Packing Tips

Life is calling. How far will you go?

…A Packing List for New Volunteers Arriving in Paraguay

If you are a Peace Corps invitee on your way to Paraguay in the coming months, this page is for you!

To learn more about Peace Corps Paraguay visit our official website.


 

As a supplement, I recently found this article that I thought might be helpful to potential applicants or invitees:

The 5 things I wish I had known before joining Peace Corps

 


 

Sure, the Peace Corps will give you a generic packing list, but there are many specifics I wish I’d known in advance. After nearly a year incountry, myself and fellow PCV, best friend, and all-around awesome person Tiffany Larsen (currently working in the Environmental Sector), developed this compilation of suggestions to help ease your packing concerns (well, I might have borrowed the bulk of it and just added my own thoughts and tweaks. Give credit where credit is due. :)).

I am an Agriculture volunteer, living in a very rural environment and I rarely have to dress up or look very professional (jeans and a button-down shirt is chuchi fancy out here!).  Environmental volunteers are in an identical setting, whereas Health, Community Development, and Education volunteers need to dress more professionally.

What do Paraguayans wear?  In the campo (countryside), the men wear work pants and a button-down long-sleeve shirt or t-shirt with a straw hat and flip-flops.  Women tend to wear a lot of spandex capris, t-shirts or tank-tops, and flip-flops.  When Paraguayans go to an event, they dress their best, which can be nice jeans or pants with a nice top.  In the city, such as Asuncion, Paraguayans dress more or less like anyone in a U.S. city.

Certain websites and companies offer discounts to Peace Corps volunteers for clothing and gear.  I highly recommend doing an online search to find out which ones offer discounts before going shopping.

Clothing

Pros and cons of different fabric types

Cotton- is a natural light, more or less breathable materials, however, can take a while to dry and will not keep you warm when it is wet.  Paraguayans wear a lot of cotton t-shirts when doing their everyday activities.

Linen- is a natural, cool and breezy fabric that dries super fast in the heat whether on your body or the clothesline. It is my favorite during hot weather and I wish all my warm weather clothes were made of this. Generally considered more a luxury fabric and expensive, it’s impossible to find here but you can find plenty of it at bargain prices at Goodwill and consignment shops in the states.

Wool- is a natural fiber that will help keep you warm, even when wet, and is also a natural “odor repellent.”  Several companies have succeeded in making clothing using “merino” wool, which is softer, non-itchy wool.  Wool does take a bit longer to dry as well.  I highly recommend Smartwool, Ibex, or Icebreaker companies, although expensive, it is well worth it.

Synthetic- is a non-natural fiber fabric.  It is quick drying, which is important for doing laundry or when you sweat more than you’ve ever sweated before down here. Synthetic sleeping bags will continue to keep you warm when wet, as it maintains its structure, where the air pockets hold heat.  Synthetics are easy to wash, however, are not as breathable as natural fibers (such as cotton underwear, etc.).

Down- is composed of the “under” feathers of goose.  Down is very warm and serves as a great outer layer, booties (I wish I had mine!), and sleeping bag.  Down, however, more or less “collapses” when it gets wet, closing the air pockets that retain heat to keep you warm.  It is hard to wash down as well, as putting a down item in the dryer is the best way to recreate its loft and it is challenging to find a dryer down here (perhaps in Asuncion).

What clothes should you bring?

***Don’t bring anything you can’t bear to see ruined.

Ten months out of the year, more or less, is very warm and humid.  The sun is very intense and you will sweat more than you’ve ever sweated before.  For the other 2 months, it’s really cold. We have many days of frost and overnight temps in the high 30s. I compare the weather to a Seattle winter; however, the houses are not weather proof, insulated or heated so it’s like camping.  Things mold within one day of a humidity and cold.  You may stare at your winter clothes for ten months and shake your head, but you will be SO glad you have them.

Quick-drying fabrics will be your best friend especially during cold or wet weather when it is most difficult to dry laundry. I also advise against bringing white colored clothing, as everything eventually absorbs a similar hue as the red dirt road and they are hard to keep clean.  Also, you will pass through many barbed-wire fences and everything will get caught on it, and ants will eat your clothes, so just be aware that destruction is in the future. If you’ll be working in beekeeping, light colors are a MUST. Bees are threatened by dark colors. This applies to your long-sleeve shirt, pants, and socks.

