How to Pack Your Life into a Suitcase… Or not!

What appears to be the biggest concern for Peace Corps invitees after medical clearance, and those dreaded goodbyes with family and friends, is packing. There’s this complicated mixture of gleefulness and fretting. First it’s, “Ooh, packing for a big adventure… I get to buy some new gear, a few fun new outfits, a couple of nifty travel things I wouldn’t otherwise indulge in…!” Then it’s, “Oh *$%^, how is this all going to fit in my suitcase? Do I need 5 pairs of quick dry pants and 3 pairs of leggings or 5 pairs of leggings and 3 pairs of quick-dry… and are 15 sports bras enough for 27 months of living on a humid, tropical island? Will these boots be useful? Are these skirts even long enough?” The answer to most of those questions: probably not.

Part of the complicated nature of packing for the Peace Corps is that I am packing for 27 months abroad. To make matters even more complicated, when packing for the Peace Corps in the Philippines, is the fact that I don’t know where I’ll be living until I’ve been in country for a couple of months. This means that I could be in a rural village that is more conservative and modest dress is required at all times (skirts below the knee, no low-cut shirts, back and shoulders covered… there goes 90% of my wardrobe options, okay 95%) or in a more modern town/city where getting away with shorts and tank tops is a little easier. Then, to make matters even more difficult, Coastal Resource Management volunteers (my section) don’t know what kind of job we’re going to have… so even packing professional attire is a bit of a gamble. I could be working in a government office that is more formal (translation: the 5% modest/conservative part of my wardrobe) or I could be spending 4 days a week in the field, donning swim shorts and a rash guard daily (bikinis are too ‘out there’ and will be reserved for vacations out of my village 😦 ). So clearly there’s a lot of variability in terms of what’s culturally and professionally appropriate, and several unknowns that make packing quite perplexing!

Furthermore, what makes my packing even more difficult, is that I’m about to permanently leave my home of the past ~5 years and take a 6-week trip before I even start my Peace Corps journey! Complicated, huh?! I’m not packing for 27 months, I’m packing for 28.5 months, at least! I need to bring with me attire appropriate for May in London, June in Israel, early summer in Germany, New York City, and Chicago, and almost everything I want to bring to the Philippines! How the heck am I going to fit this in all in my 2 suitcases? A lot of the advice I’ve read from past or current volunteers’ says that people often bring too much stuff, to the point where the locals are amazed by the sheer quantity of STUFF you have and do not hesitate to comment. I’ve been there before, dragging way too many belongings and outfit changes across the Atlantic and down into the jungles of Costa Rica. I’ve since learning to minimize A LOT, so I’m limiting myself to a (still rather massive) duffel bag, a 60L backpack that works as a carry-on, and my camera bag. 2+ years in 2+ bags and about 2+ days to figure out how it’s all going to fit together! “Let the games….. begin!”

stav packing

And the woman I currently am!

Right now, I’ve heaped a bunch of “definite” clothing pieces on top of my open duffel in the  middle of my bedroom floor… I’ve filled a drawer with “potentials” that I’ll take if I can fit them in the bag, or otherwise will donate… And I’ve got a couple of piles on my bureau that are just dead “giveaways”. There’s also a pile of laundry in one corner (that’ll need sorting once clean), and a pile of gear in another… compression bags (to make packing easier, ha!), snorkel gear, camera accessories, etc. It’s beginning to feel as if my belongings are lined up in one of those logic puzzle grids we used to do in middle school:

If Stav puts hiking shoes in the black bag, the flowered shirt has to go in a colorful bag… the short sleeve shirt (not the red one) does not go in the same bag as the dive gear… the camera accessories cannot be in the same bag as any sharp objects (nail scissors, point shoes, Swiss army knife) and must be in a hard-cased bag that contains a towel… socks and underwear need to be divided up equally between all bags… swimsuit tops and bottoms must stay together, but no more than one set per bag… find which bag, which accessory, and which clothes all fit together before Stav misses her flight on Saturday!

Does anyone else find it ironic that within the word PACKING are the letters to spell P-A-N-I-C? Okay, enough procrastinating, I’m off to pack… Until next time!

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