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.


Dear New Volunteers:

As I said before in part one, 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, part two: Things That Aren’t Clothes.

 Bath towel. While you can buy smaller, cheaper quality bath towels in Colombia, Volunteers suggest you bring a towel and washcloth from the U.S. since they are cheaper and of better quality than what you can find in Colombia. You may find a quick-dry towel, like the kind one can buy in camping stores, helpful.
I totally agree with this sentiment. Bring a towel. After all, one should always know where one’s towel is.

 Medium-sized backpack. A lot of people have made the mistake of bringing large expedition backpacks, with nothing for day-to-day use or a weekend trip. No matter what the size, packs with zippered side pockets are great and will always be useful. Current Volunteers recommend bringing both a large and day pack. Avoid a “flashy” travel backpack as you will use it often to travel on buses.
Couple things about this. I have a medium sized backpack and I do use it all the time. I use it to carry my stuff to school on days when I have to bring my laptop. I use it to go on a weekend trip. I use it to go camping over the space of about 3-4 days in Tayrona.  I think mine is about 30 L? not sure on that. Bigger than a school backpack, but definitely not an expedition backpack. Just large enough to have waist straps. Very useful.
That being said, I mostly see rather tiny backpacks in use by Colombians. and in use they are! They are very popular and really quite small. People look at me kind of funny for having a normal, if slightly large, sized backpack. Whatever. You can get a small one here if it tickles your fancy for every day toting.
Third, whenever I go to a Peace Corps conference in Barranquilla, I end up bringing my small suitcase. There’s no point in bringing a stuffed backpack because you’re probably going to come home with a giant binder and about six books. Books which are currently piling up in my room since I don’t have shelf space for them either but whatever.  I take this suitcase on the kind of buses we are allowed to travel on, which are definitely not the poor-man’s bus, and it’s fine. We aren’t allowed to travel on buses where a flashy backpack is likely to get stolen, or at least not allowed as of now.
I don’t know what the take away is from this rant though.

 Blow dryer. Blow dryers from the States will be cheaper and of better quality compared with what you will find in Colombia
Hmmm. Don’t know about this as I don’t use one, but sounds like good advice. You can also get a “blower” at your local beauty salon, which is kind a fun cultural experience if you just need a sometimes straight hair fix.
 Durable AA flashlight or headlamp (LED). While most sites have electricity, there are rolling blackouts at any moment of the day that can last for indefinite periods of time. Thus, a sturdy flashlight (e.g., Maglite) or headlamp (perfect for hands-free cooking) is essential.
umm. Yes we do have rolling blackouts, maybe about once a month. I just use my candle and my flashlight, although maybe volunteers living out in the countryside would need to do some handsfree cooking? Mostly the blackouts here seem to be at night and maybe even scheduled. I mean, I wouldn’t say no to having a flashlight, but I seem to have not brought one.

 Battery re-charger (AA). Batteries here are expensive, low quality, and (as anywhere) horrible for the environment. So, it is recommended to bring a battery re-charger according to the size of batteries required by whatever electronics you
bring with you. Also, two to three sets of rechargeable batteries are recommended. Some Volunteers solely use battery-operated equipment due to the power outages that can ruin appliances.
Once again, some advice I did not take. I have no battery operated appliances, and no problems with ruining my appliances (at least, I don’t think so, yet).

 One or two durable water bottles. Many Volunteers like re-usable hard plastic bottles because they are so tough. Just re-using plastic water bottles is another option.
I should write a whole blog post on the saga of my water bottles. My first water bottle here is the one I brought back from China, which worked really well there, and stood up well to hot water, since that was what people drank. It was  a good bottle. Unfortunately, it was the kind with a straw built in, and I am the kind of person that likes to put all kinds of things in my “water” bottle, often hot milk tea with sugar in the morning. Seeing as it is hot and humid here, this created the perfect environment for mold. I clean it out with bleach but, I decided to get another water bottle that would be easier to clean so I could keep using my bottle for non water substances, and the orginal bottle only for water.
Enter the second water bottle. It was a good bottle. I used it for tea, as I am wont to do. It was plastic, just like the last one. One day I dropped it on the ground and it kind of shattered. I’m guessing using it for hot substances was not good for it. I had had it for about 4 – 6 months.
So, now I’m on my third water bottle, which is a metal model, and it’s doing me pretty well, although I seem to have a penchant for leaving this one in places and having to call people to go rescue my bottle for me. The amazing, often lost bottle! I especially like the clang it makes when I continually bang into walls and fences with my bottle in hand.
Bring a bottle. I’ve heard another volunteer cite her water bottle as a main source of sanity in an ever changing Peace Corps experience.
You can also buy them here.