Also, less is better.  You will see volunteers with the biggest suitcases, full of stuff, and are awkwardly maneuvering them through the airport.  KEY: ***Leave a pile of things at home that you think you might request later for someone to send you, or find it down here. The most obvious are your off-season clothing. If you’re short on luggage space and arriving in summer, have your winter clothes shipped later (and vice versa) though it’s good to have some items for the occasional cool day of summer (or warm day in winter). Also – you can buy most everything you need in Asuncion. You will have access to the city after your first 3-6 months. Bring with you what you need for those first 3-6 months; you can always buy more later.

  • Light, long-sleeved sun protection shirts (2). I brought two and have acquired 2 more while being here.  These also double as professional button-down shirts! If beekeeping, be sure your shirt buttons at the wrists and all the way to the neck and is long enough to tuck in at the waist.
  • Tank-tops (3).  You aren’t allowed to wear them during training, but I wear them all the time out in the campo, often under my long-sleeved, sun shirt.  Wide straps are better; however skinny straps around the house are fine.
  • Lightweight pants (1-3).  Hiking pants are great.  Light, quick drying.  My lightweight hiking pants also serve as my dress pants and therefore I just brought two of the same pants. Lightweight capris are awesome as well. If beekeeping, be sure at least one pair is a light color, preferably with several pockets and no holes! Lightweight is best for beekeeping as these activities are done primary during hot weather.
  • Heavier, durable pants (1-2). Durable, because everything is made of barbed wire here and these are warm in winter.
  • Jeans (1-2). Warm in winter and can look nice with a nice shirt, however, are heavy and are hard to wash (by hand) and dry.
  • Fleece pants (1). These are perfect for winter sleeping and cold days.
  • Shorts (1-2).  No one really wears shorts here unless you are playing soccer or going for a run.  So I have running shorts (short shorts are not advised to avoid unwanted attention) and hiking shorts that I work in around the house on a hot day.
  • Long underwear tops and bottoms (2). I brought only one of each and I wish I had a spare set for when it takes 4 days for clothes to dry in the winter and sometimes when it’s coldest you don’t get a shower for a week.
  • Shirts (2-4).  A few t-shirts are always comfortable and great for working.  Quick-dry tech fabrics are excellent in the summer. Non-t-shirts are great for looking nicer than normal as well.
  • City/Fiesta clothes.  Now, I usually just wear the same, practical clothing, but Paraguayans get fancy when they go to fiestas or when they leave the campo.  They change their clothes and shoes at the bus stop.  Seriously.  Bring a few things that would make you feel slightly more dressed up, but comfortable.  You can always find clothes for cheap down here, especially at Mercado 4 in Asuncion.
  • Sweater (1-2). I brought one merino wool sweater, merino wool hoody, and a merino wool long underwear top.  And I am a warmer person because of them.
  • Skirts (1-2). I love traveling in a skirt.  They are great in the summer and are a nice way to feel feminine sometimes!  Do NOT bring short skirts; you will get unwanted attention and the people WILL talk about you.
  • Dress or dress outfit (1). You will need a dressy outfit for the swear-in ceremony.  You can also wear a nice skirt and shirt, but most gals are in dresses and the guys are in dress pants, button-down shirt, and a tie.
  • Outerwear. I love layering my clothes and love my synthetic vest and am so glad I brought it.  I also brought a synthetic jacket, known for their lightness, are not bulky yet warmth (ok, I’m a sucker for Patagonia brand clothing; they are warm and dry fast). Sometimes I wear them both at the same time. Layers are definitely recommended over a single heavy jacket as winter temps fluctuate greatly from day to day.
  • Hat, gloves, scarf. Yes, yes, and yes.
  • Belt.
  • Raingear. Necessity.  Super expensive raingear isn’t necessary, as people usually don’t do anything when it rains and buses do not come for travel.  I compromised for a cheaper, less-breathable rain jacket with armpit zippers.  I also brought rainpants, which I carry with me often in the event of a downpour while hiking home. Consider the bulk factor when choosing, buying and packing this gear.
  • Swimsuit (1). Paraguayans tend to swim in their clothes in the campo, but you may find yourself at the beach or at the Salto Cristal waterfall/swimming hole on a hot day.
  • Underwear (6). Darker colors better than lighter.  I have a mix of synthetic underwear (dries very fast and easy to hand wash) and cotton (can be more breathable and more comfortable on the skin when sweating). For men, boxer briefs are common down here, but probably best to bring what you need. Put a package of new underwear in a pile to be sent down later in your service!
  • Bras (5-7). I wear a lot of sports-like bras, as they are easy to wash and comfortable.  I have a few nice bras and a few high-quality bras for running/exercise.
  • Tights or leggings (1-2). For layering in winter.
  • Socks (6-10). Ninety-nine percent of the time I do not wear socks.  I do use socks for running and cold days.  I brought three warm pairs of wool socks for winter and when I need to wear boots.  I have a mix of moisture-wicking socks and cotton for running. If you’ll be beekeeping bring at least 2 light colored pair tall enough to tuck your pantlegs into.
  • Hat.  I use both the local straw, wide-brimmed hat (bought in the pueblo for about two dollars) and my baseball cap.  I found my visor more comfortable than a tech-material ballcap, especially for exercise. The sun in very intense.

