Hey All! This is a repost of my packing list post from last year, I thought since new volunteers are on their way soon, maybe some of them have found their way to my blog and might be interested. Here it is completely unedited cuz I’m lazy.


(This is a long one. If you aren’t a prospective volunteer for Colombia, you may not find it at all interesting)

Dear New Volunteers:

Once upon a time, almost a year ago it was, we new volunteers were given a packing list. What might one want to take to Colombia if one was going to live there for two years? Well, let me tell you, some of the things that I brought turned out to be amazingly useless, and there are definitely things I would love to pick up from my room if I were ever to make a short detour to Cheyenne, WY in the next  two years (unlikely).  I don’t know if they gave y’all the same packing list, or if your packing strategy is to throw everything in the suitcase right after your going away party, but if you want to read a long treatise on packing, here you go. So, without further ado, I present: commentary on a packing list.

First we start with lots of advice. I’m going to delete a lot of it since it’s tedious. Here are some relevant, bulleted points from this first bit.

There is no perfect list!  You obviously cannot bring everything on the list
(Ain’t that the truth)

– Keep in mind that you have an 80-pound weight limit on baggage. And remember, you can get almost everything you need in Colombia.
(I would suggest not over packing. Some people in our cohort did, and it just looked miserable to be dragging around so many things. I had two suitcases, both around 30 pounds, and I feel like I have more things than I need. You are also eventually going to have to put all that stuff somewhere in your eventual room, and you might have to move it at least once but probably more like two or three or four times during your two years. Pretty much anything you want can be found here.)

Stuff might get stolen, damaged, clothes will get worn (I’m paraphrasing here)
Most of my clothes are getting threadbare after about nine months. Life is much easier when you don’t have to worry about someone wanting to take your things. At least when I travel around here, I try to only bring things that I wouldn’t care if they went missing.

Clothing: This is a big category. Let’s go piece by piece:

Alright, so this is during training, and is therefore a little fancier than what we weart to school every day now, but here’s some clothes that we wear. Extra points for being monchromatic?

Bottoms – Five pairs of nice pants/skirts/jeans; Teachers in schools do wear jeans, and Volunteers mention that men should feel free to bring more jeans than pants, but it is a good idea to have at least two pairs of pants/skirts in addition to jeans.
In this category, I would say pretty much anything goes. I wear jeans, I wear skirts, I rarely wear my “nice pants.”  Things that are taboo to wear to school: shorts, mini skirts. Things that maybe should be taboo but are actually totally okay: skin tight pants or leggings. In terms of numbers, I think I came with about this many bottoms, but have since aquired two casual-er skirts (which I totally wear to school) and a pair of skin tight jeans. And now I am set.

Tops: Seven business casual shirts, mostly short-sleeved, but at least 1-2 long-sleeved; polo shirts are often used in schools.
I agree, mostly. I don’t think you are going to be wearing any long-sleeves at school, ever. Schools aren’t usually air conditioned, and it’s pretty hot here. But, if you go traveling to the interior, you might want to own at least a long sleeved shirt. But let’s put that under play clothes, shall we? Also for shirts, anything goes. Really. Teachers at my school wear shirts that are practically see-through, bedazzeled tee-shirts, skin-tight tees, you name it. The only thing I don’t see too often is spaghetti straps. I know one teacher who wears spaghetti straps to school, but I don’t really see anyone else doing it. Maybe taboo? Other opinions from other volunteers? Also I don’t see midriff tops at school. The other thing I don’t see too often is polo shirts. But PCV Emily says people wear polos to her school all the time. Also if you want to bring more than 7, that would probably be okay. I wash about once every two weeks, and while I wear pants and skirt several times in that period, one day in a shirt will just about do that shirt in in terms of sweat.

– In summary, for work clothes, bring what you would feel comfortable hanging around in outside in the summer in the states for a few hours. Make sure it’s not dirty or ratty or shorts/midriff/spaghetti straps and you will probably be the most conservative dresser in your school!

– 2-3 light sweaters for hyper-air conditioned rooms and the cool evenings during the months of December-March
This is actually surprisingly important. I regret not bringing a small cardigan and am thinking of buying one. Especially if you travel to the interior, but more because training will be freeeeeezing. The Peace Corps Office is freeeeezing, all PC confrences are freeeeeezing and hotels are freeeeeezing. Bring a sweater. I only have a pullover and it is not exactly perfect for the purposes.

