brand normally, you’ll want to bring enough to at least get you through training until you can visit Lusaka. The malls in Lusaka have nearly everything, and what they don’t have your well-heeled parents can spend a fortune to send you from America. My personal rule is that if it stays on me, I care what it is (conditioner, deodorant). If it only makes contact temporarily, I don’t (soap, shampoo, toilet paper). The women in my life tell me I smell great on a regular basis. As much as I wish I could tell you that it’s my natural body scent (the smell of a man), I must confess that it’s all Old Spice.

Chacos with colored straps

I thought I’d be practical and get black. You end up wearing (and staring at) these things all the time once you learn how long it takes to wash socks by hand. Colors are that much more interesting, and I say this as a decidedly not colorful person.

Flavor packets that you can add to water

You’ll be drinking a lot of room-temperature water while you’re here. Gatorade, Tang, iced tea packets, and the like are highly prized and hard to find in country.

The right adapters/connectors to be able to charge all of your electronic devices with your solar panel

Here are a few of the common ones:

-Micro USB – most solar panels should come standard with these adapters, which can be used to charge Kindles and Samsung Galaxy smartphones and many other phones as well.

-Mini USB – this is also standard, and my iHome portable speakers and lithium battery charger (for powering my headlamp) both use mini USB plugs.

-USB female – also standard, great for bypassing proprietary types of charging ports by using the packaged charging cable (typically ends in a USB male, designed for charging by plugging into a computer) to connect your device to your charger/battery pack using the USB cable.

-Mac adapter – I don’t have any Apple products, but most people do and so these adapters are a must for charging your iPod or iPad.

7 thoughts on “Packing list tips

  1. Thank you so super much! I leave for Zambia February 9 2015. Your blog has been very helpful. I’m going to be part of the LIFE project. Environmental Science major that I am. Anyway Thank you for all the information that you post.

    • You’re very welcome! Please keep in mind that this is most definitely not a comprehensive list, just a few random thoughts I had after packing according to the lists that I received. If you want any more information on packing or anything at all, please don’t hesitate to email me!

    • I am also leaving for Zambia on 9th of Feb. 2015! This has been a very helpful in deciding the necessities and luxuries to bring. I’ve been looking for sites to locate other PCV who are leaving for Zambia next Feb. also. If you have any suggestions or want to form a fb page for those who may need packing suggestions or other suggestions let my know.

      • Thanks! Please keep in mind that this is by no means a comprehensive packing list, just something I thought would be useful for invitees to read AFTER they’ve read the other packing lists you’ve gotten/will get.

        If you have any specific questions on what (not) to pack, just shoot me a message!

        They should be creating a Facebook group for your intake soon; be on the lookout for communication from the Zambia post staff representative soon. 🙂

  2. Hey guys!
    I look forward to meeting the 10 Feb Zamba crew, as that is my staging date as well.
    Matt- as I read through your blog, I increasingly think I’m going to being a mini solar panel.
    Thanks for all the tips! Great blog.
    Nicole V

  3. Hi Matt!
    I’m 3 months away from Staging, and your packing list was the first (and most clear) thus far. I’m probably going to reach out to you/your blog for more answers to my bajillion questions, but for now, what other essentials would you include in a packing list, including clothes, necessities, hut-ware, etc. Any insight is super appreciated! Thanks!
    -Mike (:

    • Hey Mike,

      Thanks for the message! This packing list is merely intended to be a supplement to the complete “official” packing list you’ll receive from Peace Corps a few months before your Staging. So with that being said, I don’t want to give you an exhaustive list of things to bring when you’ll receive it directly soon. However, once you do receive that list and have any additional questions, or want to know whether something on the list is truly necessary or not, shoot me an email (through the Contact Me page above) and I’ll be happy to help!


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