Footwear

Paraguayans, and I, wear sandals 99% of the time.  I have large feet for a woman, making it impossible to find women’s shoes in my size (I have not found anything larger than a 9!).   You can easily find unisex flip-flops and mud boots down here.

  • Hiking boots (1).  Waterproof, durable.  Is a necessity for rainy days, working outside, and offer good support for carrying your groceries for miles home. Mud in the campo can be worse than you’ve ever seen. If your hiking boots aren’t completely waterproof, consider a pair of rubber mud boots or buy them here.
  • Sandals (1). Durable, traction sandals are amazing for all everyday activities here.  I recommend brands such as Chaco, Teva, Keens, etc. Flip-flops are a must in the shower and found everywhere for purchase.
  • Running shoes (1). Great for running and shoes around the house.
  • Dress shoes (1). You will need one pair for swear-in ceremony and for business-casual events.

Baggage/Luggage

I wish I had had more advice on luggage before departure.  I saw many people with large suitcases at the airport, accompanied with a hiker’s backpack and a smaller daypack.  This looked like a great combo for getting through airports, etc. My friend had a large, heavy backpack to check (exactly 50 lbs!), a carry-on bag that could convert to a backpack, and a daypack. I brought 2 suitcases and an average sized backpack (like a college student would carry). Suitcases are great for storage but not practical for trips once incountry. My backpack is a bit tight for traveling more than 1-2 days. My hiking pack is perfect for a 2-4 day trip with room to spare. It’s great to have all 3 if you can swing it. There are also Peace Corps guidelines for luggage dimensions and weight control, which they send you in advance.

  • Suitcase (0-1). Suitcases can be great places to store things in your home and during your first 6 months of living with a host family (be wary of mold!) and are easy to lock. Suitcases are not easily transportable once you get out of the city, as roads turn to dirt and they are hard to roll.
  • Backpack (1-2). I have a large, 80L backpack, which was great for carrying lots of gear on my back, though heavy.  I later had a smaller backpack sent to me that has a sturdy hip-belt and shoulder straps (30-40L, multi-day size) that I now use all the time.  This is perfect for hiking in and out of town for groceries, visiting other volunteers, and going into the city.  My large backpack is too bulky.
  • Duffel bag (1).  My carry-on bag has convertible shoulder straps and hip belt.
  • Daypack (1).  This is great for quick trips to town or carrying materials around.
  • Purse/man-purse with zippers (1). I say “with zipper” because this is more secure, especially when traveling on buses.  Paraguayan men use fanny packs.

Toiletries

Almost everything you need is available in Paraguay, especially in the bigger cities.  In your first week, you will receive a medical kit that includes basic first aid bandages and creams, pain and sickness medicines, bug spray and sunscreen, tweezers, condoms, etc.  You will need to bring a three-month supply of prescriptions. If you require a particular product, then bring it and put more in a pile to be sent later.  You can find hand sanitizer, cotton swabs to clean ears, makeup, toothpaste, etc.  Bring what you need for at least 3-4 months.