This is more like what I usually wear. Jeans and a presentable shirt. Sometimes I wear a skirt instead.

– One collared long-sleeved dress shirt
I brought one and I almost never use it. The only time I wear it is when I haven’t done laundry in a long time.

– One tie for men
Not a man, so I don’t really know, but I guess it wouldn’t take up too much room in a suitcase in any case.
– One semiformal dress with shoes to match for women
You’ll wear it for swearing in. If it’s more like a “Sunday Best” you might wear it more than once.
– Skirts and/or airy pants for women
– Dresses/sundresses for women that can be worn around the city or at work
I definitely recommend. Although people will tell you you are fancy if you wear skirts or dresses. Don’t they realize it’s so much more comfy?

-Two weeks worth of cotton underwear
Yes! Or more?
-Two weeks worth of undershirts
What? Maybe this is for men. Although, if you buy ladies’ shirts here, they are going to be real low cut. Sometimes I wear camisoles under, but it’s quite hot here. I think this one is meant for guys.

Seven pairs of cotton socks
Depends on the shoes. But yeah. Could be.

Three to four comfortable bras and one or two sports bras
I brought three and no sports bras and was good. Although, when my mom sent me a box of bras for my birthday, after I got over my initial shock at this odd birthday present, I was quite pleased. They get worn out from the sweat.

– Two pajama bottoms, preferably shorts
-Three pajama T-shirts
Yeah, I don’t even wear PJs anymore unless I’m sleeping out of the house in the same room as other people. I would recommend shorts. You probably only need one set, but up to you.

Alright, here’s casual. This is casual because of the loose, tee-shirtyness of the tee-shirt, and the sneakers. I also often wear skirts. So basically tee-shirts are casual. Or tank tops. Mostly just loose clothing is casual. I don’t know. I don’t know who makes up rules.

One casual, comfortable outfit for going out
– One pair of running or exercise shorts for playing sports or for hanging out during the evening
– One pair of casual or business casual shorts for non-work related moments
Business casual shorts? What does that even mean? I’d say I would bring more casual clothes. Although the cross over from work to casual is a lot. I think I wear non-work clothes about four times a week. Tank top and a skirt, or shorts.
 Rain gear. You may want to bring a light, breathable rain jacket/windbreaker/poncho for the downpours during the rainy season. On the coast, downpours often terminate within an hour. Also, a small travel umbrella is convenient for protection from the rain and sun, as used by many Colombian women.
hmmm. I agree with this, but I don’t have a rain jacket. Umbrella for ths sun is definitely a good, good idea. Also you can get umbrellas here. Also, you don’t really want to be out in a downpour because the streets flood, so just duck into a store or stay at home is my advice.
 Bathing suit. Being on the Atlantic Coast, there will be opportunities to go swimming. Bring whatever type of bathing suit you like, but women may also want to consider bringing a more conservative suit for use in and near their site, and another they would use on vacation.
If by a more conservative suit,  you mean not a G-string, then okay. Wear what ever kind of bathing suit you want. Conservative bathing suits? Don’t really see them around here too often. Bring two! We’re at the beach all the time in Cartagena.


Sandals. A good, comfy pair of sturdy sandals for everyday, non-workplace wear is a must (e.g., Chacos, Crocs or Tevas). Also, you will need a cheap pair of flip-flops to serve as shower shoes. These can be found easily in Colombia for sizes up to 11. Nice sandals can be considered business casual wear, but do not expect to wear flip-flop style sandals during training or in the office.
I sure wish I had a nice pair of durable sandals. You can definitely wear them to school. All of your teachers will ask you where you got them. You might even start a new fashion craze. All the lady teachers wear sandals all the time. Don’t know about the men. Don’t pay as much attention to what they are wearing. But it’s true that wearing flip-flops is a little bit not classy. I wear my flip flops, but not to school.

 Sneakers/running shoes. Depending on your preference, you can either bring hiking boots or a good pair of sneakers (or both if you use them for different purposes). Given that your assignment will be urban, there may be fewer opportunities to use hiking boots, but this is also a matter of personal preference. Quality sneakers can be found in Barranquilla, though they will not have sizes larger than 11.
I don’t have hiking boots. I guess if you like to wear hiking boots hiking, bring them. If you make it a priority to hike, I’m sure you can find a use for them. That being said, those must be heavy, and if you don’t really really want to bring them, I wouldn’t. Good sneakers though, I do have my pair, I must say.
 Comfortable dress shoes. Given that your primary assignment is in the schools, it is
imperative that you bring one to two pairs of comfortable dress shoes for work. Shoes are available in Barranquilla, but they will not have sizes larger than 11 for men.
hmmm. Imperative? Yeah I guess so. I have a pair of black flats which are my only “nice school shoes” but I also wear my “somewhat suspect sandals” to school. I could probably use another pair of nice shoes. Make sure you can walk around in them. And stand around in them. Teachers like to wear stiletto heels and I just don’t understand how they do it.

