There are probably hundreds of Peace Corps packing lists out there, so instead of making a comprehensive list of what you should bring, these are my tips for volunteers coming to Kosovo or an Eastern European country. (And sorry guys, but a fair amount of this is specific to women.)
You can bring two 50 lbs bags, a carry-on, and a personal item. The specific dimensions and restrictions will be sent to you about a month before your departure. Volunteers disagree about the best types of bags to pack, but here’s my two cents.
- Make sure you can move it all at once. Fill up your bags and pretend you are moving through an airport or bus station. Is it easy to handle?
- You will likely do a lot of traveling during breaks. What type of bag would you want to bring on a week-long vacation? Will you be backpacking Europe? Do you plan on going hiking? Bring bags that will work for your future travel needs.
- We have trainings that last anywhere from one to five days sporadically throughout our service. People also meet-up in the capital on the weekends. So bring a good overnight bag, backpack, or small duffle.
- Bring a laptop bag or messenger bag. It will be useful for your work site, especially if you are teaching and grading tests or assignments at home. It is also helpful for trips into the capital if you are attending meetings.
And ladies, you may want to bring a purse. I didn’t, so I ended up trying to find one here. I guess bringing a purse didn’t seem very “Peace Corps” to me. I don’t know what I was thinking. If you use one in the US you will use one here.
Most toiletries are available here, so there is no need to pack shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, etc. If you plan on using a hairdryer, straightener, or curling iron, I would wait and buy one in Kosovo. They are only about 10 Euros here, and if you bring one from the States you’ll have to use an adapter and it may start a fire. So wait and buy them here.
There is also no need to bring a first aid kit or common medicines. You will receive a pretty large Medical Kit when you arrive in-country. It has band-aids, cold medicine, antibiotics, gauze, ibuprofen, bug spray, condoms, cough drops, and lots more.
These are the toiletries you should consider packing:
- Stock up on feminine products. If you only use pads, then don’t worry about it. Pads are easy to find here. If you use tampons then bring a TON.
You will not be able to find them here, as the majority of people are either weirded-out by tampons or think using them is a sin. You can also bring the Diva Cup or Lunette, which is beloved by many female PCVs around the world.
- Contact solution, if needed. I’ve heard it’s hard to find.
- Dry shampoo. I love this stuff. When the power/water is out and you haven’t showered in days, it is a life saver. Also, people here don’t shower as frequently as Americans, especially in the winter, so being able to spray some dry shampoo makes life a lot easier.
- For some reason lotion can be kind of expensive here. And you might want to bring some sunscreen if you are prone to sunburn. Your medical kit comes with one bottle, but after that is gone Peace Corps does not supply more. (Maybe aloe vera gel too. Some of us got painful sunburns during PST.)
- Deodorant: Stock up on some quality deodorant because I guarantee you will be sweating in the summers. Most of the deodorant here is the aerosol kind and it is not so good. *Someone informed me that you can find some roll-on Nivea deodorant that works pretty well. I’ll have to try it out!
A random tip: Buy some Poo-Pourri. When I had horrible diarrhea for my first month at site, this stuff helped me preserve some shred of dignity by preventing a bathroom stink cloud. Sorry if that’s tmi, but welcome to Peace Corps.
I know a lot of Peace Corps posts say that you shouldn’t bring valuable electronics because they may be stolen, but that’s not the case in Kosovo. Bring your electronics. Most people here have smartphones and wifi is everywhere.
Absolutely bring your laptop, iPhone, and Kindle. I use each of these things daily.
- iPhone: Even if it is not unlocked, you can use it as an alarm, calendar, etc, and you can connect to the wifi to use it for everything else. You can also pay to have it unlocked (15-20€) if you want to use it as a phone.
- Adapters: Buy a pack of the simple two-pronged adapters like these:
- Chargers, extra chargers, & earphones: Bring extra chargers for your stuff because these are easy to lose and you will not be able to find quality ones here. (Just while writing this post one of my laptop chargers got fried because I plugged it into a questionable outlet at a cafe. Oops. Glad I have a back-up.)
- A camera: You can always use your iPhone if you are not into photography, but I’m really glad I brought a camera, even though I’m not much of a photographer. I bought a Nikon L830 for about $165 and it has been great. Not overly fancy or expensive, so if it is damaged or stolen I won’t be crushed.
- An external hard drive: PCVs will have hard drives full of movies, shows, and language materials, and they will probably share all of the files at orientation, so don’t miss out! Having a hard drive of movies is great when there is no internet.
- Bluetooth speaker (or two): These are great for presentations or teaching activities.
- Rechargeable batteries: Batteries are expensive here, so if you need any for your flashlight or camera be sure to bring rechargeable ones. I bought these and have been very happy with them:
RANDOM OTHER STUFF
- Water bottle (I highly recommend Contigo bottles. I’ve used Nalgenes and Camelbaks, but my Contigo bottle is the best!)
- Flashlight or a headlamp (power outages are frequent)
- Earplugs in case you live next to a mosque or have crazy roosters outside your bedroom window like I do. Now I’m used to it, but sometimes earplugs were invaluable.