  • Earplugs.
  • Contact solution. This is harder to find and is expensive.  I brought several bottles and then have more shipped down (it’s cheaper!).
  • Sunscreen. The medical office will give you more sunscreen; however, the highest SPF is 35.  If you are a pasty-white, bring a higher SPF. You will use lots of this.
  • Glasses (2). It’s always handy to have a spare. And a small repair kit.
  • Feminine hygiene products. Pads and O.B. brand tampons are readily available, but you will have a hard time finding specifics such as organic cotton, tampons with applicators, etc. Many volunteers swear by their Diva cup.
  • Wet-wipes. I brought a few packs and I’m glad I did.  Hygiene can be challenging.
  • Travel bottles. I brought Nalgene® travel bottles to put shampoo and conditioner and other liquids or toiletries in.  This is useful for travel and also for family stays, when you bring your shampoo in and out of the bathroom every time.
  • Toiletry bag to hang in the shower. Especially handy while living with your host families.
  • Hair products. Elastics, clips, bobby pins. If you have long hair you WILL have it up, a LOT. If you have a favorite styling cream, bring enough to get through training. Then you can search for a local option.
  • Nail clippers.
  • Hand lotion. Summer and working in the soil causes dry, cracked skin. Lotion is expensive here.
  • Razors. 3-4 month supply.

Other useful things

Always remember that things can be shipped to you, although, often packages are opened and things are stolen during transit. Therefore, it is strongly advised NOT to ship items of significant value. **It’s best to leave valuables at home but for those you must bring (like cameras, computers, etc), it’s a good idea to insure them. Peace Corps will provide you with information on how to purchase this insurance before you leave the states. Also, leave nice jewelry at home…it will only make you a target for crime, gossip, judgment, and solicitations from your neighbors for freebies (because, obviously, you must be rich.) Below is a miscellaneous list of things we’ve found helpful.  The PC also provides volunteer with a mosquito net, so do not bring one.

