14 Packing Essentials for Peace Corps Philippines
When I first prepared for my journey as a newly selected Peace Corps Philippines volunteer, I had no idea of what to expect. Even being part Filipino, I hadn’t grown up with much of the culture and I had never been to the Philippines. The packing list was baffling to me. Two unfitted sheets? Why would I need two unfitted sheets? What was acceptable for a pasalubong souvenir gift to my host family. Should I bring my laptop???
Feeling as if I was packing my entire life for the next two years in just four choice pieces of luggage (one of which had to be a guitar), it really stressed me out.
What I Learned in the Philippines
I finally realized, after living a few months in the Philippines, that most items can be bought in the markets and shopping malls. Everything from unfitted sheets, duct tape, shampoo, and clothes could be found if you knew where to go.
However, there were a few things that were much harder to find, and if you did, they were very expensive. So I’ve compiled a list of my top most essential items to pack (beyond the basic clothes, toiletries, etc) for a volunteer in Peace Corps Philippines. This can easily apply to a lot of other Peace Corps countries as well.
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14 Packing Essentials for Peace Corps Philippines
1. Large Backpack
I bought a women’s Gregory Jade 50L backpack and I absolutely loved it! It took me awhile, trying out various brands and sizes, but this particular brand and model fit my body well. It has a frame that keeps the pack off your lower back and the weight is distributed to the hips and waist, taking a huge load off my shoulders. It’s just the right size for holding enough for a week or two worth of stuff, but can also be cinched down for just a 1-2 day trip.
This bag was used on every trip I took (you can see how much it’s been used), including a hike to the highest mountain in the Philippines, Mt Pulog. We hiked to the summit at 4 a.m. and watched the sunrise come up over the clouds. Absolutely amazing!
I actually bought a second smaller version, a Gregory Jade 28L when I came back to the States for day trips and hiking. I love it and use it a lot!
2. Favorite Sweatshirt (and sweatpants)
I thought there would be no need for sweatshirts in a humid island country but as it turns out, there are several areas where you will need a sweatshirt.
Any air conditioned bus will be turned to arctic blast, so be prepared!
The mountainous regions like the Cordilleras get cold during the winter. I was placed in Baguio city which got super cold in Dec-Feb. I had a sweatshirt, but I finally had my mom send me my favorite comfy sweatpants from the States because I actually had no long sleeping pants. Finding women’s medium sized sweatpants at the market or the malls was surprisingly hard as Filipino sizes run a lot smaller. My medium would be like an XL or XXL haha.
Plus, having your favorite gear or being able to show off your old college teams brings a lot of comfort on those days when you feel homesick.
3. Clothes That Make You Feel Like Yourself
Regarding the last comment about not being able to find the right size of clothes – it is possible, especially with the ukay-ukays (secondhand clothing stores) but it can take awhile. For the clothes that you do decide to take with you, it’s important that you look and feel like yourself.
So make sure to not pack clothes you’ve never worn or that you’d never wear in the states. I made the mistake of buying these really stiff cotton button-up shirts that were for more formal occasions. I hate wearing button-up shirts and I felt so awkward in them. I ended up returning them and bought some simple shirts that looked dressy but were also comfortable.
4. Photos of Family and Friends
This was a tip someone had told me and I’m glad I did it. I was able to show to my host families and new co-workers what my family and friends looked like. Everyone was very eager to see the photos of people from America! Then I’d use the photos to decorate my room walls as a reminder of all the people back home who were keeping me in their thoughts.
5. Hiking Shoes
I went on a lot of hikes in the Philippines, especially with other fellow volunteers. I brought Chaco Athletic Sandals since I’m not a fan of shoes (shrugs her shoulders) and they worked great. Plus, the material was less likely to develop mold (this was a huge problem with my other shoes, especially leather).
Despite the projects you work on at your sites and the amazing travel adventures you’ll have with friends, you’re still going to find yourself with a lot of downtime. Which is great for reading all those books you’ve been saying you wanted to read. Now is the time.
I love reading actual books, but carrying your whole bookshelf of books around is out of the question. Plus, there aren’t too many places where you can find books, and sometimes they won’t match your interests.
I ended up getting a Kindle (Save $20 on Select Kindle E-readers here) which worked great for Peace Corps.
