Packing List

There are hundreds of Peace Corps packing lists out there. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide what’s worth that extra pound or two, but here’s what I brought with me to the Land of a Thousand Hills!

A few notes first:

  • If you’re one of those people who thinks the airlines will let you slide by with an extra pound or two…they probably won’t this time. There were a few volunteers who had to pay $200 extra because they were forced to consolidate their ‘extra baggage weight’ into a third bag. The airlines would not waive the extra fee. Needless to say…stick to the baggage restrictions.
  • I know there are some “official” Peace Corps Rwanda packing lists out there. They’re definitely a good jumping off point, but I can’t emphasize enough that you should bring clothing that you normally wear in the States. Rwanda is unique and, even out in the deepest villages, people wear button downs (button-ups?), nice dresses, skirts, etc. They hold personal appearance in high regard. (In other words, try not to bring ten tie-dye shirts and ripped jeans.) On the jean front, though…they’re totally acceptable here and even in fashion for work attire! Bring yo skinny jeans. Otherwise, you’ll have your parents sending them a month into training (like me and five other PCVs).

Day-to-day backpack with solar charger (Used the Peace Corps discount. The solar pack is nifty, but pretty unnecessary given that our host-families and my site had/have electricity. I’d stick with your trusty Jansport).
50-L Pawnee Kelty hiking backpack (Used the Peace Corps discount. The one I got is no longer available, but check out Kelty’s other options. I suggest going with smaller than 50-L.)
Large, rolling suitcase
Cross-body purse

Unlocked iPhone (I cannot stress this enough…unlock your phone before you step on that plane!)
MacBook Pro
Emergency radio (Have yet to use this; save your money.)
External hard drive (1.5TB; you’ll want this)
Power adapter/voltage converter (I didn’t bring either of these…bought them both in country for very cheap.)
Kindle (YES YES YES)
iPod & earbuds
2 USB drives
DSLR Camera (I got this as a graduation present, but I’ve only brought it out a few times…I try not to draw much attention to myself and a hefty electronic device will do just that.)
Batteries (I can’t even remember what I brought these for; save the weight.)

Home Goods:
Sleeping bag
Compressible pillow (I accidentally left this behind in a hotel room. Bought a nice pillow in the city and never looked back. Bring a tiny one for living with your host family, but don’t bring a real pillow.)
Leatherman (Absolute must.)
Travel-size containers for my shampoo, conditioner, and liquid soap
Ziplock bags galore (Be careful; these are illegal in Rwanda.)
Deck of cards
A few bags of candy to get you through the first few weeks of missing food from the States
Some ‘add water only’ food items
About $200 in cash (It’s been sufficient for me, but I saved quite a bit of the weekly stipend money PC gave us during PST. Also, try to bring new $100 bills…better exchange rates.)
Host family gifts! (Best to buy something small, like like a puzzle or American art, for your host parents…and wait to see who else is in your family. Then ask for gifts in a care package.)

Tampons (I started getting Depo shots pretty quick into my service and don’t have my period; eyoooo…hundreds of useless tampons!)
Makeup/Daily Moisturizer
Shampoo, conditioner (You don’t need a two-year supply unless you use a specific kind…you can purchase these in the city.)
Face wash, liquid soap
Disposable razors
Nail polish/remover
2 washcloths; 2 small towels
4 toothbrushes
Toothpaste/floss (I don’t like the toothpaste in Rwanda, so I have a special kind sent. Bougie, I know, but I’m also one of the few people in my cohort who hasn’t had a cavity!)
Bobby pins
Hair brush
Nail clippers/files
Travel toothbrush container
Sheets (Bring twin-sized sheets! During training, you might be sleeping in a full size bed…but it will belong to your family, so they’ll have sheets. PC will give you a twin-size mattress after training.)
Quality chapstick (I like the mini pots of Vaseline lip balm.)
Hand sanitizer
Tweezers, Q-tips, etc.

