Packing both took me forever and about twenty minutes. I stressed about it all the time, because before leaving it was one of the few things about my service I could control. I still have dreams* where I’m packing for Peace Corps, and wake up wishing I brought something I remembered to pack in a dream. Usually that thing is a well-fitting blazer or pencil skirt.
Things I’m Glad I Brought
Patagonia Black Hole Bag: 55L duffle with detachable backpack straps. I use this bag for pretty much anything longer than three days. Travels well, somehow always looks clean. I’ve had it for about a year now and it’s been through a LOT and doesn’t show it. It fits as a carry on most planes, and I honestly use it all the time for just storing things.
New Jeans/ a few shirts: Before I left I bought a few new pairs of jeans and shirts. Peace Corps Armenia is hard on clothes, and had I brought some of my older jeans I would’ve needed to replace them sooner. One mistake here: I had been living at home for a few months (and gained weight) before I bought these jeans, weight I promptly lost upon arriving in country. It might’ve been better to bring jeans in varying sizes. The shirts that I bought before I left have held up better than anything I’ve bought yet here.
Peppermint Oil: I used to carry peppermint oil in my sea kayaking med kit as a party trick for hot days. On the back of your neck it cools you down a lot and makes you smell like Christmas. I threw it in my bag because I had the space, but it’s ended up being awesome this summer on those 100+ days.
Smartwool Baselayers: These can be pricey, but will keep you warm, and will last. The long sleeve I wore every single day last summer sea kayak guiding is still in perfect shape and came with me to Armenia (a little sun-bleached; doesn’t smell). I haven’t yet really experienced Armenian winter, but it was cold here well into April and it kept me plenty warm.
Sleeping Bag Liner: Bringing my sleeping bag was a given, but I ended up deciding to bring the liner too. A sleeping bag liner is cool because it (1) extends the life of your sleeping bag so it doesn’t get dirty as quick, (2) can make your sleeping bag warmer, (3) works as a great substitute for a sleeping bag when you’re sweating on the floor of some PCV’s apartment in the summer, and (4) works as a great travel sheet for any place you might crash where you’d rather have your own sheet. 10/10 would recommend, possibly even before a sleeping bag. A lot of COS’ing (leaving) PCVs from previous cohorts will be trying to get rid of their sleeping bags, so see if you can snag one once in country. Even if not, unless you immediately plan on camping, there are probably extra blankets where ever you plan on crashing.
Packing Cubes/Stuff Sacks: Having a way to organize and compress when traveling from America was awesome, and having that same system for the travel I’ve done in country has been even better. I don’t have a specific brand to recommend because I use a hodgepodge of old stuff sacks and leftover packing cubes, but anything like that should do the trick.
Sleeping Pad: Arguably more useful than a sleeping bag itself. Outside of camping, I have used my sleeping pad when I crash at other volunteer apartments, when I want to sit and read outside, and in the summer I slept on it on the floor because it was cooler.
Duct Tape: I have yet to use this myself, but my tape was used to patch two broken bags in the airport and made me friends for it. It’s mostly been loaner tape to whoever needs it, but I’m sure the day will come when I need it too.**
Things I Didn’t Need to Bring:
Already Worn-Down Hiking Boots: I brought a pair of old boots with me thinking it was a good idea because it wouldn’t matter if I lost or broke them. Good logic, until the sole split off halfway through PST and I was left bootless. I ended up getting my better pair shipped to me.
Twenty Pairs of Hiking Socks: We could spend some time unpacking why I even own twenty pairs of hiking socks, let alone thought it was a good idea to put them in a stuff sack and lug them across an ocean, but let’s not.
Maybe in the winter I’ll change my mind and be so glad I brought twenty (20!) pairs of wool socks, but right now, it seems like eight pairs would have been plenty, if not still too much. Seeing as I’ve sampled every sock in the book, I’d like to recommend Darn Tough.
Five Button Ups: Full disclosure; I wear all of them regularly. Still, I probably didn’t need to bring all five collared button-ups; they’ve been too hot to wear in the summer, and are a real pain to iron. Two or three would’ve been more than plenty.
Clothes I never would’ve worn at home: As a general rule for myself, if I don’t feel like myself when I’m wearing it, changing the place I’m in will not change that feeling. For a lot of things I packed I sort of tried to guess at what dress-y clothes I’d need for teaching and I pretty much guessed wrong. I would’ve been better off with my button ups and slacks then waiting and buying some of the nicer school clothes while I was here. I ended up buying new dressy clothes here anyhow, because my idea of business causal errs far more casual than Armenian business casual. If it’s helpful at all, I wear black jeans and a sweater to school almost every day in Winter and that seems to be fine. As far as more conservative dress goes, I’ve found that if you would wear it for business dress in America, you can probably wear it here too. (Disclaimer: this is true at my site, but might not hold in some of the other regions).
Yak Tracks: Provided by Peace Corps at IST (In-Service Training). I brought them for running/ walking on ice, and now I have two pairs.
Things I Wish I Would’ve Brought:
Shorts: Peace Corps Armenia really drills it into your head that shorts don’t fly in this country, and in general that’s true, but not at my site. I’ve gotten weird looks for not wearing shorts (granted, it got up to 107 F this summer). Site specifics aside, you can wear shorts in the capital and will want to, and can wear them in the comfort of your own home. I only brought running shorts and sleep shorts, but I wish I’d also brought some casual shorts.
More T-shirts: For someone who wears t-shirts every day, two t-shirts was not a reasonable number. I also could’ve used some over-sized t-shirts to make running in leggings more socially acceptable.
More Underwear: I thought fourteen pairs was plenty, but it turns out I don’t like to do laundry even that often.
Fall Boots: Boots I can teach in. I brought plenty of flats and a pair of heels, but eventually it’s going to get cold and I can’t wear my running shoes to class.
Black Sharpie Markers: Most school supplies I’ve been able to find here, but lately in the heat my black markers keep drying out every week and I have to buy new ones to keep making posters for class.
Smaller Backpacking Backpack: The backpacking bag I brought (below, gray) is maybe 65L, which is honestly too big. I can only think of a few times I’ve been glad for it’s size, but honestly between 35 and 50L might’ve been a better choice. For reference, this is the bag I’ve got, but I’d recommend either the 46L, 55L, or 40L. The 40L and 46L you can probably get away with as a carry-on with most airlines, but anything above 50L probably not.
Blanket Scarf: I didn’t bring one only because I couldn’t find mine before I left, but I ended up buying one of those big scarfs that you can sort of wear like a blanket and I wear it at home all the time now that it’s cold. I wish I would’ve gotten one sooner.
Other Packing Notes:
- I brought a lot of my backpacking gear and I am so glad I did. If camping is something you like or think you might like, consider bringing your stuff.
- Some other volunteers wish they would’ve brought fleece bed sheets from home since you can’t find them here.
- Long underwear, warm coat.
- Whatever you bring will probably wear out by the time you finish. Any clothes you’re super attached to you might want to leave at home.
I’m still in country, so I will continue to update this page as the seasons change or I think of more things.
*I don’t have these dreams anymore. Now I dream only of Target.
**The day came. Needed to tape my blisters shut.
(All views expressed on this site are my own and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps, the US government or the Armenian government!)