The Kindle was great because I could download books anywhere, even without wifi using Kindle’s Whispernet. That was what sold me on finally getting a Kindle, because I knew I’d need to access books from anywhere in the world. Win!
As you can see, I have a pretty old version of Kindle but I love it!
I also bought a Kindle case made of neoprene, which works great and offers a lot of padded protection for when it’s in my bag.
Peace Corps Library
Also, the Peace Corps office does have a mini borrowing library where you can take one home and leave one in its place.
Yes ladies, these can be hard to find in the Philippines, and if you do, they may not be the kind you prefer. So bring a few and have family or friends send some along with that care package they promised.
I was nervous to bring mine, afraid that it would either get stolen or ruined from the humidity or eaten by ants (it happens!). But I’m glad I did. I used it to plan workshops, presentations, look up activities online, and write grant applications.
My worksite did provide me with a super old computer that barely did anything, but with my laptop I could use it at home. I also started using it as a recording studio at one point with some of the boys who wanted to record their rap songs. You never know!
Just, don’t bring a brand new laptop. You never know what could happen. Bringing expensive electronics is always a risk of something happening to it or getting stolen, so try to minimize that.
9. External Drive
I bought a 1 TB Western Digital portable hard drive and I still use it to this day. It came in handy for storing large files like DVDs, photos, and music. Plus I could use it to backup my computer files in case it ever died (it almost did one time!). Plus (shhhh), whenever volunteers would get together, we’d have movie file sharing time.
I’d recommend getting more than 1 TB since files are becoming larger these days.
10. Smart Phone
I wouldn’t call a smart phone an essential item exactly, but it did come in handy!
I didn’t start out with a smart phone. When we arrived Peace Corps gave us those basic no frills, no camera cell phones where you text with the number pad (I wonder what models they use now? Anyone know?).
Anyways, I eventually got a hand-me-down iPhone from my sister and then was able to go on the internet using the local Philippine phone load. They have special deals like 300 php for so many minutes of data used, etc. Well, it turns out that having the internet available at my house was helpful for staying in better contact with my family. I didn’t feel as disconnected with everyone back at home which made a huge difference to me.
Plus, nowadays, everybody uses their phone as a camera.
11. Dry Bags
In case you were wondering how my electronics survived the humidity, ants, and other mishaps, I stored my electronics in dry bags. It keeps out critters and cuts the amount of humidity they will come in contact with.
Once I lived in Baguio where there was less humidity and not as many bugs in my house, I wasn’t as concerned about it. But they are always handy to have, especially when you go out on boats and want something to keep your stuff dry from those random sprays of ocean water.
They look a little wrinkled but they have been well used!
The dry bags come in different sizes but pictured are the x-large (20L) and the small (4L). My laptop or other large items could fit in the green bag, and my other small electronics fit in the small blue one.
12. UNO Cards
I love playing UNO and it ended up being a great way to make new friends (invite new people to play with you), learn colors and numbers (and say things like “you cheater!”) in Tagalog.
All around it’s a multipurpose item to have handy at home or at your work site if you work with kids. Even the grownups love playing it. Other cards games can work as well!
UNO is also a great item to give to host families as a pasalubong gift.
What is a Pasalubong and What is Culturally Acceptable?
Pasaluong is basically a small token of friendship that one brings back as a souvenir for friends when they’ve traveled somewhere else. It can be anything from pencils and crayons, candy, stickers, keychains, to a box of Krispy Kreme Donuts. Yes, that happens.
I found that it’s better to buy lots of little items that don’t cost much because it’s more about the gesture than the spending amount. Plus, you might have to give them to a lot of people.
14. Instrument or Hobby Materials
If you love playing guitar, bring your guitar! If you like knitting, bring your supplies. If you’re into cooking, bring a few special tools or a cookbook. There’s no reason why you should go without what makes you YOU for two whole years.
No one said you had to give up doing what you love and what makes you unique as a person. You might even be able to interest others in your hobbies and teach a few locals your unique skills.
There are many more items I could talk about. But I’ve found that these were some of my most-used items and I was super thankful that I had brought them.
What are Your Thoughts?
If you’re a volunteer assigned to Peace Corps Philippines right now, what other items have you found the most useful? What would you recommend? Leave your comments below!
For any other questions about what Peace Corps Philippines is like, feel free to ask below! Thanks!
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