In short:

-Comfortable, hot weather clothes. Don’t worry about being buisness-y. Just look presentable and be comfortable.

-Don’t stress out about not being “conservative” enough in your clothing choices. Whatever you choose is probably okay.

Things I brought, but would take right back home given half a chance (clothes and shoes only):

-my heels. I never wear them.

– my tights. Why oh why did I bring tights? The one time I wore my white tights, small children were afraid that I had some kind of leg disease or something. Why are your legs white?! That being said, I have worn my textured fish nets out to the disco on occasion, with much admiration by all.

-I would probably take back my “semi-formal” dress from above. I wore it once, and I actually have two. I don’t have anything to wear them too… but that might change?

Bring a jacket. Or a sweater. or a cardi. You won’t regret it. Bring me a sweater too?

Things I wish I had:

– a hat for the sun. I could buy one here, but they all seem to be in a competition for who can be the most ridiculous.

– Sunglasses!!!! If you wear glasses, do go ahead and bring some sunglasses to attach to your glasses. The sun if FIERCE! and though I could buy a real hideous pair of clip ons at the market, they really aren’t the right size for my glasses, and would probably just be troublesome. I really wish I had some sunglasses, although I probably would have just lost them by now.

-one set of cool weather clothes. Someday I’m going to visit the interior, and I’m going to be woefully unprepared. I have this picture of me in the airport on the way to Colombia wearing a jean jacket that I gave back to my mother because I was “off to the tropics” Man. If I had that sweater now, I would wear it all this week in our freezing confrence rooms in Barranquilla. Actually I might go out sometime this week and get a cardi. I might.

to be continued…


15 responses »

  1. Your funny! You so love a packing list. Come back to the USA for a visit and you can get some of that stuff you want!

  2. Nancy Quinn says:

    You have a cat?

  3. pckatie says:

    Thanks for sharing….always great to get advice from volunteers who are already there! With 5 weeks left….this was a good reminder to start thinking about packing 🙂

  4. Andrew Mulvaney says:

    Thanks for the advice Abby! I’m going to be joining the Peace Corps Colombia team in August, so this was a huge help.

  5. Jenna says:

    Hi Abby! I am also coming later this month, so this was an emormous help. I have another question about Peace Corps prep (although not directly packing related)…what do you think about the insurance? Do you think it’s worth purchasing? Thanks for the help, see you soon in Colombia. 🙂

  6. Jenna says:

    Sorry to pester you Abby, but a few more questions popped into my head- after reading a barrage of posts about the scarily high amounts of heat/humidity, what do you recommend for a fan? Would a personal fan be sufficient, or should I bring a more powerful one that requires a plug? ….And speaking of plugs, what’s the electricity like there? I haven’t read anything about adapters, so I’m assuming the plugs are the same, but I’ve read that the voltage is different, so I’m not sure how that works with electronics. By the way, I just went through my clothes using the packing list plus your comments, and I feel a LOT better about my choices now! So thank you, thank you, THANK YOU! 🙂

    Best, Jenna

    • abbyinthebox says:

      You can get fans here. In fact, your family will probably have a fan for you. That’s the only way we sleep at night! I don’t really know about the plug situation. I just plug things in and they seem to work fine, although I hear that they can also go poof! but yeah, don’t really understand things like that. Merely a humble English teacher.

  7. cathy says:

    i vote for 1 month of underwear! it is the only thing i won’t rewear and i def like to drag out how often i do my laundry! 🙂 It’s also much easier to pack for Benin (clotheswise) since you can just get lots of crazy print oufits made and you gain instant awe and respect and points – best of all, it works for formal and non formal occasions!

    • abbyinthebox says:

      Underwear is definitely important. Although, since starting to get my laudry washed and machined dried in town, I “do laundry” a lot more. Posh Corps indeed.
      Clothing here is expensive and all synthetics. Why!

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