Most Important Packing List, Ever

Dear Future volunteers (or long-trip travelers),

I present you with the only packing list you’ll ever need! It doesn’t matter what country you are going to – Panama, Zimbabwe, Ukraine – this is the list that will get you through 27 months of any conditions the Peace Corps will throw your way.


Naturally you will want clothes that are built for traveling. Donate all your clothes to Goodwill and take yourself, and your entire bank account, down to REI and stock up on wrinkle-free, quick drying everything!


Cargo pants – the pockets will be nice to hold your compass and hunting knife.
Button down shirts – business casual and conservative. 7 colors for the 7 days of the week.
Underwear – spring for the $20 pairs to ensure they last all 2 years.
Hiking socks – extra thick for comfort and protection.

You’ll be outside all day, every and really you only need two types of shoes. While at REI take a stroll down the shoe aisle…


Hiking boots – above ankle, water proof, heavy duty. Spring for steel toed if you can $$$.
Chacos – these will be your best friend even if you think they’re ugly and talk bad about them behind their back.

Two years worth of everything!

toiletriesTwo years worth of toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, tampons, razors, hand sanitizer, blah, blah, blah.

Did you write all that down? DID YOU?! Good… now throw it all away.

The reality of packing for the Peace Corps is that you’re not going to find the perfect packing list. You WILL search for it… I did. You’ll spend weeks trying to pinpoint it. You’ll read through every blog out there for your country and find about 100 variations of what to bring. The Peace Corps does include a packing list in your country welcome book – some of it will be useful, some of it won’t. The PC list in generated by previous volunteers but it’s unsure when these volunteers served and some aspects of their suggestions feel very outdated. Plus the list is so long there’s no way you’ll fit everything in your luggage limit (they even state this at the beginning of the list).

So how do you know what to pack for two years in the Peace Corps? You don’t, really. Even if you know the country you are going to you don’t know what your exact site will be like – you won’t know until you get there. Your site can be an extreme opposite from the next volunteers. All in one country you can have sites that are extremely rural with no water or electricity, in the middle of the dessert, or sites in bigger towns with western toilets and shopping centers, with humid climates.  There’s just no sure fire way to prepare yourself.

Rather than a list of things you should bring, here is a list of packing strategies that should be helpful in any country you are preparing to serve in:

  • Take others’ packing list as suggestions. If the list was written after the volunteer has already been serving for a while it could be a valuable resource. These types of lists often include items that you can and can’t find around that person’s site – and they sometimes state if items can be found in the capital or bigger cities.
  • Don’t pack as if you’re going camping for two years. Take a look at pictures of natives in the capital city? Are they decked out in cargo pants and wrinkle resistant shirts? Probably not. If they can live day to day life without these items so can you. While these items can be useful, you should also bring plenty of clothing items you’d wear at home.
  • Research local culture and traditions. It’s very possible you’re going to a country that culturally has gender-specific clothing roles. While you should bring what you like, make sure these items are appropriate. If it’s not acceptable to show below the knee bring longer pants for the public and shorts for the comfort of your home. Respecting the culture is an extremely important part of integration.
  • Consider climate and environment. Know if the environment is normally warm or cold, rainy or dry, dusty or clear. You should pack for a variety of conditions, but cater to the one that is most extreme. It’s very possible there’s hot days and cold nights or it’s extremely cold outside all the time but indoor it’s always kept warm – pack layers!!!
  • Pack for yourself, not others. While suggestions are great, ultimately you want to bring things that YOU think will be valuable. If you don’t enjoy hiking, don’t go out and buy super bulky, durable, expensive hiking boots. If like to wear makeup, bring some for days you feel you need a pick-me-up. You have two bags to fill for two years worth of living – use that space for things you will actually use and want.
  • “You can always have things sent to your later” – a phrase many volunteers will tell you. Sending packages is spendy and sometimes questionable if they will arrive, but it can be done. If you get to your site and decide you need something, have someone send it to you. It wouldn’t hurt to have a few items at home already packaged and ready to send if you have a feeling you might want them. And if you’re really concerned about the price of sending packages, leave some money that will cover the cost for the sender.


If you have any topics or questions  you’d like me to cover before I leave or while in Ethiopia please leave let me know in the comments.

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How to Keep Up With Me

vanThe curse of someone in the marketing and advertising fields is the bitter sweet urge to stay on top of your stuff.

BITTER: Feeling obligated to know how to use all the social media outlets, whether you like them or not.

SWEET: Feeling like you naturally have the ability to keep up with the people and things you love.

BONUS: Your coworkers won’t judge you for taking selfies at work for Instagram 😉

I’m not sure what social media outlets I will have access to while in Ethiopia… so you might as well follow me on all of them! 

I hope to have blog posts written ahead of time so I will be able to load them when I have internet. For quick life updates I will use whatever is the most convenient – this means that if I cannot connect accounts, some might be missing updates. So if you’re interested in seeing what I’ve been up to (I’m interested in what you’ve been up to) go ahead and follow me on my obligatory social media sites.