- Quick-drying towel (great for travel)
- Mirror (not necessary, but helpful when the only mirror is in the bathroom that you share with a whole family)
- Gifts for your PST host family and permanent host family. I’d recommend small things, like pins or a photo book. Any decorative items that say USA are a big hit. I also brought hot cocoa mix and chocolate chip cookie mix to make cookies for my host family, which they loved.
Typically Peace Corps volunteers are told “bring stuff, not clothes.” In Kosovo (and most Eastern European posts) the packing advice is the opposite. BRING CLOTHES. You can find toiletries, decor, and teaching materials here, so dedicate a substantial amount of space to clothes. And remember that you need to pack for hot summers and very cold winters.
1.) Teaching/work clothes:
Kosovo is not a shorts & t-shirts place. It gets hot in the summer, but people don’t dress nearly as casually as we do in America. Definitely bring some clothes for running or hiking, but I would focus on bringing clothes for teaching.
The teaching wardrobe varies by site. At my site people dress very professionally. Women wear pencil skirts with nice blouses, dresses, heels, and outfits with a blazer almost daily. Some volunteers get away with wearing jeans to teach. Men can get away with dressing a little more casually, but women in Kosovo take their appearance very seriously. So pack plenty of interchangeable work clothes.
2.) Fancy outfits
Most Peace Corps packing lists tell you to bring one nice outfit. I’d recommend bringing at least two or three. Within the first month of arriving, we had a meeting with the Ambassador, another one with the President, and then we were invited to the Ambassador’s 4th of July party. All of these were events that required dressing up. Then we had to dress up for Swearing-In. Men, definitely bring a suit.
In addition to these professional events, you need to bring wedding clothes. Think prom. You will definitely be invited to a wedding (or several) during your service. Women go ALL-OUT for weddings and circumcision parties. They wear full length gowns with elaborate hair and make-up. I wish I had brought one evening gown with me to Kosovo. I have just worn my knee-length professional dresses, but I was definitely under-dressed. You could also shop for fancy dresses in a larger city here, so this is not a packing requirement.
3.) Worried about modesty?
Although the culture here is very conservative in many ways, dress is not always one of them. I packed pretty modest clothing, with nothing that was too form fitting, low-cut, or went above my knees. My teenage host sisters have said I dress like a 50 year-old woman.
I ended up teaching 11th-12th grader at a school that was 80% male, so in some ways I’m glad that my wardrobe was pretty conservative.
In some of the small villages female volunteers cannot wear sleeveless tops or are expected to cover up a little more, but most PCVs haven’t had issues at their sites. Keep in mind that you are representing the United States, so don’t bring your club-wear, but there’s no needs to dress like the Duggars.
- Swimsuit: Absolutely bring one (or two). Most cities here have pools, and trips to the Albanian coast are frequent. Feel free to being a bikini. Almost all of the women here wear bikinis regardless of age or body shape, so don’t think you need to buy a tankini or one-piece for the sake of modesty.
- I’ve never been a shoe person. I typically alternate between my two favorite pairs until they fall apart. I go for function over fashion. But people here take their shoes seriously. Sadly they are heavy and hard to pack.
- Running/hiking shoes (at least 1 pair)
- Boots for the fall & winter (at least 1 pair)
- Fancy shoes for weddings and other formal occasions (1 pair)
- Sandals that are comfortable and look decent (people here may scoff at Chaco’s or Teva’s, but if you love them, bring them!)
- Work shoes: For women here that means heels, but don’t overlook the fact that you will be walking countless miles in them. My walk to work is 25 minutes each way, so I wear nice-looking shoes with just a small heel.
- Slippers: You can buy these here, but just know that you will be REQUIRED to wear slippers inside at all times.
5.) Warm Clothes
- It gets cold here. I underestimated the cold because I lived in remote Alaska, so I thought I was prepared. Turns out things feel much colder when there is no indoor heating.
- Sleeping bag: If you have a lightweight down sleeping bag, BRING IT. It gets so cold in homes in the winter, as most families will only have a wood-burning stove in their living room. Sleeping in a room that is 20-40 degrees is rough.
- LAYERS: Find ways to layer your clothes, like wearing fleece-lined tights under your pants or a long-sleeved top under your work blouse.
- Winter coat and accessories: This is pretty self-explanatory, but don’t forget to bring a good coat, gloves, a hat, warm socks, a scarf, etc.
Keep in mind that volunteers are also given a “settling-in allowance” after PST. This money is intended to help volunteers buy whatever they need at site, whether that is clothes or supplies for their room. So don’t panic if you forget something!
I saved my settling-in allowance until the weather started to get cold and then talked to my host family about buying a heater. Unfortunately electricity is very expensive for most host families, so I would not recommend buying or bring an electric blanket or electric heather. We ended up buying a small wood-burning stove for my room, which my host family very generously installed for me. It was possibly the best purchase I made while living in Kosovo.
If you’d like to read another volunteer’s packing suggestions, check out April’s Packing Tips for Kosovo.
And remember to begin packing early. I stayed up all night before staging to finish packing and it was not pleasant. It takes longer than you expect!