School/Work Items:
12 Passport photos (Make sure you bring these, otherwise be prepared to pay at least 1000 RWF.)
Nice pens
A couple of notebooks
A nice journal that gets your creative juices flowing.
Index cards

Underwear/bras (Bring more than 30 pairs…leave half in your bag during PST, so they’re nice and fresh when you move into site. There is no “delicate cycle” for clothes here.)
 2 sports bras
4 bras
3 pairs of socks (You will not need any more than this.)
3 camisoles
1 pair khakis (I wore these just once…on the plane ride in. Never again.)
2 pairs of blue jeans
1 pair black jeans
1 pair black pants
1 pair jean short shorts (Can only wear in Kigali.)
1 pair khaki, knee-length shorts (Never wear.)
2 knee-length skirts (Meh.)
1 maxi skirt (Yes! I’ve collected five more over time; they’re pure gold.)
3 cardigans
10 dressy-ish blouses (If you prefer jeans…get some nicer tops to pair with them.)
Plain black and white tees
2 sweatshirts
1 long-sleeve cotton tee
North Face rain jacket (Worn once. It rains a lot here, but this is too warm. You’re better off bringing a light waterproof windbreaker.)
2 scarves
Belt (Bring one in your current size…and one in a size smaller.)
Pajamas (Whatever you’re comfortable in.)

Shoes: (Check PC discounts on all of these!)
Teva Capri  (I’ve had two pairs of these during my service…because I’m an idiot…and won’t buy another. They’re cute, sure, but leather doesn’t wash up nicely and no matter what I do the fabric part of the shoe gets scuffed and starts fraying. I just bought these Sanuk Yoga Slings and will never go back. In love.)
Teva Zirra
Teva Refugio
Old Navy flip-flops
Rain boots
Black heels
Black flats

What I Wish I Had Brought With Me:
Can opener
Vegetable peeler
A sharp knife and cutting board set similar to this one
Photos of friends and family to put up in my house
Some chips/crackers/Cheez-Its for the first couple of weeks (There is nothing crunchy in this country!)
Multi-vitamins (PC supplies these now, so don’t bother unless you want a specific kind.)
Hair-cutting scissors
Pumice stone
A couple bandanas
A swimsuit (Personal preference here, but the only places you can really swim in Rwanda…you’re fine in a two-piece.)
Travel speakers
Seeds (Things that can’t be found in Rwanda…like sweet corn, broccoli, yams, cilantro, etc.)
A Tide To-Go pen
Earplugs (For those loud host-family nights.)
My french press. (Even if you’re just a casual coffee drinker, bring a french press! Rwanda’s number one export is coffee…and rightly so…this country has some of the best coffee in the world!)
Spices (My parents sent me a ton! But the first few months of cooking would’ve been better had I brought some.)
– Starbucks VIA packs (“Coffee” is provided every day during PST, but it’s Nescafe. If you want to spice up your life with the “real” instant coffee…bring some of these.)

What I’m Glad I Didn’t Bring/Don’t Need:
Over-the-counter meds/travel meds (Your med-kit, from PC, will be plenty sufficient, so bring only a couple days’ worth of these items.)
Quick-dry towel (I just don’t use mine…ever.)
Moisture-wicking clothing/underwear (Rwanda gets hot sometimes, but it’s never been so hot that I felt I was missing moisture-wicking clothing. I’m so glad I didn’t waste my money on getting this stuff.)
Water filter (PC will supply you with one plenty good enough; don’t even think about buying a SteriPen.)
A lot of jewelry (Hardly ever wear.)


11 thoughts on “Packing List

  1. Pingback: All Moved In | See you in 2!

  2. I cannot thank you enough for posting this list on your blog! It helps so much to get a real feel beyond the official lists of what to bring from someone who is there right now. If all clears, I will be departing for Rwanda in June as a Maternity and Child Health Volunteer!

    • Congratulations! And thanks so much, always nice to know people are still reading. So crazy to think you and your future cohort are potentially my replacement!ha I guess time here really is winding down.

  3. Thanks for the helpful packing list, but one question – Can I buy clothes hangers in Kigali or Nyanza? Or should I bring my own? I will have a job where I will be wearing suits and blouses, so I will need hangers.
    Thank you.

    • Hi there! Definitely! Kigali has hangers at some of the larger stores. It may be possible to find hangers in Nyanza at the main market. For money and convenience, though, I would pack 5-10 to hold you over. Hope this helps!

  4. Hey Melissa! I am currently preparing to serve in Rwanda this September! I was wondering how necessary it is to bring a sleeping bag. I have seen conflicting posts on this matter and considering that it is a larger item I would rather only bring it if it is necessary. Thanks!

    • Hi there…and congratulations! You’re going to have the very best time, truly! I loved having my sleeping bag because I used it all throughout training. But that was a personal preference and it is totally not necessary! There are blankets, sheets, etc. available for purchase at pretty much every market! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any more questions! Thanks for reading! 🙂

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