 Travel sewing kit. Clothes go through more wear and tear here than in the States, especially during washing. A sewing kit also is more of a necessity than an option.
yes. yes. You can also buy all the things you might need here. Easier to get your hands on sewing supplies here than in the states, I’d say. Also, I can do repairs for you if you live in Cartagena. Pay me in Aguilas.
 A camera. In case you are one of the few persons who have a film camera, be aware that film and processing are expensive here, and the quality is not great. As with all larger ticket items, it is a good idea to insure your camera before arrival.
Of course you want to bring a camera. Definitely. Bring a camera. Who uses film cameras anymore though?
 Watch/travel alarm clock. You should bring a small clock that does not need electricity and that will wake you up. This is especially convenient for early training days.
I agree.
 A money belt. Most people feel safer with one to conceal their money when traveling.

 One set of full size sheets. It is possible to purchase sheets in Barranquilla. Families will have one set of sheets for you to use in their homes when you arrive. However, some families may find it a hardship to lend sheets for the entire duration of training. If you decide to purchase sheets in Colombia, rather than in the U.S., please come prepared with some money budgeted for that purchase. Sheets in Colombia cost about the same or slightly less than sheets in the U.S.
I bought my sheets here. If you have space and particularly like your sheets, bring them. I paid about 25 dollars for one sheet set and about 20 for the other. I don’t know what the going rate for sheets is in the states, but whatever. The sheets are not as inferior as the towels.
 Sleep sack or light sleeping bag. A light sleeping bag is not a necessity but could be useful during your service in Colombia, especially if you plan to do personal trips to areas such as Manizales or Bogota where the weather is cooler. Make sure it is light so it is also practical for the warm weather in this part of Colombia.
I guess you could do this. I didn’t. Definitely not necessary. I mean, when I went to Tayrona, it would have been nice to have a light sleeping bag. I feel pretty sure you could get one here. But I feel like the space ratio on this might not be up to the usefulness ratio.
 Sunglasses. This sunny country can do major harm to your eyes. Bring an inexpensive pair of sunglasses; flashy ones are too tempting for thieves. You can always buy a replacement pair in country.
I agree. The sun is fierce. I agree with this so much, unfortunately, I did not bring sunglasses. Maybe I thought I would get them in country? If you wear glasses, like me, bring a pair that fit over your glasses. I’ve been looking around for awhile now and the only ones I can find that go over glasses are the dorkiest flip-ups imaginable and they only come in two sizes. Nearly ten months in and I’m asking my mom to send my a pair in my next package. Bring sunglasses. 
 Personal and family photos. These are not only great for the occasional pick-me-up, but also to show your host family and the folks in your site. People love seeing these photos, and they are a good way to practice your Spanish and develop relationships.
I agree. I showed my photo album to my training host family as an icebreaker, and to many more people besides.

 A small CD player/MP3 player/iPod/radio. Many Volunteers bring their iPods or MP3 players with small speakers to turn them into stereos. You can also buy these or other electronic equipment in-country, but be aware that they can be extremely expensive in comparison to prices of similar equipment purchased in the U.S. If you bring a laptop, consider bringing small external speakers as your laptop could become your entertainment center.
I also agree with this. I have my MP3, but I don’t own speakers. I’ve been thinking about getting a pair, not only for my listening pleasure, but also to use in the school. My school -has- three pairs of speakers, but only one of them works, and it’s always sort of a toss-up to see if you can find them.
 Portable USB memory drive or external hard drive. Not considering whether you have a personal computer or computer available at your site, there are plenty of instances where a memory drive comes in handy. You can use them at Internet cafes, fellow Volunteers’ sites, and the Volunteer-designated computers at the Peace Corps office to transfer information and resources
easily and safely (especially reports), and to trade photos and music. Also, investing in an external hard drive such as the passport models is a smart idea, as it allows you to easily back up your files on your laptop, as well as store much more information than a flash drive.
I also agree with this! Definitely at least bring a flash drive. Super necessary for taking documents to the print shop to print out stuff for school, and for borrowing music from the other volunteers. External hard drive would be nice, especially for when my last computer died a horrible death, but what can I say? I like to live dangerously. If you’re the kind of person that uses and external, bring it along.
 Surge protector and uninterruptible power supply (also known as voltage stabilizer) for your electronics. The inconsistent electricity in Colombia is harmful to most electronics. While you may find these items in larger stores in Colombia, you may prefer to bring one or more with you.
Don’t have one, haven’t had a problem (that I know of) You can definitely get them here.
 Spanish/English dictionary. You will be provided one in training, but having another one on hand can be useful and even necessary to continue improving one’s level of Spanish.
You get one during training, and you get to keep it until end of service. Also, there are online dictionarys like wordreference, and the help of your fellow volunteers. I say skip it; books are heavy.
 Feminine hygiene products. Volunteers suggest you bring a large supply as they are fairly expensive in Colombia.
LADIES: pads are more common here, but you can get tampons I think. Bring a supply though, wouldn’t do to be caught unawares.