Instagram: AllisonFromPortland
YouTube: AllisonFromPortland (I’ve never uploaded a video but hope to from Ethiopia)
AllisonFromPDX (I’ve never used this account but it might be useful, why not be my first follower?)

I’ll respond to anything sent to:

I will only add you if I personally know you regularly talk to you:
Skype: AllisonFromPortland 

For those of you who want to send me letters and packages you can send them to this address for my first three months in country (February – April). Once I am assigned an official town to live in I will have a new address and will update this post.

Allison Adams
U.S. Peace Corps/Ethiopia
P.O. Box 7788
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

And as always you can subscribe to my blog for e-mails sent when I write a post.

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“You can’t just ask people that!” Oh, you can.

Tick… Tock…

Take off for Ethiopia is right around the corner and people are buzzing with curiosity about where I’m going, what I’ll be doing, and how I will possibly deal with living outside my comfort zone (come on people, have some faith in me!). Basically, I’ve been having conversations like below on the daily.

Okay, it only feels like that some times.

The point is – I’m getting lots of questions. All sorts of questions. Some are sincere. Some are humorous. And some just make me scratch my head and wonder if any thought was given before opening their mouths (Thank you, Karen Smith of Mean girls). But he questions I enjoy answering the most are the ones people are scared or embarrassed to ask but muster up the courage to do so anyway – curiosity did NOT kill the cat.

I thought I would share with you the top reoccurring “awkward” questions people have asked me – because maybe you’ve been wondering too. Or maybe you haven’t. Either way here they are!

*Quick disclaimer: I don’t look down on ANYONE who has asked any of these questions. I’m a shy person, it used to take a lot of mental prep just to raise my hand in class to ask a question. So anyone who is able to speak their mind and welcome an honest response, kudos to you. Thanks for asking!

  1. “Are you scared to go to the Middle East?”
    I get this question a lot and I always answer the question, “Maybe if I were going to the Middle East” *Inset playful smile*, and then explain that although Ethiopia is close to the area, it is in fact part of Africa. I love geography but there are honestly a few countries I couldn’t locate on a map to save my life (sorry, Tuvalu) so I’m I’m not too hard on these people. This question always makes me giggle, unless they insist it’s in the Middle East. *I wouldn’t be scared to go to the Middle east.
  2. “Aren’t you scared of getting AIDS?”
    Okay, this one I pass a little judgement on. If you think everyone in Africa has AIDS or I will contract aids just by being around someone who has it, shame on you. Are you not aware of the AIDS population in the states? Are you not aware you can’t get it by breathing the same air? This question bothers me a lot. But if you’re asking because you think that I will be working one-on-one with AIDS patients, performing procedures and using needles, I have a little more forgiveness. I will not be assisting people in this way. I’ve worked with HIV and AIDS patients before and know the safety procedures – I’m not scared in the slightest. At a later date I will share more about what I will be doing.
  3. “Will being overweight make things harder?”
    It’s okay to ask – after all, I asked about weight discrimination in my application interview. Keep in mind that someone’s weight isn’t a taboo topic in much of the world like it is in the states. Also keep in mind that I am going to a country where the general population is very thin and tall, two things I am not. Even someone who is average will experience some weight discrimination.  But it is no secret it will definitely make some aspects of the experience harder. It will make the heat more difficult to handle. Clothing will definitely be harder to find. And I probably will be told I’m fat quite often (I’m thinking probably more as a statement, hopefully not an intended insult). These aren’t new occurrences to me, it happens in the states as well. I know that my weight does not define me as a person. I eat pretty healthy. I exercise daily. I can do a full days work on my feet. I’m not too concerned it will hinder my ability to perform in Ethiopia.
  4. “Will you have to poop in a hole”
    Yes. It’s more common across the world than you would think. There’s scientific studies to show it’s a healthier position for your body rather than sitting. I hear you get used to it. It will eventually become the norm for me. But who knows if I’ll ever prefer it over a Western style toilet, some say you will! If anything, I’ll get great leg muscles out of the experience.
  5. “Couldn’t they have sent you some place nice?!”
    If by nice you mean Paris, no. If by nice you mean a tropical island, yes. I could have ended up somewhere on a beach with a grass hut and hammock to lay in the sun. I could have ended up in Eastern Europe and traveled to a new country every weekend to explore famous castles. These placements DO exist and are often referred to as the “Posh Corps”. However, just like any placement, they have their down sides. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have enjoyed a placement like that, but I honestly wanted to go to Africa. Eastern Europe was at the top of my list too but Africa was #1. I wanted to go some place I honestly felt like I would have had a harder time making it to later on in life. I wanted to go to a country that would give me the most unique experience compared to where life has already taken me.

So there you have it – the most common awkward questions I get asked. Like I said, they don’t bother me. What does bother me is when someone makes a statement, not a question, that is just rude, disrespectful, and closed minded towards me, Ethiopia, or the Peace Corps. And I get plenty of these.

If you have any questions about the Peace Corps, my experience, or Ethiopia feel free to ask in the comments. Or if you experience any of these questions yourself let me know.

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