  • Headlamp. *A must bring.*  Especially for when the power goes out and during family stays.
  • Sleeping bag. See my notes in clothing regarding synthetic versus down.  I brought a 40°F travel down bag and it is not warm enough in the winter.
  • Sleeping pad/Yoga mat. I brought both and use both.
  • MP3 player.
  • Portable speakers for MP3 player.  I use all day, everyday.
  • Water proof stuff sacks. I very much wish I had brought these.  It always rains when I travel. Especially handy for valuable electronics.
  • Backpack raincover. Also very useful for traveling into and out of site.
  • Small padlock. For staying in hostels or locking your bag while traveling.
  • Moneybelt/hidden purse. *Very useful* for bus travel and trips to the city.
  • Tent. (Optional) There are places to camp in Paraguay and surrounding countries. Or when visiting volunteers!
  • Sealable baggies. Bring a variety of sizes; smaller ones are great for seed saving.
  • Sunglasses. Paraguayans use them in the city, but sometimes you need them!
  • Handkerchiefs. Useful for many purposes, but especially to wipe your sweat.
  • Hot water bottle. A must for staying warm in winter. Or Nalgene bottle – see below.
  • Nalgene bottles. Not only for drinking water, I also put hot water in them and put in my sleeping bag to stay warm in the winter.
  • Towel, quick drying (1-2). Absolute must.  Regular terry towels are hard to wash and dry, and will get moldy if they don’t dry quickly. I have 2 large and one hand-towel size of quick-dry fabric. I recently discovered the smaller size is great for travel, taking up less space, drying quickly, and the chamois-like material will continue to absorb water once wrung out.
  • Washcloths (3-4). Something with texture to scrub to dirt off your skin. Also a couple quick dry ones are helpful too.
  • Tupperware ®. Sealable containers of good quality and that actually work are really hard to find here and are expensive.
  • Work gloves.
  • Leatherman/Multi-tool. I use this every day.
  • Climbing gear. There are places to climb in Paraguay and surrounding countries!  My friend had her gear shipped down after getting herself established in site.
  • Laptop. A computer is VERY helpful for completing quarterly reports and for sharing your PC experience with friends back home via email, Facebook and blogging if you have internet reception in site. I brought my 16” laptop and it’s perfect for home use but I realized it gets really heavy when you walk several miles. Eventually I bought an iPad mini and love it’s small, lightweight size for traveling. The downsize is that it has no USB port for sharing files (movies, music, books, etc) among other volunteers so I use a flashdrive and watch them on my laptop. My friend bought a used netbook online and it has been very handy for her.  It is lightweight, small, and compact. The only downside is that there is no CD drive for movies, etc. Bring something to waterproof your electronics when traveling.
  • USB flash drive or external hard drive.
  • Camera.
  • Surge protector/power convertor.  Many volunteers’ computer batteries have fried due to the poor electricity and fluctuations in the campo.  Surge protectors are expensive down here.  Some computer chargers are surge protectors as well; check it out before you come.  You will also have to convert power from 110 to 220 volts.
  • Alarm clock (optional). You will get a cell phone with an alarm clock feature. I brought a travel alarm and used as a backup to the phone during training, which was helpful but probably not necessary. I’d probably leave this at home unless you struggle to wake up in the morning.
  • Permanent markers, random office supplies. You can find most things, but permanent markers are poor quality. Duct tape is hard to find but very helpful. Bring pens, a highlighter, a few paperclips, index or flash cards for studying language. Other things you can have sent include binder clips, small stapler, tacks.
  • Journal. If you use one.
  • Little kid gifts. I have two neighbor kids that visit daily and I enjoy being able to give them little things now and then.  The smallest little race car can be the most amazing thing to a child.  A soccer ball (recently shipped down from friends) has been the latest entertainment.
  • Books. You will receive a Spanish-English dictionary during training so leave yours at home. There is an extensive library for volunteers at the office, so bring a few to last during training and then swap at the library after Swear-In. Books are also easy to have shipped.  Books in Paraguay, adult and children books, are very expensive.  I have had many books in Spanish shipped to me and my neighbor kids borrow them all the time.  Most kids do not have books in the campo. Reading is not a popular pastime in PY.
  • Portable games. Uno, checkers, Apples to Apples, hackeysacks, small musical instruments.

Little Extras that I really like:

  • Photo book. *A must.* I brought a little book of photos of family, friends, and of the scenery from my US home.  Paraguayans loved looking through and it’s a great conversation starter, especially when you are brand new in your community. Photos are a novelty here.
  • Recipes. Once in your own house, it’s nice to make your fave foods from home and serve to your community. Banana bread is one of the most popular US treats PCVs make here!
  • Christmas Lights. Battery-powered LED lights. Serve as a light in my bathroom, a kitchen light when they power goes out, and they are just fun.
  • Coffee. If you are a coffee lover, you’d better identify someone to send you coffee periodically.  The coffee here is expensive and instant/dehydrated (we’re talking Nescafe, the national coffee).  Beans are hard to find, despite the proximity to other coffee-growing nations. Bring a manual cone drip filter to make it by the cup.
  • Peanut butter. Is also very expensive and always nice to find in a care package!
  • Chocolate. Good chocolate is also hard to find and pricey. Good friends always send chocolate.
  • Spices. Paraguayan food is quite plain. If you like something more than salt and oregano on your food, bring a bit to get you through training (chili or garlic powder will make a big difference. You will reign supreme among your fellow trainees if you have some to share over lunch. Seriously.) Once you’ve sworn in you’ll find that supermarkets have a wide variety of common spices for cooking and baking. Exotics like cardamom, turmeric, etc will be care package material.
  • Vitamin C supplement powder. I always take when I’m about to get sick…
  • Electrolyte tablets. You are going to sweat like you’ve never sweated before, especially if you are a runner or exercise. Take care of your body!

Good luck with your packing and preparations. Safe travels to Paraguay and best wishes during training!

3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Packing Tips

  1. This was very helpful – COMPREHENSIVE! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing it was helpful to see a list for Ag/Environmental sector volunteers!

  3. Hi blogger, i must say you have very interesting articles
    here. Your website should go viral. You need initial traffic boost only.
    How to get it? Search for: Mertiso’s tips go
    viral

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