Might I, however, suggest looking into “The Keeper” “The Moon Cup” “The Diva Cup” etc? This is what I use (and have used for about 3 years), and I personally think it’s the best idea ever. Run a google search.

 School supplies. Markers, colored pencils, construction paper, white board markers, etc., are useful.
All of this you can get here. You can also get refillable whiteboard markers which are the coolest thing ever. The only thing I’ve looked for and not been able to find is sidewalk chalk.

 Games for the classroom. Consider such items as banana grams, catchphrase, Frisbee, dominoes, uno, cards, etc.

If only I had brought more games. Bananagrams is fun to play among volunteers, and I also play it with my English club. Unfortunately my cards and dice are MIA right now (actually I know where they are, I just need to hound someone about them).

If I were repacking, I would have brought more games. Quiddler, In a Pickle, Cranium’s Hoopla, catchphrase maybe, Basically any game that isn’t too hard, and maybe has a lot of pictures, would be great for English club, and rules can always be made easier.

I’ve also been making a lot of games, vocabulary building and such. Clothes and colors based on uno, where each card has a colored piece of clothing you can stack color to color, or clothing piece to clothing piece. Dominoes with a picture of a vocabulary word, and some vocab words that you match word to picture or picture to picture, word to word. Dominoes are very popular here. I get requests to play with these games a lot. Or, go fish with vocab words and pictures that have to be asked for and matched. Good for practicing “Do you have…?”

Personal Hygiene and Toiletry Items

I’m going to say that the following is personal discretion, toiletries are hard to advise, but I shall advise as well.
This may include anti-bacterial hand gel in travel sizes
If this is something you use, then yes. I have one and rarely use it.
and stain-removing wipes or a stain-removing fabric pen,
Don’t have and probably wouldn’t use if I had cuz I’m a slob. I bet it might be hard to find here, but I don’t know.
a good nail care set and tweezers,
I think nail clippers are very important. Hang nails are the worst, and keeping my nails short means less dirt under them, and less scratching at mosquito bites. Tweezers came in our medkits. You can get both here.
a brush/comb,
yes. You can also get them here.
a toothbrush
obv. got to keep the teethsies clean. Also you can get them here
and travel toothbrush case
Wish I had one, but I do okay. Could probably get one here if I felt like it
hair clippers (men)
Not a man
and for women, your favorite brand of tampons to last you through training.
We discussed this above.
Also, if there is any sort of specific, nice-quality hygiene items that you use regularly (e.g., body lotions, hair products, oil-free sunscreen), you may want to bring these to make your life here more comfortable. However, most people find that the local products are just fine, and that they can live without a lot of “essentials” after a few weeks.
This is true. If you want something specific, you might better bring it. We can get a lot of US brand things here, but you might want to bring if you are picky.

Toiletries that you don’t need: Sunscreen (in the medkit, and you can get as much as you need), Bug spray (in the medkit, can get as much as you need),
Things I would add to Toiletries: deodorant (I make my own, but US brands and maybe all brands are quite expensive I hear. This is one of the things people ask for from home), make up (I feel it’s better to go with a brand you like. Although in a fit of crazy, I did buy some neon blue liquid eyeliner here)
Could go either way: Floss (floss in medkit, but poor quality, and no refills (maybe) good for making a clothesline, also can buy here), toothpaste (can get here, but if you like a special brand…),  little bottles of soap, shampoo, conditioner, and you can reuse them when you travel around (can buy here), razors (you can get here)

Misc: Peanut butter, spices, snacks for the plane, and snacks in general, American candy is a nice treat during a down day in training, hobby supplies (I have knitting, spinning, yarn, fibers, sewing), musical instrument if you play (I have my oboe, allllll my music, and my uke. Other vols have guitars, which you can get here, accordians, definitely best gotten here, drumsets brought from the states),  laptop!, kindle, books you like (we have a small, small shelf at the office, but are always looking for new trade ins), stuff from home you might could use in class (American money, map of the states, postcards from hometown, pictures of family, magazines to cut up)

There you have it. Basic rules:

Bring it if:
1) it has sentimental attachment
2) you know you can’t get it here
3) it would not be any fun at all to try to go find it
4) you’re going to need it in the first few days

Maybe don’t bring it if:
1) it’s really valuable and you’d hate to lose it, or wear it out (or at least think about cost v. benefit)
2) it’s not something you use in your “real” life
3) it might be interesting to try to go find in Colombia (you’re going to be here awhile, you know)
4) it’s something you can live without for awhile

Okay, now there you have it. Next on “packing list,” my pre-PC packing list, to be treated as a historical document.


2 responses »

  1. SO useful Abby! I bet you wish someone did this for you!!!

  2. Thank you for this dialogue! I am packing for Peru for next month and this was super helpful!
    Thank you!

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